How to free up space in Windows if you are running low

My main hard drive is a 120 Gigabyte Solid State Drive  -- Samsung 840 EVO -- which is sufficient for what I do on the computer. I do have a 3 Terabyte drive connected as well for extra storage.

The Solid State Drive usually has about 15 to 20 Gigabyte of free storage space, while the rest is occupied by Windows, applications, and user data generated by applications.

When I look at the space distribution on that drive, Windows is taking up about a third of the space of it followed by the users folder with 24% and the program files folder with roughly 9%.

In the AppData folder, Thunderbird and Google are the main culprits using roughly half of the storage.

Result: After running the suggested tips below, I managed to increase free space on the drive to 38 Gigabyte which is roughly twice as much as I had available before.

Check the storage distribution

The first thing that you may want to do is find out which folders and files use up the space on your computer. Programs that you can use for the task are WinDirStat or TreeSize Free.

storage-distribution

The programs can scan one or multiple drives and display a detailed distribution of used space in the interface afterwards. The screenshot above is from WinDirStat after it has scanned the primary drive on a PC.

The best way to find large files and folders is to work your way from top to bottom as the program sorts folders automatically by size.

It does not make much sense to check the Windows folder though, as you can do little about its size. All other folders on the other hand may reveal options to optimize storage usage on the drive.

High profile optimization targets

Here is a list of common folders and files that use a lot of hard drive space.

1. Hibernation (gain: up to several Gigabytes)

If you never hibernate your computer, you may want to consider turning off the feature. It takes up Gigabytes of storage space usually and if you never use it, there is no reason to keep it.

  1. Tap on Windows, type cmd, right-click Command Prompt and select Run as Administrator.
  2. If you receive a UAC prompt accept it by clicking continue.
  3. Type powercfg.exe /hibernate off and press the return key.

This turns off hibernation on the computer. To turn it back on at a later point in time, follow the instructions above but run the command powercfg.exe /hibernate on instead.

Microsoft has created a Fix It script as well which you can use alternatively. Just run it to turn hibernation on or off on your Windows system.

2. Page File (gain: up to several Gigabytes)

paging file size

The size of the Page File in Windows depends on which version of the operating system you are using. On Windows 7, Windows sets it to the same size as the memory that is installed on the PC.

So, if you have 8 Gigabyte of RAM installed, the Page File is also 8 Gigabyte in size. It is usually not necessary, especially if you have lots of RAM installed.

  1. Press Windows+Pause to open the System Control Panel applet.
  2. Select Advanced System Settings on the screen.
  3. When the System Properties windows opens up, select Settings next to Performance.
  4. Here you need to switch to the Advanced tab.
  5. Click on Change under Virtual Memory.
  6. Uncheck "automatically manage paging file size for all drives" if it is checked.
  7. Select each drive, and reduce the paging file size of it by selecting custom size and entering a value for initial size and maximum size.
  8. You can set both to 2048 Megabyte for instance, but may need to experiment with these values by monitoring the performance of the system after making changes.

3. Uninstall software (gain: varies)

revo uninstaller

Some programs, games especially, require lots of space on the hard drive. While it is not uncommon for games to break the 10 Gigabyte mark, most applications are not.

That does not mean that you cannot free up space by uninstalling programs that you do not need anymore. The removal of Google Chrome on a test system for instance freed up more than a Gigabyte of storage space on the hard drive.

It is recommended to use a program such as Revo Uninstaller or Geek Uninstaller for the removal, as they scan the system for left-overs afterwards to make sure the programs are completely removed from the PC.

4.  Disk Cleanup (gain: varies)

disk cleanup

Temporary files and files that are not needed anymore can be removed with various tools. CCleaner is probably the most popular tool in this regard. While it is a great program, the native Disk Cleanup program can also be useful in this regard.

What makes it interesting is the fact that you can use it to remove updates from Windows that are no longer required by the system, for instance after installing newer versions or service packs on the operating system.

  1. Tap on the Windows-key on the keyboard, type Disk Cleanup and hit enter.
  2. Select the main drive letter, and click on clean up system files once the Disk Cleanup utility is loaded.
  3. Select the main drive letter again, and either click on ok to free up disk space, or browse the selection first to make sure only files that you do not need anymore are removed.

Good news is, it will also take care of the Recycle Bin and the default temporary file folders.

