Hard drives are absolutely enormous these days with capacities reaching the terabyte mark, but with all of this storage we often forget to go cleanup unused files. Why’s that a big deal if you have virtually “unlimited” storage? The more files you have on your computer, the longer it will take to do a lot of things. It means more items that your antivirus software will have to scan, and it can even slow down your entire computer.
Here’s a good analogy as to why you should keep your computer clean. You inevitably have a path to get from your couch to the bathroom, and hopefully that path is free from obstacles. What if you started to buy all kinds of stuff and out of disparity for space you place it in that path. By placing the items there you managed to keep the patch from the couch to the kitchen squeaky clean. That’s great, but now it takes you longer to get to the bathroom since you have to go around a bunch of stuff. Even if you try to move things around to optimize all the paths, which is equivalent to defragmenting your computer, you would still have to find a place for all of that junk.
That’s how I explain the point behind defragmenting a hard drive, and I think it serves as a good learning tool here as well. The moral of the story is that you can try and optimize your hard drive all you want, but if you have a lot of unnecessary junk on it, there will be side affects.
So how can you remove the junk? First you have to find it, and MetaMan over in our forum found a great tool for doing just that. It’s called WinDirStat and it is open source (free) software that will point out where all of your space-hogging files are at. It works on almost every version of Windows (even Vista although it’s not stated) and takes just a second to install.
After you get it up and running you should see a screen similar to the one above. It shows horizontal “progress” bars that represent how much storage each area on your hard drive is taking up. The little Pacman characters will continue to go back and forth until WinDirStat is completely finished scanning your drive for information. When it’s all done this is what you should see:
Now the real fun begins. There are a bunch of color-coded blocks at the bottom of the screen, and I want to explain how those work. That is referred to as a treemap which is a common tool used for graphing data. It almost looks like some freaky piece of art, but in reality it is a graphical map of your hard drive where each block represents a single file. The key in the upper-right corner of the screen details what filetype each block represents.
There is a reason behind the ordering of the blocks on the treemap even though it may seem random. They are actually grouped by folders, and if I click on the Program Files folder WinDirStat will outline the block of files on the treemap with a white border:
As you can see, the Program Files area on my computer only takes up a small portion of the room. Now I’ll go ahead and click on a sub-folder in the Program Files…let’s do Microsoft Games:
As you can see WinDirStat continues to maintain my drive’s folder structure even on the treemap. I can go all the way down and select a file which will still be highlighted accordingly:
This process also works in reverse, which makes the treemap even more useful. If you see a big block on the map, such as the big red ones on the right side of my drive, you can actually hover you mouse over the block and in the Status Bar it will tell you the corresponding file:
As you can see, one of the big red blocks is my computer’s hibernation file, which is always equal to the amount of RAM that is installed. Therefore it makes sense that it is one of the largest things on my drive. If I wanted to see more information I could just click on the block, and it would immediately navigate to that file in the folder list located above the treemap.
MetaMan mentioned in his post that he was able to cut 25GB of temporary and log files from his computer using this tool. I’m sure that combining this with CCleaner (our review) you can trim a lot of fat from your hard drive, and you may even see a boost in performance as a direct result.