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date 10.Aug.2014

■ Remedies for reclaiming critically low hard disk space

With the massive hard disks available on most modern computers it is rather unlikely to run out of space in your system C: partition but what if you actually do? This happened to me the other day on one of my virtual machines setup with an inadequately sized virtual disk. After a few years of running and constant window updates there was no room left to do any work. This article summarizes the obvious and the not so obvious ways to cleanup your disks with minimum hassle and without compromising the stability of your windows installation.

1. Disk cleanup applet

This is the obvious first port of call. (Use the search box in your Start menu to locate disk cleanup easily by name). Make sure you tick all the boxes and especially those that have a big associated size, and also click the Clean up system files button for those hard to clean windows update files in the large winSxS folder. If you are on windows 7 make sure you have the necessary winsxs cleanup plugin. Sadly winsxs cleanup isn't possible for windows vista or earlier systems.

In windows 8 the disk cleanup tool has a More options tab for accessing restore points you may want to check out but be careful because restore points are your lifeline against the odds of a bad installation or system update. Only clean them up if your system has been stable for a long time. In older windows you can turn off restore points altogether using system protection (not advisable unless you have no other option left to free space)
disk cleanup utility

2. Extra and advanced cleanup

How many pictures and videos do you have saved? My daughter is a junk photo creation machine filling up the camera with out of focus pictures of her feet <g> So have a look at your documents to see which ones are best forgotten and permanently deleted. Also check your installed programs from Control panel, perhaps you don't need all of them? Then uninstall a few to get some valuable disk space back. Another safe bet is SHELL:DOWNLOADS folder; you can delete things you've already downloaded and installed or never plan to install.

If you get desperate for space you can get experimental. Use Tools > Folder statistics menu command in xplorer² to identify large system folders under C:\WINDOWS, many of which are not addressed by disk cleanup utility. Then google search the folder name to see if it is safe to remove or not. Here are a few folders I found to be safe:

As you get increasingly hopeless you can free a few GB disabling hibernation support (make sure you remove the hidden HIBERFIL.SYS file). You can also compress large folders so they take up less space. Note this is different to zipping as the compressed folder still looks and offers normal access albeit at the expense of performance.

3. Move stuff to other partitions or hard disks

Once you run out of things to delete and remove you still have options if you can add extra hard disks to your system. You can then release the pressure off the system C: primary partition onto fresh storage. It is easy to buy and add disks if you have an old school desktop computer (sorry no ipads and what have you :). For spaced out virtual machines you can also add external storage (see here for virtualbox). Here are a few things you can move off C: without risk:

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