5. Move folders (gain: varies)

If the hard drive is filled to be brim and you cannot uninstall or delete files on the drive for whatever reason, you may want to consider moving folders to another drive.

This works only if you do have access to another drive obviously. It is for instance possible to move the Steam folder to another hard drive or the My Documents folder to free up space.

Depending on the folder, you may either move it directly to another drive, for instance by changing its path in the program that is making use of it, or by using so called symbolic links to do so.

6. Create backups (gain: varies)

Backups can be another interesting option. I backup old email data from Thunderbird regularly using Mailstore Home which saves hundreds of Megabytes on the primary drive.

Backups can also be useful for other types of data, think image, audio or video files. They are ideally moved to a storage drive to save space on the primary drive.

7. Change System Restore size (gain:varies)

system-restore

System Restore is used by Windows to provide users of the operating system with an option to restore the system to an earlier state. It is automatically run when you install drivers or make other core changes to the operating system.

Depending on how it is configured, it may make sense to reduce the hard drive space that it can make use of to restrict it and free up space in the process.

  1. Tap on Windows-Pause to open the System control panel applet.
  2. Select System Protection on the left side.
  3. The next screen displays the current state of System Restore on the PC.
  4. Select a drive and click configure.
  5. Here you can change the maximum usage of System Restore on the drive using the size slider.

8. Remove Shadow Copies and all but the latest System Restore point (gain: varies)

system restore shadow copies

You can use Windows' Disk Cleanup tool to remove previously created System Restore points and shadow copies. Check tip 4 to find out how to launch Disk Cleanup.

Once launched, switch to more options and click on the clean up button under System Restore and Shadow Copies. It is advised to only do so if your system is running stable and you have not noticed any issues for some time.

Confirm that you want to delete the files and they are removed from the system. This dropped the disk space usage of the System Restore feature from more than 2 Gigabyte to less than 200 Megabyte on a test system.

9. Cloud storage and synchronization (gain: varies)

selective sync

If you have a cloud synchronization service installed on your system, all of the data is usually synchronized. While that may make sense at times, you may not need offline access to all files hosted in the cloud.

The majority of services offer options to sync only select files and folders. Dropbox calls this Selective Sync for instance. You find it listed under Account in the Dropbox preferences.

Here you can uncheck folders that you do not want synchronized with your local system. If you do not need access to all camera photos for instance, you can block the folder from being synchronized automatically.

Now You: Did I miss a tip? Post your tips in the comments so that everyone can benefit from them.

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How to free up space in Windows if you are running low
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Find out how to free up hard drive storage space on Windows using easy to follow tips.
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Responses to How to free up space in Windows if you are running low

  1. Paul(us) July 6, 2014 at 11:43 am #

    Another great article from you hand!
    A mount of two ago you where lettings us know there was a new TV (comedy) program who is going over it people.

    I want to return the favor with attending you to the 2014 TV series named: Halt and Catch Fire
    Set in the early 1980s, series dramatizes the personal computing boom through the eyes of a visionary, an engineer and a prodigy whose innovations directly confront the corporate behemoths of the time. Their personal and professional partnership will be challenged by greed and ego while charting the changing culture in Texas' Silicon Prairie.

  2. Niks July 6, 2014 at 11:49 am #

    I have 8 GB RAM . Should I enable or disable pagefile.sys ?

    • Martin Brinkmann July 6, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

      You may want to consider reducing its size, e.g to 2 Gigabyte or 4 Gigabyte.

      • Niks July 6, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

        If you want to publish this . " Ad Muncher is now free! " After being sold as shareware for 15 years, Ad Muncher is now free! . http://www.murrayhurps.com/blog/ad-muncher-announcement

      • Martin Brinkmann July 6, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

        Niks I noticed this, but the free version has not been released yet. Waiting for the release, then I'll write about it.

  3. Niks July 6, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    For 4gb what should i put in initial size ? max should be 4096 ? right ?

  4. dXm99 July 6, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    Delete porn.
    :)

  5. Ross July 6, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    120GB? That would be heaven. My Windows 8.0 runs from a 40GB SSD.
    I also use a RAMDrive for temp/tmp & browser cache to minimise SSD usage.
    I've had to install a couple of programs onto my HDD, where I try to only have data files.

    • Martin Brinkmann July 6, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

      I started out with that size when I bought my first (first-generation) SSD.

