Tackling low hard-drive space

Depending on your uses, you may find that your hard drive can fill up pretty fast, which beyond being troubling and sometimes aggravating, can also cause performance problems.


Depending on your uses, you may find that your hard drive can fill up pretty fast, which beyond being troubling and sometimes aggravating, can also cause performance problems.

Apple Discussion poster "robertd" writes:

"I am trying to find out how my 250GB HD has only 50GB left on my MBP. I cleaned it up extensively. Did a lot of things, like clear out all of the music, movies, and TV shows from iTunes. I also removed all of my iMovie projects and applications that I no longer use. The system is basically stock with no modifications so there aren't files sitting everywhere taking up space. Any help would be appreciated. I am going to be working on my iMac soon that has a big HD as well with 5GB left."

Hard drives filling up can happen from a variety of reasons, including general use where you've just lost track of what you've put on the drive, and also some problem with the drive's space reporting.

As a general rule of thumb, we recommend that you keep at least ~10 percent of your hard drive free for the system to manage virtual memory and more efficiently use system RAM. When this amount gets encroached upon, the system will experience slowdowns and frequent hard-drive access, so it helps to periodically do system clean-up routines.

Unfortunately space-occupying files are sometimes hard to locate or unavoidable, and can be quite common depending on the circumstance. For instance, iMovie projects can be upwards of 20GB each, and a 10-megapixel photo will use roughly 3 to 5MB in JPEG format (imagine a library with thousands of them). In addition, programs will sometimes make automatic backups, or only work on copies of original files, which can easily double the size of media libraries. For instance, iPhoto will import files from cameras, but when you perform edits it will create a copy to work on, and keep the original in a separate folder in the library.

Manual cleaning of these files can be burdensome, especially since there aren't any convenient built-in ways to sort files by size. However, there are some third-party utilities that can locate both large user and system files and allow you to manage them to clear up space on your drive.

Disk Cleanup Utilities:

  1. Whatsize
    Whatsize is a very convenient package, which we have recommended in the past for managing large files and folders. The limited free version will manage up to 20GB worth of files.

  2. Disk Inventory X
    This utility uses treemaps to graphically show relative hard-drive use, so you can select large blocks or groups of blocks (each which represents files) and see what files or folders those blocks represent.

  3. Grand Perspective
    This is basically the same as Disk Inventory X, but is a little simpler. It's another "treemap" option.

  4. Spring Cleaning
    Initially developed by Aladdin/Allume systems, Spring Cleaning has been around for the Mac for a while, but is a full commercial package and will cost you about $50.

Beyond files that can be managed by you, sometimes disk errors can lead to improper reporting of used or available drive space. As such, running disk utility programs to check for and fix errors can help in some situation. It's best to start with Disk Utility and verify the drive volume (repairing if necessary by booting off the OS X installation DVD and running Disk Utility from there), or optionally running third-party disk utility programs if one is available. Secondly, you can use Disk Utility to erase the free space on the drive, which can also clear up incorrect reporting of drive space.

  • robertd
  • Whatsize
  • Disk Inventory X
  • Grand Perspective
  • Spring Cleaning
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