Maximum PC|February 2020
How can you ensure your PC doesn’t run out of storage? Nick Peers has some pointers…
Nick Peers

“YOU HAVE RUN OUT OF DISK SPACE.” There it is, unequivocal. It wasn’t that long ago that Windows started popping up “You are running out of disk space” messages, swiftly followed by “You are running very low on disk space.” No matter, the day has finally arrived. Your hard drive has finally run out of space, and now you have to do something about it. The question is: What?

These days, running out of disk space should be impossible. With terabytes of storage available to you, how do you manage to fill it all up? One reason might be that you don’t actually have terabytes to start with—perhaps you’re using a laptop that only came with 128GB, or a two-in-one tablet whose 32GB is barely enough to fit Windows on, never mind any apps or data.

Don’t panic, though, because over the next few pages, we show you everything you need to know to solve the problem. You’ll learn to spot the early warning signs, plus take steps to keep your hard drive as clean as possible. We also examine ways to add extra capacity, enabling you to move your data off your boot drive to free up space. And if all else fails, we show you how to upgrade your PC’s boot drive, plus migrate everything from the old to the new drive. It’s all here, so turn the page to solve your disk space issues.


Find how what happens when you run out of free space, and how to keep an eye on how much is left

THAT WARNING WE FLAGGED in the intro is unlikely to be the first indication you get that you’re running out of space. It’s not designed to appear until you have 200MB or less free—a drop in the ocean these days. Instead, Windows’ first warning is likely to appear when you open File Explorer to the “This PC” view to see your drive’s usage is represented by a red bar, rather than a blue one. This appears when your drive has less than 10 percent of its space left, although the seriousness of the warning does depend on the size of the drive. For example, a 64GB drive with under 6GB left is more worrying than a 2TB drive with 180GB free.


Windows Update also throws up an alert if it discovers there’s insufficient room to install the latest updates—this usually appears when you don’t have secondary storage attached to your PC for it to use as temporary storage. It can pop up when there’s as much as 11GB still free on your drive for major updates, but of more concern is if it shows when you’re trying to install a cumulative update, which indicates your drive has less than 3GB left.

All PCs make use of small recovery partitions (anywhere from 500MB to 8GB). Sometimes, these partitions are assigned drive letters in Windows—often in error. Because they’re designed to store specific files and nothing else, they can be filled almost to capacity, resulting in Windows throwing up a low space disk warning.

The solution is simple: Type “disk” into the Search box and click “Create and format hard disk partitions.” Locate your Recovery partition in the list, then rightclick it, and choose “Change Drive Letter and Paths.” Click “Remove” followed by “Yes” at the warning, and finally “OK.” Bingo—no more warnings for that drive.


It’s all very well knowing that your free space is disappearing, but what’s actually taking up all that room? Your first stop on the quest for knowledge should be Windows’ own tools: Navigate to “Settings > System > Storage,” and after a short while, Windows reveals what types of file are taking up the most space on your system drive. You’ll see categories for “Apps & features” and “Temporary files,” and you can click “Show more categories” for a more precise listing of usage by categories as varied as “Mail,” “Documents,” and “Videos.”

Click an entry in the list, and you’re able to not just view more detail, but take remedial action. For example, if your Temporary files are gobbling gigabytes of space, click this to manually clean them up—note, the Temp setting now covers files stored in your “Downloads” folder, although they are excluded by default. As you’ll see over the page, you should make use of Windows’ new Storage Sense feature to manage this automatically, removing temporary files as required to prevent your computer from running low on disk space.

Although Windows has an “Other” view to cover large folders, it’s not capable of easily highlighting the individual files and folders that are taking up the most space. To search for these requires a third-party tree-mapping app. Tree-mapping tools provide a visual representation of each file on your hard drive(s) in the form of blocks, with the size of each block corresponding to the size of the file in question.

One such free tool is WinDirStat (, which you can download and install from its parent website or add to your PortableApps toolkit for running on demand. To add it to your toolkit, open the PortableApps platform and click “Apps > Get More Apps > By Category”—you’ll find WinDirStat in the “Utilities” section. Once installed, right-click the program shortcut and choose “Run as administrator” to allow it to check your entire drive, then see the step-by-step guide below to find out how to use it to target and—if necessary— delete individual files. Check out the box below-left for an alternate tool should WinDirStat’s garish interface put you off.

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