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The size of PC hard drives has been increasing at an exponential rate over the last years. Whereas ten years ago you were lucky if you had 40 GB of disk space, today 1 TB of storage is almost common.

Nonetheless, it is still possible to run out of memory. Application sizes are growing, and if you are using an older machine or a small netbook, you could quickly hit your memory limit. Even if you’re not close to filling your hard drive, freeing up some disk space might help your computer’s overall performance.

Lots of third party tools can free up disk space 6 Ways to Free Up Space on Your Windows Computer 6 Ways to Free Up Space on Your Windows Computer Clutter can be a big downer on productivity. Over time, files get lost, programs go unused, and suddenly, your once spacious hard drive is packed with useless things and you have to clean it up.... Read More , but read on to find out how you can reclaimvaluable disk space using Windows’ own tools.

Disk Cleanup

Disk Clean-up is Windows’ built-in tool for removing unnecessary old files. Your Recycle Bin, Temp folders, and other random system files are potentially hogging gigabytes of free space – and it’s safe to delete those files.

Running Disk Clean-up is easy. Find and open ‘Disk Cleanup’ via the search bar in the Start menu or the Windows 8 Charms bar. In the new window select the drive you want to clean up, click OK, and your machine will start to calculate how much space can be saved by running the cleaner. This process will take a couple of minutes to complete.

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Once it has finished you will be presented with a screen that lists different categories and the amount of unnecessary space taken up by each. Mark the checkboxes next to the categories you want to delete and click ‘OK’.

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Alternatively, click on ‘Clean up system files’. Doing this will enable you to delete legacy files from previous installations of Windows, old system restore points, and various system log files. If you have updated from a previous version of Windows you might be able to save as much as 1 GB of space by completing this process.

Advanced users can manipulate Disk Clean-up How To Automatically Keep Windows 7 Clean Of Obsolete Files How To Automatically Keep Windows 7 Clean Of Obsolete Files Windows has a way of collecting virtual dust, a circumstance that has not changed considerably in Windows 7. These obsolete files take up space and contribute to hard drive fragmentation. While neither of this is... Read More by changing the settings and scheduling a task.

Uninstall Unnecessary Applications

As your computer gets older you inevitably end up with various apps and programs installed that are no longer needed. They may be old versions of games, previous editions of productivity suites, or software that you thought you’d try out, but ultimately didn’t like.

Staying on top of your installed programs is a vital component of keeping your PC healthy and fast. To remove unwanted or unneeded apps you need to find and open ‘Programs and Features ‘ via the search bar in the Start menu or the Windows 8 Charms bar. Once it opens, you will then see a list of all the programs which are installed on your machine. The list can be sorted by file size so you can see exactly how much space is taken up by each program (though beware, not all programs will list a value).

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Once you’ve sorted the list, you can start at the top and delete the largest unused programs first. As always, exercise caution – if you are unsure about what a program does you should seek advice from the various online resources.

Compress Your Files

Windows uses a NTFS file system, which offers a built-in file compression feature. This feature allows you to compress files that you use infrequently, while still allowing you to access them normally when required.

It should be noted that compressed files do take slightly longer to open. If you have a powerful computer, the difference won’t be noticeable, but if you have a slow central processing unit (CPU), then compression is not recommended.

Compression is especially useful for MS Office documents that you need to keep, but rarely open, old PDFs, and large image files. You should not compress music or video files because these files are normally already saved in a compressed format. Similarly, you should not compress Windows system files and other program files, it will slow down your computer and could corrupt other processes.

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To compress a file or folder you first need to find it in ‘File Explorer’. Once found, right click on it and select ‘Properties’ and then ‘Advanced’. Simply check the box next to ‘Compress contents to save disk space’ and click ‘OK’. If you decided to folder compress a folder rather than a file then Windows will ask you whether you also want to compress the subfolders and files as well.

Undoing the process is equally simple – just navigate back to the advanced attributes window and uncheck the same box.

Reduce Space Used For System Restore

Although System Restore isn’t fail-safe What to Do When Windows System Restore Fails What to Do When Windows System Restore Fails If you’re experiencing a problem with your Windows computer, you can try using System Restore, which rolls back system files, program files, and registry information to a previous state. If these files have been corrupted... Read More , it allows you to roll back your system’s configuration to a previous point in time. It’s a way to undo system changes to your computer, without affecting your personal files, such as email, documents, or photos.

While this is an important level of protection against unexpected changes caused by bad drivers, registry keys, system files and installed programs, the backups understandably use a lot of disk space.

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To reduce the amount of memory used for creating restore points, open your ‘Control Panel’  by searching in either the Start menu or Charms bar, select ‘System’, and click on ‘System protection’ from the menu on the left.

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Once the new window opens select the ‘System Protection’ tab and then click on configure. You will be presented with a window that includes ‘Disk Space Usage’ and a sliding scale. Simply drag the slider to use more or less space.

Use OneDrive’s Online Storage Or An External Hard Drive

This is an obvious one, but it’s still surprising how many people keep all their files on their local machine. While it’s natural to collect old photos and personal documents, very few people look at them frequently enough to justify using all that space on their main computer.

