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Help! Hard-drive space doing the disappearing and reappearing act!

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / October 2, 2009 2:35 AM PDT

Help! Hard-drive space doing the disappearing and reappearing act!

I enjoy reading and learning from your column. I have learned
a lot of helpful things from your members, but I am still
definitely a newbie. My question is about my hard drive. I
have a two-year-old Dell with Intel Core 2 Duo running
Windows Vista, 32-bit. Hard drive C is 300GB. A few weeks ago
it showed that I had 3.8GB left and the line was way in the
red. I did all the usual things like disk clean up, defrag,
clearing the cache, and I uninstalled a few things that I
don't use. I managed to get it up to 34GB available. I should
tell you that there is no way that I have that much stuff on
my computer. Just to be sure I bought a 1TB external hard
drive to transfer some of my pictures to. Before it arrived,
one day I checked to see what was left on my C drive and wow
it was back down where it should be at about 180 used. Today
the same thing happened. I'm back at having only 7.7GB free.
What the heck is going on? I have hardly added anything to
the computer since the last incident. Everything that I
download now goes directly to the external HDD. I have no
idea how it fixed itself the first time or why it has
happened again. I need helpppp!

--Submitted Lorilou L.

Here are some featured member answers to get you started, but please read all the advice and suggestions that our
members have contributed to this question.

Windows Swap File and program caches --Submitted by darrenforster99

Hard drive space variation --Submitted by Zouch

Where is your space going? --Submitted by Watzman

Could easily be System Restore, Lorilou --Submitted by warpete

Re: hard drive space --submitted by Kees Bakker

If you have an solution for Lorilou, please click on the 'Reply' link and submit your answer. Please be as detailed as possible when providing a solution for her.
Thank you!
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Where is your space going?
by Watzman / October 2, 2009 10:06 AM PDT

There are programs that let you look at what folders & files are taking up the used space on your hard drive. You need to run one of those while the disk is showing "almost full" and see where the space is going. One that I sometimes use is "Treesize" from JAM software. There is a free version and a "professional" version, for your purposes, the free version is probably all that you need. You can find it at Once you know where your space is going, the rest of this is straightforward.

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I second this one
by BradJohnson2 / October 2, 2009 12:18 PM PDT

This is the right idea to find where the GB's are going. ExplorerXP ( is another free util that will do this.

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FYI: ExplorerXP is only for Windows XP or 2000
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / October 8, 2009 3:54 AM PDT
In reply to: I second this one

Great suggestion BradJohnson2, but I want to let our readers know that this utility ExplorerXP is only for Windows XP or 2000.

Lorilou, states that she has Vista so it may not work for her.


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by eeyore08 / October 9, 2009 3:50 PM PDT

Tried the tree size when the disk was full and it says that 206GB are being used by me. 182GB Appdata and 181GB Roaming. I got rid of a huge download file, 180GB, and I now have 187GB free up from 6.39gb 10 minutes ago. Now I just have to wait and see if it stays here or magically fills up again. Thank you so much for your help and suggestion.
P.S. I did use the free version.

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if your gb are robbed again....
by MOHAMMED UMAR10 / October 10, 2009 1:53 PM PDT
In reply to: Thanks

go to gohacking.comor any virus sites which and for methods to know if there is a virus on you sys which is possibly filling the space with "garbage"(it is a technical term pls dont mistake me)also check your sys for unusual dll's and tak manager for processes oter than for what shuld be present

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by eeyore08 / October 9, 2009 3:55 PM PDT

Thanks for the suggestion. I downloaded the free program and ran it. It showed me that there was a 180GB file in my Appdata>Roaming.
I went in & deleted it and I now have 187GB free, up from 6.39GB 10 minutes ago. Now its wait and see if it magically fills up again. Are computers great?!!?
Thanks so much for your very helpful suggestion.

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See Post 61
by bdenson768 / October 10, 2009 5:09 AM PDT

Make sure your hard drive data cable is not crumpled, mangled. or folded with sharp creases. Better yet, just replace the data cable. Also check or replace your CMOS battery.

