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Where's All My Disk Space Going? (Vista)

Discussion in 'Notebook Dummy Guide Articles' started by orev, Sep 11, 2007.

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  1. orev

    orev Notebook Virtuoso

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    I've seen many questions, and even more incorrect or incomplete replies about missing disk space in Vista. You got a 160GB hard drive and you've only installed a few programs, but you're missing a LOT of disk space! Where did it go? There are numerous possible reasons why your disk is getting used up -- sometimes it's being used by useful services, and other times it's just being wasted.

    So where does the space go?

    • Volume Shadow Copy: This is biggest reason for "missing" space in Vista! Instead of explaining it myself, I'll quote wikipedia:
      This service can be very useful, and is a good idea to keep it enabled. However, it does eat disk space. A LOT of disk space. By default it allocates %15 of the disk to store it's data. On a 160GB disk, that's 24GB! A lot of people have been noticing that after a few weeks of using their new system, free space seems to shrink daily. This is because the space is not allocated right away, only when it's needed. It will stop when it reaches %15. At that point, it will delete older versions to make room for newer ones. For all the details about Shadow Copy, read this article at ZDNet for a really good explanation.
       
    • Marketing Many people notice missing space right when they open the box. They bought a system with a 160GB hard drive, but Windows shows the total drive capacity as 149GB. That's a difference of 11GB right off the bat. The reason for this has to do with how you measure capacity to begin with. We measure bytes using progressively larger sizes, starting with K (kilobytes), M (megabytes), G (gigabytes), each one standing for a multiple of 1000. So 1K = 1,000, 1M = 1,000,000 (1000 * 1000), and 1G = 1,000,000,000 (1000 * 1000 * 1000). These are the units that companies use when they advertise the size of their disks, so your 160GB drive is 160,000,000,000 bytes in these measurements.

      However, computers are binary systems, and measuring in multiples of 1000 isn't the way they do things. The closest thing we have in binary is 1024. So, for a computer, 1K = 1,024, 1M = 1,048,576 (1024 * 1024), and 1G = 1,073,741,824 (1024 * 1024 * 1024). As a result of this, a computer thinks that 1GB is bigger than what a person typically refers to as 1GB (a difference of 73,741,824 bytes). If we take our example of a disk that's advertised as 160GB, and divide by what a computer thinks is 1GB, we wind up with: 160,000,000,000 / 1,073,741,824 = 149.012, which is what Windows says is the drive capacity.

      This measurement makes it seem like the drive is smaller, which is the reason I call this "marketing". Everyone wants to make their drives seem bigger, so they use the larger number, even if it's not exactly accurate.

      Because of this confusion, new standards of measurement have been devised to help clear this up. Officially, the term "megabyte" refers to 1,000,000 bytes (1000 * 1000), and the term "mebibyte" refers to 1,048,576 bytes (1024 * 1024). The abbreviation for "megabyte" is "MB", like you're used to, and for a "mebibyte" it's "MiB". Notice the "i" in there. It's subtle, but important to make the distinction. You probably won't see these units in use by large companies for a while, but it's something you should be aware of anyway. See mebibyte for more information.

