NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, May 2012
Free Hard Drive Cleaners Remove Junk Files, Free Up Space
By Ira Wilsker, Radio Show Host,
Columnist, College Professor and deputy sheriff
(click to email author)


It never amazes me anymore when I try and help people having computer problems, often performance related, and find that their hard drives are so badly cluttered with useless garbage that hard drive performance is seriously degraded. While there are many potential causes of poor computer performance, one of the easiest problems to detect and remedy is hard drive clutter.

Our computers are constantly reading and writing data, often creating massive amounts of temporary files that serve no useful purpose after a very short period of time, or after the program is closed. Browsers use cache files as temporary storage, where web pages, images, and other web-based information is temporarily stored. After programs are installed, there are often sizeable temporary files left on the hard drive that serve absolutely no purpose. The frequent Windows updates downloaded from Microsoft, are usually very large files, often writing huge temporary files on the hard drive, causing littering of our precious hard drive space. It is not at all uncommon for users to literally have several gigabytes of useless garbage occupying space on a device purchased by the user, which wastes time and money, as well as possibly degrading computer performance.

One of the most common and most widely used types of utilities available are programs that will remove the useless files from a hard drive. By far, the single most popular hard drive cleaner is Piriform's CCleaner (www.piriform.com/ccleaner), which has had over 100 million copies downloaded, and has versions for both PCs and Macs, as well as a portable version. The same fully featured program is available as a "free for personal use" desktop and portable version (no support), an identical "Professional" version ($25 with priority technical support), a "Business Edition" ($35 with business grade technical support), and a "Network Professional Edition" with pricing based on the number of workstations.

The user can selectively choose which items to clean from the hard drive, but at a minimum (for those who want to be especially safe and not concerned with possibly deleting useful files) the user should select to clean browser temporary internet files (cache), recycle bin, temporary system files, memory dumps, and old prefetch data; other items can be selected from both the Windows and Applications tabs. CCleaner will perform a fast scan of the hard drive, disclosing whatever files are selected for removal. If the user is satisfied with deleting the selected files, clicking the "Run Cleaner" button will complete the cleaning process. As a general rule, I personally choose not to delete internet cookies (most are harmless or necessary, and I use security software to detect and remove risky cookies), browsing history, passwords, download history, and other possibly useful internet content.

CCleaner also has other useful features, listed as icons on the left margin, and includes a decent registry cleaner, a series of system tools including a startup manager, uninstall utility, system restore, and a drive wiper which can securely overwrite sensitive data making it difficult to recover.

While CCleaner is an extremely popular drive cleaning utility, there are hundreds of other programs whose useless and temporary files are not cleaned by CCleaner; a free third-party utility, CCEnhancer (singularlabs.com/software/ccenhancer), works as a plug-in to CCleaner, identifies the software installed on the computer, and if available, adds those software products to the list to be cleaned by CCleaner.

The same publisher that produces CCEnhancer also produces a complete, free, cleaning utility, System Ninja (singularlabs.com/software/system-ninja), which is a direct competitor to CCleaner, having many of the same functions and features as its larger competitor. In my experience, while it is not quite as fast as CCleaner in scanning the hard drive, the System Ninja "Junk Scanner" performs a more thorough scan for useless files, without the need for any plugins (though two are available for specialized purposes). System Ninja also includes a "System Tools" feature which incorporates a startup manager, process manager (shows what is running, and can stop any unwanted programs), and a "FileAnalyzer" which can display detailed information on any selected file. The "PC Analysis" function provides the user with very detailed information on the computer's hardware and operating system. System Ninja bills itself as , "100% Freeware, 100% Safe; System Ninja is provided absolutely free of charge, with no strings attached. It is also 100% free from Virusís, Malware, Spyware and all that other unwanted junk. We do not package any toolbars with System Ninja, nor do we use it to display ads or popups."

A third cleaning utility which also has a large and loyal following is Wise Disk Cleaner - Free Edition (wisecleaner.com/wisediskcleanerfree.html). Wise Disk Cleaner - Free touts that it is " ... the only 5-star disk cleaner rated by CNET editor". Unlike some of the other freeware drive cleaner that offer no or minimal technical support "Wise Disk Cleaner Free provides lifetime free update service and Unlimited Free technical support. In addition, it also provides more and more language packs for worldwide users". Wise Disk Cleaner is one of the easiest cleaners to use, offering a simple interface. The first option is listed under the "Common Cleaner" tab, which will detect and remove the most common forms of junk files from a hard drive, including obsolete and useless Windows system files, old internet files, useless multimedia files, and the debris left by Windows components and other program files. Other tabbed options include an "Advanced Cleaner" with additional cleaning options, and a "Slimming System" feature which cleans the operating system of junk files.

About the only negative characteristic of the Free version of Wise Disk Cleaner is that it is advertiser supported, not an evil enterprise, but something that the user should be aware of; the authors need to be compensated for their work, and the free version does it with advertising and related activities. According to the download website Major Geeks (majorgeeks.com/Wise_Disk_Cleaner_d5436.html) "This program is advertising supported and may offer to install third party programs that are not required for the program to run. These may include a toolbar, changing your homepage, default search engine or other third party programs. Please watch the installation carefully to opt out." Unless you want any of these advertising services and activities, be sure to uncheck the appropriate boxes during the installation process when these items are offered.

I have all three of these hard drive cleaners installed on my computers, and rotate through them periodically to ensure that my hard drive is clean of useless clutter. For those who like to defragment their hard drives, removing these useless files prior to defragging will speed up the defrag process, leaving much more usable space on the hard drive. If you ever get errors that you are low on virtual memory (hard drive used as additional memory) or notice degraded performance, try cleaning your hard drive with one of these three free utilities as a first step.

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