Solving the Case of the Mysteriously Missing Hard Drive Space

Solving the Case of the Mysteriously Missing Hard Drive Space

Jason Yang
Feb 6, 2013

Our detective casually entered the crime scene and gazed around the darkened room, lit only by computer screens silently screaming for help. Crime scene tape and disk space warning messages flickered, as bits and bytes disappeared around him. He quietly surveyed the scene and brought out his tools of deduction. Who might the criminal mastermind be behind this devious theft? Let our adventure begin...

With the massive quantities of photos, music, and videos that we save to our computers, we're constantly in need of more hard drive space. And these days, gigabytes and terabytes are available fairly cheap. But just because it's inexpensive doesn't mean we should be wasting our money.

We noticed our hard drive space dwindling fast, too fast almost, and dove in to discover the problem. Along the way we discovered several ways to save on hard drive waste and share them with you here.

Find The Space Hog Culprit
In my specific case, it's been about a year since I assembled my own PC with a solid state drive (SSD) to house the operating system (OS). There are many advantages to SSD drives, and cost is not one of them. So ending up with a smaller drive for the money for my OS, I was suddenly finding myself fighting the amount of available space down to the last kilobyte. I would free up some space and then it would disappear again within days.

On the advice of Apartment Therapy's Jeff Heaton, I used WinDirStat to paint a picture of exactly where all my hard drive space was being used. My culprit was two-fold. Windows hibernate mode was saving a big 4GB file used for quickly returning your computer to its previous state on startup, and since I don't use the feature I nuked the file and disabled the feature.

Apple backup was the other bad boy, and boy was it bad. Apple's iTunes was taking up to 15GB of hard drive space for my regular iPhone backups. You can't just change the directory for backups but it takes a very small amount of OS know-how to move the location. With the discoveries from WinDirStat I quickly and easily tracked down and recovered 20GB of space on my operating system drive.

Remove Unused Programs
If you check out your list of installed applications, chances are you won't even recognize half the stuff that's there. The other half might contain a few apps you use regularly and the rest you likely haven't touched in ages. Get rid of all the excess software on your computer and you'll free up tons of hard drive space, not to mention make your system much leaner and arguably better your system performance. Be careful though not to delete something that's critical to your system. Always do a search online if you come across an unfamiliar program before uninstalling it.

Clear Your Recycling Bin/Trash & Temp Files
This might sound like a no-brainer, equivalent to your IT guy asking you to first reboot the computer, but it's easily and often overlooked and a quick way to free up lost space. Windows comes with a disk cleanup utility that will safely clear out everything from your recycling bin and temp files to archived error reports and thumbnail images.

More Tips & Tricks To Free Up Space
Apartment Therapy's Eric Chen makes a few recommendations as well, including limiting browser storage, backing up, restarting your computer, curating new files, and moving to the cloud. Chris Perez suggests searching your hard drive for duplicate files that are taking up double the space.

And if all else fails, you can always just pick up more hard drive space for pennies per megabyte. Even as our content blows up, you can never have enough space, right? :)

Ways To Free Up Valuable (Computer) Storage Space
Decluttering: First Your Desk, Then Your Desktop
An Easy Way to Regain Hard Drive Space Using Your Search Bar
Make Trimming "App Fat" a New Year's Resolution
How to Delete Windows Temporary Files on Your PC
Ways To Free Up Valuable (Computer) Storage Space
How to Find and Weed Out Duplicate Files

(Images: Shutterstock/ostill, Shutterstock/Roger Jegg -

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