      Here's a table comparing the "marketing" size vs. the computer size for some typical drive sizes:
      <table border="1" cellpadding="2" cellspacing="0"> <caption>Typical drive sizes</caption> <tbody> <tr> <th>Marketing</th> <th>Computer</th> </tr> <tr><td>80 GB</td> <td>74.51 GiB</td> </tr> <tr><td>100 GB</td> <td>93.13 GiB</td> </tr> <tr><td>120 GB</td> <td>111.76 GiB</td> </tr> <tr><td>140 GB</td> <td>130.39 GiB</td> </tr> <tr><td>160 GB</td> <td>149.01 GiB</td> </tr> <tr> <td>200 GB</td> <td>186.26 GiB</td> </tr> <tr> <td>250 GB</td> <td>232.83 GiB</td> </tr> <tr> <td>300 GB</td> <td>279.39 GiB</td> </tr> <tr> <td>320 GB</td> <td>298.02 GiB</td> </tr> <tr> <td>350 GB</td> <td>325.96 GiB</td> </tr> <tr> <td>400 GB</td> <td>372.53 GiB</td> </tr> </table>
      &nbsp;
    • Essential System Files Another thing that can use up a lot of disk space are some essential system files, specifically, the pagefile and the hibernation file. The pagefile is part of the virtual memory system, and is required by the system to function correctly. It can take up to a few gibibytes of space, 1GiB - 4GiB, depending on how much RAM you have in the system. The other file, "hiberfil.sys", is used to save the state of your system when you hibernate it. This file is about as large as the amount of RAM you have, and is required for hibernation to work. If you disable hibernation, this space should get freed-up, but then you won't be able to hibernate.
      &nbsp;
    • Temporary/Working Files Here's another place that space gets eaten quickly. I recently cleared out my temp folder, and found almost 1GiB of data in there. Since this stuff really is "temporary" data, it's pretty safe to delete. A lot of this comes from installer programs -- when you install new stuff it decompresses data into the temp space. Other files that fall into this category are things like temporary internet files, the index for disk searching, thumbnail cache for thumbnails that show up when you view a folder of pictures or videos, etc... Usually you can use the "Disk Cleanup" wizard to clean this stuff out. If you clean it out, it's probably a good idea to reboot.
      &nbsp;
    • C:\Windows Then, of course, there's Vista itself. Vista can take 6GiB or more on the system. That's not terribly huge, but it is there. Of course, it's sort of required for your system to run, so there's not much you can do about it :).
      &nbsp;
    • Recovery Partition Many, if not most new systems these days come with a "recovery partition" on the disk. This partition often contains all of the software necessary to restore your system to the factory default state. They put it there so if you have serious problems with your software, you can, as a last resort, recover from it. However, this process will delete all of your data.

      The partition can be anywhere from about 5-10GiB, but it can vary. There are ways to get rid of it and reclaim that space, but never do so unless you have burned the "recovery discs" onto some DVDs first. The process to make recovery discs should be detailed in the documentation of your system. Once that is done, you can delete the partition, then expand your C: partition to use that space.
      &nbsp;
    • Copies of Installation Media Chances are if you copied some DVDs to your hard disk yourself, you know about it. But there's another way this can happen. Your OEM may have copied the entire contents of the Vista Installation disc to your hard drive. This is useful if you want to perform an Anytime Upgrade because Vista will need those files to perform the upgrade. However, that's going to take up a few GiB of space on your disk. If you can find this folder, sometimes called "WAU", you can safely burn this to a DVD and then delete the folder. Even better would be to make a bootable disc that you can use. You can use vLite (freeware) to burn this type of disc.

      Another program that does this is Microsoft Office. When you install Office, it copies the entire contents of the disc onto your hard drive. Unfortunately you cannot remove it, as these files are needed when you do an Office update.

    One way you can track down what's taking a lot of space is by using an open source tool like windirstat. Don't go deleting stuff you don't know what it is! Many are the stories of people who reorganized "this c:\windows thing" and for some reason their systems didn't boot anymore!

    One principle to keep in mind is that free space can be considered wasted space. If you don't need that space now, let Windows use it for temp files, indexing databases, volume shadow copy, etc... so you can get the benefit of those services. Only when you need that space should you worry about deleting those things.
     
  2. Waveblade

    Waveblade Notebook Deity

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  3. noiren

    noiren Notebook Guru

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    lol very nice, thats why I'm still using server 2003 (same thing as xp pro but less compatible with games but slightly more secure and faster), well until I get Dell, 3 more weeks to go ^^.
    ps. I really hate the marketing of HDDs they shouldnt get away with advertising 320GB when you actualy get only 297GB. Almost 25 bloody GB gone :mad:
     
  4. wax4213

    wax4213 Notebook Consultant

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    Actually, it's marketed correctly. 1 megabyte, in literal translation of the word, means 1000000 bytes. A computer megabyte is just close to 1000000 bytes, it's actually 1048576 bytes. So a flash drive that has 512 million bytes of storage is a 512MB disc, but the computer only sees about 489MB.

    Edit: Forgot to express my thanks for this post, orev. It's a good explanation for what is actually using the HDD space.
     
  5. orev

    orev Notebook Virtuoso

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    I was going to include those instructions in the guide, but then I read that zdnet blog post. He convinced me that blindly changing the settings is not a good idea, and it's not something I wanted to show people unless they really knew what they were doing.

    It is helpful to know that you can though, and that site is good to show you how.
     
