How To Free Up Hard Drive Space

Dear Computer Lady,

I have windows xp. After receiving a low memory message, I deleted some old files and ran the disk cleanup. It reported over 9 million mb of memory that needed to be compressed. I agreed OK and in about 15 seconds screen disappeared like it was finished. Ran it again same outcome. Tried to defrag. it said I had 0% memory and 4% memory on 2 drives, wont let me defrag. Is there something else I can try?



Dear Sharon,

There are a couple of things you can try, but first, you really should make sure you have any files that are important to you safely backed up onto either CDs, DVDs, or an external flash drive or hard drive.

Once you are confident that your data is safe, you can get started trying to free up some space on your computer.

Since you have told me that you have already tried the disk clean up utility on your computer, I am going to skip that step for now.

The first step along the way, is to go to the Control Panel, click on “Add or Remove Programs” and look through the list of programs that are installed on your computer. There are probably a few programs listed that you have not used in years, and you can free up a little bit of space by removing those programs. Depending on the type of program you remove, you might free up a little bit of space, or a lot of space.

Next, take a look at some of the files that you backed up. If you have so many photos on your computer that they filled one or more DVDs, consider just keeping them on the disks and not on your hard drive. This will mean that you will have to load the DVD on your computer to view the photos, but it can free up large amounts of space on your computer.

The same is true if you have a lot of music files, video files, and even documents on your computer. As long as you have backup copies on disk (I would probably make two copies on disks, one to use on a regular basis, and another for a backup that doesn’t get used as often) You can remove those files that you don’t use very often from your hard drive and just access them from the DVD when needed.

Once you have freed up some space on your computer, you should try running the disk cleanup again. Make sure you empty the recycle bin, and you will also be able to run your defrag utility.

Occasionally, all these steps will make no difference at all on the amount of used space on your hard drive. In cases like this, your best option, is to make sure your files are all backed up, and then run the system recovery disks that came with your computer. This will erase your hard drive, and install Windows XP again. This is something that I do for my customers quite often, and it gives them a few more years of use of their computer.


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    • ron007
    • May 10, 2010

    The basic problem is that when windoze sees less than 20% free space on the HD it gets cranky. If you are down to less than 4% on 2 HD’s you are in real trouble.

    There are a couple of additional things they could try
    – create a batch and paste these commands in it
    del /s ~*.*,*.tmp
    (copy and change C: to D: or other drive names)

    the commands change you to the c: drive, then change directory to the root (just in case the system isn’t there yet) then delete all files that start with a ~, or have a TMP suffix (clues they are temporary files). The /s runs the command through all subdirectories on the c: drive.

    When checking in Add/Remove Programs, look for things like old versions of JAVA – this page gives details of a tool that will help cleanup old versions of MS .NET framework

    If you have enough room, download and install a program called CCleaner. It does a good job of freeing up space. One of the optional tools will allow you to delete Windows system restore points. Don’t delete all of them, but cut out some that are closely spaced date/time wise. – this tool probably won’t clean up a lot of space, but it will clean up a bunch of internet related clutter. – this page has tips on how to cleanup unneeded installation files for XP SP1 and SP2 – this article, although a couple of years old is still valid, discusses various options for cleaning HD.


    Navigate to the C:\TMP and/or c:\TEMP folders and see what files are left there. Consider deleting any remaining files and folders older than a couple days.

    If this hasn’t freed up enough space for defrag to work you could compress some folders that you rarely use, ie for programs that you don’t use. Sure, you are trading disk space for CPU cycles, but right now HD space is the limiting factor.

    There are also tools that will help you identify duplicate files on your HD. Be very careful if you find seemingly duplicate files in program folders, they may be duplicate, but they may still be necessary there. Here are links to a few:,24152-order,4-page,1-c,filemanagement/description.html = this article has links to several HD cleanup tools

    If you want to manually search for large files to delete there are several HD “visualization” tools. Here is a link to one I’ve used: – It displays files on the HD in relative size

    But the bottom line goes back to CL’s suggestion, copy data files to a couple of CD/DVD and delete them from the HD.

    • alexnetherton
    • May 12, 2010

    Hi Elizabeth.
    I routinely do just what you suggested, about every six months. So much crud can be on my hard drives, and starting fresh makes the computer run so much faster!
    An outboard or auxiliary hard drive is another way to go, just back everything up to it, and insert the recovery disk.

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