How to find out what's taking up space on your hard drive

Free disk inspection tools for Windows, Mac, and Linux

With the move toward faster, more power efficient solid state disks (SSD) in laptops and desktops, storage space has become a factor once again. If you find yourself low on disk space and are seeking a clue as to where your free space has gone, here’s how to find out.

Many companies are pairing a relatively small SSD for the operating system with a larger hard drive for file storage in their machines. The trouble is that the average user doesn’t know the difference between the two and may end up saving everything to their C: drive which can quickly be consumed by photos, music, and video if it’s only a 128GB SSD.

When your disk runs low on available storage, the first thing you want to know is, what’s taking up all this space? Then, once you find out, you can copy the bulk of the items over to your larger hard drive. Instead of wading through your drive and checking the properties for every folder to determine it’s file size, here are the free tools you need for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Windows: WinDirStat

WinDirStat is the most widely known of the three despite being a clone of KDirStat.

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Mac: Disk Inventory X

Inspired by WinDirStat, this Mac port contains equivalent functionality for Mac OS X 10.3 and later.

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Linux: KDirStat

The original ‘DirStat’ software (as they’re anxious to let you know on the website), this is where the former two stemmed from. It runs on KDE and X11 based GUIs.

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How they work

All three programs do essentially the same thing. You tell the program which drive or folder to scan and it processes all of the files and folders in the location. When it’s complete you’re presented with a visual representation of your filesystem which resembled a heat map. You’re also given a tree-view to browse, sorted by the largest size, so that you can drill down into each directory and location the folders and files taking up the most space. Additionally, you’re given a view of the file extensions which consume the most space as well.

Within the software you’re able to select elements from any view and jump to that file location in the explorer, or even delete the element directly.

It’s an extremely handy tool for cleaning up your system, migrating files, troubleshooting, or even just to satisfy your curiosity.

Read more of Matthew Mombrea's ByteStream blog and follow Matt on Twitter (@mombrea) and Google+. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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