Windows 8.1 devices are all full PCs — yes, even the tablets — and often support SD cards. This allows you to easily expand your PC’s storage. Just insert an SD card and you can treat it as a “permanent” part of your device. The SD card will likely be slower than your device’s built-in storage, but it’s a great way to store music, videos, pictures, and other files.
The original release of Windows 8 didn’t have very good support for SD cards. You couldn’t easily access them from Windows 8-style apps without going through some obscure tricks on the desktop. This has changed with the Windows 8.1 upgrade, which offers much improved support for SD and micro-SD cards.
After you insert the SD card, it will appear as another drive with its own drive letter. You can use it normally from desktop applications and the File Explorer window. If you’re using Windows 8-style apps, you’ll need to do some more tweaking.
Set default save locations
The new PC settings app allows you to easily set a removable drive as your default save location for pictures, music, and videos. This is the easiest way to set up an SD card as the main location for your media files, but it’s limited. For example, you can’t set it as your default documents folder here.
To do this, press Windows Key + I and click Change PC settings. Select PC & Devices, select Devices, and then scroll down until you see the Default save locations section. Click the Setup button and select the removable drive you want to use as your default save location.
This creates Music, Pictures, and Videos folders on your SD card. Windows then adds these folders to your Music, Pictures, and Videos libraries and sets them as the default save location. Your default save locations are used both from Windows 8-style apps and when saving a file to a library from a desktop application.
Note that this won’t move any existing music, pictures, or videos to your SD card. You’ll have to do that manually, if you want to — check the next section for more information.
Manage libraries from the desktop
Windows 8-style apps use libraries. For example, a music app gets its music from the Music library, while a photo-editing application accesses its images from the Pictures library. To manage where Windows stores such files used by Windows 8-style apps, you’ll have to manage your libraries. Read our overview of the Windows libraries feature for more information about how they work.
Confusingly, Microsoft has hidden the libraries by default in Windows 8.1, even though they’re required by Windows 8-style apps and now work properly with SD cards. To access libraries, open the File Explorer on the desktop, click the View tab on the ribbon, select Navigation pane, and select Show libraries.
Select a library and you’ll see the folders inside it. If you made an SD Card your default save location earlier, you’ll see a folder on the SD card and a folder on your computer. You can move folders between the computer and the SD card from here using cut and paste.
To modify your libraries — for example, perhaps you want to use the SD card as your default save location for documents — right-click a library and select Properties. You’ll be able to add and remove folders from the library, in addition to choosing which folder is your default save location.
Unlike on Windows 8 and previous versions of Windows, you can easily add folders from a removable drive to your libraries without using third-party programs for managing your libraries.
Save downloads to an SD card
Your Downloads folder can also be moved to your SD card. To do this, simply right-click the Downloads folder in the File Explorer window and select Properties. Click the Location tab and specify a location on the SD card for the Downloads folder.
Whenever a program downloads something to your downloads folder, it will be stored in the Downloads folder on your SD card instead.
Move SkyDrive to an SD card
In the final version of Windows 8.1, your SkyDrive folder can also be stored on an SD card. SkyDrive uses “smart files” to save space, but it can still use quite a bit of space if you choose to download files for offline use. Move the SkyDrive folder to an SD card and you can free up space on your system drive.
This is as simple as moving your downloads folder. Just right-click the SkyDrive folder in the File Explorer window, select Properties, select the Location tab, and choose a new location for it.
This entire process demonstrates the evolution of Windows from a desktop operating system to one designed with mobile devices in mind. Windows 8 had poor support for SD cards, requiring tricks to add them to libraries. Windows 8.1 offers improved support for SD cards with an option in the PC settings app, but many other settings still require drilling down to the desktop — even if you’re using a small, 8-inch Windows tablet.