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Finding where the disk space is going..
by xmundt / October 11, 2009 8:34 AM PDT
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RE: Help! Hard-drive space doing the disappearing...
by dbxanten / October 2, 2009 10:41 AM PDT

Greetings. I'd like to dream that I'd be some PC Guru but I'm afraid that once I settle into the dream, the alarm will sound to wake me.

I have experienced this exact thing, but only in the form of a subscription p2p software entity called Bearshare. I noticed within the past couple of months that once I tried to update the software due to a new version prompt, my harddrive space became burried, leaving me with 200MB of free space. (Its a Compaq Presario with an 80GB Hard Drive) At that time, I aborted the update and was really confused as to how and why I was losing free space. Just yesterday, (10/1/2009) I attempted the update with the same result. This time I reflected on the last update and was starting to make a connection.

The subscription music downloads that were obtained by this program (Bearshare) were saved to an external harddrive. Yet, somehow, the program referenced everything still within the program even though the external harddrive was not connected. So, after the update for Bearshare completed and confirmed all of my space on the harddrive taken up... all but 200MB, I simply CRTL+A to highlight all of the referenced downloaded music and then deleted them. All of the freespace returned.

I'm not certain that this will help. This is just my experience and if there are any types of programs that are used to interface with file types and those types are stored to an external drive, you may consider doing what I did regarding my experience.

The computer I'm using (0ne of them) that has experienced this issue is running Windows XP Home Edition. 2.4GHz Celeron Processor and 512MB of RAM. (Hey... don't make fun... I'm also using a 466MHZ eMachines with approx 300MB of RAM and a 4GB Harddrive. Its running Windows XP Pro and uses Google Chrome and Winamp. It was actually the first computer I sold 10 yrs ago when I worked for a local PC place.)

I hope this is good info... if not, perhaps mildly entertaining???

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My Username is Stealthryche, but came up as dbxanten???
by dbxanten / October 2, 2009 1:28 PM PDT

I posted a reply to the post and am the only one that used "RE: Help! Hard-drive space doing the disappearing..." in the post title. Somehow it shows my username as dbxanten instead of Stealthryche. OK all you CNETers... let's figure this one out please.

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Thanks for bring this to our attention!
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / October 5, 2009 9:18 AM PDT

This is a known forum bug that is affecting some of our forums users. I will have an engineer look into this and hopefully get this problem corrected shortly. We do apologize for the confusion and inconvenience.

Best regards,

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by eeyore08 / October 9, 2009 4:02 PM PDT

I can see where this would be a very helpful way to deal with this kind of problem. I am now going to be keeping a close eye on things. Try that Treesize mentioned above. It is a quick & easy way to see where things are happening. It would be nice if it told you why....

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Hard Drive Space Variation
by Zouch / October 2, 2009 10:51 AM PDT

Hi Lorilou,

That is rather strange behaviour. Obviously something fairly significant is going on, so you may want to try one of the disk space analysers - check CNET Downloads or Google for them. If possible, get one that will order the results report by file size, so you can look at the biggest first and compare the report from the disk when it's reporting full and one if it cleans itself up again.

A few ideas you might want to check.

System Restore has a bit of a reputation for gobbling up disk space and for some reason, seems to affect Vista more than XP (don't know why - I don't use Vista). But you can set a limit on how much storage System Restore can use before it goes into an automatic clean up, which deletes the oldest copies. On XP (and there is an equivalent for Vista - perhaps another member will elucidate) you get to the controls via Start - Settings - Control Panel - System - System Restore tab. There, you will see a slider that limits the amount of disk space System Restore can use. It will probably be set to maximum. Try moving the slider back to about half way and see if that increases the pool of disk space available. You can manually clean up the System Restore space by turning System Restore off and on again but it you try this do make sure you take a new Restore point when you turn it back on again to be sure you have one in case disaster happens!

Next, if you run an application, particularly video editing, that uses a lot of memory, it can increase the amount of virtual storage (pagefile.sys on the hard disk root usually) and this will hang around until you next reboot the system. There are tools that can clean this up in flight, though that said, 120 GB would be very excessive.

