My semi-annual computer cleanup (a to-do list for everyone else)

WinDirStat main window
WinDirStat main window

Now that the semester is over and all the grades are in, it is time for me again to clean up my computer before I embark on new projects. It is simply amazing how much that machine get filled with stuff over time. Add to that the fact that my hard disk is always too small (no matter how big it is) and I have my work cut out for me.

Since this may be of help for others, here is my to-do list when I clean my machine. Since I am running a Windows machine, all of those apply to Windows only.

  • Uninstall unused software
    I try out a lot of software and often forget to uninstall those right away. I usually uninstall using the Windows built-in uninstaller, but another tool is the Revo uninstaller. It not only runs the software-supplied uninstaller but also checks for connected files and registry settings.
  • Run a disk cleanup
    That’s always a good idea. Run the Windows cleanup program as a baseline and then run CCleaner for more options and possibly a registry scan.
  • Find and cleanup big files
    I find the main space problem on my harddisk comes from huge files (espectially Videos). Finding those is often a good step in chasing down which program stores large amounts of data. I use WinDirStat for this. It is a small software that lists large folders and files in a treeview and – especially useful – in a colorful diagram (see the image above). This is how I found out about many of the other tips in this list.
  • Defragment drive
    You should do this regularly anyways. In my case I couldn’t do that until I had some time since I had to free up some space on my harddisk first (Windows’ defragmenter needs 15% free space to run). I also use Defraggler since it can defragment individual files. One tip: Disable hibernation (in your computer’s power settings) and set the pagefile to zero (right-click on My Computer and look under Properties) before you defragment. Those two files (hiberfil.sys and pagefil.sys) can be huge and are locked otherwise. This used to be necessary for traditional HDs but is not needed when you have an SSD.
  • Malwarebytes anti-malware
    You should check for malware every once in a while anyways. When I had an issue once, I tried Malwarebytes’ software which found the little bugger. Also do a check with Ad-aware.
  • Installers
    For whatever reason, Apple decided once to save every single installer for iTunes, Quicktime, Safari etc. They were in folders called “Installer Cache”. Other software may be hiding theirs somewhere, too (e.g. NVIDIA installers) You can spot them easily using WinDirStat and then safely delete at least the old versions.
  • Cached and temp files
    If you burn a lot of DVDs (of your family movies for example), look for temporary files or burn images. Video software often stores a full copy of the DVD on the harddisk before it burns the DVD itself. Look through preference settings of those software applications that create lots of files and find the “delete cache” button and then click it!
  • System restore
    Final tip: You can reduce the amount of space that system restore uses by looking under the My Computer properties. Don’t turn it off, it’s a useful feature!

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