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It’s a terrible feeling to run out of disk space. Maybe not as bad as winding up with a dead hard drive How to Diagnose and Fix a Dead Hard Drive to Recover Data How to Diagnose and Fix a Dead Hard Drive to Recover Data Several years ago, I experienced a hard drive failure. I was at work when my laptop suddenly started to act particularly strange. About half an hour later, the hard drive failed audibly and the laptop... Read More , but terrible nonetheless. It means you need to pull up your sleeves and clean out the accumulated junk files on your system. But it’s not always an easy process. Where do you start?

If you find that you’re constantly running out of disk space, it may be a sign that it’s time to buy a new hard drive 4 Things You Need To Know When Buying A New Hard Drive 4 Things You Need To Know When Buying A New Hard Drive Read More  or SSD Should You Get A Solid State Drive (SSD)? [Opinion] Should You Get A Solid State Drive (SSD)? [Opinion] If you've kept up with some of the latest news about new computer parts, you may have heard about SSDs, or solid state drives. They are designed to replace your clunky, slow hard drive and... Read More and replace your current one How To Install A New Hard Drive To Replace An Old One How To Install A New Hard Drive To Replace An Old One Read More . Otherwise, the fastest way to locate junk files is to use a tool that helps you visualize your system’s file structure.

If any of this sounds complicated, don’t worry! It’s a lot easier than you think.

WinDirStat

One of the most popular tools for visualizing disk space is WinDirStat, which stands for Windows Directory Statistics. It was inspired by KDirStat on Linux, but has since come into its own as far as features are concerned. Though simple to operate, it provides more than enough information.

When you start the program, WinDirStat will ask you to select which drive you want to analyze. Once selected, it’ll take a few minutes to scan the entire drive of all files (larger drives with higher file counts will take longer to scan). When ready, you’ll see something like this:

visualize-disk-space-windirstat

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Everything is displayed in a tree format that you can expand or collapse to explore various parts of your file system. At a glance, you can see how much space each folder takes up, both absolute space in bytes and relative space as a percentage of the drive. If you open a subfolder, relative space will be shown as a percentage of the containing folder.

On the bottom half, you’ll see a visual representation of every single file on the system that’s color-coded according to its subfolder depth. Selecting a folder in the system tree will highlight the block of files in the visual representation below.

Since you can sort by how much space each element takes up, WinDirStat provides a fast way to pinpoint the files and folders that take up the most space.

CCleaner

CCleaner has consistently been one of the best system cleaners for Windows Cleaners Compared: CCleaner vs. Slimcleaner vs. IObit Advanced SystemCare Cleaners Compared: CCleaner vs. Slimcleaner vs. IObit Advanced SystemCare Although Windows is a very capable operating system, it is infamous for its deteriorating performance over time. With the help of some clever system cleaners, however, you can drastically increase the life expectancy of your... Read More . Though there are doubts concerning the efficacy of registry cleaners Using Registry Cleaner: Does Is It Really Make a Difference? Using Registry Cleaner: Does Is It Really Make a Difference? Advertisements for registry cleaners are all over the Web. There’s an entire industry out there bent on convincing inexperienced computer users that their registry needs fixing, and that, for ten easy payments of $29.95, their... Read More , CCleaner is packed with several maintenance utilities that make it worthwhile even if you skip over the registry cleaning features.

Recently, CCleaner added a new disk management feature The Best Windows Cleaning Tool Gets A Disk Analyzer The Best Windows Cleaning Tool Gets A Disk Analyzer You can now clean crap more efficiently with CCleaner v5. The new disk analyzer feature reveals what files are hogging space. See how it complements CCleaner's proven junk removing tools. Read More that makes it even more compelling to use: the Disk Analyzer utility that quickly breaks down the file space distribution on your system and presents it in an easy-to-digest graph format.

visualize-disk-space-ccleaner

Unlike WinDirStat, which scans your system for every single file, CCleaner’s Disk Analyzer lets you toggle the categories that you want to either scan or ignore: pictures, music, documents, etc. The actual scan, which takes a few minutes, is a little slower than WinDirStat, but not by much.

