How to free up disk space by cleaning out the WinSxS folder in Windows 7

I’m always looking for ways to free up hard drive space on my computer.  And it seems that no matter how commodious my hard drive is, 500 Gigabytes, 1 Terabyte, 3 Terabytes, I always managed to fill it to the brim.

High resolution images from my Nikon D7000 are enormous and my voluminous digital music collection is 90% lossless, perfect audio. Some songs are even SACD and DVD-A rips so these files are heavyweights and are greedy for space.

You can use disk cleanup to purge the digital dross from fat hard drives; however, you might still be left wistful for more space.  Disk Cleanup will help get your computer lean but it can only do so much…

Or can it…

The lowdown on WinSxS

Sometime around October 10th of this year, Microsoft unleashed a new update (KB2852386) which augmented the Disk Cleanup tool so people can zap antiquated Windows updates from their systems.

The new Disk Cleanup update hunts down useless updates trespassing on your hard drive and then tells em’ to take a hike.

Old updates are stored in what the exalted Microsoft developers call a Windows Side by Side store. Mere mortals refer to it by its abridge name: the WinSxS folder.

All the updates you’ve ever installed on your system are shoved into this little folder and new updates keep getting packed in here until you tell it to stop.

Initially this may seem like a slap-worthy concept: what’s the purpose of all this mayhem?

I’m glad you asked!

Microsoft retains old updates so you can roll them back.  It’s kind of like an insurance against compatibility problems.  The problem is that the WinSxS folder often contains Windows components that aren’t pertinent to your system.

Another reason Microsft created the WinSxS folder was to prevent what’s affectionately known as DLL Hell.  This occurs when conflicts occur between disparate dynamic link library versions or by having superfluous DLLs stored on the disk .

The WinSxS folder creates a utopia for contentious application who depend on different versions of the same DLL’s.  With the advent of the Windows Side by Side assembly, Microsoft devised a way for programs to live together in binary bliss.

In the past there was no real easy way to cleanup the WinSxS folder.

As noted by Joseph Conway, Senior Escalations Engineer for Microsoft, to clear things up you would have to “uninstall superseded versions of packages that are on your system”.  But who has the time to complete such a herculean task?

But wait, it get’s worse.  A recent Microsoft TechNet article unequivocally said that you can’t even delete the WinSxS folder to free up disk space.  The site explicitly states:

Deleting files from the WinSxS folder or deleting the entire WinSxS folder may severely damage your system so that your PC might not boot and make it impossible to update.

Sound serious.  So what gives?

Are we just going to have to live with an obese WinSxS folder that keeps gorging itself on fatty updates until your poor hard disk comes to a grinding halt?

Nope.

Let me show you the smart way to solving this problem.

Cleaning out WinSxS, Vonnie Style

I wanted to title this caption “Cleaning out WinSxS Gangnam Style“, but that doesn’t make sense.  I mean, I can’t see Psy wiggling his hips over his laptop while some geek in a lime green shirt and cowboy hat tries to service his computer.

The way to do it Vonnie style is click Start and type type:

disk cleanup

When the Disk Cleanup program struts onto your screen, select your primary hard drive (most likely C:\)

Disk Cleanup Drive Selection Windows 7

Then wait a minute or two for the wizard to search your files.

Windows 7 Disk Cleanup Scan

Scroll down until you see the Windows Update Cleanup option. If it doesn’t appear then make sure you run Windows Updates first (click Start type “windows update”) or manually install the 32bit and 64bit versions of the update.

If you launch the application as an Administrator your screen will resemble mine below; otherwise, you’ll see a Clean up system files button.

Click that and you’ll be on your way to an immaculate hard drive.

Windows 7 Disk Cleanup Files to Delete

After you select the Windows Update Cleanup option and click OK, it quickly gets to work and will tidy up your WinSxS folder until it’s shining like a brand new car.

As you can see from the graphic above, I’ll redeem almost 4 Gigs of space after running this tool.

Oh yeah, I like that… can you hear that?

wait for it…

wait for it…

Cha ching!

Free space in your face.

Have you trimmed the fat from your WinSxS folder using the Disk Cleanup tool?  If so, give me a shout in the comments!

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  • Jay Chen

    Haven’t run disk cleanup since installing win7 back in 2009. Just ran it and got 8 gigs of space back. Really significant now that I’ve cloned/migrated over to an SSD for the boot drive.

  • Bluefog

    I just recovered 4.1gbs of precious SSD drive space!!! Thank you very much for a very clear, helpful and ultimately successful way of getting back my expensive SSD real estate!
    John

    • Jay Chen and Bluefog excellent! I’m so happy to hear this.

  • Pingback: How to delete windows.old | fixedByVonnie()

  • illiad

    should I not get an empty winsxs folder??? I see plenty of amd64 files in ‘manifests’ a lot of 2k files…
    I have an intel core 7…

    • Since AMD created the first consumer 64bit proc they get the privilege of being named this way. So it doesn’t matter that your proc is Intel you’ll still see those AMD folders.

      Disk Cleanup might not cleanup everything but it should have purged a significant amount of data. Right click the WinSxS folder and view Properties.

      How large is it now?

  • djkc909

    This is great! The WinSxS folder on an old Vista system of mine was 25GB, and it was the majority of the used space! Because my OS volume was using only 40GB. So basically, the WinSxS folder was taking up 62.5% of the used spaced on my OS volume!

  • djkc909

    fixedByVonnie is such a great, useful and entertaining IT help site! Vonnie makes it easy for the user or reader by writing his help articles in such an amusing way, making funny references & jokes along the way that make you laugh out loud. There should be more sites like this! Thanks Vonnie.

  • Fuzzypiglet

    my folder is still 11gb after cleaning. Interestingly though “windows update cleanup” says it will clean up 2.04mb

  • mahnoor fatima

    My folder hasn’t cleaned up even after using this! I’ve done this tons of times but it just won’t work they way it is needed to. And I’ve only got 1.61 GB of 17.4 GB, it’s threatening with a bloody red colour!