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WinDirStat Disk Visualization Utility Combats Wasted Disk Space

written by: Brian Nelson•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 12/8/2008

Full disk drive? It is common. Despite hard drive sizes reaching hundreds of gigabytes, those disks still just seem to fill up. Sure, software is getting bigger and sometimes more bloated, but the real culprit might be files that you have long since forgotten about. WinDirStat to the rescue!

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    Find The Waste

    My hard drive is over 100GB in size. Running some Windows cleanup utility where is deletes the files in my 50 MB Internet browser cache and empties my recycle bin isn't going to cut it. When your disk drive is this full, you need to delete LOTS of files and there is no sense wasting time going through and deleting them onesie, twosie at 8KB per time. We need a way to see where the files are and who the problem children are.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, we have the power.

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    WinDirStat

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    The WinDirStat utility is what is known as a disk visualization utility. It works by scanning the disk drive and then using the data to build an interface that allows the user to see in a clear fashion just what is taking up so much space, and where those files are. This data is invaluable for cleaning up a full hard drive and eliminating disk drive waste.

    Wasted Disk Space

    It used to be that the culprits responsible for filling up your disk drive were the applications you ran and even Windows itself. These days, after long and loud complaints, most software does a relatively decent job of not leaving much file waste behind, at least if they get shut down properly. The trouble is that all of those disk cleaning utilities out there are still fighting the old battle by clearing out your Internet cache, deleting temp files, and emptying your recycle bin. At 200GB, your hard drive needs more than a way to reclaim a couple hundred megabytes worth of space taken up by left over temp files.

    Using WinDirStat to Reclaim Drive Space

    Take a look at this screenshot of WinDirStat. That is actually one of my computers. As you can see, it has a 100MB hard drive and it is mostly full. Sure, I’ve got a lot of programs installed, and I’m a writer, so there are tons of Word files out there, but I’ve uninstalled everything I can live without, and I’ve archived off my documents. But, that is not enough. “Calgon take me away.”

    WinDirStat-inprogress Download WinDirStat from its SourceForge location and run a quick little install. The program has a footprint under 50KB, so at least it won’t be contributing to your disk space problems. WinDirStat then scans your drives to get all the details on the files and folders residing there. This is where its biggest flaw raises its head. WinDirStat is WAAAYYY slower than other freeware options. But, there is a silver lining. Instead of watching some lame hourglass or other timepiece remind you that seconds are ticking off your life while you wait, WinDirStat uses mini-PacMans to indicate that it is working. Tre chic.

    Once the drive has been scanned, WinDirStat produces a screen that makes your eyeballs scream in terror at first. But, once you calm them down and get a grip on how the interface works, you realize that a TON of valuable information about your disk is quickly and easily at your finger tips.windirstat-drilldown In the upper left pane is a directory listing by size. For this computer, you’ll notice that My Documents, and specifically My Pictures are using up the vast majority of the disk space. This isn’t really news to me, I know that I have a ton of pictures there, but I didn’t expect them to be using quite that much space.

    In this case, it is fairly obvious what kind of files are taking up the hard drive space, but that isn’t always the case. This is what the upper right pane is for. Here, we find the file types listed in order of how much space they are taking up. This is where the light bulb comes on. Notice that I have about 25GB of JPEG files and 25GB of RAW (CanonRAW) files. If you know about photography, you already know the punch line. I take my pictures in RAW format. However, as I manipulate them and then print them or send them off to be printed, they are converted into JPEG files. In other words, I have 25GB or so worth of DUPLICATE FILES for each picture.

    You’ll notice that for each file type there is a corresponding color displayed in the graph below. Also, notice that the highlighted directory from the upper left pane is highlighted by a white box in the graph below. Now, you can get a visual look at not just how much disk space that directory is using, but also what it is filled with. This can be very useful if the answers aren’t quite so clear.

    In the end, WinDirStat is a solid app that does exactly what it says it does. This utility alone could clean gigabytes off of most hard drives. Still, when held up against its competitors, it isn’t the best of the pack. Nothing is wrong, per se, but it is slower, more cumbersome, and less helpful with cleaning up the mess than other utilities. Still, if you like what you see, try it out. You won’t be sorry.

Disk Visualization Utilities

Need to see what is taking up all that room on your disks? You could click through endless folders looking for big files, but that might prove to be a waste of time if the problem is lots of little files. These disk visualization utilities will help you see exactly where disk space is being used.
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