Cleaning up your hard drive
Aug 15, 2008, 5:41 GMT
Washington - Think you're running out of hard drive space? You might not be. Take the time to root out and remove unwanted, unneeded, or duplicate files and folders, and you just might find that you have more space than you realised. Read on for some tips.
Q: My digital photographs occupy almost 200 gigabytes of space on my hard drive. I'm pretty sure I have duplicate photos on the drive, however. Is there an easy way for me to find and remove the duplicates?
A: Digital photographs can consume a lot of disk space in no time at all, so you're wise to think about weeding out duplicates from time to time. While there's no tool built in to Windows that can help, there are some able free and low-cost solutions available for download. What you want to look for in any duplicate file remover is the ability to search not only for duplicate file names but, more importantly, for duplicate contents.
Clone Cleaner Lite (http://www.clonecleaner.com) is a free program that will scan any drive or folder and present you with a list of duplicates. Once located, you can view the duplicates to make sure the program has not made a mistake, and then you can choose to delete the duplicates from within the application. A commercial Pro version of the software has a few more tricks up its sleeve, such as the ability to exclude certain subfolders from its search and the option to move rather than delete duplicates.
Duplicate File Sweeper (http://www.deleteduplicate.com) is another free duplicates finder that's more rudimentary in operation but perhaps easier. You simply specify the drive or path that you wish to search, and click Start. Duplicates are presented in a tab, and you can then select some or all files to be deleted.
Duplicate file finders differentiate themselves largely by how many file types they can scan accurately and the options you have once duplicates are located. Well-known programs such as NoClone (http://noclone.net) and Duplicate File Remover (http://www.duplicatefileremover.com) claim to be able to locate duplicates of any type and offer ways that you can recover deleted files if you find you've made a mistake when deleting something.
Q: I have been using the same Windows XP computer for over two years. In that time, I have installed and uninstalled a lot of programs. As a result, I'm sure there are a lot of unneeded or empty files and folders on my hard drive. Is there an easy way to find and remove them?
A: Empty folders or directories exist for a number of reasons. Sometimes applications create and require empty folders, and deleting them can cause your programs not to function as they should. Usually, though, empty folders are a result of sloppy uninstallation programs that fail to clean up all traces of programs. The result can be hundreds of empty folders. While these won't harm your computer, they could slow it down, since at various times Windows must read into memory the folders that you have on your computer. Getting rid of unneeded ones can only help.
Most empty folder removal tools are command-line only and therefore not so easy to use, but German programmer Jonas John has created a Windows-based tool called Remove Empty Directories (http://www.jonasjohn.de/lab/red.htm), which he offers for free. The program is easy to use. You select a folder or drive to scan, click Scan Folders, and the program goes to work. An Options panel lets you specify certain folders that should not be flagged as empty.
Q: Is there a tool that helps me find all the unnecessary files on my Windows PC at one time?
A: Before you look at third-party tools, make sure you're taking full advantage of the Disk Cleanup tool that comes for free with both XP and Vista. Disk Cleanup in XP is found in the Start menu under Programs, Accessories, System Tools. In Vista, just open the Start menu and type Disk Cleanup.
The first thing you'll see when you start Disk Cleanup is a prompt asking you which drive on your computer you'd like to clean. Once you select the drive, Disk Cleanup will analyze the drive and then present you with a list of types of files that are potentially unnecessary and could be deleted to free up space.
Look at the list carefully, and place a check mark next to each type of file that should be removed. Disk Cleanup gives you an indication of how much space will be saved by deleting each category of files. Deleting temporary Internet files, for instance, can often help you recoup a significant amount of space, and the same holds true for removing items from the Recycle Bin. Deleting downloaded program files - installation files from programs or updates you've downloaded - can save a significant amount of space, too.
There are several free third-party tools on the market that do essentially the same thing as Disk Cleanup. Disk Cleaner http://www.diskcleaner.nl/) is one. Advanced Disk Cleaner (http://www.innovative-sol.com/cleaner/) is another.
One word of caution: Before you let any program delete files on your hard drive, back up your important work. While these programs go some way toward ensuring that nothing critical is deleted, you don't want to find out the hard way that you actually needed some files that the software developers thought you did not.
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