While the price of SSDs has fallen in the last few years, wasted space is still undesirable and Windows is just as good as ever at stealing those precious gigabytes. Like that one cousin at every Thanksgiving that leaves a ring of gravy around their plate, Windows has a bad habit of not cleaning up after itself—it takes more than it needs, unless you pay attention to how much it's taking and do something about it!
Here are a few ways you can free up disk space in Windows.
If you have installed a big seasonal update for Windows 10, you may have noticed your free space has dropped significantly. With major upgrades, including between Windows versions, your previous windows installation is saved in a folder called “windows.old”. Unless you plan on reverting to the previous installation, it’s safe to remove this folder.
The best way to do this is with disk cleanup. You can get rid of any temporary files at the same time and remove even more garbage.
Hit the start key and type “Disk Cleanup.”
By default, disk cleanup only presents options to remove common items like temporary files and recycle bin contents. If you click the option to clean up system files, disk cleanup will restart and you will have plenty of new data to purge.
The option to remove Windows update logs and update data as well as the option to remove previous windows installations (windows.old) will appear.
By now you should have a lot more room for storage, but there is at least one more thing you can do to claw back some file space.
Disable Page File (if you have sufficient memory)
The Windows page file uses hard disk space as virtual memory when you are running low RAM; that space is set aside whether or not you are using it. These days, 16GB of memory or more is pretty common and the benefits of using page file might not outweigh the loss in storage. If you have 16GB of RAM, disabling the pagefile likely won't have any ill effects, but you can also shrink it to a smaller size.
To disable the page file, right click “This PC” in file explorer and click properties.
Click on “Advanced system settings” and in the next windows click “Settings” under performance. Then click “Advanced” in the following window. Yes, many clicks—it’s as if Microsoft doesn’t want us to save space.
Under Virtual Memory, you can see how much of your SSD Windows has dedicated to a feature you probably don’t need. In my case, it’s eating 8GB. That’s enough to install a game!
If you click “change” you can decide whether to completely disable or simply lower the amount of space allocated as virtual memory.
System restore has long been chewing through our storage
Much like Page File, System Restore sets aside a certain percentage of your disk space, but for a different purpose: “Recovery.” It’s not very useful since the recovery points are automatically created and rarely solve whatever issues you may be having. Disabling this can net you at least a few gigabytes of storage.
Right click on “This PC” again and get back into “Advanced system settings.” This time, however, you need to go to the “System Protection” tab, choose your drive, and click configure. Now it’s just a matter of clicking “Disable system protection.”
Between disabling the page file, running Disk Cleanup and disabling Restore, you should have opened up a significant amount of wasted space. Thankfully, while Microsoft continues to dump garbage on our virtual lawns, they also continue to provide the tools to clean it up.
How to find big files with WinDirStat
So we've run through the automated tools you can use to free up space from the clutches of Windows. But what if the problems are your own files?
One tool that's really handy for finding out what files and even directories are taking up space is WinDirStat. This tool will analyze your drives and creates a graphical representation of their contents.
Download and run WinDirStat to see a graphical representation of your drive, as well as a list of its biggest files.
Clean up duplicate files with Anti-Twin
You can also use a duplicate file finder app to weed out unnecessary files. While basic ones only perform file name and checksum comparisons, more advanced versions can check for similarity, such as if you have two image files that are the same, but maybe one has different dimensions.
One free tool that you can use to search for exact and similar duplicate files is Anti-Twin.
The feature that makes it stand out among other duplicate file finders is that it comes with a content-compare option. This isn't limited to images, either. For example, you can use it to compare MP3 files by their ID3 tags, by lowering the "Match min" threshold a bit.