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A lot of disk space is taken up by a default Windows installation in various temperory and backup data that may never get cleaned up on its own. Eventually you realize that the large multi hundred gigabyte drive you installed on, is actually running out of space.

What are your favorite configuration tweaks and routine activities
on a standard Windows Installation to keep it tidy and clean from a disk utilization standpoint?

There are probably,

  • many things on the border of being safe
  • some very specific to the flavor of Windows (XP/Vista/7?)
  • and, some that are specific to commonly used applications (Symantec?)

Please flag your answer with such cautions, information to indicate special conditions and warnings to your best knowledge.

I'll add my points as an answer.

Update after a long time.
Unfortunately, this question has been generalised to that for finding unused-and-large files left on the system by the user themselves. It was not meant to be addressing that space. It was meant to focus on stray things that take up space as a side effect of WindowsTM behaviour or that of applications made for it.
With the exception of a couple of answers, most are biased towards tools to help people find their own mess --
I was more interested in finding other-people's-mess.
Well, I am going to mark my own answer as accepted and leave it at that.
Those who want that data, will find it here and
others upvoting tools that help find misused space will show the rest what they want.

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Multi-hundred gigabyte system drive and running out of space all the time? what are you doing exactly? –  Svish Jul 18 '09 at 21:02
    
Wouldn't you like to know? :) –  Robert Harvey Aug 17 '09 at 5:24
    
Related question: Best free tool to find largest files and folders on a drive –  slhck Aug 27 '11 at 15:44
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12 Answers

You can run dism /online /cleanup-image /spsuperseded /hidesp in console, it will clean up service packs backup files.

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RidNacs is an easy to use and fast disk space usage analyzer. It scans your local drives, network drives or single directories and displays the results of the analysis in a tree view with a percentage bar.

This gives the user a quick and easy way to identify the largest directories and it's very useful for cleaning up the disk. The result of the scan can be exported in different formats (XML, HTML, CSV, TXT), so it could be printed or compared with future scans.

Besides all these benefits RidNacs has an outstanding scan performance and it scores with a small memory footprint

alt text

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@Molly, This looks like another nice tool to check disk utilization. It seems that even after answering my own question here with a sample, there is a general misinterpretation: I am not looking for tools to tell me my disk utilization. I am interested in known ways to identify wasted disk space and maybe tools that will tell me about other places my disk space is wasted by the Windows System itself. These disk utilization tools typically tell me how 'I' have 'wasted' the disk space -- which is a rather subjective detail :) –  nik Feb 25 '10 at 2:11
    
To taken another view from your answer, the picture from the tool tells me that the system has a 1GB Page file and some 686 KB in Recycle bin. I could use that to decide if I want to change these things to make more space (or, maybe give some more space to Windows). –  nik Feb 25 '10 at 2:15
    
@nik - sorry, i stumbled over this gem today and i thought i post it at SU, your thread happened to be the first hit when i was searching for an appropriate place to post. :) –  Molly7244 Feb 25 '10 at 2:21
    
@Molly, that is fine, I am sure others will reach here looking for this information :-) somehow I managed to be less clear on what I wanted with this question. Now that you know what I want, maybe you can look for suitable answers and add them as another post here... –  nik Feb 26 '10 at 2:24
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SpaceSniffer is a newer tool on the lines of SpaceMonger and WinDirState noted in older answers.
As of Nov/2012 SpaceSniffer is very mature (also see notes from last year in this other answer)

enter image description here
While my question was not really targeted at locating how the user may have used up system disk space,
I can see that this is a useful aspect of detecting wasted space too.

From their webpage,

SpaceSniffer is a freeWare (donations are welcome) and portable tool application that lets you understand how folders and files are structured on your disks. By using a Treemap visualization layout, you have immediate perception of where big folders and files are placed on your devices. Treemap concept was invented by Prof. Ben Shneiderman, who kindly permitted the use of his concept into this tool.

  1. Size of the elements indicates relative size of disk space utilized
  2. Clicking on an element brings out more detail
  3. Double-clicking on an element zooms into that area
  4. Allows filtered searches (say by file extension)
  5. Tagged view with 4 colours that you can designate and then filter the view by tag
  6. Filter by file size or date...
  7. Generate a report with the export module

IMO, SpaceSniffer is the good blend of WinDirState (which uses too many colour tones and SpaceMonger which is quite old now).

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To actually address @nik's question, the biggest consumers of diskspace as far as Windows itself (apart from components which can be removed from "Programs and Features" or "Add/Remove Programs") seems to be the driver.cab file and the WinSxS directory.

I don't know of a tool to "clean" driver.cab. There's many utilities to remove unwanted drivers on a system but to this day I don't know of any I would trust. I do know that nLite on Windows XP (vLite for Vista and later - never tried it) allows you to remove drivers from a created installation disc, and I believe it rebuilds that file (I could be wrong).

The WinSxS directory gets into .dll versioning stuff and I don't have the courage to mess with that. I remember trying to stuff Vista in a 20GB partition when it first came out and that directory took 6GB all by itself. This was AFTER a clean install.

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Removing data from WinSxS may be harmful, and the bigest problem that the harm can be seen a month after removing, so users usually do not understand that happened. So my advice is to be very cautious while removing something from that dir. –  ST3 Oct 7 '13 at 14:33
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CCleaner

CCleaner is good, in the Windows options at the bottom you can clear up hotfix uninstallers, and other Windows stuff.

enter image description here

CCleaner is the number-one tool for cleaning your Windows PC. It protects your privacy online and makes your computer faster and more secure. Easy to use and a small, fast download.

