Windows 10 makes it easier to add more storage to your system, especially if you have room for two or more extra disks that you can merge into a single, resilient storage pool for improving performance and protecting data with Storage Spaces. But it can also help you make the most of the storage you already have by cleaning up the cruft and taking advantage of the cloud.
Monthly updates to Windows 10 and six-monthly upgrades are good for security and getting new features, but they can leave clutter on your hard drive. That's because the system files and drivers they replace (and the log files from the installation) aren't deleted straight away in case you want to roll back an update or upgrade. Then there's the way the Edge browser saves copies of PDFs you open to your Download folder instead of just keeping them as temp files. Throw in reports you've generated, cached DirectX files, thumbnails of images you've viewed in File Explorer, and temp files, and you may need to have a periodic cleanup — especially if you have a laptop or tablet with a smaller SSD.
The Disk Clean-up utility is still in Windows 10 and can find and delete unnecessary files, although you have to have admin rights to clean up system files like Windows Update and Defender files. It will calculate how much space it can reclaim when you start it; click 'Clean-up system files' to get all the savings listed before you click OK.
But you can automate a lot of this cleanup using the Storage Sense feature in Settings. It's turned off by default and you can leave it off and just click 'Free up space now' when you want to remove files. This covers the same types of files as Disk Clean-up, but doesn't make you click twice to see how much space you can save by deleting system files as well. If you turn it on, Windows will delete files automatically when you're low on disk space; click 'Change how we free up space automatically' to choose a daily, weekly or monthly schedule instead, to decide whether to include temporary files, and how long files should stay in the recycle bin or Downloads folder before being deleted automatically.
If you need to clean up more than system files, click on the figure in Storage settings that shows how much space is used on your hard drive to get a list of which types of file are taking up how much space. This is very like the Windows Phone Storage usage view, and you can keep clicking through to see more details. For Apps & games, that shows you how much space each application uses (whether it's a Store app or desktop software) and you can uninstall unwanted apps; for System files you can see the size of the hibernation file (but not change it) or click through to turn System Restore on or off (and delete restore points to save space). Maps and Other people link to the management tools for those in Settings. Click on Temporary files to get a list of temp file types from Storage Sense and delete by type. Mail takes you to your email software.
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You can also see and delete files Windows doesn't manage. 'Other' lists folders that take up a noticeable amount of space but that Windows doesn't know how to categorise. These can include crash dumps and upgrade folders, as well as copies of your Office document cache if you've had OneDrive problems; clicking opens them in Explorer for you to deal with. You can also see how much local drive space you're using for pictures, videos, music, files from OneDrive and files saved onto the desktop, and click to open those in Explorer. You could do all that yourself in Explorer, but Storage usage makes it easier to see what folders you need to pay attention to. You can also set where files go in the future.
Choosing where files go
If you have more than one drive in your PC, it used to be tricky to get software to install anywhere but the system disk. Windows 10 has an easy way to do that, and again Windows Phone users will recognise the tool. Click 'Change where new content is saved' and you can choose individually which drive apps, documents, music, photos and video, downloaded movies and offline maps are saved to.
Changing these folder locations doesn't move existing files; if you want to move those, you'll need to transfer them by hand. It also doesn't change those default 'known' folders like Documents and Music listed under This PC to the new locations, it just adds them to the libraries that some apps use to find types of files. If you want the new location to show up there, right-click on each folder and choose Properties, then on the Location tab click 'Find Target...' and pick the new folder. That gives you the option of moving the files at the same time.
The Settings app also doesn't give you the option to have those folders automatically synced to OneDrive. As long as you have enough storage space on your OneDrive account and you're not storing files like PSTs that aren't compatible with OneDrive for Business, it's worth making the cloud the default save location for files because you get instant backup, ransomware protection and the convenience of seeing your files on all your devices. Now that OneDrive includes Files On Demand (from the Fall Creators Update on), you can work with cloud files even when you're offline; recent files are synced automatically and you can always see folder and file names even for unsynced files, and even move them.
To set it up, right-click on the OneDrive icon in the system tray (you may need to expand it by clicking the arrow on the taskbar), click the More menu on the OneDrive window that pops up and pick the Auto-save tab.
You can only set Desktop, Pictures and Documents to sync from here, as well as having screenshots automatically saved to OneDrive. If you want to add other folders like Music, you'd need to create the new folder on OneDrive and change the location in the Properties tab to point to that instead.
IT admins who want to have more known folders redirected to OneDrive for Business can already do that with Group Policy, including a check for any file types that would block the sync. The problem is that you have to create the folders by hand and redirecting the folders doesn't move the files that are already in the folders. (The Folder Redirection Group Policy has an option for moving the content of the Documents file, but if there are any files with the same name in both places, one of them will get overwritten, so copying the content separately is recommended.) You can also pick the Pictures, Music and Videos folders in the Group Policy editor and set them to follow the behaviour of Documents.
The new Known Folder Move (KFM) feature (promised by the end of July 2018) makes this much simpler. This actually moves the folders and all the files in them to OneDrive, or OneDrive for Business. Once KFM rolls out, the Auto-save tab will only show a single Update folders button to 'protect' Desktop, Pictures and Documents by moving them to OneDrive; for consumer users that should also include the Music and Videos folders. Admins can set a group policy to prompt users to set this up for OneDrive for Business (but not for Music or Videos); they can also set a policy to silently migrate the three folders, including the content, and then show a notification.
That will also cover new devices added later, which might have files in those folders; everything will be moved safely to OneDrive. And with the new Autopilot policies, setting up an account on a brand-new device by connecting to Azure AD will also provision OneDrive on the PC and use the account credentials to pull in the user's Documents, Pictures and Desktop folders so their new PC gets the files they had on their old PC as part of setup.
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Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.