The Explorer: Scrub Your Hard Disk Clean

Easy ways to recover up to gigabytes of wasted space!

Fred Langa, Contributor

August 6, 2003

5 Min Read

Target The Moldy Oldies
When you're done with the tmp and bak files, look for files that you haven't accessed in a long time: Any file you haven't touched in, say, a year or more, is a likely candidate for offline archiving (on floppies, CD, tape, or whatever) or deletion. Here's how to find 'em:

Go back to the Find dialog's "named" box, type "*.*" (but omit the quotes). Make sure the "Look in" pull-down list is still set to C:\ or "Local hard drives," and that "Include subfolders" is still enabled. Now click the Date tab.

Click "Find All files" and use the pull-down list to select "Accessed." Use the "between" function to pick starting and ending dates from some time ago. For example, if you're reading this in August 2000, you might pick a start date of five years ago (August 1995) and an end date of one year ago (August 1999). Then click "Find Now" and Find will show you a list of all files last accessed in whatever date range you specify.

Your search may turn up more files than "Find" can handle. If that happens, narrow your search with an even-older date range or by only looking for specific types of files. For example, you might return to the "named" box and type in common data-file types, such as *.doc, *.txt, *.rtf, *.xls, *.ppt and so on. When you pare the list to a manageable size, weed through it, deleting or archiving old, rarely used files

Kill The Pigs
When that's done, use Find to identify (and delete) the fattest, most-piggish, most-space-hogging files on your system. Go back to the Find dialog's "named" box, type "*.*" (but omit the quotes). Make sure the "Look in" pull-down list is still set to C:\ or "Local hard drives," and that "Include subfolders" is still enabled. Now click the Advanced tab. You can do a narrow search of specific file types (in the "of type" pulldown) or let Find search for the default of "all files and folders."

The "Size is" option has two parts. In the left pulldown, select "at least," and in the right pulldown, select a large size -- say, 10MB to start. (Note that the file size must be entered in KB; 1 MB is 1000 KB; 10 megabytes is 10000 KB; and so on.) Click "Find Now" and see what turns up. If there are too many or two few files to make a useful list, adjust the file size down or up as needed until you've found a reasonable number of large files.

You'll probably want to leave program files, dlls, backup files (not *.BAK files, but the files created by hard-drive backup programs), and the like alone. But if you find huge graphics, video files, or any large data file, you may wish to archive it, compress it (such as with WinZip), or if it's not important, delete it.

You're done, and you've probably gained enough space on your hard drive to be the equivalent of what constituted an entire new hard drive just a few years ago -- but unlike those physical drives, you've gained all that space on your current drive, and for free!

But don't guess at the results of your work: Click My Computer/C:/Properties. Subtract the amount of "free space" shown in the dialog from the amount you got before, and you'll know, precisely, how much space you've gained.

Note that you can automate much of the disk-cleanup gruntwork by using Windows' Task Scheduler to run the Disk Cleanup Wizard every few days. You also can manually add Cleanup.Bat to Task Scheduler for the same purpose.

It's also a good idea to get into the habit of manually emptying the Recycle Bin and cleaning IE and Netscape's cache/Temporary Internet Files from time to time, although now that you've reduced the sizes of the cache areas, the risk of great wastage has been significantly and permanently reduced.

And one last thing: this page offers you a small Reg file that will add "Cleanup.Bat" to your Recycle Bin menu. Then, every time you go to empty the trash, you'll also have the option of running Cleanup.Bat at the same time -- easy, painless, and kinda cool. (And thanks for reader Mick Hickson for providing the Reg patch!)

What improvements or alterations for the cleanup process (or to Cleanup.bat itself) can you think of? What other types of files do you look for when you're cleaning up your hard drive? What freeware or shareware disk-cleaning tools do you use? Join in the Discussion!

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Fred Langa's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Fred Langa, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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