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CCleaner and RevoUninstaller are two good things to keep handy. –  nik Jul 18 '09 at 18:44
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CCleaner has been a part of my toolkit for years now. –  ultrasawblade Sep 12 '11 at 11:44
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SpaceMonger

SpaceMonger is a handy utility for figuring out which files / directories are eating up your disk space. It produces a nice interactive graphical map where you can zoom in and out and delete things you don't need at your discretion.

enter image description here

Also Nlite and Vlite are useful for building stripped-down installation media for Windows XP and Vista respectively. You can leave out all the extras that you don't use so that your initial install footprint is smaller.

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I have an older free copy of SpaceMonger. Its very useful. –  nik Jul 18 '09 at 18:44
    
Update SpaceSniffer is a more recent tool and works very well. –  nik Nov 30 '12 at 2:44
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up vote 17 down vote accepted

System Restore Points

A Windows system creates System Restore points and the default configuration allows a lot of space to be reserved for these restore points. When you know that the system is not going to need 'uninstalls' (meaning, everything you recently installed is working fine) you can delete all but the most recent restore point.

This can be done from

  • the "Free up space on your hard disk" option in
    • Control Panel,
      • Performance and Maintenance

Its quite deep and usually missed out.


Recycle Bin

The Recycle Bin usually defaults to 10% of your disk partition (for each partition).
For a 100GB drive, this becomes 10GB reserved for recycle bin.

  • you can reduce the default to a lower value more useful for your setup
  • you can also choose to configure recycle storage individually for each partition

I also use this short cut to clean the recycle bin once in a while,

%windir%\system32\cleanmgr.exe /D

Uninstall Folders

Deleting Uninstall Folders.
Already mentioned in another answer here.
There is a script reference here.

Tested on Windows XP, Requires WScript and VBScript (which would be with most Windows OS)


RevoUninstaller

RevoUninstaller is a good freeware to cleanup stray files left around by application uninstalls. It does a pretty neat scan for files hanging around from a rough uninstall.
I also like CCleaner mentioned in another answer here.

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Excellent question and good points in your answer. I feel you could elaborate on your Disk Cleanup options, as there really are a lot of things that get swept up in there. On Win7, the exact navigation text was Control Panel -> Performance Information & Tools -> Open disk cleanup on the left panel. The system restore points options were then on the More Options tab. Additionally, running the disk cleanup as administrator caught an extra 4 GB of 'Windows Update Cleanup' that I wouldn't have known to look for anywhere else. –  Patrick M Oct 11 '13 at 18:20
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WinDirStat

I like WinDirStat, a free (open source) tool that scans the file system and visually presents statistics about your files. You can use this to determine which files are the largest, where is everything located, etc.

enter image description here

From the site:

WinDirStat reads the whole directory tree once and then presents it in three useful views:

  • The directory list, which resembles the tree view of the Windows Explorer but is sorted by file/subtree size,
  • The treemap, which shows the whole contents of the directory tree straight away,
  • The extension list, which serves as a legend and shows statistics about the file types.
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While this is useful to find stuff no longer required, I am more interested in the system and standard application files that waste space. –  nik Aug 5 '09 at 12:14
    
If you are looking for a visual view of your disk -- I'd recommend SpaceSniffer. It is a good blend of WinDirStat & SpaceMonger and more recent. –  nik Jan 15 '13 at 15:27
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Another thing you can delete merrily are subdirectories of C:\WINDOWS with names that begin and end with '$' and have the word "uninstall" in their names. These are backup system files from installations of service packs and OS updates. You'll see they are listed in blue; that means they're compressed. TYpically, you're never going to revert such updates.

These directories do NOT get erased by the Disk Cleanup tool in XP. I'm not certain about Vista or 7.

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I don't know if these are still present in Vista/7, but in XP, the $NtUninstall**$ folders in your Windows directory can take up quite a bit of space and can be safely deleted (assuming you don't plan on ever needing to uninstall any Windows Updates).

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  • compcln.exe from an elevated command prompt. Makes service packs (Vista SP1+2) permanent but clears some of the backup files.

  • vsp1cln.exe, the same thing but for Vista SP1

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compcln.exe appears to be a SP2 for Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 specific tool. –  nik Jul 18 '09 at 18:47
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Vista (and, from what I've read, XP) does not always delete files when you empty the recycle bin. Sometimes they're stored in a $RECYCLE.BIN folder on your C drive. When I begin to get a little short on space, I delete the entire folder, which gets recreated (minus all of the files) automatically. To delete the folder, you should be in an elevated Explorer window.

I haven't found a good answer for why the files are there (mainly because I don't care enough to figure it out), but I get the idea that they're kept for restore points. If you feel like you're likely to do a system restore, I'd make a full backup of the drive first.

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@Babu, I would suggest you cleanup up System Restore Points with the method in my answer rather than try forcing them out. I think, if required, you can also turn of system restore completely (would suggest against that, though). –  nik Aug 17 '09 at 14:20
    
Thanks for the advice! However, the purpose of this was to get rid of several gigs of files that I had deleted a year ago that was lingering in the directory. I'm not even sure if it disabled the restore points, but I suspect it might have. –  Babu Aug 17 '09 at 18:05
    
The recycle bin is automatically emptied by Windows once it reaches its maximum size. Why not let Windows take care of emptying it and enjoy the free second chance it gives you. –  Matthew Lock Mar 29 '10 at 1:57
    
It's the tradeoff between getting the space I need NOW, unsafely, and getting the space I need whenever vista feels like giving it back to me (never, or close enough to never in my experience). Like I've implied, it's not always a good idea, merely an available method. –  Babu Mar 29 '10 at 20:08
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