How to Maximize Storage Space Guide
Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: March 7, 2013
Looking back at my first self-built computer, I can still remember how fast it booted up, installed programs, and moved files around. Some of you may be thinking it was due to a solid state drive, but at the time, I had actually just moved from an IDE hard drive to a SATA-II hard drive. Today, my laptop sports a 60 GB SSD and my next computer will certainly be soon to follow. Unfortunately, most SSDs are still pretty limited in storage space. While I am careful to keep an eye on mine, sometimes files just accumulate on a drive without your knowledge, which can make it difficult to find and delete them. Such is the purpose of this guide; to help you find those files and other means to save precious disk space.
Of course, you may already know about some of the topics discussed here; either bear with me or skip around to the interesting parts.
First up, we look at the most evident cause of lost storage space; temporary files. Usually, these will cover a wide range of files and locations on your computer, so I'd advise against deleting them manually. Fortunately, there are many tools that will do the job. One I use the most is CCleaner. This tool finds and removes temporary files left behind by numerous applications and the Windows OS itself. It also gives you the option to decide what it should and should not delete.
When you first install and run CCleaner, the vast number of check boxes may seem a little intimidating. Fear not, all you really need to do is read the names next to the check boxes and check it off if you are comfortable with deleting what it says. This will not delete any necessary files for programs or the actual OS, though do keep in mind that a single misplaced check could affect your daily routine very easily. For example, if you use Firefox and have it set to automatically open previously used tabs, it's not a good idea to check the "Session" box in the Firefox area of CCleaner. "Cache" is fine to delete though; the corresponding webpages will simply redownload when you next visit them. As a note to those using Chrome, I suggest wiping its cache because it generates massive caches; saving two webpages representing 196 KB on the disk somehow becomes 5.65 MB of Internet Cache.
CCleaner also has the ability to delete Windows log files and error reporting files. Personally, I do not delete these because they may be useful at some point, but that is up to you.
Overall, if you decide to give CCleaner a shot, just read through all of its options and do what you think is best. If you are unsure of something, do a search online or check out our forums because there is a good chance your question has been asked and answered before, due to the already-large number of CCleaner users.
Unfortunately, CCleaner does not find everything; some temporary files you will need to hunt down on your own. A common example is installers, such as the older OpenOffice/LibreOffice installers and current NVIDIA drivers. What you download from the appropriate sites are not actually the program installers but self-extracting packages that place the installers and other files somewhere on your computer. In the case of the older OpenOffice and LibreOffice installers, you could actually select the extraction path, but NVIDIA driver installers are always put in the same place; C:\NVIDIA. Other software will put its install files in different places, but will most likely tell you where. In case it does not, an easy way to identify a self-extracting package is to notice whether there is a progress meter before it asks about installing the software. That progress meter is for the extraction process. All software is different, so I cannot guarantee this is always accurate, but it should be a big giveaway. If it does not tell you where it installs, you may want to search online about its location.
After installing the corresponding software is when you can go right ahead and delete the installer, which can free up hundreds of megabytes. If you ever need to reinstall the software, you can always use the original, self-extracting package to get the installers back.
Recently, I learned about another deleteable folder that holds NVIDIA installer data, which can be found at "Program Files\NVIDIA Corporation\Installer2". The files here are not needed after installing a driver, so you can get rid of them.
Another source of left-over files is from a connected iPod. If you use one, iTunes will automatically make a backup of the device and keep a copy of software updates, even after the update has been applied. These files can be quite large, with just an OS update representing 800 MB+. The backup files can be found in "AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup" on Windows 7 and the software updates can be found in "AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\iTunes\iPod Software Updates."
System Restore Points and the Pagefile
Now we are getting into an area that becomes less clear-cut as far as what you should and should not do. Despite potentially using a LOT of storage space, both System Restore Points and the Pagefile serve purposes you may very well need, so disabling and deleting them may not be the best choice.
System Restore Points are periodically created by Windows and also during certain programs installations/uninstallations, including drivers. These points contain program files that may be changed and potentially corrupted, causing the computer to misbehave or outright crash. They should not, however, affect personal files.
