My Hard Drive is Full! What Do I Do?

If you have been running Windows Vista for some time and do not have ridiculous amounts of hard drive space at your disposal, you are probably close to capacity on your C: drive. Aside from running out and buying another hard drive, here are some tips on ways to clean up yours.

1. Run Disk Cleanup. Microsoft provides this tool but even I will admit that I don’t run this as often as I should. The only thing it doesn’t do is let you schedule a weekly cleaning so you will have to try to remember. If you are running low on space though, it could be a constant reminder.

2. Add/Remove programs is your second best friend after Disk Clean-up. Unfortunately, unless you are installing games and apps like crazy, this is a onetime fix. However, it could free up a lot of space. We all know how much extra “stuff” Microsoft or our PC manufacture like to provide when we get the machine; did you go and get rid of it all when you bought your machine?

3. Do a Temp File purge then don’t let it happen again. When was the last time you cleared out your Temporary Internet Files? Honestly? Do you run Google Earth or its Microsoft counterpart? Go into your browser, clear the temporary files and then clamp down on the size. If you have a fast internet connection, 250 megs is all you need. Google earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth both have the potential to use gigs of space. If you are a power-user, it makes sense to let them store data on your machine. If you use it infrequently, set the program to delete caches upon exit and make sure to lower the maximum cache size allowed.

System Cleaner allows you to schedule all types of cleanups and optimizations. If you prefer to automate everything give System Cleaner a try.

4. System Restore can be cleaned up too. Under Disk Clean up, there is a button labeled More Options. You can delete all but the latest system restore points. You can go into an admin command prompt and type the following (minus the quotes): vssadmin Resize ShadowStorage /On=C: /For=C: /MaxSize=15GB to limit the size of your System Restore to 15 gigs as well. Also note that the drive name is listed. If you have multiple drives (a slower storage drive, for instance) you can set the system restore to save to D: instead.

4a. If you have service pack 1, and are happy with it and are sure you won’t be going back to non-service pack one, you can nuke the restore point to going back to your non sp1 days. To do this, from the administrator command prompt type: vsp1cln. You get 2-3 gigs of space back and you are now fully committed to service pack one.

5. Desktops don’t need to sleep. If you have a desktop, you can choose to turn off hibernation and retrieve hard drive space equal to the amount of RAM your system has. At the admin command prompt, type powercfg -h off.

6. Finish cleaning what Disk Clean-up missed. Disk cleanup misses files in the TEMP folder sometimes so you will have to get back to that command prompt to fix it. Type in “cd /d %TEMP%” then “cd ..” to move up a folder then “rd /s temp”. Type in “dir temp” to verify your temp folders deletion and “md temp” to create a new one. If the TEMP folder is still there, its ok, just skip that last step.

If you prefer to not fiddle around with this more technical step, give System Cleaner a try. It targets this a many more locations where junk and obsolete files are stored.

7. WinDirStat is your next best friend. First of all this is open-source freeware so Im not trying to plug a friends company. I am trying to plug a great product. It will find overly large folders that dont need the space they have as well as seeking out unduly large log files, then fixing them with only a few mouse clicks.

8. When in doubt, compress. If you have large amounts of data stored that you dont access often, compression is a good way to free up space. Vista makes it easy too. Move all your important but not often accessed files to one folder, right click then go to Properties. Select Advanced then click Compress and you are done.

9. Tricking unfriendly apps to do what you want them to do. This is not for the novice and could mess up your system so be careful. If a program stores temporary info but wont let you specify where it stores it, you CAN trick it into storing it elsewhere by having the folder point to another folder on a different drive. Go into the folder that is currently used to store and clear out the contents. Then go to an admin prompt, get to the folder and type: “mklink /d “FILE YOU WANT IT TO GO TO” “d:\ FILE YOU WANT IT TO GO TO” ” (with the interior quotes). If the program understands this, you have successfully moved more of your temporary storage to an alternate drive.

10. After even doing one or two of these steps, you will want to take the time to run Disk Defragmenter to make sure all the space you freed up is usable. Once youve done this, your hard drive should be ready to go.


  1. Valerian Kadyshev · June 22, 2009

    Typo, should be: WinDirStat.

  2. steven · June 22, 2009

    Thanks Valerian for the correction.

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