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5 ways to free up space on Windows

5 ways to free up space on Windows
© Photowitch | Dreamstime

It's stunning to think about how hard drives have developed through the years. From room-sized behemoths that weighed like a house to today's pocket-sized wonders, the evolution of this storage medium is fascinating.

Remember decades ago, when we were still talking in terms of MBs and each byte was worth a fortune? Those days are now long gone, stuffed away in the Recycle Bin of history. Now, the largest consumer HDDs could hold up to 16 TB and they're getting cheaper each day!

And as you've probably figured out, inversely proportional to the increasing capacity of HDDs is their cost. In 1956, one MB cost about $10,000. Today, one MB is 0.00003 cents (yep, that's four zeroes after the decimal point.)

However, directly proportional to the growth of computer storage space are the ever increasing file sizes. Nowadays, we have high-resolution photos, lossless audio files, HD and 4K videos, not to mention the countless applications we can install on our PCs. These days, it's funny to think that 1TB drives are now considered too small.

Combine these huge file sizes with the growing popularity of SSD drives and Windows 10 mobile devices, all of which still have limited storage sizes, and you'll most likely run out of disk space in no time.

When this happens, don't panic. Before you delete priceless files like your personal photos and videos, here are five Windows 10 tricks you can try to squeeze a bit of breathing space on your gadget.

Psst! Want to see an overview of what's hogging your hard drive space? Try this free tool to see a visual layout of all your folders and files.

1. Use Storage Sense to remove unused files

Storage Sense is a handy feature in Windows 10 that can automatically delete files that you don't need. This data includes temporary files, recycle bin data, installation files and previous versions of Windows. It's the first tool you should try if your hard drive space is running thin.

Here's how you free up space with Storage Sense:

  1. Open Settings >> System >> Storage.
  2. Now look for the Storage Sense section then click on "Change how we free up space."
  3. Here, you can toggle the different types of files that will be automatically deleted:
  • Delete temporary files that my apps aren't using.
  • Delete files that have been in the recycle bin for over 30 days.
  • Delete files in the Downloads folder that haven't changed in 30 days.
  • Delete previous versions of Windows (if available).

To instantly free up space, click the "Clean Now" button. This will delete the files that you've selected.

Note: If you want Windows to automatically perform this action whenever you're running low on space, toggle Storage Sense to "On." I'd rather have this toggled off, however, and manually review my files before I clean up my drives.

2. Use Disk Cleanup

Disk Cleanup is the classic Windows tool for freeing up storage space. Similar to Storage Sense, this tool analyzes your drive for files that you may no longer need. This includes temporary internet files, downloaded program files, recycle bin data and thumbnails.

Here's how you access Disk Cleanup on a target drive:

  1. Open File Explorer then right click on the drive you want to clean up.
  2. Now, on the General tab, click on the Disk Cleanup button.
  3. The next window will list all the types of files you can delete. Check the ones you want to get rid of. (Recommended file types you can safely delete are Temporary Internet Files, Recycle Bin and Downloaded Program Files.)
  4. Click on the "Clean up system files" button to start the cleanup process.

3. Use OneDrive's new Files On-Demand feature

One new feature in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update is OneDrive Files On-Demand. This feature will be perfect for anyone who needs access to their files and folders on the go since everything will be available even if you haven’t synced your device to your computer in a while.

It is also useful for saving drive space since you can use Files-on-Demand to upload your files to OneDrive then download them as you go.

Here's how to enable OneDrive Files On-Demand:

  1. Right-click on the OneDrive icon (it's shaped like a cloud) on your taskbar's notification area.
  2. Click Settings, then in the Files-On-Demand section, check the "Save space and download files as you use them" box.
  3. Click OK.
  4. Now, on your OneDrive folder, you can select the files and folders you want to keep in the cloud by right-clicking them, then select "Free Up Space."
  5. Now all these files will still appear in File Explorer but they'll be "online-only" (they'll be marked with a cloud icon).

4. Move apps and games to an external drive

Of course, the best way to free up space on your main Windows drive is to get an external drive then move all your documents, downloads, videos, music, and photos to it.

Better yet, you can also move most apps and games to the external storage.

Here's how:

  1. Make sure your external drive is connected.
  2. Open Settings >> Apps & Features.
  3. Click on an app >> select Move (if available).
  4. On the drop-down box, select your external drive.
  5. Click Move.

Do this for each app or game you want to move. This is a great way to free up space but keep in mind that you need to have the external drive connected to open the app.

5. Command prompt utilities

For advanced users, here are two Windows command prompts you can try.

Turn off Hibernate

Hibernating your PC when it's not in use is convenient but it also takes up hard drive space. To turn off your Windows PC's hibernation feature, try this:

Search for Command Prompt, right-click on the best match then select "Run as administrator."

  1. Type this command  >> powercfg /hibernate off.
  2. Press enter.

CompactOS

One other advanced command prompt you can try is CompactOS. This command will compress specific system files and built-in applications to free up space. Use this sparingly as Windows automatically does this when needed. However, on Windows gadgets with small 16GB to 64GB drives, enabling CompactOS can be useful.

  1. Search for Command Prompt, right-click on the best match then select "Run as administrator."
  2. Type this command  >> Compact.exe/CompactOS:always.
  3. Press enter.

How to safely delete data forever on your PC or Mac

Deleting your files and sending them to your Recycle Bin or Trash doesn't mean that they're gone for good. All it takes is a little know-how to recover them. Click here to learn how to obliterate your data for good.

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