  6. Steve July 6, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    The best utility for seeing what files take up what space is Sequioaview
    http://w3.win.tue.nl/nl/onderzoek/onderzoek_informatica/visualization/sequoiaview/

    Really easy to see what is taking up the space and easy to use too.

    • Chains The Bounty Hunter July 6, 2014 at 11:46 pm #

      That looks almost exactly like WinDirStat (the image in the article here is a less graphic intensive view).

  7. AlS July 6, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    Each of your web browsers has a directory for caching (Temporary Files). By default, they are going to be on C:. The details will vary - here are tips for IE & Chrome - of course, you need a 2nd drive for this

    IE: General->Temporary Files -> Settings -> Move Folder (to a different drive)

    Chrome isn't quite as easy but you can use the old trick of creating a directory (/d) link from where Chrome "thinks" its cache is to where you want it - for example, this would move it to d:\cache:

    mklink /d “C:\Users\\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\User Data\Default\Cache\” “d:\cache”

    Don't forget the quotes because of the embedded blanks in 'User data'

    • Martin Brinkmann July 6, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

      Good advice, definitely something that you may want to address, especially if you are on the Internet regularly.

  8. George P. Burdell July 6, 2014 at 3:44 pm #

    Here are two more ideas I used to use back when a large hard drive was 20 MB:

    1. Keep seldom-used user data files zipped up, and delete your full-sized copy. Unzip files manually when wanted. Depending on the type of data and the cleverness of the original data format, I have seen compression ratios of 90%. Some types of files, like JPEG pictures, are already highly compressed, so this plan won't help.

    2. Enable Windows built-in file compression on whole folders. Pick a large folder of sloppily formatted files, right-click to call up Properties, navigate to the General tab, and pick Advanced Attributes. Then you can select "Compress contents to save disk space". Windows will then automatically compress and decompress files from this folder as you use them. Whether this helps depends on how much compression you gain versus the extra computations needed to inflate and deflate your files. Anyhow, it's a built-in feature. I've used this feature on entire removable drives to effectively double their capacity.

    • Martin Brinkmann July 6, 2014 at 4:03 pm #

      Compression may help in certain situations for instance if you have a lot of uncompressed files on the drive. Thanks!

  9. Tom Hawack July 6, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

    For myself and for what I've seen from friends' computers, what takes place is always 1- video, 2- audio, 3- Pictures.
    If the disk space problem is crucial to the point of what may be gained with reducing Page File size and/or disabling Hibernation then there's really a problem, only postponed with gaining those few GBs.

    I guess most of us have a separate disk or at least partition for multimedia, because handling a system with one disk/partition is really problematic as soon as data starts piling up ...

    But do we save media as much as we used to, now that the Cloud and streaming are bound to become (soon) as quickly accessed as local data?

    • Martin Brinkmann July 6, 2014 at 4:04 pm #

      Most file synchronization services sync all data by default to the desktop including photos which often take up a lot of space.

  10. intelligencia July 6, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    Mr. Brinkmann!

    WOW!

    I just might have to make another Donation to ghacks.net.

    I saved 6 (six) GB of space just by turning OFF Hibernation alone!
    (I have always wondered why my Primary SSD was always getting FATTER as I put most of my Programs onto my HDD - - now I know)

    No amount of money could ever repay you for all the valuable information you provide not only to the Tech community but also to the layman.

    Sincerely,

    i

  11. seyver July 6, 2014 at 5:30 pm #

    Martin,
    this article should be stickied.

  12. guest July 6, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

    WizTree is another good alternative to WinDirStat and TreeSize Free. And it's fast!

  13. Jacques July 6, 2014 at 5:55 pm #

    Awesome Martin! hibernate off gained 12 Gigs for me, this is the only one that has eluded me. In C:Windows/software distribution/Download, you can safely delete everything in the folder. It varies but could free up to a Gig.

  14. Oxa July 6, 2014 at 6:10 pm #

    Great article! Don't forget to remove all those Windows update files in the Windows folder. Once the updates are installed, they're no longer needed.

  15. chesscanoe July 6, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

    This is a super article and represents a lot of work that I appreciate.
    Re your Revo Uninstaller link - note that the free download is not compatible with uninstalling 64 bit programs. See http://www.revouninstaller.com/revo_uninstaller_free_download.html .

