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Help! My Hard Drive is Full

10 FEB
How to

Hello and welcome to another brightfive HOW TO! We aim, through these posts, to answer some of the questions our clients most frequently ask us. If you have a burning question we're happy to take requests. Just email your questions to, send us a tweet, or reach us through our Facebook page and we’ll do our best to try and cover it.



How To...increase your disc space

In a world of ever increasing hard drive capacity at lower prices, it may seem redundant to discuss ways of freeing up disc space; but my desire to do so spawned out of necessity and has since become habit (despite almost never filling a drive these days).

I got my first Windows based PC in 1996 - an ESCOM Tower. After turning it on and watching a video bundled in the ‘Fun Stuff’ folder of the Windows ‘95 installation CD (Weezer’s ‘Buddy Holly’), naturally my next move was to take the whole thing apart! It didn't matter if I broke anything - we got the PC for free and no one else wanted it. Which was rather handy because I did break it… a lot!

I didn't have the money to buy anything new - so I was stuck either fixing what I had or buying even older components from a car boot. Through a combination of guesswork and following the manufacturer's manual, I ended up with something like this:

Escom 1996

Intel Pentium P133 100MHz processor with 8Mb RAM
512 Mb hard drive, CD-ROM and 3.5’’ floppy disk drive

Let’s not dwell on how minuscule those specs are in comparison to 2015… except for the tiny hard drive. That isn’t a typo - it honestly only had a 512 megabyte hard drive! That’s HALF a gigabyte! So, you can imagine how precious every byte was - and where the habit of saving as much space as I could started.

With the years, and machines, that followed my skills increased, along with my success to failure ratio. Eventually I reached the point where I ‘hardly ever’ break anything.

Many different tricks to save disk space (other than uninstalling old programs) have come and gone, but there are still many ways you can save space. Luckily, you don’t have to look far to find one, as Microsoft have a neat tool built into WindowsDisk Clean-up.

Disk Clean-up

To find Disk Clean-up in Windows 8.1:

Windows Search

1. Press the Windows key to bring up the Start menu and begin typing ‘disk clean'

Disk Clean-up

2. Click ‘Clear disk space by deleting unnecessary files when it pops up

Disk Clean-up System Files

3. Let it scan and take a look at how much space you can save

If you've never run this before, you can stand to save rather a lot of space. There’s also an option to perform a deeper scan and clean up low-level Windows System Files.



TIP: If you find cleaning up Windows Updates takes a long time, you may have to run Troubleshooting. To do so:

1. Search for Troubleshooting in the Start menu

2. Click View All from the left column

3. Right-click Windows Update to Run As Administrator and follow the prompts

Command Prompt (Admin)

TIP: You can also run the System File Checker Tool (SFC) which may help a stubborn Windows Update clean-up. This will scan your whole system, not just Windows Update. You can run SFC from Command Prompt (Admin) - often referred to as an ‘Elevated Command Prompt

1. Right-click the Start menu and click Command Prompt (Admin)

2. Type:

sfc /scannow

3. Hit Enter and let it scan & fix as necessary


System File Checker (Command Prompt)
Software Distribution Folder

TIP: If the above doesn't work, delete the contents of


but not the folder itself. If you can’t remove anything because a file is in use then restart in Safe Mode and try again. For more on Safe Mode see below.

If you’re happy with the amount of space you've saved you don’t need to continue.


IMPORTANT: The next few steps can be quite destructive and lead to nothing but wasted time and headaches trying to figure out what you did wrong… so proceed with caution!

‘Remove’ Windows Features

By default; Windows installs a lot of drivers and programs to increase compatibility. While this is a handy ‘catch-all’ approach there may be a huge space saving if you don’t need these drivers installed.

Windows Features

To find out which Windows Features you have installed:

1. Open the Control Panel by right-clicking the Start menu

2. Click on ‘Uninstall a Program' under Programs

3. Click ‘Turn Windows Features On or Off’

Use the checkboxes to enable or disable any of the features. If you aren't sure what you can or can’t remove there’s a great article explaining each of them here.

It’s a good idea to restart your computer at this point. Then open a few programs or perform some everyday tasks, just to check you still can. If anything weird starts to happen you’ll have to see which feature you need to enable. It’s handy, then, that disabling Windows features does not remove them. Once you've disabled all the features, you can delve deeper to delete them completely and free up some space.

Actually Remove Windows Features (DISM)

To uninstall Windows features completely, open an elevated command prompt. From here you’ll be using the Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) command. For a full breakdown of the commands available, click here.

Start by having a look at which features you have and their status by typing:

DISM /Online /Get-Features /format:table

DISM Windows Features Table

A table populated with the features you have and their current state (enabled or disabled) will appear. To enable features use Enable-Feature and to disable use… you guessed it, Disable-Feature with the following command:

DISM /Online /Disable-Feature /FeatureName:”nameoffeature

DISM Disable Windows Feature

If you don’t have a lot of features to disable then this is an OK method, but can be time consuming if you have quite a few you’d like to remove. Luckily; you can batch disable features using Windows PowerShell.