Personally, I have seen single restore points vary in size from around 200 MB to over 2 GB, of which the system will keep as many of these as possible, to a point. Luckily, you can control the number by going to your computer's properties and looking at the System Protection tab (at least for Windows 7). There, you can set the amount of storage allocated for storing restore points, freeing up space without disabling the feature completely. Alternatively, CCleaner actually has a feature to selectively delete restore points, but that is not a permanent solution to freeing up space.
Another feature of Windows that can take up a lot of space is the Pagefile or Virtual RAM. It is essentially a large file on your hard drive when it is necessary to free up or dump system RAM, as it may during a crash or high RAM usage. Some people will suggest that you simply disable the pagefile and completely recover the space, because many modern computers have enough RAM to make the pagefile almost useless. Personally, I would not recommend doing so because Windows will still use it to clean up the RAM or for memory dumps when diagnosing a problem. Feel free to reduce the pagefile though, if you have enough RAM as to not compromise performance.
When I installed 8 GB more RAM in my machine, Windows swelled the pagefile to match the 12 GB of total RAM and it took all of that from my OS drive. To keep that drive lean, I went into the Performance Settings, which is under the Advanced tab of the computer's properties, next to the System Protection tab, and changed the settings. Like the restore points, you are able to control the amount of space allocated for the pagefile and the specific drive the pagefile is stored on. Instead of keeping it on a small SSD, it may be wise to move it over to a larger but slower HDD.
Symlinks and Steam Install Folders:
Although we have come across many files that can be deleted or reduced, it is still possible you will find yourself with too many files you cannot delete. These can range from program files to personal files but in the end, they use storage space you want back. In such a case when using multiple storage drives, you will be able to get that room back using some useful tricks.
The first of these tricks is the ability to set a user folder's position in Windows 7. Right-clicking and viewing the properties on one of the user folders, such as My Documents or My Music, you should notice a tab labeled 'Location.' From there, you can set the physical location of the folder to any drive you want. It would be best to do this shortly after you install Windows, so the OS will move the files to the new location if needed.
The next trick is a similar feature that has been added to Steam only recently; the ability to install a game to the folder of your choice. If you want some games to benefit from the speed of an SSD while keeping others spread out on an HDD, this is a feature you want to use. Once you select the drive for game installations, you must then indicate the specific folder you want the files to go to.
These two tricks will take care of user folders and Steam games, but what about other folders? For example, the AppData folder cannot be relocated through properties, so what are you to do? What if you do not want to move all or one of your user folders to a different drive? This is when you open the command prompt and start putting together some symlinks!
Symlinks, or Symbolic Links, are, in simplest terms, super-shortcuts that allow Windows to treat a file or folder as though it is somewhere it does not appear to be. The icon for a symlink folder looks like the icon for a shortcut but if you follow it, you'll just go down another layer in the folder hierarchy, as though the folder was there. I use these to collect all of my saved games to a single folder and never has a game complained, because although the physical files have been moved, it is not seen as such. (I collect the save files this way so I only need to backup one folder to an external drive to backup all of my games.)
Using symlinks like this is just a two-step process, as aided by a batch file. Firstly, you want to use the 'move' command to get the files and folders where you want them. Let's say I want to move my Bioshock saves:
move /y "E:\Users\Jim\My Documents\Bioshock" " E:\Users\Jim\My Documents\My Games"
The first location in the command is the source and the second is the destination. The '/y' flag is to tell any prompts that may come up "yes," such as prompts checking if I want to overwrite files.
To create the link, we use the 'make link' command like this:
mklink /d " E:\Users\Jim\My Documents Bioshock" " E:\Users\Jim\My Documents \My Games\Bioshock"
The first location is the placement of the link while the second is the target of the link. The '/d' flag is very important here because that is what tells the command to make a link for a directory, instead of just a file link.
With these two commands, you will be able to move folders whereever you wish and, to my knowledge, it should not break anything horribly. Still, I cannot guarantee that recklessly symlinking folders will not break things. Basically, I cannot recommend you to symlink the Program Files folder, but perhaps some programs within it can be safely moved this way.
Here are just some of the methods to free up storage on a small SSD or any drive for that matter, either by deleting or moving files in such a way that programs will not mind. Of course, there are more ways that I have not covered, simply because I do not know them all. If you know others, feel free to discuss in the forum thread for this article!