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Causes and Possible Fixes for Low Mac Hard Drive Space

written by: Mike Piero•edited by: Michael Dougherty•updated: 9/20/2010

If you find yourself constantly running out of hard drive space on your Mac, check out these data management techniques as well as the suggestions on how to recover some of your hard drive space.

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    Data Management

    While Mac computers traditionally haven't had the largest hard drives, there are steps you can take to prevent your computer hard drive from filling up fast. Know that your hard drive space (unlike your RAM - Random Access Memory) is what gives you permanent storage space for all of your application, photos, music, movies, and other files. You will want to keep at least 10% of your hard drive capacity free. If that free space drops below 5%, you risk losing system performance and even an eventual file corruption (if you run out of free hard drive space completely). So, freeing up space can be important maintenance.

    One good management strategy is to stay organized. This is kind of like preventative medicine for your Mac. Keep your photos and movies as well as other large files, especially, organized in their proper folders. If there's something you no longer need - like old videos of your ex-girlfriend on a camping trip - then delete them or move them onto an external storage device. This is much easier to do as you go along than all at once when you're low on hard drive space.

    So, try to keep up with your files on a weekly basis, so you're not keeping unnecessary files.

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    Removing Unwanted Files and Programs

    When I am in need of more hard drive space, for new photos or a new video game, here is what I look through first:

    1. Applications - Are there any application that are taking up space that I no longer needs. Perhaps you still have Office 2004 installed even though you also have the Office 2008 as well. There's no need to hang on to that older artifact, is there? You, obviously, don't want to remove apps that you may one day use, but take a look. Chances are that you'll find something that you didn't even know you had installed.

    2. Games - Games, while technically falling under the category of applications, constitute major hard drive space hogs. Some games can take up to as much as 20GB of space! If you don't play it anymore, check to see if you still have the install discs (in case you want to re-install it later), and then remove it. You can clean up a lot of hard drive space by removing unwanted games.

    3. Movies, Photos, and Music - in that order: Movies, as we know, take up the most space. Even if they are short movies, these files add up quickly. Photos and music can take up a lot os space as well since many of us have such large amounts of them. See what you can live without, or at least what you can move to a separate location (discussed below).
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    Using External Backup Devices

    One solution for someone running out of hard drive space is to move some of his or her files to an external hard drive or large flash drive. Photographers oftentimes do this with photos, and it can work well with movies, too. Even some games, such as World of Warcraft, can be played entirely from an external drive with minimal effect on the gaming experience. If you are moving files from your full Mac to an external device, make sure that you back those files up on a second hard drive. To put it another way, all of your important files should be located on two separate hard drives at any given time so that if one of them gets corrupted or dies, your information will be safe. File recovery can range anywhere from $100 per 10GB to over $1500 if the drive physically doesn't spin. So, the $50-100 now for an external backup hard drive seems well worth the money. Data backup is extremely important to think about when talking about freeing up hard drive space.

    Another option worth briefly mentioning here, speaking of hard drives, is to upgrade your Mac hard drive to give yourself more space. This is rather time-intensive and can void your warranty, but it is a good option nonetheless for some people.

    These strategies will help prevent your computer hard drive from filling up fast and keep you Mac running fast and without painful interruptions to find more space for your new stuff!