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How do I Deal with a Full Hard Drive?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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There are a number of techniques for dealing with a full hard drive. Ultimately, all of them boil down to removing content from the hard drive to free up space. It is advisable to periodically check hard drive capacity to ensure that 10 to 15% of the drive space is free at any given time. This will prevent problems like operating system slowdowns that can be related to a full hard drive.

Disk cleanup is an excellent way to get rid of extraneous files that may be taking up space on a hard drive. Many operating systems have a utility for disk cleanup and programs can also be downloaded to ferret out temporary files and partial downloads that may be hidden in less obvious locations. People can also free up space on a hard drive by removing outdated versions of programs and installers.

If a hard drive is still overloaded or is about to become full again, people can uninstall programs they are not using and remove the associated files. Some programs can eat up an astounding amount of storage space and if they aren't being used and are unlikely to be used, removing them can free up space on a hard drive. After using a program removal utility, people should confirm that the program files are completely gone by checking the directory where the program files were located.

A full hard drive can be a common problem for people like photographers and videographers. The best solution for people who generate lots of large files is to get into the habit of archiving, or to purchase additional external hard drives for data storage. Files from old jobs that are not likely to be used in the immediate future can be archived on an external hard drive or storage disks, while working files can be stored on the computer's hard drive for quick and easy access.

External hard drives are generally reasonably affordable and can be obtained from many companies that sell computer supplies. It is also possible to buy a larger hard drive for a computer and use it to replace the full hard drive. Data from the full hard drive can be copied over to an external hard drive for safekeeping, allowing people to save all their files and settings. People who are not comfortable doing their own hard drive installation can hire a technician to do it or ship a computer out.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By jmc88 — On Nov 18, 2011

I really like the idea of archiving files on your hard drive. I have a hard drive full of movies and music that can take up a lot of space. Like the last post mentioned, I have an external hard drive that I use as a backup. Whenever I put stuff on there I zip it away.

I'm not sure if the article was talking about just keeping files well organized or actually compressing them, but I would suggest the latter for a lot of things you don't access often.

Once or twice a year, I will go through my documents and other folders and find all of the files I don't open or use any more. I will put all of them into clearly labeled folders and then zip them into a compressed folder. By doing that, you save space, but still have access to the files if you ever need them again. If you do decide to do this, just keep in mind that compressing movies and music can affect the sound and picture quality.

By Emilski — On Nov 17, 2011

@titans62 - For the second part of your question, 150 GB isn't huge, but it's not small, either. If you remove old programs and do disk cleaning and defragmenting and still don't have much room left, your hard drive is probably full beyond fixing. It might be worth investing in another hard drive at that point. Technology is at the point where you can find 250 GB for pretty cheap. As a general rule, external hard drives will be between 30 and 100 dollars depending on size. My suggestion is to decide how much space you will need and then go one step up, assuming you can afford it. Most people underestimate their hard drive usage, and it's not like the hard drive should ever go bad.

The thing I really like about external hard drives is that most of them now come with backup programs to automatically sync your computer's files to the hard drive. There have been a couple of occasions where I either accidentally deleted a file or had some sort of system failure and lost a file. Luckily, all of my files were backed up on my external hard drive.

By stl156 — On Nov 17, 2011

@titans62 - It is pretty easy to do all the things you mentioned. This is all assuming you have a PC, of course. I've never used a Mac, but I'm sure there are similar proceedures that someone else could mention.

To check your hard drive space, the easiest way is to click "Start" and go to "My Computer". That will show all of your memory systems, how much memory they have and how much of it is used. If you are close to the top, that is probably the issue.

To uninstall programs, the exact directions will depend on whether you have XP, Vista, or Windows 7. In general, though, you can go to the Control Panel, and there will be some sort of link that says you can uninstall programs. From there, just scroll through the list, find things you don't use, and delete them. Just be careful what you delete. You may not instantly recognize a program, but it might be used by something else. Usually a quick internet search will tell you what programs something is associated with.

By titans62 — On Nov 16, 2011

How do you check to see how much space you have left on your hard drive? My computer has been running a little bit slower lately and I have had some problems with downloading certain programs. I am thinking maybe that is the problem.

The article mentions uninstalling old programs. I have tried to do that, but sometimes it will tell me that it is only deleting a shortcut. How do I go in and get rid of the program completely?

If I need to get an external hard drive, what should I be looking for? I think my current hard drive is 150 gigabytes. Is that a lot? It took me a little while to fill up this one, and it doesn't seem like I would be able to double that amount very easily. I usually just download games and stuff from the internet.

By NathanG — On Nov 15, 2011

@hamje32 - Sometimes it appears that the hard drive is full for no reason at all. However, there is always a reason, and it’s a bad habit that I think most of us have.

With our Internet connections, we tend to download things like crazy. Pretty soon tons of programs are eating up our hard drive space in addition to making our computer run slower.

Sometimes I employ a very radical solution, assuming I have everything backed up that is. I just wipe out the hard drive and do a fresh install of the operating system, and only the most necessary software.

I’m not recommending you do that all the time, as it is kind of a nuclear option, but for me the computer just runs faster as a result and I like having a fresh start.

By hamje32 — On Nov 14, 2011

@everetra - I bought an external hard drive years ago. It’s 500 GB and it serves me well. However, you need to understand that it’s not a magic solution to your problem.

Even your external hard drive can get full. Then you will need to clean that drive up as well. One thing that is beneficial about an external hard drive, at least in my case, is that it lasts longer than the regular hard drive.

The reason for that is that I use it for storage, so I am not using it all the time like my regular hard drive. As a result, there is less wear and tear.

By everetra — On Nov 13, 2011

@nony - That’s good advice. I have other recommendations when the hard drive is full. After you do the cleanup, run the disk defragmenter.

What that will do is it will take your existing files and more or less squish them together in less space, to put it in not so technical terms. This will free up more space on your hard drive, and it will result in fewer disk reads and writes, because the locations for reading and writing will be contiguous. That basically means they will be close to each other, rather than in far flung regions of your disk head.

By nony — On Nov 13, 2011

I do a cleanup about once a month if the hard drive is full, and it’s a manual method. I go through my personal folders where files are located and delete everything that is not in use.

I especially target the large files as these take up the most space. In addition, I think you should remember to check the Recycle bin. Many people don’t realize that once a file is deleted it doesn’t really go away, it goes into the Recycle bin.

Presumably this is so that you can “undelete” the file at a later date if you change your mind. If you delete the file from the Recycle bin however, it’s gone forever, in never-never land.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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