HOWTO: Clean Up Your Hard Drive

Category: Hard-Drives

Are you running out of space on your hard drive? Does it take forever to do backups? Maybe you're getting that annoying LOW DISK SPACE message. Don't ignore it, or your computer could soon begin to malfunction. Here are some free tools to clean up your hard drive and make sure your computer is running smoothly...

Clean Computer Clutter for Better Performance

Digital clutter can clog your hard drive, slowing down normal operations and making it difficult to find the information you need. Unnecessary files accumulate every time you use a computer. It's good practice to clean out computer clutter every once in a while.

Of course it's a problem if you have no room to store your music, photos, or videos on your hard drive, but low disk space can also adversely affect the performance of your computer. When your operating system runs out of RAM memory, it will try to create virtual memory by grabbing a chunk of hard drive space. If there is not enough space available, your applications may fail, or you may not be able to open large files.

Even worse, when you run low on disk space, Windows will begin to delete System Restore points, or even switch off the System Restore feature entirely. If you're not sure why that might be a problem, see my article Time Travel With System Restore.

Low Disk Space

Computer housecleaning should really start the day you turn on a new PC. Most computers come loaded with unnecessary and often unwanted programs. The software developers pay computer OEMs to install their trialware on new PCs, hoping that new buyers will try and purchase some. Among experienced users, such programs are known as "crapware".

PC-Decrapifier is a free specialized uninstaller utility that scans any PC (new or used) for known crapware. One click is all it takes to uninstall all the crapware that PC-Decrapifier finds. The program also displays a list of all other applications on your system; you can check off any that you wish remove and PC-Crapifier will launch the standard Windows uninstaller. Just make sure and double check that it doesn't remove any apps you DO want to keep.

NOTE: Don't be fooled by sneaky "Download" ads that sometimes appear on the PCDecrapifier.com website. Click the BLUE "Download Now" button, or you could end up with the wrong program.

Have you recently gotten a new computer? If so, see Five Things You MUST Do On Your New PC.

Some programs cannot be uninstalled by Windows, for various reasons. Others uninstall only partially, leaving behind folders and files that clutter your computer. Revo Uninstaller is an advanced uninstaller that removes even the most stubborn program. AppZapper (http://appzapper.com) is a similar program for Mac users.

More Hard Drive Cleaner Uppers

Web browsers generate a ton of digital clutter. Browsers store images, cookies, download histories, and other temporary files that they might need again. These files are handy but not strictly necessary. They don't get cleaned up automatically, either. Utilities such as CCleaner sweep up browser clutter as well as other traces left on your computer by Windows.

Duplicate files are another form of digital clutter. Duplicates are especially common among music and image files. Utilities such as Auslogics Duplicate File Finder (FREE) use metadata to identify duplicates, or do a byte-by-byte comparison of files that have common names and sizes. CleanGenius ($30) is a duplicate file finder for Mac OS X users.

Windows itself comes with a Disk Cleanup utility that many people find quite satisfactory. It lets you select the disk(s) and user(s) whose files are to be tidied up. You can specify the types of files to be deleted, i. e., temporary files, downloaded ActiveX and Java program files, Service Pack backup files, etc. It won't find duplicate files, however. From the My Computer window, right-click a hard drive, select Properties, then click the Disk Cleanup button.

Here are some other tips that should work on any system to reduce the load on your hard drive:

  • Delete photos and movies you no longer need. These files can be HUGE sometimes.
  • Use Media Player and/or iTunes to delete any music, video or podcasts you no longer need.
  • Look through your Documents folder for old or unwanted word processor and spreadsheet files.
  • Clean up your email folders - Inbox, Sent, Trash, Junk, etc.

Here's my secret weapon when it comes to really cleaning up a hard drive. JdiskReport is a disc usage analyzer for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X systems that visually represents the space taken up by various files and folders on your hard drive. You can use it to find large files, overstuffed folders, and other hard-to-find junk. WinDirStat (for Windows only) is similar, but displays the information about large files and folders in a "treemap" format that some people find very helpful. KDirStat is a Linux version of WinDirStat. Mac users may want to check out GrandPerspective, which does a similar job.