Instead, you should consider using an external hard drive or a cloud-based solution. Microsoft’s own cloud-based solution, OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive), is integrated into all Windows 8 machines. When saving a file or folder, you will be able to find OneDrive listed in the left-hand column of locations SkyDrive For Windows 8: The Cloud Storage And Modern File Explorer App SkyDrive For Windows 8: The Cloud Storage And Modern File Explorer App Got Windows 8? Then you have SkyDrive and in combination with a Microsoft account, you get 7GB of free storage. SkyDrive is a cloud storage solution and also doubles as a modern file explorer. Read More on your computer. They offer 7 GB for free, though if this isn’t enough then Google Drive offer users 1 TB of storage for $9.99 per month.

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If you are more interested in an external hard drive, a Seagate 1 TB external hard drive is available on Amazon for $69.99, while a massive 4 TB model is available for only $150.39 (check out our guide for some of the best external hard drives you can buy The Best External Hard Drives You Should Consider Buying [Gadget Corner] The Best External Hard Drives You Should Consider Buying [Gadget Corner] Ah, the external hard drive. This unsung hero of the gadget world can be found on almost any geek’s desk, usually tucked away behind a monitor or stuffed in a drawer. Yet it’s of great... Read More ). You could also discreetly increase Window’s storage an external SD card How To Increase Storage Space On Windows 8.1 Devices With SD Cards How To Increase Storage Space On Windows 8.1 Devices With SD Cards Windows 8.1 devices, even the tablets, are full PCs and often support SD cards. They are great for storing libraries, downloads, and SkyDrive files externally. We'll show you how to best use the extra storage. Read More , though unless you get one with a fast transfer rate you might not see sufficient results for day-to-day usage.

Storage Spaces are a good way to manage your files if you choose this method. They are virtual drives that appear in File Explorer, which, depending on how you set them up, can help increase performance, protect your files from drive failure, and improve storage efficiency. To create a storage space, search for ‘storage spaces’ in the  Charms bar and click on the icon. This feature is not available in Windows 7 and earlier.

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Your Tips?

Remember, if all else fails you can try to increase the disk size by using an old hard drive How To Free Up Disk Space Without Booting Into Windows How To Free Up Disk Space Without Booting Into Windows Can you no longer boot into Windows due to low disk space? You can easily free up space without booting into the operating system by using the right tools. We show you how. Read More from an unused computer or accessing your old computer via Linux. This is not an easy undertaking and is not recommended unless you are very experienced. Deleting all the files and information from an old hard drive is easy and doesn’t even require you to turn on a computer!

How do you save disk space? Do you use any third-party tools or do you rely on Microsoft’s built-in features? Have you ever run out of memory and been forced to undertake some of our tips? Let us know in the comments below.

  1. Ken Sims
    May 26, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Minor note: since Office 2007 the Microsoft Office file formats have been compressed XML archives, so storing them in a compressed NTFS folder will not help disk space. Related...if you want to extract the images out of a Word document for use elsewhere open the doc with 7zip and browse around. You can find the original images inserted in there.

  2. jpa
    May 26, 2014 at 12:59 am

    Disable Hibernate (and Delete hiberfil.sys) in Windows 7 or Vista
    You’ll need to open an administrator mode command prompt by right-clicking on the command prompt in the start menu, and then choosing Run as Administrator. Once you’re there, type in the following command:
    powercfg -h off

  3. Howard B
    May 25, 2014 at 6:34 pm

    I've been using CCleaner for years, and it is in no way "fishy." One thing that it has incorporated is removing unneeded System Update backup files, something I used to need another tool to do on XP, and that, IIRC, Windows won't do by itself.

  4. Windows8
    May 24, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    If you on Windows 8 you can also clean your DISM folder.

    Check how big it is: CMD as ADMIN
    Dism.exe /Online /Cleanup-Image /AnalyzeComponentStore

    And clean it: CMD as ADMIN
    Dism.exe /Online /Cleanup-Image /StartComponentCleanup /ResetBase

  5. dragonmouth
    May 24, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    "Nonetheless, it is still possible to run out of memory..............if you are using an older machine or a small netbook, you could quickly hit your memory limit."
    Why are you talking about memory? I thought the article is about disk storage.

  6. TreeMap
    May 24, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    The best tool I've found for analysing disk space is SequoiaView - it's been around for ever, but is still second to none - imo. Its my first install on every computer I've owned.

  7. likefunbutnot
    May 24, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    I suggest using a program like SpaceSniffer, WinDirStat or SpaceMonger to track the distribution of free space on your computer.
    Also, remember that YouTube offers unlimited space for personal videos, and that Google and Amazon allow users to upload parts of a personal music collection to their respective cloud archives.

    For users worth multiple hard disks, Windows also has libraries for managing disk space and organizing content, and that it's possible to use Windows Disk Management to assign a hard disk as a mount point as if it were a folder, rather than as a different drive letter.

  8. jamieg
    May 24, 2014 at 9:54 pm

    WinDirStat

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