Hard Drive Maintenance: How to Optimize Storage Space


Have you noticed your computer being slower than usual? Before you use this as an excuse to purchase a new laptop (we know it’s tempting), you might want to opt for a more cost-effective approach, which is cleaning out the hard drive (HDD). In a few simple steps, you can analyze and clean out your HDD to free up valuable storage space. Defragging your old HDD and properly formatting newly-installed SSDs will ensure that your computer doesn’t become bloated or sluggish.

Always Back up Your Data First

Before you start doing anything to your hard drive, you should always back up your important files first. A good way to do this is to back up your data to an external hard drive as well as an online cloud service, such as Microsoft OneDrive, Apple iCloud, Google Drive, or Dropbox. Having both will ensure that your important photos, videos, and documents are backed up twice (you may have to purchase more space for online cloud storage).

Run Built-in OS Apps

Whether you’re on Mac or Windows, both operating systems offer built-in apps to facilitate cleaning up the abyss that is your hard drive. Disk Utility for the Mac and Disk Cleanup for Windows provide multiple features to help clean up your hard drive. Here’s how to access them.

Disk Utility on the Mac allows you to manage internal and external hard drives. You can organize your data by dividing your HDD into sections called partitions. Each properly formatted partition will show up as a volume in Finder, allowing you store your files. Disk Utility also allows you to combine multiple HDDs into a RAID. If your HDDs and partitions are causing errors, you can either repair the HDD or erase the volume.

To access Disk Utility, follow the steps listed below:

  1. Press the Command key + Space Bar keyboard shortcut to show the Spotlight search field
  2. In the search field, type “Disk Utility”
  3. In the list of results, select “Disk Utility”

Free up storage space with Disk Cleanup on Windows. Disk Cleanup analyzes and removes unused and unnecessary files from your HDD. You’ll be able to remove temporary Internet files, temporary system files, optional Windows components, offline webpages, and more.

To access Disk Cleanup, follow the steps listed below:

  1. Click the Start button
  2. In the search box, type “Disk Cleanup”
  3. In the list of results, select “Disk Cleanup”


As your HDD stores and deletes files over time, it will become more and more fragmented (defragging a SSD is not necessary). The fragmentation will cause extra work for your HDD, which can slow down your computer. Defragging your HDD rearranges the fragmented data so it can work more efficiently. If you’re running Mac OS X 10.2 or later, the OS will automatically defrag your HDD.

Windows 10 will automatically defrag your HDD once a week (default setting). However, if you notice your computer being slow, you may have to follow up with a manual defrag. To do so, please follow the steps below:

  1. Click the Start button
  2. In the search box, type “Defragment and Optimize Drives”
  3. In the search results, click “Defragment and Optimize Drives”
  4. Select the hard drive you want to defrag and click “Analyze”
    1. Note: If you have a SSD, this option will be grayed out
  5. Check the percentage of fragmentation of your hard drive in the results
    1. There’s no set rule for when to defrag, but you should try to keep it under 10%.
    2. Keeping it at 5% and lower will also reduce the defrag time (but you may have to do it more often)
  6. If you decide to defrag the drive, click “Optimize”

Format & Reformat

Whether you purchased a new replacement internal HDD or installing an additional SSD, you should format your storage solution to the proper hard drive format for your OS. In general, you will want to format your hard drive to NTFS for Windows and APFS (Apple File System) for Macs running macOS High Sierra or later. Please note that APFS is optimized for solid-state drives and other all-flash storage devices. Most modern operating systems will require you to format your newly installed hard drive before it can be used.

If your current hard drive is giving you problems, reformatting it is an option, but should be a last resort. This is because reformatting your hard drive will result in the loss of all your data, including your apps and drivers. It can be a pain to reinstall everything so you should really consider if it is worth taking the time and effort to reformat the drive.

For more information on the different hard drive formats and a step-by-step guide on how to reformat, please click here.

Do you regularly clean out your hard drive? Do you have other suggestions for freeing up storage space? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

Don’t forget to check out all of the hard drives and storage solutions available at B&H. Click this link for more information.