In the results, each file category (e.g. video) is broken down into file formats (e.g. AVI, MP4, WMV) and selecting a particular format lists all of the found files in the bottom half of the window. Thus, CCleaner is the better alternative if you want to free up disk space by deleting files according to type rather than location.

WizTree

At first glance, WizTree probably looks remarkably similar to WinDirStat. You’ve got the various columns, the percentage breakdown of relative file space usage, and a tree-based navigation that makes it easy to explore your drives. And in terms of available features, WizTree is a bit lighter than WinDirStat.

So why use WizTree over WinDirStat? Speed. While other disk analyzers can take several minutes to scan a drive, WizTree only takes a few seconds. It’s the perfect tool for those who want to visualize their disk space without wasting any time. There’s also a “1000 Largest Files” tab, but it isn’t as useful as it sounds (most of them are system files).

visualize-disk-space-wiztree

WizTree is also available in portable form, meaning a single EXE file that you execute from anywhere without having to install anything The Best Portable Apps The Best Portable Apps Portable apps are light software versions that can be run from a USB drive without being installed on the host computer. We have selected the best ones for a number of tasks. Read More . Put it on a USB drive and take it with you wherever you go and you’ll always have a disk analyzer at the tip of your fingers.

One potential downside is that WizTree only works with NTFS drives, but that’s not actually much of a problem these days since NTFS has been the default Windows file system since Windows XP. If you’re a little lost, read our explanation of different file systems From FAT To NTFS To ZFS: File Systems Demystified [MakeUseOf Explains] From FAT To NTFS To ZFS: File Systems Demystified [MakeUseOf Explains] Do you really know what your hard drive does whenever you read a file from it or write one to it? Our hard drives can now store massive amounts of data, and that massive space... Read More and why they matter.

Disk Savvy

If you want a real powerhouse of a tool, Disk Savvy is the tool for you. Like the other programs mentioned thus far, its main function is the ability to quickly scan disk space usage, but that’s just the beginning. This is the closest thing to an all-in-one disk analyzer that you’ll find.

With Disk Savvy, you can scan specific directories, entire drives, or even external devices that are on the network. Whatever you choose to scan, you get a complete breakdown on per-directory and per-file-type bases. In that sense, it’s the best of both worlds.

visualize-disk-space-disk-savvy

The visual representation in Disk Savvy is easy to read. The main window lists all of the scanned directories in a navigation layout similar to WinDirStat, but each directory can be depicted as a pie chart. On top of that, you can view the “Top 100 Files” and “Top 100 Directories” that are taking up the most space.

Disk Savvy comes in a free version for personal use. For non-personal use, you’ll need to purchase Disk Savvy Pro for $25. Furthermore, if you want the command line version of the program, there’s Disk Savvy Ultimate for $50.

How Much Space Did You Reclaim?

WinDirStat was my preferred disk analyzer for the past few years, but I have to admit that Disk Savvy is the most useful program of all the ones listed simply because it’s packed with so many features. It can do everything, making it our recommended free disk space visualization tool for Windows.

Still struggling with low disk space? Try these native disk cleanup tools Low Disk Space? 5 Native Windows Tools To Free Up Storage Space Low Disk Space? 5 Native Windows Tools To Free Up Storage Space Don't download a fishy third party tool to reclaim valuable disk space! Windows has its own tools for the job and they're easy to use. Read More as well as these alternative methods for freeing up Windows 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 .

Did you find these tools useful? Which one is your favorite? Tell us how much space you cleaned up in the comments below!

  1. David Brown
    July 22, 2016 at 1:38 am

    Disk Savvy "freeware" will analyze only 500,000 files which makes evaluating it without actually buying it first impossible for me.

