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Cleaning Up Your Disk Drives in Windows Vista

by William Stanek
03/06/2007

Over time, the many types of temporary files created when you browse the Internet, install programs, or update your computer can eat up the free space on your computer's disks. As your computer's primary disk fills to 85 percent or more of its total capacity, you may start to notice that it's not as responsive as it used to be. Your computer may slow down as its primary disk fills to capacity because your computer depends on this free space to write the page file and other temporary files it needs to use. To help prevent performance problems due to your primary disk being too full, you should periodically clean up your computer's disks using Disk Cleanup. Table 1 provides a summary of the types of temporary files Disk Cleanup can help you track down and remove.

Table 1. Temporary files that you can clean up

Type of temporary file Description
Downloaded program files Contain programs downloaded for use by your browser, such as ActiveX controls and Java applets. These files are temporary and can be deleted.
Hibernation file cleaner Contains the hibernation file used when your computer enters sleep mode. This file can be deleted, but it will be recreated the next time your computer enters sleep mode.
Microsoft Office temporary files Contain logfiles created by Office as well as other temporary files used by Office. These files are temporary and can be deleted.
Offline files Contain local copies of network files that you've designated for offline use. These files are stored to enable offline access and can be deleted.
Recycle Bin Contains files that have been deleted from the computer but not yet purged. Emptying the Recycle Bin permanently removes the files.
Setup logfiles Contain logfiles created by Windows during setup. If your computer is fully installed and you have no problems with the installation, you can delete the setup log files.
System error memory dump files Contain dump files created by Windows because of a Stop error. If you've resolved the problem that caused the Stop error or do not plan to send the dump file to Microsoft or another support technician, you can delete the dump files.
Temporary files Contain information stored in the Temp folder. These files are primarily temporary data or work files for applications.
Temporary Internet files Contain web pages stored to support browser caching of pages. These files are temporary and can be deleted.
Temporary offline files Contain temporary data and work files for recently used network files. These files are stored to enable working and can be deleted.
Thumbnails Contain thumbnails of pictures, videos, and documents created by Windows Vista. When you access a folder the first time, Widows Vista creates thumbnails of pictures, videos, and documents. These thumbnails are saved so they can be quickly displayed the next time you access a folder. If you delete thumbnails, they are recreated the next time you access a folder.
Windows Error Reporting Creates several types of temporary files that are used for error reporting and solution checking. Once you've resolved any problems (or if there are no current problems), you can delete these temporary files.

Windows Error Reporting creates several types of temporary files that are used for error reporting and solution checking. Once you've resolved any problems, or if there are no current problems, you can delete these temporary files. You can clean up temporary files by completing the following steps:

  1. Click Start→Programs or All Programs→Accessories→System Tools. Then select Disk Cleanup.
  2. In the Disk Cleanup Options dialog box, shown in Figure 1, you can choose to clean up only your files or files from all users on your computer. Most of the time, you'll want to clean up files from all users to ensure you free up all the space that's being wasted.
  3. Files to clean up
    Figure 1. Choose the files to clean up

  4. In the Disk Cleanup: Drive Selection dialog box, shown in Figure 2, select the primary system disk as the drive you want to clean up and then click OK. The primary system disk is the disk with the Windows logo.
  5. Disk Cleanup then examines the selected drive, looking for temporary files that can be deleted and files that are candidates for compression. The more files on the drive, the longer the search process takes.
  6. The drive to clean up
    Figure 2. Select the drive to clean up

  7. When Disk Cleanup finishes, you'll see a list of files that can be deleted similar to the one shown in Figure 3. Only a few types of temporary files are selected by default. Because of this, you'll want to review carefully the other types of temporary files that you can delete. As shown in the example, only 684MB of data was selected for deletion by default, but I was able to increase this to 3.31GB by selecting other types of unnecessary files.
  8. After you select additional checkboxes as necessary, click OK. When prompted to confirm the action, click Yes.

Cleanup options
Figure 3. Select the cleanup options

When Disk Cleanup finishes, I recommend that you restart your computer and consider the two additional options it provides:

  • Program Clean Up helps you free up space by removing programs that you do not use.
  • System Restore and Shadow Copy Clean up helps you free up space by removing all but the most recent restore point and shadow copy.

I recommend backing up and restarting your computer before using these cleanup options to ensure your computer is in a bootable state, that there are no updates that need to be applied, and that there are no current errors that need to be resolved. You can use Disk Cleanup to help you clean up programs, as well as system restore and shadow copies, by completing these steps:

  1. Click Start, type "cleanmgr" in the search box and then press Enter.
  2. In the Disk Cleanup Options dialog box, select Files From All Users On This Computer.
  3. Select a disk to clean up and then click OK.
  4. In the Disk Cleanup dialog box, select the More Options tab as shown in Figure 4.
  5. To remove all system restore and shadow copies except for the current restore point, click Clean Up under System Restore And Shadow Copies. When prompted to confirm that you want to delete this data, click Delete.
  6. To find programs to clean up, click Clean Up under Programs And Features. On the Programs And Features page in Control Panel, select a program that you want to remove and then click Uninstall.

Clean up programs and files
Figure 4. Clean up programs and other files as necessary

William Stanek has over 20 years of hands-on experience with advanced programming and development. He has written nearly 100 books.

Paul Marquardt currently works as a network operating systems analyst for Dell. He specializes in highly available solutions, server/desktop deployment, and core Windows components.


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