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.
Click the Disk Cleanup button in the disk properties window.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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