Here’s the problem: you know there’s stuff on your hard disk you don’t need, but you’re not sure where to start looking, or – more importantly – what’s taking up the most space. Here’s a great piece of free software that can help. Go to Jam Software and click the Freeware Tools link. Find Treesize Free and click the Download button, then follow the instructions to download and set it up. When the installation wizard is done, click Finish and Treesize Free will load. If it doesn’t scan your disk automatically, click the Scan menu and choose the disk from the dropdown menu.
Looking at the screen shown here, most of the space is being used by our Documents and Settings folder. Click the ‘+’ sign next to the folder to reveal the contents and then keep opening sub folders until you can see the My Documents folder. In this example it’s where the vast majority of space is being taken up – nearly 40GB. Click the ‘+’ next to My Documents to look inside. Again, in this example, the majority is in the Misc folder (which we created about five years ago as a temporary measure and has been there ever since!). Continuing to ‘drill down’ reveals a 10GB folder called DK, which we simply don’t need any more.
Having opened it up we can see there’s definitely nothing in there we want to keep, so we’re going to right-click on the folder and choose Delete from the pop-up menu. Windows displays a dialogue box asking if we’re sure we want to go ahead. Click Yes. If you’ve selected lots of files as we have, Windows may not be able to fit everything into the Recycle Bin. In that case it’ll display a dialogue box asking you if it’s OK to permanently delete the selected folders. If you’re sure, click the Yes to all button to remove the files from your PC. That’s saved us around 10GB of space that we can reclaim for storing stuff we’d actually like to keep.
Next we’ll use a free utility that finds duplicate files you can get rid of. How do you end up with duplicate files? Sometimes you create them yourself (copying a file when you meant to move it, for example) and sometimes Windows does it without asking you. Visit the Duplicate Cleaner 2 site and click the Download link in the left-hand panel. At the next screen, click the Download Duplicate Cleaner from Digital Volcano link. At the next screen click the Download Now button and when the dialogue box appears, click Save File. Open your Downloads folder, find Duplicate Cleaner and double-click to install it.
If Windows displays a security warning, ignore it and click Run. Follow the installation wizard, but when you get to the Choose Components screen, remove the tick next to the ‘Install Toolbar’ option (unless you want to add the Bing search engine toolbar to your web browser). Then continue to the end and click Finish. After a moment, Duplicate Cleaner will load. Click OK to get started. To look for duplicate pictures, click on the My Pictures folder in the bottom-left window and then click the blue arrow in the middle to add it to the search path. Next, click the Select button in the File Filter section, choose Pictures and then click Select. Finally, click Scan Now to begin.
Duplicate Cleaner will then find duplicates and show how much space they take up. Click Close to remove the summary box and click the Image Preview button in the button bar. Scroll down the results list and click on any of the duplicated pictures there and it will appear in the preview box. Once you’ve found a duplicate, put a tick in the box next to it and then click the File Removal button in the button bar. Click the Delete Files button to send them to the Recycle Bin. When Windows asks, click Yes.
Before moving on, try this: with the results list still visible, click the Selection Assistant button on the button bar. This dialogue will appear. This is quick way to identify which files you want to remove. The default setting is to remove all but one file in each group (thus removing the duplicates) but you can specify other settings as well – for example, the oldest files in the group, or the smallest or largest and so on. Simply click the radio button next to the option you want to use and then click the Mark button. Click Close. Then you can remove the files as we did in the previous step.
Remember that, by default, Windows tries to put deleted files into the Recycle Bin first, so be sure to empty it (right-click, choose Empty Recycle Bin). Mind you, deleting files in this way doesn’t actually remove a file at all – it just removes its entry in Windows’ electronic list of contents. To get rid of stuff forever, we use Eraser. Once installed, it adds itself to the pop-up menu that appears when you right-click on a file or folder. Choose Erase from the menu and whatever is currently selected will be deleted forever because Eraser not only deletes files but also overwrites the space they occupied, removing them for good.
If you’ve started having problems with your PC and you can trace it back to a particular time – perhaps when you installed a new program or updated some software – you may be able to ‘roll back’ to a point before the trouble started by running System Restore. Just click Start, then choose All Programs, then Accessories, System Tools and finally System Restore. When the wizard loads, make sure ‘Restore my computer to an earlier time’ is selected and click Next. Follow the wizard through, to roll back to a point before the problem occurred, using the calendar to pick one of the highlighted restore points.
If System Restore doesn’t do the trick, try starting Windows in Safe Mode. This temporarily strips out everything apart from the basic files and drivers necessary to get Windows going – if the PC behaves itself in Safe Mode, you can eliminate these as potential problems and start looking elsewhere. It’s also useful if Windows keeps crashing and you want to load it long enough to get your files safely off and onto an external drive. To enter Safe Mode, restart the PC and as soon as you see anything on the screen, start pressing the F8 function key. When you see this screen, choose Safe Mode or Safe Mode with Networking if you want to be able to access the internet.
Once you’ve started the PC in Safe Mode, you can use it to run a System Restore (XP offers this option as soon as you start) or use Device Manager to see if the problem lies with one of your drivers. Right-click on the Computer/My Computer icon and choose Properties. Then in XP, in the dialogue box, click the Hardware tab, choose Device Manager, while in Vista and Windows 7 choose Device Manager from the list on the left. When the list of devices appears, look for any with a tell-tale exclamation mark and right-click on them. From here you can try and update the driver software, temporarily disable the device, uninstall it or scan the PC for hardware changes.
When you call your PC vendor’s technical-support line they’ll often ask some quite detailed questions about how the machine is configured. Our favourite program for handling all this stuff (and more) is System Information for Windows (SIW). To download, visit the System Information for Windows page, scroll down the screen to the freeware version and click Download. Follow the instructions to download and install the program (it will try and install Realplayer – untick the box if you don’t want to). Double-click the SIW icon on the desktop to start the program. Then wait while it gathers information from your PC.
Let’s say you’ve been having problems with your graphics card. With SIW loaded, scroll down the list in the left-hand panel to the Hardware section and then click once on the Video heading. The main window will display all the details a technical support person will ever need – including the name of the adapter, the type of processor it uses, how much memory it has on board and so on. Scroll down a bit further and click Storage Devices and SIW will display the information for those as well. Having this kind of detailed information to hand when you’re on the phone to tech support can be really useful.
And finally, when we really want to know which programs are loading with Windows – even the sly ones – we use Winpatrol. Install the program and when it loads, click the Startup Programs tab at the top to see a list. Here we’ve discovered that two programs to do with our old sound card are still being loaded every time we start Windows – even though we’ve unplugged it. Here we’ve highlighted them both and clicked Disable. We can then re-start Windows and see how we get on without them. If there are no ill-effects we can highlight them again and click the Remove button to get rid of them permanently.