Thursday, November 1, 2007

9 places where you could lose hard disk space and how to regain it

Hard disk space is precious, no matter how large a hard disk you own. You have paid for it so you would want to use every bit and bytes of it. With broadband becoming cheaper and faster, the need for space is becoming even more urgent. Unfortunately, Windows has a habit of slowly eating into your hard disk space as your system gets older and soon you may find gigabytes of space mysteriously lost. When you find that happening, just look for your missing disk space at the following places.

1. Temp folder: This is the primary place where most of the hard disk space is lost. The temp folder (Windows\Temp) is the place where temporary files are stored. In any application setup program, the files necessary to perform the installation are compressed and packed into a single setup file. When you run this setup file to install the application, the setup file is unpacked and decompressed into the temp folder from where the installation is carried out. After the installation is over the setup files are not required and some programs automatically delete these files. But not all programs do that. These files just sit on your hard disk and wastes space. Apart from installation files this temp folder is used by various application to temporarily save files during run time. This folder can consume enormous amount of space if not cleaned. These junk files can be removed by application like CCleaner, though I recommend WinXP Manager.

2. Temporary Internet Files: When you browse the internet the page you open get stored in the temporary internet folder, called the browser cache. This folder can occupy a lot of space if ignored. The default maximum size of this folder for Internet Explorer is 256MB which is a lot. You can allocate a lesser amount of space for temporary files to save disk space. 50 MB is enough. You can access this option through Tools>Internet Option and then clicking Settings under the Browsing History section. Clicking on the Empty button empties the folder.

3. Windows update uninstallation folders: When you install any windows update, it keeps a backup of the files that were changed by the updates. These backup are placed in the Windows folder and begin with the name "$NtUninstall". If you don't plan to uninstall the updates, you can safely delete these folders. The folders are remained hidden by default so you have to enable "Show hidden files and folders" in order to view them. Remember, that once you delete these folders you won't be able to uninstall the updates. These folders occupy a huge space.

4. System Restore: The default space allocated for system restore is 12%. Which means that if you have a 160GB hard disk 19GB space is reserved for system restore. You do not need to be told how much a waste of space that is. The ideal amount is around 500 MB which is enough to keep at least 2-3 restore points. If you wish to keep more restore points then you can increase the space a bit more. To change the system restore disk allocation space, go to Control Panel>System>System Restore. Move the slider to adjust the disk space. You could even turn off System restore for selected drives like the ones where you save your songs and movies. System restore never works on data files anyway. You can also remove unnecessary system points by following these steps. Go to My Computer, right click on the drive from where you want to remove restore points. Click Properties>Disk Cleanup>More Options and then click Cleanup under System Restore.

5. Page File: During earlier days of computers, memory was expensive but hard disk was relatively cheaper, so the concept of virtual memory came to implemented where part of the hard disk was used as the main memory. Now, with 1GB and 2 GB or more becoming the de facto standard of all personal computers, virtual memory has become useless. But no matter how much memory you have on your system, Windows always use virtual memory on your hard disk. The object of concern is that it allocates 1.5 times the amount of RAM you have to virtual memory by default. So if you have 1 GB RAM, 1.5 GB is reserved to page file even though you will never use that much of space in your life. A total waste. If you have 1 GB memory and don't use memory intensive applications like Flash, 3ds Max, Maya etc you can set your virtual memory to around 500 MB (even that is big enough). If you have 2 GB RAM, you can actually turn off virtual memory but I wouldn't recommend that. Around 200-300 MB should be enough. To access the virtual memory setting, go to Control Panel> System>Advanced. Under the Performance tab click on Settings. Then again click on Advanced tab and then click Change under the Virtual Memory section.

6. Recycle Bin: The recycle bin is allocated 10% of your total hard disk space. Another potential space losing place. You keep on deleting files but you never seem to gain any. Because your Recycle bin has enough space (remember 10%) to keep them. I recommend you reduce this to 1%. I assure you it's more than enough. Right click on the recycle bin on desktop, click properties and set the disk space.

7. Hibernate: If you do not use the hibernate feature, there is no point of keeping this feature turned on. The hibernate function uses the same amount of hard disk space as the amount of RAM you have. To turn off this feature, go to Control Panel>Power Options>Hibernate and then uncheck "Enable Hibernation"

8. Left over files: When you uninstallation a program, rarely the uninstallation is complete. Some files are left behind on your hard disk which could be anything from a few KBs to a couple of dozen MBs. Places to look for these files are the program installation folder and the %systemroot%\Documents and Settings\username\Application data. Before deleting these folders make sure you don't have any important saved files in them.

9. Downloaded programs folder: I'm not talking about the folder where you save your downloaded files but another folder that is present inside the Windows folder by default and contains all the setup files and other files that you downloaded through Internet Explorer like AvtiveX component, Java runtime etc. Apart from that even some other programs setup files can end up in there. Once I opened that folder and some 100MB worth of setup files of various programs that I installed on my system but never downloaded. I'm not sure how those files ended up there, but I'm not alone. I have heard reports from others as well who have found similar files hiding inside that folder. So open the folder Windows\Download Program Files and see if it's eating your hard disk space without your knowing.


  1. I love articles like this that help you get your computer squeeky clean. Thanks!
    A question though, you spoke of the "Windows update uninstallation folders"... Is this the same thing as "Hotfix Uninstallers" in Ccleaner (Windows tab, under the Advanced checkbox)?

  2. Yes, "Hotfix Uninstallers" mean the same thing. One more point. If you have service pack 2 or 1 installed after installing WindowsXP, then there will be another "hotfix" folder. This one consumes the largest amount of space (around 250~300 MB). Since uninstalling SP2 isn't recommended this folder is unnecessary and should be removed. I'm not sure whether CCleaner removes all the hotfix folders. So check for them manually.

    Also make sure you know what you are deleting.

  3. Wandering electronsNovember 2, 2007 at 2:04 PM

    Thanks, Kaushik. :)

  4. how to find windows/download files temp.files plez help me out.

  5. @vinay: Did you follow the article?

  6. Correction: Virtual memory is NOT the pagefile. It is a system in which the pagefile plays a part. Virtual memory is far from useless, even with 4GB of RAM. You can disable the page file (strongly discouraged) but this will by no means disable virtual memory. In most cases the pagefile improves performance, it does not impair it. It does this by storing rarely used data, thus freeing the faster RAM for more important duties.

    Many people believe that becasue it is called the "pagefile" it is the only source of paging. They could not be more wrong. The vast majority of paging has nothing to do with the pagefile. Disabling the pagefile will upset the balance of the system and increase paging and reduce performance.

    Unless disk space is at a premium, leave the pagefile on system managed. Contrary to popular opinion, this is not inefficient. You will gain nothing by keeping it small. The pagefile management system works best when it is least 50% larger than necessary.

    Many people worry far to much about the pagefile. Leave it on system managed and forget about it. Windows designers know more about memory management and the pagefile than you do.

    Larry Miller
    Microsoft MCSA

  7. I've read a lot about the page file and virtual memory and according to pretty much anyone of influence (there are some great explanations and examples out there) the said system is very useful. From personal experience though, turning off the page file sometimes leads to problems with memory intensive apps, but always leads to a noticeable performance increase.

  8. I take off my hat...Best article ####


Popular Posts