How to free up hard disk space

Modern [a ref=”” title=”SSD reviews”]SSDs[/a] tend to be rather small, so running out of space is a common problem. Actually, if (like me) you like to hoard music, raw photos and unprocessed video footage, you can quickly run out of space even on a decent-sized mechanical drive. Happily, when space runs low there are several things you can do to free up some valuable storage. See also: how to defrag in Windows 7

If it’s your system disk that’s full then you might want to start by uninstalling any unwanted applications. The Programs and Features view lets you sort installed software by size, so you can effortless identify what’s using more than its fair share of space – simply click on the Size column at the right-hand side of the list. You might be surprised to see how much space is consumed by certain games and applications.

How to free up hard disk space

Your next stop should then be Windows’ built-in “Disk Clean-up” tool. Use the “Clean up system files” option: this means scanning your disk twice, which is tiresome, but it picks up additional unneeded files such as leftover backups from Windows Update. We’ve never had a problem after deleting everything identified by Disk Clean-up, but if you’re feeling cautious you can click on the various file-types it details to see a brief description of each, and optionally untick them before hitting OK.

How to free up hard disk space In the More Options tab within Disk Clean-up you’ll also find a button that deletes all but the most recent System Restore point. This can save you a decent amount of space, as by default, System Restore uses between 3% and 5% of your hard disk. It’s only a temporary measure, though: over time, it will gradually grow to refill that space, unless you manually disable it, or tell it to keep fewer restore points. You can do this from the System Protection tab in System Properties, which can be accessed from the Control Panel.

Clearing out junk with WinDirStat

These approaches can save several gigabytes of space on your system disk – but there may not always be that much slack to trim. Or, it may be a secondary disk that’s overloaded.

In such cases I invariably turn to a freeware tool called WinDirStat (short for Windows Directory Statistics). This handy program scans whichever disk or folder you point it at, and produces a graphical map of its contents, along with a hierarchical folder view in the upper pane.

How to free up hard disk space

The software doesn’t try to tell you what can be deleted and what can’t, but the graphical view will immediately expose the huge ISO or MOV files that are eating up half of your disk, along with any folders that have grown to unmanageable proportions. Simply click on a rectangle to see which file it represents – or, since the folder view is sorted by size, you can alternatively use this interface to drill down through your folders.

To delete a file from within WinDirStat, select it in the folder view, hold down Shift and press the Delete key, or right-click and select the permanent delete option from the drop-down menu (there’s no point sending the file to the Recycle Bin as it’ll still be taking up space). Wiping a few of your largest files – or moving them off onto a backup volume – can free up huge amounts of space in a few clicks.

You don’t even have to miss out if you’re using Linux or OS X; KDirStat and Disk Inventory X are equivalent tools I’ve tried on those two platforms with great success.

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