If you have a MacBook, you probably have a solid state drive inside it. SSDs are much faster than their hard disc drive predecessors, but the speed has come at a cost: storage capacity.
This can lead to a reliance on external drives, and the constant need to juggle your available space. Even if you have terabytes of storage on your desktop iMac or Mac Pro, it’s still handy to know how that space is being used.
Today we’ll look at the best tools to analyze, visualize, and ultimately help clean up your drives and create more free space.
Apps That Didn’t Make the Cut
First we’ll take a look at what was left out and why, particularly considering we included a few of these the last time we covered this topic. Disk Inventory X was once the go-to app for storage management, as it creates a visual “map” of your drives. Unfortunately it’s not had an update since 2005, and though it still technically works, there are a few weird quirks that show up in macOS Sierra.
WhatSize ($30) is premium tool that looks great, but comes with a premium price tag. Even though it’s powerful and designed for macOS Sierra, we think $30 is a steep price to pay considering what you can get for free. You can download a free trial to find out if it’s really worth your money.
We also left free app JDiskReport off the list, which requires the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) to be installed. The JRE isn’t necessarily a bad thing (it’s the leaky Java Browser Extension that gave the technology a bad name), but you can get similar results without installing Java from one of these other apps.
macOS Sierra’s Storage Management
Apple has always provided a simple way to visualize used disk space under the Apple > About This Mac > Storage tab. While limited, it splits your usage up by Documents, Apps, Photos, Mail, and so on. In macOS Sierra you can click the Manage button on this screen to dig a little deeper.
The Storage Management tool can also be accessed like any other app using Spotlight, or under the Applications > Utilities folder. This is where you can access a few of Sierra’s big new features, including Optimized Storage which automatically tidies up your old media, and Store in iCloud.
The latter option places rarely-used files and folders into iCloud storage, purging available space on your local machine. There’s good reason to avoid it, especially if you use a professional-level app like Logic or Final Cut. You can however use the Storage Management tool to list files that fall under Applications, Documents, and core apps like Photos, Mail and GarageBand.
It’s not a great way to visualize free space, but you can hover a file and click on the X to delete it right away. Click on the magnifying glass icon to reveal it in Finder. You can also enable Empty Trash Automatically and Reduce Clutter under Recommendations to maximize available space. If you’re feeling more adventurous, consider using Automator to move rarely-used files via FTP or to a local network drive.
You can either download Grand Perspective for free from the project’s SourceForge page, or pay $1.99 and get it from the Mac App Store. According to the developer “you’ll get the same app either way,” though if you buy it you’ll be actively supporting development.
The project is still under active development, and works great with modern Mac operating systems including macOS Sierra. Grand Perspective basically takes the place of Disk Inventory X, and displays your files as color-coded blocks. These blocks are grouped by folder and size, so you can quickly see which files and folders are taking up the most space.
Click on a file and hit Reveal to be taken to that directory to tidy things up. You can also use the Zoom controls to navigate the map. The app allows you to scan your whole drive, or just a directory of your choice. A whole-drive scan can take a while, and you’ll need to wait for the entire scan to complete before you can see any results.
Summary: A great way to visualize used space, with handy menu options for repeating previous scans.
OmniDiskSweeper was last updated in 2013 but fortunately it still works well in macOS Sierra. It allows you to list files and folders by size using a simple and lightweight interface. You can size your whole disk, external drives, or just a folder of your choice. There’s no visual map of your drive, just a list view.
The interfae may be simple, but still allows you to delete files right there from within the app. You also don’t have to wait for the entire scan to complete, as OmniDiskSweeper starts showing you what it’s found from the second you hit Scan.
Summary: A simple tool for finding big files and the folders that contain them. It works as well as could be expected, and it’s free.
Last updaed for OS X 10.10 Yosemite, DiskWave hasn’t had any work done on it since 2012. But just like OmniDiskSweeper, it works just fine in macOS Sierra, even if the interface feels a little outdated at this stage. The app uses a Finder-like tabulated interface to isolate big files and folders, which can be listed by name or size.
You’ll find all of your drives and attached devices on the left-hand side, along with a few common locations like the Home directory and your Documents. The app begins scanning as soon as you start it up, and you can then filter by drive or location. Hit the Trash button you clean things up, Reval (which should read “Reveal”) to show the folder in Finder, and Quick Look to preview media.
Summary: Not a bad free app, though personally I prefer OmniDiskSweeper’s lightweight approach to listing files by size.
Premium Option: DaisyDisk ($10)
This might be a “free” list, but it’s worth mentioning one additional premium option. In that case, DaisyDisk is worth a mention. At $10 it won’t break the bank, and the app manages to look stunning while performing one very simple task.
DaisyDisk uses a bright and colorful interface to display your used space as a pie chart. You can choose to analyze your internal drive, external USB storage, or a folder of your choice. Being a premium app, it’s actively maintained and has been optimized for use with macOS Sierra.
Summary: DaisyDisk might be just what you’re looking for if the rest of these apps don’t cut it. Grab a free trial from the homepage before you buy.
The Pursuit of Free Space
Be sure to check out our big list of tips for creating free space on your Mac if you’re struggling to trim the fat. You can take things to the next level by storing device backups elsewhere or moving your Photos and iTunes libraries off your main disk. If things are really tight then you might want to consider adding more storage to your MacBook.
How do you keep your storage in check? If we’ve missed your favorite app then add it in the comments below.
Image Credit: Krisda via Shutterstock.com