Q. What's the best way to free up space on a computer hard drive?
A. My short answer to freeing up space on a computer hard drive is to not waste your time freeing up hard drive space; instead, I recommend that you add more hard drive space. Rather than replacing your existing hard drive (which can be a complicated and time-consuming process), either add an external USB hard drive to your computer or sign up for free cloud-based storage using Microsoft's OneDrive.com website (or a similar cloud-based storage solution). However, if you want to rid your computer of unnecessary files, here are a few tips for accomplishing this goal.
1. Delete large data files. Open an Explorer window, navigate to This PC (or My PC), and search your computer using the phrase size:gigantic. (You could also search size:gigantic from the Start Menu.) This action will identify all of the files on your computer greater than 128 megabytes. As an example, I performed this action on my computer and found 431 files larger than 128 MBs, including six Outlook data files totaling 58.27 gigabytes, 40.18 GBs of which were unnecessary duplicate files (as pictured below). Therefore, this tool has assisted me in reclaiming an additional 40.18 GBs of hard drive space.
2. Run Disk Cleanup. Windows includes a built-in tool that automatically locates and deletes temporary files and other unimportant data files. To access this tool, open an Explorer window, navigate to This PC (or My PC), right-click one of your hard drive icons (one at a time), and select Properties, and then on the General tab, click the Disk Cleanup button (a portion of the Disk Cleanup dialog box is pictured below).
In my case, Disk Cleanup identified up to 3.84 GBs of leftover installation and other temporary files that could safely be deleted from my hard drive.
3. Clear browser caches. Because the Windows Disk Cleanup tool doesn't delete temporary files used by other programs, such as the Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, or Edge browsers, you will need to remove those unnecessary files separately, as follows:
- Internet Explorer. Select Tools, Internet options, and on the General tab in the Browsing history section, click the Delete button, check the box for each type of history file you want to delete, and then click the Delete button.
- Chrome. Select History from the Chrome menu, and then on the History screen, click the Clear browsing data button, check the types of history files you want to delete, and then click the Clear browsing data button.
- Firefox. From the Firefox menu select History, Clear Recent History, select the types of files you want to delete, and then click the Clear Now button.
- Microsoft Edge. Select the More menu (displayed as three dots) in the top right corner. Next, select Settings, and then in the Clear browsing section area, click the Choose what to clear button. Select the types of history files you want to clear, and click the Clear button.
4. Uninstall unnecessary applications. To remove unnecessary applications, launch Control Panel and select Programs and Features to view all of your installed applications, including the amount of hard drive space required by each application. On my computer, I noticed I have the KompoZer application installed, though I no longer use it. Since it takes up only 22 MBs, it's hardly worth the time to delete it, but removing the application will help keep my computer less cluttered; therefore, I left-clicked on the application and chose to uninstall it (as pictured below).
5. Other measures. Other possible measures include reducing the amount of hard drive space dedicated to the System Restore function, searching for and deleting duplicate files, or running a third-party hard drive cleanup tool such as Piriform's CCleaner (piriform.com/ccleaner).
About the author
J. Carlton Collins (email@example.com) is a technology consultant, a CPE instructor, and a JofA contributing editor.
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