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Understanding Windows Disk Cleanup Utility

When freeing up space on your hard drive, it is always vital to know which files are important and which are not, but how can you differentiate and know for sure? Well, the good news is that you don't have to. Windows will not notify you about hard drive cleanup unless your hard drive is so full the system is struggling to function. However, depending on your browsing habits, using this before windows prompts you can still save between 5 and 10GB (if you have not used the program before).

Disk Cleanup does exactly what it says on the tin: it cleans out some of the old, unnecessary files and folders encroaching on your Hard Drive space. The easiest way to find it is through the start menu by simply typing "Disk Cleanup" and opening the first utility it returns. If you run an older Windows operating system, it is also available under Control Panel. While useful and effective, the only downside of the utility is that it cannot guarantee the space it frees permanently. The reason for this is because many of the folders it cleans are ones that are used regularly to store temporary information. So what are these files? Well here is a short walkthrough.

The first item on the list tends to be "Downloaded Program Files". This folder shouldn't be too large and usually consists of small downloads necessary for operating certain utilities on your web browser. "Temporary Internet Files" is quite often one of the largest folders available for cleanup. It consists of various aspects of webpages in order to help you view them faster should you return. It also accompanies "Temporary Files" which holds all those downloads that you click 'open' on rather than "save as". "Offline webpages" is a pretty redundant option, consisting of any web pages you have personally saved (note: this is different to bookmarking; it involves physically making a copy of everything on the page for offline viewing). Another option is "Recycle Bin" − all the files you manually delete typically reside here in case you wish to restore them at a later date. The bin has to physically be emptied in order to "permanently" delete the unwanted files (permanently is in quotes because as you may well be aware, a large number of recovery tools we recommend can still recover lost files).

The rest of the options are a lot less important but should remain checked as part of the cleanup. Typically they consist of windows update files and nonessential copies of thumbnails or error reports. For further information on these options, simply mouse over and left click on their names in the Disk Cleanup utility (once is has finished calculating what is available for cleanup).

Once you have checked the boxes next to the files you wish to delete (none of these options will delete anything of importance to you) simply click "OK" to leave the utility to fulfil its task. On occasion, this utility can save gigabytes of space just from all the unnecessary Windows updates installers that are kept (in case you somehow uninstall an update and don't want to re-download it). It is a highly useful tool to both the professional and layman when looking to remedy hard drives that are nearing maximum capacity.

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