  2. R. Torres
    February 24, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Almost forgot. Such software is very appropriate for people, who are not very into computers. I said that because all my friends call me and asking me to fix their PCs after they've messed it up.

  3. Allan Man
    February 11, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    Directory Report also has these features:
    Show all files in descending size order
    Show all directories in descending size order
    Show all file types in descending size order
    Show a summary of all users and their total bytes used
    Find duplicate files
    Find duplicate directories

    • Joel
      February 13, 2015 at 7:36 pm

      Thanks for the update!

  4. Allan Man
    February 10, 2015 at 12:42 pm

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

    It is faster than WinDirStat

    • Joel
      February 10, 2015 at 1:05 pm

      Thanks for the suggestion Allan. After looking at it, I wish Directory Report had a free version (not just a 10-day trial) and I wish it had more options for visualizing disk usage (not just managing disk usage). Otherwise, it looks like a sturdy program, though I'm not sure I'd personally pay $25 for it.

      What particularly do you like about it?

  5. Ion Popa
    January 23, 2015 at 2:03 pm

    SpaceSniffer - http://www.uderzo.it/main_products/space_sniffer/release_notes.html

    I've also used for a while WinDirStat.

  6. Harry
    January 23, 2015 at 11:44 am

    One more vote for Stefan Gerlach’s Scanner : http://steffengerlach.de/freeware/

  7. JAD
    January 22, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    I have always used Stefan Gerlach's Scanner since way back for locating 'space-hogs'. Free and really easy to use.

    • Joel Lee
      January 23, 2015 at 3:42 pm

      It looks a bit outdated but I'm sure it's still functional and effective. Perhaps a bit too simple for my needs but if it's been working for you until now and you're happy with it, I see no reason to abandon it. Thanks for the heads up on Scanner!

  8. dragonmouth
    January 22, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    "If you find that you’re constantly running out of disk space, it may be a sign that it’s time to buy a new hard drive or SSD and replace your current one. "
    While you may have outgrown your present drive, it would behoove you to first check if some process or app is not writing uncontrollably to your disk. It may even indicate some kind of malware. If you replace your drive with a bigger one without finding out why space is disappearing, you'll wind up back in the same situation. The programs you suggest will help in the research.

    • Joel Lee
      January 23, 2015 at 3:40 pm

      Actually, yeah that's a really good point, especially if your hard drive is large and brand new and it's already filling up. Always look to treat the root cause rather than the symptoms. If it's just a case of having accumulated too much data and needing more storage space, that's when to buy a new drive. Thanks for catching that, dragonmouth.

  9. DhughC
    January 22, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    TreeSize is a good one too!

    • Joel Lee
      January 23, 2015 at 3:37 pm

      TreeSize looks pretty good. At a glance, I can't see any particular features that set it apart from the programs listed here (care to point out some of your favorite?) but it seems like it would work as a viable alternative. Thanks for the suggestion!

  10. Matt
    January 22, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    I use spacesniffer, fast, portable, efficient.

    • Joel Lee
      January 23, 2015 at 3:35 pm

      Wow, can't believe I missed that one. SpaceSniffer looks really cool. I'm not sure I could live without a built-in directory tree for navigation, but it's visualization of disk space is top-notch and flexible. Thanks for the heads up!

  11. Scott
    January 22, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    I'm a big fan of the old Spacemonger. That thing has served me for years faithfully finding all the stuff I copied to the wrong place over the years.

    • Joel Lee
      January 23, 2015 at 3:32 pm

      Unfortunately there's no free version, just a 2-day trial. Does it have any particular features that make it more useful to you than the tools listed here? Just trying to gauge if it's worth the $15 price tag. :)

  12. Passegua
    January 22, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    I like and use JDiskReport.
    It's here: http://www.jgoodies.com/freeware/jdiskreport/
    best regards

    • Joel Lee
      January 23, 2015 at 3:31 pm

      Looks simple and effective! Thanks for suggesting it. Any reason why you choose JDiskReport over the alternatives listed here? I'm just curious. :)

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