Adding a hard drive to your Windows PC is an easy way to expand storage capacity if you find yourself running out of room for your files. But there are two problems with this approach.
First, it’ll cost you money. There are bargain basement drives out there, but they’re unlikely to be of the energy efficient variety. Which leads us to the second point, power savings. Installing another drive adds yet another component that you have to keep powered. And while heat-wise they pale in comparison to processors, they can contribute to your PC’s thermal load making the fans work harder.
There is one super cheap option: delete files.
You’re thinking, “Thank you, Captain Obvious!” What you may not have considered are the less obvious places to reclaim drive space, which can free up megabytes, if not gigabytes, of space.
Before you take a single step forward, an important reminder: backup your files!
Everyone needs a backup plan, no excuses. Things happen, no matter how well maintained your PC. There are tons of backup guides online and many external drives ship with software that makes it dead easy to make copies of your data. So, take this opportunity to backup (or ghost, even better) your PC and check the integrity of your backup files.
Got that? Good, then read on…
Find and Delete Duplicate Files
You would be amazed at how many copies of the same file we keep on our systems. Not all duplicates are bad; sometimes a project will require you to keep copies of the same file in separate folders to make it easier to zip and send to others, for example.
Other times, though, we copy/paste when we mean to move (cut/paste) the file. And then there are times that we keep multiple copies of the same MP3, photo or movie file around for no reason.
For those, you’ll want to use software like Duplicate File Finder. It’s free, lightweight and pretty easy to use. There are more intuitive, near-one-click programs out there, but I like Duplicate File Finder because you have to be somewhat deliberate your approach to finding duplicate files by selecting a file path. That way you decide where the program searches for dupes and exclude directories like C:\WINDOWS where trashing files can lead to trouble. And don’t worry; it’s smart enough to determine if two different files that share the same filename (in different directories, of course) are indeed different.
As you can see from the screenshot above (click to enlarge, pop-up), my poor photo management skills are costing me 1.3GB of hard drive space in the My Documents directory. Well, not any more…
Delete Old Java Update Files
There are also system and update files that have outlived their usefulness and just keep hanging around. Let’s evict these freeloaders
One particular hog is Java. I was recently performing some spring cleaning on my Windows XP system and discovered nearly a dozen old Java updates, each occupying roughly 100MB. A chance to reclaim a solid gigabyte of space? Heck yes!
Here’s what I did in Windows XP:
I went to Start -> Control Panel -> Add or Remove Programs
Nestled within a list of my installed apps was a plethora of Java updates. Luckily, Sun numbers them, making it easy to eliminate old updates. Since my PC has been running trouble-free and there have been no Java errors and browser incompatibilities to speak of–not to mention that Java now prevents invoking old versions–I had no worries about getting rid of the old updates.
Following the instructions on this Java support page, I worked back from the earliest updates, clicking the Remove button and leaving only the most recent one – Java 6 Update 13 when I wrote this.
I was able to reclaim over a gig of space since I had update files harking back to Java 5, if not earlier. In the future, when the Java update dialog pops up, I’ll install it and delete the previous one.
You can confirm that the files are indeed gone by navigating to C:\Program Files\Java. In my case, only the directory corresponding to the update that I left untouched (jre6) is there.
So far, I’ve taken back nearly 2.5 GB using these two methods, and I haven’t yet searched for dupes in other file paths and hard drives, nor have I deleted Windows update files (the topic of another article).
I won’t pretend that you won’t have to get a new hard drive someday, but there’s a good chance that you have several gigs just waiting to be reclaimed too. And that can buy you some time until the drive with just the right capacity and efficiency features drops to within your price range.