You've cleaned your caches - that's good. Depending what email client you use, you may need to do a similar job on your email files. I use Thunderbird and am fairly rigorous in deleting messages I'm finished with. The messages then go into the Trash or Deleted folder, depending which version is being used. Under the File menu is a command to Empty Trash / Deleted and sure enough, the messages are deleted from the Trash / Deleted folder list. But they aren't gone! They are not easily accessible but they are still sitting there until you run the other command under the file menu "Compact Folders" - then they are gone.

I also use Kaspersky Security Suite and it puts a load of very small .TMP files in my Windows\Temp folder. You might expect disk clean up to get rid of them but it doesn't. I manually delete the contents of my Windows\Temp folder periodically - there will be 2 or 3 that won't delete because they are in use but the vast majority (and I've had hundreds) will disappear.

Good Luck!

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Thunderbird Problem-FIXED!
by marks689 / October 9, 2009 10:58 AM PDT

Thunderbird has been slow to open for months--emptying Trash didn't seem to make a difference. I saw your aside on Tbird-I hit Compact Folders--and now It opens in a flash--amazing!

One never knows when a tip will help. Thanks Zouch!

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Empty Trash Trash/Delete Are they gone?
by celler dweller / October 9, 2009 5:25 PM PDT

Great stuff, I've not heard most of this. Especially "Compact Folders"I use Vista mostly with Firefox & as little Int. explorer as possible through a cable provider. I have searched for every delete & empty trash command but can't find anything like "Compact Folders"? Can you help?

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Help! Hard-drive space doing the disappearing and reappearin
by gellul9 / October 2, 2009 10:52 AM PDT

Your system restore is doing a backup. These backups use 15% of your hard drive. Every couple of days the system restore will do a backup.

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disappearing-reappearing hard drive space
by Larryoke / October 2, 2009 12:11 PM PDT

As always when deleting files and other data from a hard rive, you are only taking one bit out of the data so that it is not seen as data as such. It is still on the hard drive and still takes up space.
Make sure you empty your recycle bin to make sure everything is gone. After deleting data, you should defrag the hard drive to make sure everything is gone(overwritten or just plain erased. The defragging also will put all your ducks in a row(ie place your files and other data in a contiguous line. This will also speed up data retrieval and make the programs running from the hard drive run better.

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Either malware or HD problem
by rje49 / October 2, 2009 1:02 PM PDT

If it were mine, I'd save all my personal files onto that 1TB external drive, then run virus/malware scans on it. Then format and re-install Vista. That would get rid of any or all malware. If the problem immediately returns, then I'd assume the HD has a problem. You might skip a potential step by simply buying a new HD first and installing an operating system on it to start. I'm no pro; that's just my way of problem-solving.

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malware or drive replacement
by MOEGAMAT / October 5, 2009 3:35 AM PDT

for sure, vista aint all that crab,so either some rootkit is slashing away gigs or the HD is failing, like i said rather just replace the HD windows 7 beta is free until march 2010, but yeah there's always a bunch of drama queens,system restore uses 15% of your HD rather far fetch i reckon

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Replace disk -- I don't agree
by bdg2 / October 9, 2009 9:22 AM PDT

A hardware problem in the drive or its controller is exceedingly unlikely to cause this effect. They are not even aware the difference between space allocated to a file and unallocated space.

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Not Malware at all
by deltoncbaker / October 9, 2009 10:59 AM PDT

I use Microsoft's OneCare on my laptop. At home I have USB drives, that OneCare Points to for backups. When I travel I leave the USB drives at home, this makes OneCare very objectionable until I return home. I had the same symptoms disk full errors until OneCare finished it's backup routine. After the backup was complete the USB drive was back to normal.

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Hard Drive Usage

Check where your backups are being written to.

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disappearing hard-drive space

The fact that it's disappearing, and then reappearing makes me think that it is a swap file. Check and see what programs you've run or are running when this happens. Then try rebooting and checking it then. Also check what programs load on start up, and disabling them to save on memory load. Also check the usual ie: virus, malware, spyware. Just a few things to check out. If all else fails a stick of dynomite, and full coverage insurance works wonders. Wink j/k of course.

