Take control of Microsoft OneDrive sync settings and options

OneDrive is part of Windows 10 and it probably is not something you think about, but dig down into the settings and features and you will find some gems. OneDrive sync secrets revealed.

There are many online drives and Google Drive, Dropbox, Box and others can all sync files and folders between your computers and your online storage space. At one time we had to transfer files between computers on floppy disks and if you are old enough to remember them, you will probably agree that they were a pain and prone to failure.

Automatic syncing of files between computers and online storage is so much more convenient and reliable. Let’s take a look at the options and features for syncing using Microsoft OneDrive, after all it comes bundled with Windows and there no software to install. It is free too, at least for a few gigabytes.

Stop OneDrive starting with Windows

OneDrive automatically starts with Windows and syncing with your online storage space is automatic. However, for various reasons you might want to pause or stop OneDrive syncing.

OneDrive settings: Choose whether to start OneDrive automatically with Windows
Microsoft OneDrive settings

To stop OneDrive from starting with Windows, right click the OneDrive icon in the taskbar or in the sidebar in Explorer and select Settings. On the General tab, the first item is Start OneDrive automatically when I sign into Windows. Clear the checkbox, click OK and from now on, OneDrive is in manual mode and will not run automatically.

OneDrive can be manually started when you need it by finding and clicking it on the Start menu or click Start and type ‘onedrive’.

Pause OneDrive sync

OneDrive automatically syncs your OneDrive online storage with the OneDrive folder on the PC’s disk. For various reasons, you might want to pause syncing so you can change local files without them syncing or to prevent remote files from overwriting local ones.

Right click the OneDrive cloud icon in the taskbar and in the menu that appears, click Close OneDrive. That stops syncing by stopping the program.

If OneDrive will not close in the normal way, right click the taskbar and select Task Manager. Find Microsoft OneDrive in the apps on the Processes tab, right click it and select End Task. That is not the best way to close it, so use it only if you have to.

If you want to restart OneDrive after closing it, click the Start button and type ‘onedrive’. Then click it to run it in the search results.

OneDrive menu on Windows PC: Select the length of time to pause syncing
Pause OneDrive syncing

Another option is to pause OneDrive syncing. Right click the OneDrive cloud icon in the taskbar and then click Pause syncing. Select the time period from the list: 2 hours, 8 hours or 24 hours. Syncing automatically restarts after the time selected, but you can restart it manually at any time. Click the OneDrive icon in the taskbar and then click the pause button at the top to resume syncing.

Stop OneDrive syncing a folder

By default, OneDrive syncs everything in the C:\Users\YourName\OneDrive folder on the PC’s disk with everything in your OneDrive storage online (apart from the Recycle Bin online).

However, it does not have to sync everything and you can choose which folders are synced and which are ignored. If you don’t want folders or files on the PC’s disk to sync with OneDrive, just don’t put them in the OneDrive folder.

That is obvious of course, but sometimes you want to sync some files and folders on one computer, but not on another computer, or you want to store files online, but not on the computer.

You can have up to 1 TB of files online in a paid account, which obviously poses problems if you have a laptop computer that only has a 256 GB SSD. You do not have the disk space to sync everything and you must select only items you need locally.

Microsoft OneDrive settings: Choose which folders to sync
Choose which folders to sync in OneDrive settings

Right click OneDrive in Explorer or the OneDrive icon in the taskbar and select Settings on the menu that is displayed. Select the Accounts tab in the window and then click the Choose folders button. In the next window, clear the checkbox Make all files available. Below is a list of folders in the root of OneDrive online. Click the > to expand them and see subfolders, then use the checkboxes to choose which folders are synced with the PC’s disk.

Anything not synced is kept online, but cannot be seen or accessed in Explorer. However, you can always open a browser window and go to the OneDrive website to see all files and to open or download them.

Sync or stop syncing the desktop with OneDrive

OneDrive makes the OneDrive folder on each of your computers the same. They are synced and you can access your files on any computer you are signed into. However, each computer has a separate Desktop and Documents folder that only exists on the computer.

Now you could simply work with OneDrive’s synced folders and always keep all your files there, but there is an alternative and that is to replace the normal default Windows Desktop and Documents folders with those contained on OneDrive.

Add a file to the desktop on your computer, save something to Documents and it is added to OneDrive instead of the local disk. It is a convenience.

OneDrive settings: Choose whether to back up and sync Desktop, Documents and Pictures

Right click OneDrive in Explorer or in the taskbar and select Settings. Select the Backup tab and then click the Manage backup button. It looks like you can back up Desktop, Documents and Pictures, but really it syncs these folders between computers and online storage.

Space is a problem if you have the minimum 5 GB of free storage, so don’t enable Documents or Pictures if you don’t have the OneDrive space. There usually aren’t gigabytes of files on the desktop, so there it isn’t s space problem. I sync Desktop and Documents and not Pictures.

Limit or unlimit OneDrive sync speed

Uploading to the internet is always much slower than downloading and can be as little one tenth of the download speed. That’s just how it works and it is like this because we download much more than we upload, so it is prioritized.

If you work with a lot of files or very large files with OneDrive, such as video clips for example, you might want to manually set upload and download speed limits. Without them, OneDrive syncing could affect your ability to browse the web, fetch email and other tasks.

Microsoft OneDrive settings: Set the upload and download data rate for syncing

Right click the OneDrive icon in the taskbar and select Settings. Select the Network tab and limits can be set for uploads and downloads. Mostly Don’t limit is the best setting, but if you have just got a new PC and started Windows for the first time and OneDrive wants to download tens or hundreds of gigabytes of files, you might want to limit it to prevent it tying up the internet connection for hours or days.

Select Limit to and then set a speed like 100. Syncing is slower, but there is bandwidth to spare for streaming music, TV or browsing the web while OneDrive is working in the background.

Save battery, save data with OneDrive syncing

You might want to preserve the last few percent of battery power on your laptop and not waste it on syncing files which are unimportant and can wait. Syncing uses battery power and stopping syncing enables the battery in a laptop to last longer.

We saw earlier how to manually stop syncing, but there is another way. You know the drill by now, right click OneDrive and select Settings. On the Settings tab near the top is Automatically pause sync when this device is in battery saver mode.

Microsoft OneDrive settings: Pause syncing when the battery is low

To enable battery saver mode, click the icon at the far right of the taskbar to open Action Center and click the tile Battery saver at the bottom. Click Expand if you don’t see the Battery saver button.

Battery saver mode can automatically be enabled when the battery is low. Open the Windows 10 Settings app and go to System > Battery. There is a Battery saver on/off switch and below that is the automatic setting. Choose a level at which Battery saver automatically enables, like 25%.

Also in OneDrive settings is Automatically pause sync when this device is on a metered network. Enable this option if you use an internet connection with limited data. Turning Battery saver on then stops syncing.