How to visualize which folders and files are consuming the most storage on your hard disk

You work hard.

And you expect your computer to work hard too that’s why nothing is more infuriating than having your prolific morning come to a screeching stop because you ran out of hard disk space.

I almost feel like computers have a propensity to run out of hard disk space.

I mean, you buy a 500GB hard drive in June and then in September it’s already 80% full because of those HD movies you recorded during your family vacation.  Your husband keeps telling you to delete stuff to reclaim space; however, your obdurate personality refuses to accede because you want to save everything!

Sure you could use a cloud service such as Shared (which gives you 100GB of free storage); however, you want more control of your files and don’t totally trust the cloud completely.

So what’s the next logical action?

Buy a bigger hard drive right?  I mean, traditional non-SSD hard drives have a super low cost per Gigabyte and you pick up a 4 Terabyte hard drive on NewEgg for under $200 right now.

But this is the thing:

You and I know that a new hard drive will invariably fill up; therefore, this isn’t a viable plan because you’ll end up in the same place you were in before you purchased the upgrade.

That’s why I want to show you the best way I know how to clean up your hard drives without sacrificing the content you care about.

A better way to visualize storage

Sometimes Windows will give you conflicting data about which files and folders are consuming the most space.  The result is that your corpulent hard drive get’s fatter, you get madder and the whole system starts to slow down.

Right click a folder and choosing properties is the intuitive way to find the heavyweights; however, what happens when you don’t know which folder is culpable?  In other words, when you see your right click Computer and look at the hard drive pie chart, you clearly see your hard drive is almost maxed out; however, you don’t know which folders your insatiable files live in.

WinDirStat is a free tool that displays directory statistics for Windows directories.  This aboriginal product once lived on Linux alone; however, when WinDirStat author Bernhard Seifert discovered the Linux app, it imbued him with a passion to develop a Windows version.

Download the application, install it and click it open.

On the initial load, it lists all drives connected to your computer.  You can choose to view statistics for an individual drive or even a specific folder if you like.

I only care about my primary drive, C: so I’m going to select it and pick OK.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 WinDirStat Select Drives

Now the fun begins.

The first thing you’ll notice is a bunch of Pac-Man characters pacing back and forth in the Subtree Percentage column.

AS WinDirStat calculates and breaks down disk usage by folder it shows a fun little animation.  Who said, programmers are phlegmatic geeks without a sense of fun?

WinDirStat Calculating Statistics

Depending on the size of your hard disk this could take a while.  My drive is only 25GB so the calculations completed in about a minute.

The really fun begins once the calculation finishes.

You might think this program looks like a convoluted mess but it’s actually very useful and can help you easily delete the most voracious files sitting on your hard disk.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 WinDirStat Results

The screen is segmented into three sections and the top half is divided into two parts.

On the left side you’ll find the largest folders shackling your saving efforts.  Scroll to the right to see what percent of the disk the folder consumes, the size of the folder and the number of items inside that folder.

On the right half of the screen you get a break down by file extension.

So you can see which file extensions are sucking up the most space.  You can scroll to the right to see how many files are tipping the scales with these heavy extensions.

I find it really helpful to click the extension because then in the bottom pane, the culprits get a white border which helps you zero in on the problem.

Clicking the color representation of the file (the largest color shapes in the bottom pane) automatically selects the file in the top left pane.

Windows 8.1 Update 1 WinDirStat Color Chart

So now you can see the file name, path, size, and everything right there.

To delete it either press Del or you can press Shift + Del to send that derelict file directly to oblivion.  It won’t even hit the Recycling Bin so make sure you really know what you’re doing before pulling off this power move

In my case, I had two .ISO files that were wasting 6.2GBs of space on my computer so WinDirStat really saved the day for me.

If it saved your day too let me know in the comments and share the love!


Connect with Vonnie on Twitter

Posted in Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows XP Tagged with: