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 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.
- Tap on Windows, type cmd, right-click Command Prompt and select Run as Administrator.
- If you receive a UAC prompt accept it by clicking continue.
- 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)
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.
- Press Windows+Pause to open the System Control Panel applet.
- Select Advanced System Settings on the screen.
- When the System Properties windows opens up, select Settings next to Performance.
- Here you need to switch to the Advanced tab.
- Click on Change under Virtual Memory.
- Uncheck "automatically manage paging file size for all drives" if it is checked.
- 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.
- 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)
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)
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.
- Tap on the Windows-key on the keyboard, type Disk Cleanup and hit enter.
- Select the main drive letter, and click on clean up system files once the Disk Cleanup utility is loaded.
- 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.
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 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.
- Tap on Windows-Pause to open the System control panel applet.
- Select System Protection on the left side.
- The next screen displays the current state of System Restore on the PC.
- Select a drive and click configure.
- 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)
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)
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.