The Ultimate Hard Drive Solution

If you plan on selling, giving away or disposing of your old computer system, you'll want to ensure that your hard drive is truly clean, so that none of your sensitive files can be recovered. You can use free software like DBAN or KillDisk to overwrite every piece of data on your hard drive with zeros. Now that's a clean hard drive. If you're really paranoid, destroy the hard drive with a drill press, a sledge hammer, or run it through an industrial shredder, as demonstrated in this video.

The amount of digital clutter that builds up on a computer varies greatly from one user to another. It depends on your uses of the machine and the Internet. Some people need to clean house every week, while others can go months without suffering any noticeable performance degradation.

Do you have something to say about hard drive cleanup? Post your comment or question below...

 
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Posted by on 10 May 2013


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Most recent comments on "HOWTO: Clean Up Your Hard Drive"

(See all 21 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

George
10 May 2013

Don't forget RidNacs - free - fast and simple. I used it to find the hidden page files Google Earth overloaded my C drive with.


Posted by:

Bob Dawes
10 May 2013

Hi Bob,

I have an external 300GB hard drive that reported it was full but when I checked it in Windows Explorer there was more than 100 GB free. I wracked my brain for a bit and then noticed that the FAT was FAT32. I changed the FAT to NTFS and now I can access the empty space.

Thanks for a great newsletter.

Bob Dawes


Posted by:

Mike
10 May 2013

I really like SpaceSniffer for a visual display of the files on a drive...especially for finding big ones...or worse yet, duplicated big ones.


Posted by:

EastSlopeCharlie
10 May 2013

I've found that the badly maligned assault rifle with a high-cap-mag does the trick of 'cleaning' your hard dive very well. AND it makes for nifty target practice to try to hit a swinging and spinning hard-drive suspended from a tree limb by wire. just make sure your background is absolutely clear - you don't want any witnesses.

For those really confidential records which need to be discretely and quickly dispatched, I use Mafia Disk Doctor(TM). Generally a few rounds of .45ACP Hollow Points does the job quite well, and the drives can be mounted in a picture frame and hung on your wall -- or sent to your client as evidence that the job was done. I have a friend who loves his Mossburg 500 with 8 rounds of 00 buck shot to 'skeet' his drives clean. He then frames them and puts them on his 'ego wall'.

NOTHING can read them, not even the NSA, CIA, DIA, UN, nor any other 'black chopper' organization has the means to read a warped disk with holes punched through it. No Brain, No Problem.


Posted by:

D A POTTS
10 May 2013

Don't forget to defragment, also.


Posted by:

Tim
11 May 2013

You and every other techie talks about deleting duplicate files on our hard drives but unfortunately no one explains which file to keep and which to delete. I've scanned my hd a few times and find lots of duplicates but I'm unsure as to which one to keep and which to delete.....can you please explain which one to keep?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Are you using a tool designed to find the dupes (like the ones I mentioned)? Those tools should give you guidance as to which files to nuke.


Posted by:

John
11 May 2013

Bob:

What about those thumbnail files that Windows creates for everything you look at on the internet. When I backup my files to a thumb drive, it seems to copy all of those useless files, too, and I think they are disguised as "hidden files." Can I delete them with a "name.*" type command from the old DOS days?

Later, John.


