When you buy a new computer, you have tons of free hard drive space. Little by little, over the space of years, the hard drive fills up and ultimately you buy a new computer. And the cycle repeats. Does it really have to be this way? Of course, the hard drive is full of many photos, videos and programs that we once used, and forgot about it. It might be easier to buy a new computer, but it is more efficient to seek out those old files and back them up or delete them forever.
But…. there is another thing that is eating up chunks of our precious hard drive space and that’s the operating itself – Windows. Because of PC Matic’s unique cloud approach to PC maintenance and security, we are able to quantify which version of Windows is indeed the junkiest. By that, we mean which one accumulates the most junk.
The chart above is a study of 676,664 unique computers that PC Matic cleaned in 2013. The study analyzes the monthly junk accumulation that PC Matic removed from those computers. So the bottom line is that Windows accumulates a lot of junk and we are not vigilant, Windows has the potential to gobble up our free space over the life of the computer.
At first glance, we can jump to the conclusion that Vista is the junkiest version of Windows, but that is not entirely fair. The reason is that Vista’s junk is driven by its appalling size of its restore points. The restore points are capped at anywhere from 12-15% of the hard drive so Vista cannot endlessly accumulate junk at over 5GB / month. If you remove the restore points from the mix, then Windows 8 accumulates junk at 1.14 GB’s more month. The irony, of course, is that Windows 8 purported is to convey the Windows experience to smaller and more resource constrained devices such as tablets and phones. Suffice it to say that Windows 8’s needs to become a lot less junky if it is gain acceptance on these alternate platforms.
System Restore. System restore is an awesome Windows function which enables us to fix our computer by going back to a time when the computer was performing well. Imagine if we could do that with our lives. The problem is that through the years, Windows has had two major bugs that offset this benefit by eating up gobs of our disk drives. System restore assumes that it can use up to 12-15% of our hard drives. Microsoft did not anticipate was the explosion in the size and affordability of hard drives. As I write this, a 2 TB hard drive can be purchased for a little over $100 with an external enclosure. That would translate to 300 GB of Windows restore points. No one needs that.
The second flaw was in Vista. Vista added a seldom used function called Volume Shadow Copy. Whenever a file had been changed or overwritten, the older version was also retained in a hidden place, and could supposedly be restored if you had the correct version of Vista. As shown by our analysis, this caused Vista restore points to become absurdly immense. Fortunately, this has been rectified in newer versions of Windows as shown by our chart.
System Patches. Frequently, Windows updates itself to add new features and more importantly to keep the operating system as secure as possible. I guess we all worry whether the each Windows update has been adequately tested before being distributed so Microsoft gives us the ability to undo the patch through uninstallers. The problem is that Microsoft provides no way to erase these uninstallers and so they pile up. As time goes on, these uninstallers have become smaller, and less an impact on junkitude.
Caches. Did you know that every image that you view on the web is also saved on your hard drive? In many ways, browser caches are a vestige of the 90’s when we accessed the web using dial up modems through America On Line. Because modems are inherently slow, these images are cached on the disk so that if we visit a page multiple times, only the new images need to be downloaded in order to display the page.
In today’s always-connected broadband world, it is not clear the performance advantages of browser caches, but there are two side effects. The browser cache is an unintended history of all the web sites you have visited, and deleting it would be one less place where the NSA could spy on us. The main reason to remove the browser cache is to halt Windows encroachment on our hard drives.
Bins. When we delete a file, it is really not deleted. It’s placed in the recycle bin. This is nice because you might want that file later down the road, but our research shows that few people actually empty their recycle bins leaving unnecessary junk on their computers and potentially embarrassing situations.
Temp Files. When a program is first installed and quite often when it executes, it leaves various files in temporary directories. Also when a program uninstalls, frequently it does not clean up all of its remnants from the computer. These files are useless but Windows provides no way to safely remove these files so we can maintain our disk free space.
PC Matic cleans excess system restore points, old system patches, browser caches, recycle bins, and temporary files and directories.