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7 Ways To Free Up Hard Disk Space On Windows

hard-disk

Hard drives are getting larger and larger, but somehow they always seem to fill up. This is even more true if you’re using a solid-state drive (SSD), which offers much less hard drive space than traditional mechanical hard drives.

If you’re hurting for hard drive space, these tricks should help you free up space for important files and programs by removing the unimportant junk cluttering up your hard disk.

Image Credit: Jason Bache on Flickr

Run Disk Cleanup

Windows includes a built-in tool that deletes temporary files and other unimportant data. To access it, right-click one of your hard drives in the Computer window and select Properties.

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Click the Disk Cleanup button in the disk properties window.

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Select the types of files you want to delete and click OK. This includes temporary files, log files, files in your recycle bin, and other unimportant files.

You can also clean up system files, which don’t appear in the list here. Click the Clean up system files button if you also want to delete system files.

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After you do, you can click the More Options button and use the Clean up button under System Restore and Shadow Copies to delete system restore data. This button deletes all but the most recent restore point, so ensure your computer is working properly before using it – you won’t be able to use older system restore points.

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Uninstall Space-Hungry Applications

Uninstalling programs will free up space, but some programs use very little space. From the Programs and Features control panel, you can click the Size column to see just how much space each program installed on your computer is using.

If you don’t see this column, click the options button at the top right corner of the list and select the Details view. Note that this isn’t always accurate – some programs don’t report the amount of space they use. A program may be using a lot of space but may not have any information in its Size column.

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Analyze Disk Space

To find out exactly what is using space on your hard drive, you can use a hard disk analysis program. These applications scan your hard drive and display exactly which files and folders are taking up the most space. We’ve covered the best 10 tools to analyze hard disk space, but if you want one to start with, try WinDirStat.

After scanning your system, WinDirStat shows you exactly which folders, file types, and files are using the most space. Ensure you don’t delete any important system files – only delete personal data files. If you see a program’s folder in the Program Files folder using a large amount of space, you can uninstall that program – WinDirStat can tell you just how much space a program is using, even if the Programs and Features Control Panel doesn’t.

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Clean Temporary Files

Windows’ Disk Cleanup tool is useful, but it doesn’t delete temporary files used by other programs. For example, it won’t clear Firefox or Chrome browser caches, which can use gigabytes of hard disk space. (Your browser cache uses hard disk space to save you time when accessing websites in the future, but this is little comfort if you need the hard disk space now.)

For more aggressive temporary and junk file cleaning, try CCleaner, which you can download here. CCleaner cleans junk files from a variety of third-party programs and also cleans up Windows files that Disk Cleanup won’t touch.

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Find Duplicate Files

You can use a duplicate-file-finder application to scan your hard drive for duplicate files, which are unnecessary and can be deleted. We’ve covered using VisiPics to banish duplicate images. If you want a tool that also checks for other types of duplicate files, try dupeGuru – the free version can only delete or move up to ten files at once, but it will show you what duplicate files are cluttering up your hard drive.

Reduce the Amount of Space Used for System Restore

If System Restore is eating up a lot of hard drive space for restore points, you can reduce the amount of hard disk space allocated to System Restore. The trade-off is you’ll have less restore points to restore your system from and less previous copies of files to restore. If these features are less important to you than the hard disk space they use, go ahead and free a few gigabytes by reducing the amount of space System Restore uses.

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Nuclear Options

These tricks will definitely save some space, but they’ll disable important Windows features. We don’t recommend using any of them, but if you desperately need disk space, they can help:

  • Disable Hibernation – When you hibernate your system, it saves the contents of its RAM to your hard drive. This allows it to save its system state without any power usage – the next time you boot your computer, you’ll be back where you left of. Windows saves the contents of your RAM in the C:\hiberfil.sys file. To save hard drive space, you can disable hibernate entirely, which removes the file.
  • Disable System Restore – If reducing the amount of space System Restore uses isn’t good enough for you, you can disable System Restore entirely. You’ll be out-of-luck if you need to use System Restore to restore your system to an earlier state, so be warned.

Bear in mind that you’ll never get as much space as a drive promises on the box. To understand why, read: HTG Explains: Why Do Hard Drives Show the Wrong Capacity in Windows?

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 10/5/12

Comments (23)

  1. Ted Lilley

    Great article, this is the kind of stuff I love on HTG. If you keep
    your system on a small SSD like me, it can be crucial. A few tips:

    - Hibernate takes up as much space as you have RAM. If you don’t use
    hibernate, there’s no reason to waste that space.
    - The page file is rarely used unless you routinely use up your RAM,
    and it takes multiple GB usually. It doesn’t hurt to move it to
    another slower drive, or to disable it, as you’ve written elsewhere.
    - When you run through everything else here and you’re still out of
    space, and WinDirStat is telling you that it’s Windows’ Installer
    directory that’s the problem, it’s time to get rid of the SP1
    uninstaller. It’s in the built-in disk cleanup utility for C:. Tick
    the box for Service Pack Backup Files. There’s also a command-line
    command, google “dism”.
    - You can move your Users folder to another drive using the Windows 7
    installer disk, robocopy and mklink. Google “windows move users”.
    When you do, change the registry entries for Default,
    ProfilesDirectory and Public to the new drive in the ProfileList
    registry key at HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion. Go
    through the subkeys and change the ProfileImagePath for any of the
    Users accounts as well. I use this technique so I can put user
    accounts on the bigger drive and do Acronis system images on C that
    don’t include my user data. If my system gets infected I can restore
    the image without wiping my user data.
    - If you’re really tight and you use MS Office, you can use the same
    robocopy/mklink technique (without having to boot from the installer
    disc) for MSOCache. I try to avoid this since I want all programs to
    be included in the system image, but MSOCache is a big waste so I can
    tolerate making an exception for it.