Posted by:

Ken Stauffer
12 May 2013

I use three programs every week Jet Clean-free
advanced system care pro and I've been using a new program,slim cleaner and also slim driver.both do a fine job and really fast


Posted by:

James Burgoyne
13 May 2013

BoB:)I tried the software DBAN to wipe my disc but could not get it to work for me. I didn't find the program user friendly. Once downloaded it wanted me to burn the program to disc but didn't inform me ahead of time. It took me two burn programs, Nero and Burn4Free to make a disc. 10.5MB 0 secs. All the reviews were xtremely positive. After looking around I found the negative reviews and my story was written in them already. I think I will stay away from dban. JimB


Posted by:

Dan
13 May 2013

I wish people would stop claiming that Revo Uninstaller is the be-all and end-all of removal tools - it's fine for amateurs who don't know better but I doubt there are any of those around here. It leaves behind useless files and a ton of registry entries. I use it but I also use Registrar Registry Manager to clean up the registry and Everything to clean up files that are left behind. So one might come to the, quite logical, conclusion that Revo is useless since I could accomplish the same results by using the program's uninstall routine. Revo Pro might be better.


Posted by:

Adin
20 May 2013

Hi Bob, great article!

I've tried PCDecrapifier and it worked really well. It's also a good program to run on a brand new laptop to get rid of the bloatware.

As for your recommended duplicate finders, I prefer Easy Duplicate Finder. It's more advanced than the ones you mention and it works on both Windows and Mac. I've been using it for the past year and it's been great.


Posted by:

Binary Man
20 May 2013

I use Directory Report
http://www.file-utilities.com

It does both:
Finds duplicate files and
Shows the size of every folder

I was able to quickly drill down to problem folders
I found many games my son installed which he no longer playes
Shaiya - over 1 gig
The Sims - over 2 gig


Posted by:

markbun
27 Jun 2013

I use DuplicateFilesDeleter.com a guaranteed fix for duplicate clean up.


Posted by:

Jack Dorsey
31 Jul 2013

All I need and use for a good FREE disk clean up are these two tools:

Duplicate File Finder - http://www.mindgems.com/products/Fast-Duplicate-File-Finder/Fast-Duplicate-File-Finder-About.htm

Folder Size - http://www.mindgems.com/products/Folder-Size/Folder-Size.html


Posted by:

Alan
21 Aug 2013

NoClone 2013 is more powerful to find not just duplicate files but duplicate folder and similar photos. NoClone is a true duplicate file finder.


Posted by:

UY
27 Aug 2013

Great article!
Welcome to try our NoClone: it can find not just duplicate files but duplicate folder and similar photos.
Similar photos take a large space of our hard disk, so it's necessary to clean them up.
know more from: http://noclone.net/
Cotact with me , I can provide you a free license.


Posted by:

Rob
11 Nov 2013

Bob, I am shocked that you would recommend pcdecrapifier. I downloaded it to my wife's new laptop, missed a decline - how cheeky of them to set it up like that, when we are all used to clicking next automatically - and now we have the eazel search infection. Any ideas to deal with that gratefully received. Freeware software which makes its living by tricking users into downloading unwanted software, especially a debloater for heaven's sake - why on earth do you recommend it - avast is no better, there were at least 6 or more software offers, two of which slipped thriugh, so hard was it to work out what was going on.

EDITOR'S NOTE: DId you see my note about the PCD download? (Don't be fooled by sneaky "Download" ads that sometimes appear on the PCDecrapifier.com website. Click the BLUE "Download Now" button, or you could end up with the wrong program.) See also http://askbobrankin.com/download_alert_foistware_warning.html


Posted by:

Robert
30 Dec 2013

Hi Bob, thanks for your great advice, and I notice that you recommend Revo uninstaller, which is a very strong program, unfortunately I don't think it is foolproof and I do think that you should recommend that Revo should be used with care as each time I have used its deepest clean function, my MBR has usually disappeared leaving some recovery work to be done. Regards Robert.


Posted by:

jsmith
15 Apr 2014

Ashisoft Duplicate File Finder got 5 star rating from cNet and its freeware too!

http://download.cnet.com/Duplicate-File-Finder/3000-2248_4-10300084.html


Posted by:

ivanden
17 Jul 2014

How about this tool "DuplicateFilesDeleter"
Try and tell me your opinions.


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