How to Free up Hard Drive Space

by braniac ; Updated September 28, 2017

When your hard drive is out of space, you may think you're out of luck but there are some easy steps to take that will free up some space for you.

First you need to see how much room is left on the hard drive. You can do this by opening My Computer and right clicking on whatever hard drive you want and then click properties.

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This will bring up a window that shows a pie graph and the exact amount of space taken up in gigabytes. You can see an example in the attached image. Used space is in blue and free space is in pink. Above the pie chart, it says the exact amount of gigabytes for each of those. If it's under 50% full, you should be good. Anything above 75% used up is getting pretty full. If it's over 90%, you definitely need to do something about it. In the attached example, it's 78% full so this drive could use some cleaning up. First, click on the Disk Cleanup button shown in the attached image.

This will bring up a window that says "Disk Cleanup is calculating how much space you will be able to free up on" and then the drive letter. It says it may take a few minutes to complete and they aren't kidding. Depending on your hard drive's speed, the number of files, and the amount of space taken up, it could take a half an hour or longer but it's usually under 10 minutes.

Once it's finally done, it will come up with a bunch of areas that have unnecessary files that you can delete. Most of them are extremely insignificant compared to the file compression option. But I'll go in order. Downloaded Program Files you should just leave alone because you need some of those. Temporary Internet Files you should leave unchecked for now because I'll come back to that later. The recycling bin is up to you. You may want to check if anything important is in there before wiping it out. Temporary Files you should get rid of because any program that created them knows that they're liable to be deleted at any time so they can handle it. They're basically just junk files. Web Client/Publisher Temp Files is so small it doesn't matter but if it's not 0, check it. Next is Compress Old Files. This one is usually huge. The amount is in kilobytes so 500,000 would be 500 megabytes and 8,500,000 would be 8.5 gigabytes. I think the default setting is if a file hasn't been accessed in 50 days, it will be compressed. A compressed file takes slightly longer to open than it would if it wasn't compressed but it takes up less room on the hard drive. You won't notice a slowdown most of the time but because there is a slight performance loss, you should only check that option if you're really desperate to save a lot of hard drive space. Next there's the option for catalog files for the content indexer. It's complicated to explain but you don't need them so check that option too.

If you didn't choose to compress files, it should be done in a few minutes after you press ok. If you did choose the compression option, it may take hours to compress every old file it finds. It's definitely a worthwhile thing to do though if you need space badly. When the process is completed, take another look at the pie chart to see how the storage situation looks now.

Speaking of compression, if you're at 95-99% full and you're totally desperate to free up a ton of room, there is an option to compress every single file on the entire hard drive. Right click on the drive in My Compute and click properties so it brings up the pie chart window. Under the chart, it has a checkbox that says "Compress drive to save disk space." Check it and click ok if you really want to do this. Only do it if it's absolutely necessary though because it will slow down your computer noticeably.

Remember that temporary internet files option I said to skip earlier? Well time to go take care of it permanently. In short, temporary internet files are every webpage and graphic and basically everything else you load in your web browser. It downloads them all the first time you go to a website and keeps them all on your hard drive so the next time you go to that site, it can load it off your hard drive instead of having to re-download it all. That makes the page load faster and saves bandwidth for the website owner. To delete some of them and shrink the size allotted to keep these files, open your web browser. If you use anything but Internet Explorer 7, you're on your own because that's all I'm going to describe this process for.

Open internet explorer and click on the Tools menu. Then under Browser History, click on Settings. Under Disk Space to Use, it will say in megabytes how much room is allotted to these temporary files. I would recommend not putting it under 250 megabytes. If it's set at like 1000, definitely turn it down lower but the exact amount is up to you. If you'd like to free up around 500 megabytes then turn it down by 500. Just don't turn it down too low or it will slow down your internet browsing significantly.

Another unbelievably enormous waste of disk space is the 12% that's allotted to system restore files. To turn this down, right click on My Computer. Then go to the System Restore tab and click Settings. The slider should be at 12% by default which is ridiculous. On a 120 gigabyte drive that means almost 14 gigabytes are being wasted on restore files! How often do you use system restore? And better yet, how often do you need to restore to a point from a year ago? Usually it's just the most recent restore point you need. And to keep around a month's worth just to be safe, it sure doesn't take 12% of the disk space. So turn the slider down to right above 2 gigabytes (2000 megabytes.) If you can afford the space, only turn it down to around 4 gigabytes. If you're desperate, you can turn it down to 0% but this may make System Restore not function properly if you ever need it.

Now there's one more really obvious option that's the most effective. Delete some of the junk you have stored on the drive! You can start by uninstalling any programs or games you don't need anymore. Open the Control Panel and find the option for Add/Remove programs. Open it and it will bring up a list of everything installed on your computer. Each entry displays and estimation of how much room each program is taking up. This can vary greatly. If you have AOL instant messenger installed, it's an insignificant 33 megabytes. If you have the game Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion installed, it's taking up around 4.5 gigabytes (but don't uninstall Oblivion because that game is AWESOME!). Each entry also has a change/remove or just a remove button to uninstall it.

Once you've gotten rid of any old programs, it's time to get rid of some files. Go to the Start button then click on Search. Select the All Files and Folders option and for a search term, put in . (asterisk period asterisk). That tells it to look for all files named anything with any extension. Then click the double arrows to expand the section that says "What size is it?" Select the "specify a size" option and put in "at least 100,000." That's 100 megabytes. Let it search which may take a while and it will find all the files on your entire hard drive that are larger than 100 megabytes. Anything you see that you don't need anymore, delete. If you don't know what it is just by the name, it also says in the next column over what folder it's in. If that still doesn't tell you what it is, then DON'T DELETE IT because it's probably important. You might find old, downloaded videos or ripped DVDs or huge zip files or duplicated files that you only need one of. All those sorts of things should be deleted.

Now your hard drive should be as open as possible. If you're somehow still out of room, you can buy a second hard drive and install it and move all your largest files to it. Any games and programs still need to be installed on the original drive though and can't be moved so if you don't have gigabytes of videos or other large files to dump off onto a second drive, you might still find yourself out of room on the original one. It is possible to buy a larger capacity hard drive and copy the entire smaller drive onto it plus expand what's called the "partition" so it fills up the entire space on the new drive and then you're all set with a larger "system drive" aka C drive. That process should only be done by professionals though because it's complicated and easy to screw up. And it's expensive so it's only worth doing as a last resort.