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Recover 20GB of space after a Windows upgrade

(MoneyWatch) With the recent release of Windows 8, it's the season for upgrades -- many of us are upgrading existing PCs with the newest version to evaluate the new OS or just to start using it. After all, with Windows 8 selling for a fire sale price of just $40, it's easier (and cheaper) than ever to give it a try.

After performing the upgrade, though, you might find that your hard drive is a lot smaller than it should be -- to the tune of 20GB or more, in fact. That's especially punishing if your PC uses one of those speedy but relatively small SSD drives.

The problem is that Windows bundles up a huge number of system files from your previous installation of Windows and stores them in a folder at the root of the C drive. This Windows.old folder is what you need to eliminate to reclaim all that hard drive space.

Unfortunately, you can't just press the Delete key. Windows.old is protected from casual deletion. In older versions of Windows, you'd use the Disk Cleanup tool. But in Windows 8, Disk Cleanup isn't easy to find.

To get rid of Windows.old and get back all that hard drive space, just do this:

  • On the Start Screen, type Clean. You'll see Windows start to search, and you probably won't see any relevant results on screen.
  • On the right slide of the screen, click Settings. That'll filter the search results to just settings and Control Panel applets.
  • Click Free up disk space by deleting unnecessary files.
  • Click OK to run Disk Cleanup. It'll spend a few moments analyzing your hard drive.
  • At the bottom of the dialog, click Clean up system files, and then click OK a second time.
  • Check Previous Windows installations and click OK to start the cleanup.

When Disk Cleanup is done, Windows.old will be deleted and you'll get back that missing hard drive space.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Walknboston

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