Many Microsoft Windows 7 system files reduce disk space that the operating system (OS), log files and so forth consume. In this tip, solutions providers will learn how (and how often) to clean up Windows 7 system files -- and other files -- that accumulate on drives and hurt performance.
The 10,000-foot-long list of steps for this process reads something like a recipe, or at least a set of high-level activities, that include:
- Deleting temporary files
- Cleaning out unwanted information
- Tuning your customer's system snapshot holdings
- Getting rid of caches, logs, deleted files and more
Useful tools for cleaning up Windows 7 system files
Windows 7 offers some basic clean-up capabilities, and there are numerous free software tools that can really help the cleanup process. Type "Disk Cleanup" into the Start menu search box to bring up that built-in Windows utility, and you'll see a menu like this one on your customer's desktop:
Figure 1 -- The Disk Cleanup tool is available through the Drive Properties window or by typing "cleanmgr" in the Start menu search box.
Read over the list of entries in the "Files to delete:" pane, and you'll get a good sense of what this tool can do -- namely, clean up downloaded program files, remove temporary Internet files, clean up gaming leftovers, empty the Recycle Bin, remove Setup Log files and other temporary files, expunge thumbnails created to display graphic file content and get rid of various Windows Error Reporting detritus. As a clean-up tool, Disk Cleanup isn't too bad, and it almost always chops off at least 200 MB of wasted space on your customer's Windows system drive.
Two other tools worth downloading and using for this purpose include the Piriform CCleaner and Revo Uninstaller. Both of these free tools will clean up somewhat more than the built-in Windows utility. I recommend running one or more of these tools at least once a month, if not weekly, to help keep the detritus off system drives.
Check and tweak volume shadow storage
As you use Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7, you'll eventually learn that some disk space "goes missing" -- especially on system drives -- for the OS's private use. Much of this space winds up inside the System Volume Information folder, which can be difficult to peek into or manage until you learn how to use the Vssadmin command at the Windows command line.
Figure 2 -- Windows Explorer says little (or nothing) about System Volume Information.
To learn how to use the Vssadmin command, which provides administrative control over the volume shadow copies on Windows 7 (and other) systems, right-click the command prompt icon in the Accessories folder, then choose the "Run as administrator" option from the resulting pop-up menu. If you type vssadmin /? at the command line, it will show you all the syntax for this command. Type vssadmin show shadowstorage to see how much space is allocated and consumed for shadow storage on your customer's Windows 7 system.
As the following screenshot shows, this amount can either be negligible or quite large. My system runs a solid-state drive (SSD), which is why the Volume Shadow Copy Services (VSS) storage consumption for my system drive is at zero.
Figure 3 -- Vssadmin list shadowstorage shows shadow copies on a per-volume basis.
By default, Windows 7 allocates 15% of the total available disk space for volume shadow copies (that number is 30% on Vista drives) and shows you which drives were originally formatted inside that OS. Sometimes, volume shadow storage amounts can really dig into disk space on Windows drives, particularly system drives, and it's often worth trimming down storage allocations. To reduce volume shadow storage allocations, the VSSadmin command Vssadmin resize shadowstorage /for=C: /on=C: /Maxsize=5GB can help. It sets a hard ceiling of 5 GB on volume shadow copies for the usual system drive, C:. For SSDs, turning off restore points usually forces consumption down to zero. For conventional hard drives, you can usually set the ceiling at 10% of drive space or 10 GB, whichever value works best for you.
Windows 7 system files cleanup by inspection
Every now and then, it's also a good idea to poke around inside your customer's Windows 7 system drive to see what's there and to get rid of stuff you don't need. Other things you can do to save on space include using the Programs and Features item in Control Panel (or the previously recommended Revo Uninstaller) to uninstall and remove programs you don't need.
Solutions providers should also slog through Documents and Settings, Temporary and Users (especially Downloads) folders at least once every three months to root out files they don't need any more. Doing so can result in disk space reductions of anywhere from 500 MB to a gigabyte or two of storage. You should also schedule daily system backups so that you're never at risk for losing access to deleted files.
It might take an hour, or perhaps an hour and a half, to work through those directories on a Windows 7 system drive, but if you can exert the discipline to complete this task on a semi-regular basis, you'll keep things from getting out of hand. I have an 80 GB SSD for my system drive, which motivates me to keep unnecessary Windows 7 system files on that drive under control. Solutions providers should shoot for no more than 50% occupancy on that drive, which leaves plenty of room for runtime activity and whatever files that need to occupy the system drive in the future.
About the expert
Ed Tittel is a full-time freelancer who's written and contributed to more than 100 computing books, including Windows 7 In Depth, and he writes and blogs regularly for numerous websites. Tittel's most recent projects have focused on Windows 7 ever since that OS has gone into commercial production.