Batch Remove Windows Features (Windows PowerShell)

You can search for and open an elevated (right-click ‘Run as Administrator’) Windows PowerShell in the Start menu in the same way you found Disk Clean-up. For more info on PowerShell click here. We’re going to run DISM from Windows PowerShell.

To see your current modules type:


If DISM isn’t running, import it:

Import-Module DISM -PassThru

Then to see a list of the available commands:

Get-Command -Module DISM

Windows PowerShell Import DISM

We’re going to use the Get-WindowsOptionalFeature command, and follow it up with a script that’ll run the above Disable-Feature for every disabled Windows feature. Copy the text below and right-click in the PowerShell window to paste:

Get-WindowsOptionalFeature -Online | where { $_.State -match "Disabled" } | ` foreach { ` $_ = $_.FeatureName; ` DISM /Online /Disable-Feature /FeatureName:$_ /Remove ` }

Windows PowerShell - Windows Features

On pressing EnterDISM will be loaded and each feature will be disabled one at a time. You’ll know it’s done when there’s no longer any activity in PowerShell. You can also check the feature table in DISM again to now find each disabled feature is ‘Disabled with Payload Removed’.

DISM Disabled Feature with Payload Removed

IMPORTANT: If at this point you still want more space, you can continue. But be aware, these next methods are permanent and, if used incorrectly, can play havoc with your machine. If you are in any doubt don’t attempt them!

Advanced Disk Clean-up (DISM or Windows PowerShell)

Open up an Elevated Command Prompt (or if your DISM Module is still loaded in Windows PowerShell, use that) and type the following command to analyse your WinSxS Component Store (a system folder containing various drivers and packages):

DISM /Online /Cleanup-Image /AnalyzeComponentStore

DISM Analyze Component Store
DISM Windows PowerShell

IMPORTANT: All existing Windows Service Packs and Windows Updates cannot be uninstalled after running the next few commands below!

If a Component Store Cleanup is recommended you can continue. While the component store can’t be removed completely, you can compress components to save space. Windows does this automatically, but you can also remove outdated components manually:

DISM /Online /Cleanup-Image /StartComponentCleanup 

DISM Component Store Cleanup

You can also remove all superseded versions of every component with the ResetBase parameter:

DISM /Online /Cleanup-Image /StartComponentCleanup /ResetBase

DISM Reset Base

TIP: If you run into any cleanup problems, try running the RestoreHealth parameter:

DISM /Online /Cleanup-Image /RestoreHealth

DISM Restore Health

IMPORTANT: System Restore Points are shadow copies of your system files ONLY (so not your personal files). They allow you to roll-back your computer (return system files to a previous state) to troubleshoot problems. I recommend keeping this system in place. While only 300MB per drive is required, 15% capacity per drive is more sensible

System Protection

Amend or Remove Restore Points

If, after all this, you’re still hankering for some space you can reduce the size of (or remove) your System Restore Points. To manage them:

  1. Right-click the Start menu and click System

  2. Click System protection from the column on the left

  3. Click the Configure button

From the configure window you can see how much space your System Restore Points are using, and reduce that size or remove them completely



Safe Mode (PC is ON)

If at any point you’ve messed anything up (happens to the best of us) you may need to restart your PC in Safe Mode. To boot into Safe Mode if your PC still turns on:

Run Promt - msconfig

1. Press ‘Windows and ‘R’ key together to bring up the Run tool

2. Type ‘msconfig’ and hit enter

3. In the boot tab, tick Safe Boot, hit ok then restart your PC

Boot into Safe Mode

TIP: While other methods to boot into Safe Mode exist, this is handy as it'll continue to boot in Safe Mode until you disable it - avoiding accidentally booting a broken system. To enable normal boot, run msconfig again and select Normal startup from the General tab.

When your PC boots into Safe Mode you’ll be taken back in time to the mid 90’s, as a basic set of display drivers will be loaded making things look rather odd. Have a poke around in Safe Mode to see what you can fix.


Safe Mode (PC is OFF)

In older versions of Windows, you could boot into Safe Mode bashing the F8 key until something happened. With some versions of Windows 8.1 you can hold down shift and bash it instead. Failing this method, you’ll need to boot from CD or USB to try and fix your PC. If this has resulted from following something in this blog, then I’m sorry, but I did warn you!

Hopefully, though, you haven’t broken your PC but have recovered some much needed space to store all your much loved albums and photos. If any of the methods above helped you save space let us know how much in the comments below. I managed to wipe out almost 40Gb. Beat that!


Want more technical How Tos? Check out Si's other blogs: