Clean, Mean, Computing Machine: How to Optimize Your Computer’s Hard Drive

Your hard drive is “fat”. It has lots of useless files on it that you don’t need, you don’t even know you have, and you don’t know how to find and remove. These files are slowing down your system and taking up precious file space you can use for storing other data.

What you need is to speed up your computer – you need a “workout plan” to slim down and optimize your hard drive and keep your system a clean, mean, computing machine! One utility you can use is your Windows’ built in clean up tool.

1. The Clean Up Tool

All versions of Microsoft Windows comes with a disk cleanup tool. This is definitely a fine (but not perfect, as we shall see) tool to optimize your hard drive, and is a great first “exercise” to remove unnecessary files from your system. Make sure you are the administrator for some of these functions.

First, open up “My Computer” by double-clicking the icon on your desktop or selecting the Start icon and then Computer.

Next, right-click on a hard drive ( typically C: ), and select Properties.

computer properties

Once you click on Properties, you’ll see this box:

hard drive properties dialog box

Will you look at that – “Disk Cleanup”. Yes, that is what we will be doing, but first, let’s look at some other options.

Compress this drive to save disk space – This will actually slow down your computer. While compressing will give you additional space on your hard drive, you’ll also spend a tiny bit more time accessing each file because the system needs to uncompress it when it reads the file and decompress it back to write the file to the hard drive.

Allow files on this drive to have contents indexed in addition to file properties – This also slows down your computer. When you open a directory and it takes a while to load, it’s because it’s indexing the contents. If you do not usually use your windows search to find files, uncheck it. Otherwise, leave it checked.

If you decide to check or uncheck these options, choose “Apply changes to drive, subfolders and files“. Remember, you will need administrator access to do this. Click Apply. It may take a while to perform the functions.

When done, let’s go back and click Disk Cleanup. Depending on the size of your drive and how much space you’re using, your machine’s processing speed, etc, you’ll likely need to wait a few minutes for this scan to complete so you can see the next dialog:

disk cleanup dialog box

Depending on your version of Windows, you will be given a series of options of what to clean up. The most common are:

Downloaded Program Files: Certain programs downloaded when viewing certain pages on the Internet. They are temporarily stored in a folder.

Temporary Internet Files: These are complete webpages (including text, images, video and audio) that you have viewed in the past. They are stored in your computer so if you go to them again, they will load more quickly, as your browser will load the website from your computer, rather than from the Internet (the browser first checks the actual website to see if anything has changed, and if so, it will modify these files.) You can also view these pages while disconnected from the Internet. This is also known as a browser’s cache. Disk Cleanup only targets Internet Explorer’s browser cache, so if you use Firefox or Google Chrome, these files will not be deleted.

Recycle Bin: Whenever you drag a file to your recycle bin, it doesn’t actually delete anything until you explicitly empty it. Disk Cleanup will do the same thing.

You will also notice a button to Clean Up System Files. Clicking this button will rescan your hard drive, this time including some extra options, such as deleting Service Pack Backup Files. These files are stored whenever there is a Windows update. Deleting them will mean you can not roll back your Windows to an earlier version. Below I highlighted an extra option when I clicked this button:

disk cleanup system files

Check everything you wish, then click Okay. Windows will then begin deleting all these files. (Note that even then, they are not deleted – they are marked as deleted and all references to them removed, which means the files are now part of the “free space” on a drive. File recovery software can still get them back. To completely wipe any files, you will need a program such as SecureClean from WhiteCanyon, a well respected security software company.)disk cleanup progress

Once this is complete, you will have cleaned up a lot of files from your hard drive … but not all of them. What if you don’t use Internet Explorer, for instance? Those files are still there. There’s also processes called memory dumps, caches for other programs and old log files. For that, I recommend downloading a free program called CCleaner.

Next >> CCleaner (coming soon!)




2 Responses to “Clean, Mean, Computing Machine: How to Optimize Your Computer’s Hard Drive”

  1. Madelein says:

    yes and no.yes if you use an erase utility. i use ace uettiiils but i paid for it, a free one i read about is Eraser. what these programs do is they rewrite the file on the hard drive with random data. the programs claim that the process makes it impossible to recover that’s where the no comes into because since there is a program to random the data, there’s programs that unscramble that and possibly can recover the information. POSSIBLY

  2. Chris says:

    Yes, anything is possible. However, SecureClean has deep cleaning options that will overwrite deleted data several times (passes), giving it DOD (military standard) security strengths. I’ve trusted it for many years.

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