Reclaim hard-drive space

Today's hard drives feature jaw-dropping amounts of space. But no matter how big your drive, you'll be amazed at how quickly application installs, browser caches, and temporary files can eat up your free space and clutter your system. Some simple hard-drive cleaning measures can free up valuable disk space and remove applications and data files that you no longer use or want.

A raft of commercial utilities can help clear disk space, but you don't need to lay down the bucks to get the job done. Windows has an array of built-in tools for doing a thorough drive cleaning. You can sweep away many megabytes - and sometimes even gigabytes - of unneeded files.

As always, before you begin, do a complete backup of your system.

1 Fire up Windows' Disk Cleanup

Double-click My Com­puter, right-click the icon for your C: drive, and choose Properties. Then click the Disk Cleanup button.

Windows will show you a list of types of deletable files, along with the space that can be reclaimed from each. Highlight each category for an explanation of what will be swept away, and check the ones you want cleaned out. Then click OK. Windows will ask you to confirm your choice, and then it will delete the files for you.

Repeat this step for each hard disk in your PC.

2 Remove unneeded Windows components

Follow the instructions in step 1 to get to the Disk Cleanup screen. Choose the More Options tab, and click the Clean up button under ‘Windows components'. You'll see a list of components you can uninstall. For example, if you don't play games, you can save many megabytes by deleting them. Checked components are installed; to uninstall them, first click the check mark to clear it and then click OK on the Details dialogue box and Next on the Windows Components Wizard. Then follow the on-screen directions. You can reinstall components later.

3 Remove unused applications

The longer you use Windows, the more likely you are to fill up your hard drive with applications that you rarely use. To see what you've installed, click Clean up in the ‘Installed programs' section of the More Options tab.

In Windows 98 and Me, you'll go to the Add/Remove Program Properties screen. Highlight the program you want to delete, and click the Add/Remove button.

Windows XP gives you more information when you click each application, including how often you use it and how much space it occupies. To remove each application, choose it, click Change, and then follow the directions.

4 Delete restore points

In Windows Me and XP - though not in 98 - the system stores settings you can use to "go back" if a system change causes problems. If you do a lot of installing and uninstalling, you'll have many restore points taking up space. To delete all but the most recent one, click Clean up under System Restore on the More Options tab.

5 Convert to FAT32

If you upgraded an old Windows 95 system to 98 or Me, find any FAT drives and convert them to the more-efficient FAT32 system. Right-click each drive icon and pick Properties to list the file system.

To convert drives in Win 98, go to Start-Programs-Accessories-System Tools-Drive Converter (FAT32) and follow the directions.

Me users should boot from the Emergency Disk created when the OS was installed. To convert a drive, type CVT, press the spacebar, and type the drive letter followed by a colon (for example, CVT C:) at the A:> prompt.

6 Adjust your browser cache

Inter­net Explorer and other browsers cache Web pages you've ac­cessed. To limit the size of this cache, right-click the Internet Explorer icon and choose Properties. On the General tab, click the Settings button under ‘Temporary Internet files'. Decrease the ‘Amount of disk space to use' value.

7 Finish up

Make sure all of the deleted files are gone. Empty your Recycle Bin. Finally, defragment each of your hard drives. To do this, open My Computer, right-click the drive icon, and choose Properties. Choose the Tools tab, and click Defragment Now.

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