How to free up disk space on end user devices


Computers have bigger hard drives than ever before, but hard disk space– or lack of it – can still be a problem. This is especially true if a user is working remotely from a personal device. There are many proven techniques to reclaim disk space, including deleting temporary files, deleting downloaded files, clearing browser cache, and activating Windows Storage Sense. However, there are other often overlooked methods that can help you reclaim more disk space.

Check for stray Hyper-V components

I’ll be the first to admit that most casual users are probably not used to creating Hyper-V VMs. Even so, if a system is running low on disk space, it may be worthwhile to at least check whether there are any leftover unused virtual machines taking up space on the system. One of the dirty little secrets of Hyper-V is that when you use Hyper-V Manager to delete a virtual machine, the virtual hard disk is not actually deleted; instead, Windows leaves the virtual hard drive intact in case it is needed in the future. As such, orphaned virtual hard disks can consume a significant amount of disk space.

Likewise, ISO files used to install guest operating systems can also consume a lot of hard drive space. The easiest way to find such files is to open File Explorer, navigate to the root directory, then enter an asterisk, followed by a period and a file extension in the box. search (for example: * .ISO). As you can see in Figure 1, I have several gigabytes of ISO files on my own hard drive. By the way, if you want to search for Hyper-V virtual hard disks, these files will usually have a .VHD or .VHDX extension.

Figure 1

ISO files can consume a lot of disk space.

Enable NTFS compression

Another way to reclaim disk space is to compress the disk. To do this, open File Explorer, then right-click the disk and select the Properties command from the context menu. This will cause Windows to display the disk property sheet. Select the General tab and then check the Compress this drive to save disk space checkbox, as shown in Figure 2. Incidentally, a checkbox is also used to enable indexing of file contents. Content indexing makes searching for files stored on the system faster and easier. However, indexes consume disk space, so you might want to consider disabling content indexing.

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Figure 2

You can compress NTFS drives to save space.

In case you were wondering, deduplication is not officially supported in Windows 10, so using NTFS compression is the best option to reduce the data footprint without resorting to a third-party product or forcing Windows 10 to use an unsupported configuration.

Disable or move the paging file

The paging file has been part of the Windows operating system for decades. The swap file is optional, but it can consume a significant amount of disk space. There are three main things the paging file does:

  1. Allows Windows to use disk storage to compensate for RAM shortages
  2. Supports system crash dumps
  3. Supports various Windows Server roles, such as Domain Controllers, DFS Replication Servers, Certificate Servers, and ADAM / LDS Servers

Opinions vary widely among IT pros as to whether the paging file should be disabled. In most cases, if a Windows 10 system is stable and has a lot of memory, it is generally safe to disable the paging file. (You can find the advice from Microsoft here.)

If you decide to disable the paging file, you can do so by right-clicking the Start button and then clicking System. When the System Settings page appears, select the About tab, scroll down, and click the Advanced System Settings link. This will display the Windows system property sheet. Select the Advanced tab of the property sheet, then click the Settings button in the Performance section. This will cause the Windows Performance Options dialog box to open. Select the Advanced tab of this dialog box, then click the Edit button to disable, resize, or move the paging file. As you can see in Figure 3, the paging file of this particular system consumes 2 GB of storage space.

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figure 3

The paging file can consume a lot of space.

Disable hibernation

A final technique to reclaim disk space is to disable hibernation. This works because when a computer enters hibernation, the contents of its memory are written to disk. Having said that, it might not be a good idea to turn off hibernation on laptops, as Windows can use hibernation as a way to save the machine state just before the battery runs out. .

The easiest way to turn off hibernation is to open an administrative command prompt window and enter the following command:

Powercfg /h off

You can see what it looks like in Figure 4.

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Figure 4

Here’s how to turn off Windows hibernation.


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