What's Hiding On Your Hard Drive?

Category: Hard-Drives

If you're actively using your computer to try out new software, or you download music or movies from the Internet, you'll eventually end with some unwanted clutter on your hard drive. Here are some tips to run a 'search and destroy' operation on those large files that are just taking up space on your hard drive...

Cleanup Your Hard Drive and Delete Duplicate Files

Over time, stuff can accumulate on your hard drive, just like it does on your desk, your shelves, and in your filing cabinet. Sometimes software programs leave logs, dumps or temporary files that serve no useful purpose.

Large files can waste space on your hard drive, and duplicate copies make it hard to find the file you want. And if you do regular backups, huge and unnecessary files will slow down the process, especially if you use an online backup service.

(You ARE making regular backups, right? If not, see How I Got Hacked... And Why You MUST Have a Backup!)

Fortunately, there are some nifty, free tools you can use to identify and zap the files you don't want or need on your hard drive. You might even find it fun (and at least educational) to go through the process. Here are my recommendations to find large, useless and duplicate files:
Hard Drive Cleanup

WinDirStat is a free tool that analyzes your hard drive, and then displays your files and folders in a variety of textual and graphical formats that help you understand what's taking up all that space on your disk. Don't worry about the little PacMan critters as they scurry around your hard drive. They're not actually eating anything. :-)

The directory list is similar to the Windows Explorer tree view, but is sorted by the size of file/folder/subtree. The stunning graphical treemap shows the contents of the directory tree at a glance, using colored squares of different sizes. Clicking on a square will reveal the name of the file or folder, and highlights it in the tree view above. The extension list to the right reveals what each extension stands for (e.g. MPG = Movie Clip) and shows statistics about the file types.

When I ran WinDirStat, it immediately showed me that I had some very old (and very large) MPEG video files laying around, and one 4GB file that I no longer needed. It's easy to right-click a file, then open an Explorer window or a command prompt showing the parent folder. You can also choose to rename a file, or delete it permanently, bypassing the recycle bin. WinDirStat is for Windows only, but the author recommends some related apps, namely KDirStat for Linux and Disk Inventory X for Macs.

JdiskReport is a similar tool, but it displays your disk usage in a pie chart instead. It will identify which folders are consuming the bulk of your hard drive, and helps to identify large, obsolete files and folders. JdiskReport runs on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.

Easy Duplicate Finder will help you find and eliminate duplicate files from your PC or Mac's hard drive. You'll be surprised how many duplicate photos, Word documents, spreadsheets, and MP3s it reveals. Deleting duplicate files will make your backups faster, and eliminates confusion as well. Easy Duplicate Finder can alert you to duplicates in which the filenames and/or sizes match, or dive deeper to check the actual file contents for duplication. It can also search for duplicate songs by scanning the MP3 ID tags, which reveal the song title, artist, and album names.

Options include scanning only specified folders or filetypes, and searching external drives, MP3 players, and digital cameras. When getting rid of unwanted or duplicate files, you have to be very careful that you don't delete an important system files. Easy Duplicate Finder will warn you if you try to nuke something that will cause system problems, and gives you the option to move dupes to the Recycle Bin, some other folder, or open the file with it's associated program to see what's inside.

The Windows Disk Cleanup utility can also be useful. It does a good job of finding and deleting temporary files, Windows Update backup files, and other stuff you don't need to know or care about. It won't find duplicate files, however. On Windows XP, go to My Computer, right-click a hard drive, select Properties, then click the Disk Cleanup button. On Vista or Windows 7, click Start, type Disk Cleanup, and hit Enter.

Some other tips that will help to de-clutter your hard drive:

- Use the Windows Add/Remove Programs tool to uninstall what you don't use.
- Try PC Decrapifier or Revo Uninstaller to remove pre-installed bloatware or apps that can't be zapped by other methods.
- Proactively delete photos, movies, documents and spreadsheets you no longer need.
- Keep a tidy email inbox, and delete emails with large attachments

Do you have your own hard drive cleanup tips to share? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "What's Hiding On Your Hard Drive?"

Posted by:

23 Jul 2012

I LOVE WinDirStat! A while back I noticed my hard drive space running low. I checked all my usual folders, deleted some bigger files I didnt need anymore but it just kept shrinking. I found this program and quickly and easily found a rogue log file (.txt no less) for some program had grown to over 60 GB and was still growing! I could watch the file size going up real time in Windows Explorer. Without that program I may never have found the problem!

Posted by:

23 Jul 2012

JdiskReport looks pretty interesting. I've been looking for a program to replace SC DiskInfo(which was great on XP but won't work on Win7). Thanks. I've been using Revo Uninstaller for awhile. Outstanding program I highly recommend...

Posted by:

23 Jul 2012

This is a bit out of my league. I did find a ton of DMP files. Not knowing what they are, do I need them? Each one is not big, about 23KB and they apparently take up 0/0%.
Thanks, Pattymac

EDITOR'S NOTE: These are dump files, and are safe to delete. See http://www.fileinfo.com/extension/dmp

Posted by:

Des M
23 Jul 2012

Downloaded WinDirStat but couldn't get it started (set up?). Must be getting senile in my dotage.

Posted by:

25 Jul 2012

I use Directory Report
It is like WinDirStat but faster. It will find hidden files when run as an administrator.
And it find duplicate files

Posted by:

25 Jul 2012

I swear by Revo uninstaller ... not for finding big files, but if you uninstall a prog with it, it's really GONE and all leftover files/garbage are gone as well. When are programmers gonna add a REAL and complete uninstall.exe with their programs...?

Posted by:

26 Jul 2012

Flaw in using PCDecrapifier is that it tries to delete multiple programs at one time. Yes, they claim this is a good thing. I do not. There are some programs that need to be deleted in order because of shared files, or shared directories, or shared something. I didn't record the ghastly error messages I got, nor the tedious and time consuming process of having to reinstall some programs so I could uninstall them again--correctly. I don't recommend it.

Posted by:

Scott B
26 Jul 2012

Great articles, Bob!
As for a tip: Zipping up older and/or low use folders and files can help as well.

Posted by:

03 Aug 2012

Add Overdisk and Double Killer to the list, they do what you'd expect and are simple and useful.

Posted by:

15 Jun 2013

Another way to delete duplicates is "DuplicateFilesDeleter" I've been using it for over a year now.

Posted by:

14 Aug 2014

I found ashisoft free duplicate file finder is much better to deal with duplicate files.

Posted by:

14 Aug 2014

I have one more alternative "DuplicateFilesDeleter" is a tool done this work better for me.

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