My son’s computer is full – there’s hardly any room on the drive. So what’s the best thing to do? I have heard that buying another hard drive would cure the problem (an external one).
I can’t tell you what the right solution is for you, because this really, really, REALLY depends on your computer and how you use it.
That being said, in many cases a full hard disk can be addressed in several ways, many of which do not involve getting an additional one.
I have to start with a caveat: some of the ideas below will involve deleting files. While I’m certainly not going to intentionally tell you to delete something important, accidents can happen. I strongly suggest that you start this process by taking a full backup of your machine.
Just in case.
Whenever I run out of space on my hard disk (yep, it happens to me too!), I start by trying to understand exactly what’s taking up so much room. I’ve written about how to do that in prior articles, so I’ll just point you to:
- Where’s my disk space going? shows a Windows-based tool that can show you exactly what’s taking up space on your machine.
- How can I tell what’s taking up so much disk space? discusses a Windows Command Prompt approach to doing the same.
What most people find is that there’s something that they’d forgotten about, and that they no longer use that’s taking up a bunch of extra space.
Once you determine what’s taking up space, you can determine what to do about it:
- Leave it alone: it could well be something that you need or want to keep, and in fact might be something that’s important to have on your machine at all times for whatever it is you do. Something you’re not sure of might also fall into this category.
- Archive it: it might be something that you no longer need, but certainly don’t need to have on your machine. Burning to CD or DVD (or an external hard disk, but more on that below) for archival and then removing it from your hard drive might be an approach.
- Remove it: if it’s something you know you’ll never, ever need again.
The reason we use a disk space analysis tool is simply to focus our efforts. There’s a tendency to want to go about this cleanup process manually – deleting or archiving things that we know about. The problem is if those are all tiny, and there’s a 20 gigabyte movie that we’ve forgotten about, then that time’s actually wasted. You’ve cleared up nothing appreciable, when a single delete of a single file might have done the trick.
So start with a disk space usage tool and find out what’s taking up all that space. Then act accordingly.
(Side note: even though I’m not running out of space, I ran the tool in preparation for this article and discovered a bunch of things that I’d forgotten about. Since I do regular full backups, removing those things I don’t need will also reduce the size of, and speed up, those backups.
The next step I take actually involves double checking a couple of system settings, if I haven’t done so already.
Clearing your browser cache frees up space immediately. The problem is that as you return to using the browser the cache once again fills up and uses up that disk space once again.
You can control the size of the browser cache. In Internet Explorer, for example, on the Tools menu click on Internet Options, the General tab, and then the Settings button in Browsing History. There you’ll find a “Disk space to use” setting that will allow you to control the maximum amount of space used. Smaller might mean a slightly slower internet browsing experience, but it will free up some disk space. (If you use a different browser, you’ll need to make the equivalent change in that browser.)
If you never run out of virtual memory, it’s possible that you may be able to reduce the size of the paging file on the drive in question.This isn’t something I typically recommend, but it saved me a couple of gigabytes when I turned mine off completely. See Virtual Memory: How do I adjust Virtual Memory settings?
Similarly, if you never use hibernation – particularly on a laptop where it’s often enabled by default – then turning that feature off and deleting “hiberfil.sys” (it might be hidden) in the root of your C: drive. That file is, by default, the same size as the amount of memory you have in your machine. In my case, for example, turning off that feature and removing the file freed up 4gigabytes of disk space.
So you’ve exhausted all your other options, and it’s time to get an additional disk. I’m going to look at three scenarios:
- External disk for archiving: I alluded to this above when I talked about archiving files. Sometimes archiving files to CD or DVD just isn’t practical because they’re so big. The prices of external USB drives have come down so dramatically in recent years, along with an increase in capacity, to the point where they’re now a reasonable approach for archiving as well. Simply get an external drive and copy the files you want to archive to it. Now you can disconnect the drive and store it somewhere for safety, and delete the files you copied from your internal hard disk.
One caveat with all archiving: always archive two copies of anything important. That way if something goes wrong (and it does, I’ve had two external drive failures myself), you have a second copy to recover from.
- External disk for use: you certainly can move data and other files to an external drive, freeing up space on your primary drive, as well as adding all that space for those files. There are two issues here:
- External disks are slower than internal. They’re certainly “fast”, but depending on what you’re doing, or how you use them, the difference may impact you.
- You have to remember to use them. When you save and work on files you have to remember to change the default folder you’re working with to be on that external drive. (You can also consider moving “My Documents” to the external drive, but that’s slightly risky for performance reasons, and is likely to confuse Windows should the drive ever be disconnected.)
Simply “using” the external drive as just another disk can be a reasonable approach if your needs aren’t severe.
- Internal Disks: when I started to run low on disk space on my primary machine I opted for an additional internal hard drive. Why? I plan to do some video editing which can be not only processor intensive, but fairly disk intensive as well since video files tend to be very large. An internal drive is a strong option if you plan to use it heavily. Moving “My Documents”, as mentioned above also becomes less risky, since the drive’s never removed.
To come full circle, a final warning: once you add all this disk space to your system, remember to consider it in your backup strategy. If your important data is stored in only one place you run a very real risk of losing it.
And with additional hard disk space, I’m guessing you’ll accumulate that much more data to lose.