How to recover disk space

April 19, 2009

How to recover disk spaceNo matter how large a hard disk (or hard disks) you buy for your computer, it is somehow never enough. Here is a tip to help you recover disk space.

Windows Vista actually comes with a good tool for cleaning unused or unnecessary files from your hard disk. The program is called Disk Cleanup and it is delivered free with every Vista system. The cleanup process involves searching and analyzing the hard drive for files that are no longer of any use. Next, the program removes the unnecessary files, freeing up disk space on the hard drive. There are a number of different file categories that Disk Cleanup targets when performing the initial disk analysis:

  • Compression of old files
  • Temporary Internet files
  • Temporary Windows file
  • Downloaded Program files
  • Recycle Bin
  • Removal of unused applications or optional Windows components
  • Setup Log files
  • Offline files

The above list, however, is neither exhaustive nor complete. As an example, the options ‘Temporary Remote Desktop files’ and ‘Temporary Sync Files’ may appear only under certain computer configurations, depending on how the computer is being used and what functions are being used.


Aside from removing unnecessary files, users also have the option of compressing files that have not been accessed over a set time period of time. This option provides a systematic compression scheme. Infrequently accessed files are compressed to free up disk space while leaving the frequently used files uncompressed for faster read/write access times. If, after file compression, you want to access a compressed file, the access times may be increased, since they will need to be decompressed before use.

In addition to the categories that appear on the Disk Cleanup tab, the More Options tab offers additional options for freeing up hard drive space through removal of optional Windows components, installed programs, and all but the most recent System Restore point or Shadow Copy data.

Run Disk Cleanup by clicking on Start, then All Programs, then Accessories, then System Tools, and finally on Disk Cleanup. If you are system administrator, you can clean up files for all system users. You may be asked to enter your admin credentials in order to do this. If you are only a system user, you can only clean up your own files.

There are a few decisions to make first. If you have more than one hard disk drive partition on your system, you will need to select which one you want to clean. Then you will need to decide which types of files that you want to remove from your system using the check boxes in the Disk Cleanup Window. A few tips on which box does which may help you decide what to do about certain options.

Downloaded Program Files – These files are usually ActiveX controls and Java applets downloaded from Web sites that are temporarily stored in the Downloaded Program Files folder. It’s not program files or zip files that you have downloaded from other locations. These can usually be safely deleted.

Temporary Internet Files – This refers to Internet Explorer’s cache of Web pages that are stored on the hard drive for quicker viewing. None of your personal web settings are affected by selecting this category, nor does it delete any cookie files. These files are generally safe to delete as well.

Office Setup Files – Sometimes you will see entries on the file list for specific applications that you have upgraded or patched. If the application in question works well, you can probably safely delete these files.

Recycle Bin – The important thing to remember about this category is that it usually only refers to the Recycle Bin for the selected hard drive or partition. This is important since some Windows systems use an individual Recycle Bin for each drive and partition, not just one as was the case in earlier Windows versions. These files are generally safe to delete.

Temporary Remote Desktop Files – These files are left on a system when you use the Remote Desktop utility. If you often use Remote Desktop with the same computers, leaving these files where they are will increase the speed of future connections. Deleting them will force the remote software to download the remote system’s icons and wallpaper the next time a connection is established.

Setup Log Files – These are the log files that are created when you install applications. If the applications have been working properly after installation, it is probably safe to delete these files.

Backup Files For Previous Operating System – You may never see this category, but if you upgraded from a previous Windows version and selected the option to be able to uninstall the new system, those files may still be living on your system. It takes some major hard drive space to copy all the files necessary to back up a previous system’s core files, drivers, etc. These files may be using anywhere from a few hundred megabytes up to a gigabyte, so unless you are likely to go back to the previous OS, this will save a lot of space.

Compress Old Files – Some people like file compression, others do not. After a file has been compressed, it takes longer to open it since it must first be decompressed. There is also some danger of the file being broken during manipulation, so some people choose not to compress. If you are really short on room, you may want to do this, but it would also be wise to back them up first.

You can get a better idea of what is about to be deleted by clicking on the View Files button. That will cause Windows to display the files that will be deleted if the currently selected item in the file type list is checked. You might spot something that you don’t want deleted. If you do, leave the selected file type unchecked.

When you have looked at all the options and decided what file types to delete, click on OK and Windows will go to work deleting files. This may take quite a long time, even if the drive selected is a small one. Windows needs to check file permissions for each file before it is deleted, and has to insure that the target files were actually deleted during the program run. A system error log is generated by Disk Cleanup each time it is run.

There are also more choices for Disk Cleanup under the More Options tab. Each of these options addresses a different kind of file that can be deleted from your machine. The first of these offers to remove Windows components that you do not use. The second deletes file for programs that you do not use. The last removes all but the last restore point that you or the system has set.

Unless you are really critically low on disk space, these are not recommended. The system could delete programs that you have paid for and intend to use, and it could delete your only good restore point. Use these options with caution. Each of these runs as soon as you click on the Clean Up button, so be careful where your mouse pointer is.

After you have cleaned out all of the selected files on the selected drive, that disk will probably be badly fragmented. For this reason, you may wish to run the disk defragmenter included with your operating system in order to speed access to the files that remain.

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5 Responses to “How to recover disk space”

  1. Catmoves:

    Vista? Aren’t you aware that the majority of your readers are using XP?
    I am. Couldn’t care less about that piece of bloatware from M$ than I do about Obama’s so called “fixes”.
    Join the change to XP.

  2. imaguest:

    how to recover deleted setup files? i dont have the cd,,

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