  6. orev

    orev Notebook Virtuoso

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    Ah, there is is. I had a whole section on that, but it got mangled somehow (1 missing quote!). Now it's restored and that table makes a lot more sense :)
     
  7. wax4213

    wax4213 Notebook Consultant

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    I didn't know about the mebibyte, that's very interesting. What an awesome sounding word. And yes, that table did seem a little bit out of place without that explanation :D
     
  8. Thomas

    Thomas McLovin

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    you should also mention that the restore oints are also to blame & that they clear after time
     
  9. orev

    orev Notebook Virtuoso

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    Restore points are handled by the volume shadow copy service, which is all part of that 15% that's reserved.
     
  10. coolguy

    coolguy Notebook Prophet

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    My new sony vaio FZ shows only 104 GB out of 120 GB. By calculation it should be 111 GB right? where is the missing 7GB?
     
  11. orev

    orev Notebook Virtuoso

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    There's probably a hidden recovery partition also on the system, which is actually a good point. I didn't include that in the guide.
     
  12. coolguy

    coolguy Notebook Prophet

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    Thanks. Anyway your guide is awesome.
     
  13. Crimsonman

    Crimsonman Ex NBR member :cry:

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    i personally think this thread should be with the tweak thread
     
  14. E.B.E.

    E.B.E. NBR Procrastinator

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    Well they should probably be cross-linked.
     
  15. Zigby

    Zigby Notebook Guru

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    This thread ought to be stickied! Brand new Vista user here, didn't know about Shadowcopy. I've been going NUTS for the past week and a half, wondering why I keep losing 20GB of data. I even did a total re-install of Vista in an attempt to get my space back. Came back, then promply dissapeared after a couple of hours. Now I know I'm not crazy.
     
  16. Jack™

    Jack™ Newbie

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    Bought a Lenovo T60 with 80GB disk and preloaded Vista Business.
    After running out of disk space after loading a few apps and some files, images, MP3's and 2 DVD rips, I started to investigate where my disk space was gone, because that should not have happened that soon.

    To see what's going on and after reading many posts in several forums and the similar threads in this one, I did the following:

    1. performed a Disk Cleanup
    2. reduced the shadow storage size to 3GB (to see what happens and who is managing this shadow storage)
    3. cold start and got the following results:

    SW_Preload (C: ) Windows Properties:
    used space 41.7
    free space 26.4
    capacity 68.2 (there is a 6.3GB non-bootable non-system partition with most likely the restore-to-factory files)

    WinDirStat found an unknown 24.6 GB which is almost exactly the size of the Free space (25GB).
    Other big directories WinDirStat found:
    Windows 8.8 GB
    Program Files 3.4 GB
    Users 3.4 GB
    SWTOOLS 1.4 GB
    <Files> 1.3 GB
    ProgramData 370.9 MB

    then a list of several directories follows, but they don't count to much.

    RRbackups directory (RHS attributes) is shown with 0 Size but this is because it's access is denied.
    System Volume Information (RH attributes) is also shown with 0 Size and access is denied too.
    (The information about access is denied came from the utility TreeSize)
    rrbackups is actually the rescue & restore which is part of the Lenovo ThinkVantage Software tools that are coming with the laptop. This became obvious because soon after downsizing the shadow storage to 3GB I got an Rescue & Restore error message telling me that I had reached the limits of my backup storage and it showed me the current size of 3GB which I could increase in the window. I increased it to 12GB, but after a restart it was still 3GB.

    To proof that the shadow storage is indeed 3GB:
    vssadmin 1.1 - Volume Shadow Copy

    Service administrative command-line tool
    © Copyright 2001-2005 Microsoft Corp.

    Shadow Copy Storage association For volume: (C: )\\?\Volume{5f41068e-d6e1-11db-bc92-806e6f6e6963}\
    Shadow Copy Storage volume: (C: )\\?

    \Volume{5f41068e-d6e1-11db-bc92-806e6f6e6963}\
    Used Shadow Copy Storage space: 2.463GB
    Allocated Shadow Copy Storage space:
    2.983 GB
    Maximum Shadow Copy Storage space: 3 GB

    C:\Windows\system32>


    So what is this "unknown" space of 24.6 GB???
     
  17. orev

    orev Notebook Virtuoso

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  18. -Amadeus Excello-

    -Amadeus Excello- Notebook Evangelist

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    Awesome read.
     
  19. Steeler7588

    Steeler7588 Notebook Consultant

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    So Shadow Copy is where my missing 35 gigs are. Thanks.
     
  20. niGht kiD

    niGht kiD .. beach boy &#9835;

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    Thanks for the guide orev :D

    So it is safe to delete the hidden recovery partition?(I have the recovery DVD)

    Thanks!
     
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