  16. Nilpohc July 6, 2014 at 8:32 pm #

    Great post Martin, as usual ;-)

    In my opinion, tweaking the page file size should be the very last thing to do, since everyone may have different needs, the very first one being cleaning up, immediately followed by uninstalling useless software. Of course, disabling useless features is always a good move too, like hibernation if you don't use it, and we can only regret that it's not more explicit to the end user.

    Please note that Mark Russinovich wrote about the page file size in the past (http://blogs.technet.com/b/markrussinovich/archive/2008/11/17/3155406.aspx , see paragraph "How Big Should I Make the Paging File?") and pointed out the right way to tweak it without being to experimental. Must read I think.

  17. ryan_bigl July 6, 2014 at 9:26 pm #

    I was running out of space on my HDD, so I moved my Dropbox and OneDrive storage to one of my external hard drives that I keep perpetually connected. Since I have a lot of space in both accounts, this maneuver 1) backs up everything to my cloud and my external and 2) free'd up 10-20 GBs.

  18. Blue July 6, 2014 at 9:52 pm #

    Though it is a good article, I have a program that runs in the background on a schedule that I set that will auto clean up, optimize and free up space once a week. This way I don't have to lift a finger or remember such frivolous details. I set it to use a fast defrag method, of which once a month I run a full defrag but it usually reports no action required because all the little, 'fast', ones have kept the drive in good condition. The program I am referring to is one a lot of people kept bad mouthing and talking down as, 'bloatware'. It is TuneUP Utilities 2014 (TU2014). I have a registered copy of the program and I love what is does.

    Besides tools to optimize and auto maintenance the computer, including an extensive drive explorer which breaks down the contents of a drive by content type and shows us which of them are taking up the most space by individual file, or directory. I like TU2014 for the customize options. With it, I often change the icon packages, desktop theme, boot up and login screens often as well as customize individual elements. And that is why I love TU2014, I've been using them since version 2008.

    No more having to remember little tasks, (defrag, dump, move, erase, edit etc...) one program does it all. And it can even optimize startup by changing their priority which insist they are required for boot like Adobe quick launcher, video card utilities, sound manager, MS Office pre-launcher and more. It can even optimize our web browsing speed by optimizing our default settings to be set according to our actual speed instead of the default size set by Windows.

    http://www.tune-up.com/download/

  19. Michael Orbit July 7, 2014 at 12:40 am #

    I find using CCleaner with all options checked removes a surprising amount of crap.

  20. Lewis July 7, 2014 at 1:35 am #

    I just learned about this the other day when trying to free up space on my 32GB Windows tablet:

    http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn251565.aspx

    Dism.exe /online /Cleanup-Image /StartComponentCleanup /ResetBase

    The above method shaved an especially large amount of space from the WinSxS folder, albeit at the cost of disabling the ability to uninstall existing updates, which I don't see myself ever needing.

  21. Uhtred July 7, 2014 at 9:35 pm #

    Handy article & comments, thanks to all :)

    I notice a few folks use dropbox, its supposed to clear its hidden cache every three days, but if you process volume, might be handy to clear earlier than that and save some extra space.

    Note below from https://www.dropbox.com/help/328/en

    Clear your cache on Windows

    Open a new Windows Explorer window by clicking on the Start menu > My Computer.
    Type or copy and paste the following code into the location bar at the top of the window and press return:
    %HOMEPATH%\Dropbox\.dropbox.cache
    This will take you directly to the Dropbox cache folder in your Application Data folder.
    Delete the files in your cache by dragging them out of the Dropbox cache folder and into your Windows Recycle bin.

  22. infogain July 8, 2014 at 11:44 am #

    always use-->
    ccleaner with winapp2.ini
    enjoy!!!!

  23. G-DAWG July 10, 2014 at 4:50 am #

    Here's an idea for all of you!

    Here's what I recently started doing. I bought a couple cheap 16GB USB 3.0 thumb drives, and I use these drives for installing my least important programs to. I also have my 'Downloads' folder on one of these drives. This way everything I download goes onto the cheap USB drive and saving my SSD from unnecessary reads/writes. If interested, am using 2 of these http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA5DB1P18826&cm_re=kingston_digital_16gb_datatraveler_3.0_usb-_-20-239-765-_-Product I am in the US, so those of you in other countries may have to buy from somewhere else, besides Newegg.

    If I have very large files to save, I'll simply save them to my much larger USB storage drive. Works great for me!

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