Handy Software – WinDirStat

This is a PSA for those who have way too much junk on their hard drives.


For several months, McAfee has been taking ever longer to run virus scans on my hard drive, getting to the point that it sometimes took a couple of days. When I investigated, it reported that it was scanning almost 1.1 million files — far more than I realized that I had. In fact, I couldn’t even figure out where that many files had come from. For example, I knew that I have several large collections of sample data from programming efforts over the years, but these totaled at most maybe 100,000 files, not hundreds of thousands.  So, at first, I was just left wondering which program had secretly cluttered up my drive with random junk, but without any good options for resolving the problem.

WinDirStat to the Rescue

I found the problem areas by downloading and installing WinDirStat, an open source application for scanning a hard drive and determining which files and folders take up the most space, as well as which file types do so.

Screenshot of WinDirStat
A screenshot of WinDirStat (from the official site)

WinDirStat took about 20 minutes to analyze my hard drive on the first run, but the results were tremendously helpful. I was able to see at a glance that I had two enormous folders buried on my system about which I had totally forgotten. One contained a complete backup of Sarah’s hard drive from, I think, 2007 — it had even been migrated in at least one laptop replacement, if not two. The other folder contained hundreds of thousands of files from an old backup of my own files, which I didn’t even know was on my system. Many of those were related to software development, meaning they got extra processing time from the virus scanner. The upshot: two folders alone accounted for more than 450,000 files and more than 100 GB. Unsurprisingly, getting rid of this junk sped up those virus scans tremendously, at least four-fold based on the first post-cleanup scan.

Summary and Non-Windows Options

If you are looking for a good way to clean up your hard drive, WinDirStat is a handy tool to have. Check it out at the official site or the project blog.

WinDirStat Logo
The official WinDirStat logo (variant 06 shown here) is pretty nifty, right?

WinDirStat is Windows-only, but there are good options for other systems. Although I don’t have personal experience with them, similar alternatives for other operating systems include:

P.S. Sarah glanced over at my computer from a good distance while I was writing this post and thought that I was writing that I had 1,000,000 flies in my hard drive. Fortunately, no. If that happens to be a problem that you do have, I am afraid I can’t help you.

P.P.S. This post had the unintentional effect of illuminating serious shortcomings in my WordPress theme; the way images with captions are displayed is terrible.  I think it’s a question of new versions of WordPress coming out more often than I post, on average, so the theme has languished for quite a while and quite a few versions.  Time to give it another face lift, I suppose.





4 responses to “Handy Software – WinDirStat”

  1. Nick L Avatar
    Nick L


    One of my coworkers needed help this week deleting emails. Her computer kept locking up. When I walked around to her desk I saw her inbox had over 25,000 emails in it. Familiarity with Outlook will make you say “No, she 25,000 unread emails.” Not including emails in the Sent Items folder. When I gasped at the sheer enormity of the number she said “I’ve got it down to about half of what it was.” Another person was already helping her with this task. A brief explanation of RAM, and how it relates to performance when deleting thousands of emails at a time, was given.

    She hadn’t ever deleted an email while working here.

    1. Ed Avatar

      That is pretty impressive. I think the most important piece of hardware for her to learn to appreciate is the delete key. I wonder how many hours it took her to clean it up?

  2. binaryman Avatar

    Ed, how long did it take WinDirStat to scan 1.1 million files?
    You should try Directory Report
    It is faster than WinDirStat

    1. Ed Avatar

      These products really aren’t comparable, especially given that WinDirStat is free and Directory Report is not.

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