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You must have Vista
by Stillam / October 2, 2009 1:35 PM PDT

Vista creates large--make that very large--system recovery points at least once a day. Along with system information (which allows you to recover your system to an earlier point in time), your base and then changed data is also saved in the system recovery points (that is where versions come from which allow you to recover data to an earlier point in time). So, go turn off c: system recovery which will delete all existing c: recovery points. Then turn system recovery back on. Note the increase in your available space on c:. Smile.

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Hard Drive Space

Are you using Norton by chance? I have a friend who has a laptop with XP and Norton 360. It was doing the same thing. I discovered that one of the features of Norton 360 is a backup utility. The setting was on Automatic. He was not using an external drive, so the only place that Norton could store the backup files was on the hard drive. So he had his regular stuff plus an ever-increasing set of backup files filling up the hard drive. Just a guess because I don't know what you are running.

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Norton is Garbage get rid of it.
by pauly1651 / October 4, 2009 12:54 AM PDT
In reply to: Hard Drive Space

Norton is garbage, get rid of it.
My experience with Norton (Symantic Systems software), is that it loves to attach its self, and use up hard drive space in a unstable, weird way that slows down, and uses up system resources. Go to Avast, or AVG anti virus, they are much less intrusive on system resources.

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Been using norton's ever since I first got my computer.
by Tinkatoy4000 / October 4, 2009 7:24 PM PDT

I have been using Norton's when it first came out. The first norton's product I used was Norton System works then after that I upgraded to Norton 360 which is all in one software It works good it does not use too much of your hard drive if you know how to use it correctly and you have a good utilities program such as Tuneuputilities 2009.

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by yetijones / October 9, 2009 1:02 PM PDT

and Norton also releases unsigned updates through your user interface (*cough* PIFTS.exe *cough cough*)

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Totally agree...
by darrenforster99 / October 9, 2009 5:24 PM PDT

Totally agree with you regarding Norton being rubbish. The amount of PC's I've repaired that have been going really slow, just for one reason, Norton, and then to make it worse Norton most of the time wont even remove itself with the uninstall program, you need to get their "Norton Removal Tool" to get rid of it.

Years ago I used to like Norton as it was really good (we're going back to MS-DOS days when Peter Norton actually had some say in the program), now with Symantec at the wheel they don't seem as bothered about how much bloatware is included in the program and whether or not you can remove it or not, it's better for them if you can't 'cos then people are more likely to renew than uninstall, especially as they work out deals with laptop manufacturers to ensure their program is installed with every new laptop sold (always thought Microsoft got done for including Internet Explorer with Windows, why is Norton then allowed to include Norton Anti-virus with most laptops, and make it nearly impossible to remove, without the Norton Removal Tool).

I use ESET's Smart Security and that provides me just as much protection as Norton without the bloated extra features that I don't want or am probably never going to need, and when I uninstall it, it does exactly that.

The only time I was thankful to Norton was when my friend got Chernobyl virus on his computer (we're going back to the days of Window 98 here!) and McAfee kept removing it from his system and it kept re-installing it, Norton found it on one file that McAfee wasn't checking, there was a genuine reason why McAfee wasn't checking it but considering how bad the Chernobyl virus was to computers it was stupid to not even warn me it was in this file as it would have saved me a lot of messing around and re-scanning with McAfee over and over again to try and remove it. The file was, probably the most important system file in earlier versions of Windows and MS-DOS. When I found that out all I did was boot off a floppy disk that was created on another computer, and copy over, which without Norton I would never have found that virus with McAfee. But unfortunately Norton has gone down hill a lot since then.

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nortom av
by MOEGAMAT / October 21, 2009 3:00 AM PDT
In reply to: Totally agree...

I use Avast home,winows defender & peer guardian no probs so far and p2p is my game. As for norton it really slows down my lappy not too mention using it on a netbook,grrr.

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