Software

Quick Tip: Reclaim used hard drive memory with Disk Cleanup

Microsoft Windows 7 has a built-in utility that will free used hard drive memory increasing available storage space with a click or two of the mouse.

While disk drive storage is relatively cheap these days, users and administrators are always looking for ways to increase the amount of available memory space on their hard drives. A well-established Law of Computer Programming states: "Any program will expand to fill available memory."

There are plenty of third-party applications that claim to free up hard drive memory and, therefore, increase the efficiency of a Windows 7 PC, but there is a built-in tool that does much the same thing and it's available for free.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

In Windows 7, click on the Start Menu and click the Computer link to reveal the connected drives on the PC. Right-click on the drive you want to work on and click the Properties menu item, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Navigate to disk drive properties.
On the storage drive Properties screen, you want to navigate to the General Tab (Figure B). In the middle of this screen, near the graphical representation of the drive's memory allocation is the Disk Cleanup button. Click that to start the process.

Figure B

Click the Disk Cleanup button.
After a bit of analysis, on the Disk Cleanup screen (Figure C), Windows 7 will list the files that you can potentially delete to increase the amount of available memory on the drive. The first time you run the process, Windows will not take the system files into account. If you want to free even more drive memory, you should click the Clean Up System Files button.

Figure C

Here is the potential additional storage space.
As you can see in Figure D, running the additional cleanup process generated a few more megabytes of potential storage.

Figure D

Cleaning the system files creates more potential storage.

At this point, you should work your way through the list to check off which files you actually want to delete from your system. On my test system, I choose to delete all the suggested files, but there may be files on your system that you'd want to keep.

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Note: During the course of writing this blog post and taking screenshots, I ran the Disk Cleanup process twice and each time I freed more disk storage space. I would suggest running the process more than once just to see if you can free more space yourself. Note 2: Yes, the Disk Cleanup application is available for Windows XP and Vista.

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

24 comments
swshikles2002
swshikles2002

Yes, memory is memory and a HDD is a HDD. Going back to the days of WIN 3.1 through WIN 7, Microsoft has always allocated a portion of the HDD as a page file or virtual memory if you so desire. So as far as the OS is concerned, it see's that page file as memory( remember how the system maps memory). Also if for example, you only had 2 GB of memory, the system part of the OS would see 4 GB( that goes back a ways though) . This should spark some interesting comments.

jimdandy45
jimdandy45

We used to refer to the (really old now) DF32 (that's 32K) and RF08 disk drives as "rotating memory"!

rmazzeo
rmazzeo

I have to agree with bughunter999 - It's really odd for a tech writer to call hard drive space "memory", especially when it isn't. Makes me wonder how accurate these tech columns really are. Let's get our terminology right, guys.

AstroCreep
AstroCreep

Sorry, placed in the wrong spot. Not liking this new layout...

pweegar
pweegar

One thing I have found, at least with Ccleaner, is that it will delete files you don't want removed. One such file is SQLFile.sql, for those that have SQL Server installed. It's basically an empty rext file that gets opened when you open a new query in sql server. Another thing Ccleaner can do that disk cleanup can't do is to wipe free space. Not really sure of the benefit. AND it's a long process. Otherwise, I like and use this program on a regular basis.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Disk Cleaner is handy but if you run it a lot or run multple maintenance apps in a row, automation helps. With winXP anyhow, one can save a Disk Cleaner profile into the registry then call it specifically with a command switch. This gives you Disk Cleaner by command line (schedualling, manual use) with saved consistent settings for what cleaning to perform. It's been a while since I set mine up. I think one has to run Disk Cleaner and select settings. I think run Disk Cleaner with a switch to specify which profile number it should be creating. Once created, you export that minimal bit to a .reg which you can easily import on this and future machine installs. The user runs Disk Cleanup and gets the default profile with their last settings still in place. The tech runs Disk Cleanup without affecting the user's settings or being limited to GUI interaction during the run.

ejv
ejv

wrong usage of *basic* computer terminology...

davcor1
davcor1

Seems the same as Ccleaner..only two clicks, many choices of files to clean

PaulMcloughlin
PaulMcloughlin

Hard drive memory? Honestly......... no wonder people get confused when the 'experts' use the wrong terminology...

rasilon
rasilon

This is available in every version since XP (and maybe even W2K) Hank Arnold (MVP)

bughunter999
bughunter999

Hard drive space is storage. Memory is only used to run programs and operating system when the computer is powered only normally.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Its just finding files with old "accessed" dates and compressing them, slowing down the overall performance of your computer.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I was able to get about 4GB of additional storage running Disk Cleanup on my fairly clean test system. How much did you free on your system?

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

You don't have to remember back very far to see that virtual memory is in use on the system you are currently using. You can't really turn it off on M$ systems (go ahead, try it. The page file is still there and in use. It's just smaller) and in *nix they call it SWAP and I don't reccomend turning it off. Macs do everything magically for you in the background so it is safe to assume it is there too. Most people don't use RAMDisk. I like it. You can map a drive letter to memory space and pretend it's hard drive. Just don't put your swap file in the RAMDisk or you will create a looping vortex of Harddrive Memory that will tear microscopic holes in the space time continuum. So if swap/page file is "Harddrive memory" then is RAMDisk "Memory Harddrive"? What about a solid state drive that uses memory chips and is recognized by the OS as a hard drive? With a page file containing a RAMDisk. NOOOOOOOOO! Semantics

ejv
ejv

...quoting a "programming law" in an article that has nothing to do with programming...

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

They both have functions the other lacks. Once you have your Disk Cleanup and CCleaner settings in place (CCleaner run at login additionally), you can drop them in order in a maintenance.cmd or similar; have CCleaner run before Disc Cleanup so it clears out temp files and chaff then checks for files to be compressed.

Slayer_
Slayer_

And Win95 had the option, but you had to download it, the button would appear but wouldn't do anything. If you copied the exe from Win98 it worked perfectly on Win95. Effectively this is a 16 year old tip.

CADru
CADru

You beat me to the punch, too many times I hear memory and disk storage used interchangably and it's not the same, as you indicated. Hard drive memory, really? yikes!

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

I am always shocked when users don't know the difference between memory and disk space. Mark here is not helping matters. People come here to learn... Please use terminoligy in a responsible way. Hard drives DO have memory! They call it cache but it really is a memory chip. My hard drive has 32MB of cache. I was really hoping that Mark was talking about some magical way to better use disk cache. I am disappointed to say the least. If we can't be consistent in the use of terminology people will never be able to understand technologeis like Virtual Memory or RAMDisk. (Using disk space as temporary memory and mapping a drive letter to your memory for use as disk space) Boo this man.

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

will toast yer media files we lost several GB of .wav data about 6 years ago due to running disk cleanup NTFS compression corrupts media files turn off last access timestamps and watch disk cleanup and the system throw a fit I rather prefer to configure the system correctly from the moment it's installed some of the things I disable are: - user tracking, - document history, - web history (IE and Firefox), - system restore, - recycle bin, etc. and I don't have the problem of bloating wasting HDD space my main work station is 4 years old and the C:\ system image used space has not changed it always fits on one DVD

ejv
ejv

and touting a feature that's been around for at least a decade...

AstroCreep
AstroCreep

The 75-character limit is only for the "Subject" of a comment, not the body of a comment. I've written ones that are a good ten paragraphs before.

ejv
ejv

and a 75 character limit on replies???