  2. Adrian Martin

    WinDirStat should be a core app.

  3. Richard

    Ted’s advice to disable the pagefile goes against the general consensus which is that you should keep it enabled and leave it well alone.

    http://serverfault.com/questions/23621/any-benefit-or-detriment-from-removing-a-pagefile-on-an-8gb-ram-machine/23684#23684

    I would also recommend people look at NTFS Junctions as a way to move big files from one drive (eg. small SSD) to a large drive without breaking existing installed applications. For example, my Steam folder is on my HDD because it’s hundreds of gigs in size.

  4. Arston

    A good tip:
    For computers with a lot of RAM (like 16GB+) you can reduce the page file to something like 1 GB. By default it’s something like 1 or 1.5 times the amount of RAM. If you already have 16+ you probably won’t need to use it.

    For some work and configurations you might need it but in those cases I suppose you know what to do.

  5. Holden

    Theese tips can be found in any book or on any website which deals with Windows hard disk space reduction, there is nothing new here. But: the greatest space eater is winsxs, it would have been nice to mention it, in a Windows 7 machine it can eat 10+ gigabytes.

    Another problem which also could be great if You had mentioned it: there is a new fashion today, the application installer copies the whole install stuff into a hidden directory, so if You even install one component, the whole thing remains on Your drive. Rad Studio 2007 was a good example, it copied everything into a hidden directory from Your DVD, and even if You only installed Delphi and not C++, the whole install stuff remained on Your drive. if You find it by chance, and delete it, then You can never uninstall the application, only by hand.

    Also another problem: the uninstallers leave very much garbage after itself, even the whole apllication directory remains intact on the drive, not to mention the many (frequently hidden) directories and files in “Documents and Settings” on XP or in Users on Windows 7. The registry is another mess, the uninstallers leave the whole unusable garbage after them.

    And another one: language files. Java (Netbeans and the like), Adobe programs and many other programs install huge language files even if I do not need them. I use English and maybe Hungarian language when working on a computer, why I should keep Chinese fonts or Tamil message files on my hard drive. Nobody cares it how much space occupied by such files.

  6. Melting Sun

    If you’re familiar with a tiny aplication called sdelete you could save/free some space. It’s the command sdelete – c from a command box. Especially if you are experimenting with virtualization.
    Nice article by the way

  7. r

    There’s no magic program to remove all garbage from your systems & everyone has a fav system cleaner program, mine is “ASC Pro” for the meantime, which seems to work fine for them.
    More importantly, become familiar with all folders & sub folders (& their contents) in Explorer –go through this on occasion, learning as you go. It’ll show you where all needed & unnecessary files are located. There are some excellent sites available to research & verify file info.

    Like anything of value, the more time you put into it; the better results you will get.

  8. Doh

    Most space on my system drive gets eaten up by ISO files and vids from Internet that I forget about. Also virtual machines. Just do a windows search for large files.

  9. Ushindi

    Another good one is “Moo0 DiscCleaner” – too many benefits to list; take a look at it and see for yourself.
    A great FREE program (from the people who also gave us Moo0 FileShredder).

  10. gc

    CC Cleaner has the quickest registry scanner as a menu selction on it’s interface screen. It may not be complete, but it will find and remove most useless, obsolete, or leftover install crap in the registry- it’s really great to use right after you delete a program or sizable file. Also Free Unistaller actually shows you what’s deletable by making the targte text red. I use about three different tools for the registry, and what’s funny is each can find stuff the other didn’t!

  11. infmom

    Don’t use your hard drive for dead storage. If the file hasn’t been accessed in six months, move it to a DVD, a flash drive or an external HD. Chances are good you won’t need to look at it there, either, but at least it won’t be taking up space on your main drive.

  12. Zyfer

    If your really tight on space i suggest delete Win32 :)

  13. John

    Didnt see it mentioned but the recycle bin eats up a lot of HDD space. Simply right click on the recycle bin and choose properties. By default it will use 10% of your drive. That doesn’t sound like a lot but if you have a 2TB drive you are talking about a 20GB loss. more like 18 cause they lie about sizes but HTG has covered that topic pretty well already.

    Tree size Free is a great little app to analyze disk use too.

  14. MD Minhazul Haque

    What about disabling pagefile? A pc with 4GB memory uses very less page. I disable it. Saves me space. :)

  15. soL

    Just get a bigger hard disk, problem solved.

  16. Anon

    If you have enough ram, disable page file. If you have a small OS SSD, this gives you some space headroom.

  17. GG

    You forgot one crucial way – delete system32 folder… It’s not really needed for much – is it?

    WARNING – THIS IS A JOKE – DO NOT DELETE SYSTEM32 :D

  18. Alex

    delete Precache folder will free up precious space

  19. Sai Ramesh

    Very nice. It is very useful to whoever have not any knowledge.

  20. ann

    my computer is running slow have done all the checks done the registry etc etc, but still find it very slow , they tell me there will be programs running in t he back ground that do this can you help me with this problem cheers Ann ps love this site its teaching me so much thank you

  21. Beezix.com

    These are all great suggestions for freeing up disk space. A lot of people don’t realize that PC’s need space to “breathe”, and that a nearly full disk can put a damper on a computer’s performance.

  22. abhijeet

    dear geeks,
    one of the other things you can do to reduce disk space is to reduce the size of your recycle bin.

  23. Ahmed

    Thank you very much, this is really great article.

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