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Windows XP disk free space won't increase

I didn’t find a previous problem/solution either on Experts Exchange or elsewhere that exactly fits the following situation.  I have already taken whatever steps that I find recommended elsewhere.

I have an XP Pro machine on my home network that has a problem with the reported free disk space.  (Yes, I know that MS XP support will go away early in 2014, which will need to be addressed, but I still have to do the system support on it in the meantime.)

This started when my wife complained how slow the machine was getting.  I hadn’t looked at the disk in some time but, when I did, noticed that it was nearly (perhaps within a few megabyes) out of free disk space, which I know will cause Windows to run very slowly or possibly stop functioning altogether.  So I started looking for files to archive/delete and initially was able to free up a little over 3 GB.  (The entire disk is a small one – only 30 GB.)  So far, so good, and the machine does run faster.  

But I also noticed that the disk is badly defragmented.  However, before I ran the defrag (which requires that I back up the entire system, not just the data), I wanted to try finding more files to archive/delete to get even more free space before I ended up back in the same situation reasonably soon.  More free space would also speed up the defrag process.

The problem is that I have twice deleted more files (a little less than 1GB the first time but well over 2 GB the second time) and neither time did the reported free space in Windows Explorer go up.

So far, I have taken the following steps:

•      Run chkdsk c: from the command (cmd) screen.  (This reported that there were unallocated sectors that were being reported as allocated.)

•      Run chkdsk c: /f during startup (by setting the flag through the properties dialog in Windows Explorer).  Unfortunately, I can’t freeze the screen when the results of this are reported in order to know what the results were but it did run to conclusion before the system rebooted normally.

•      I don’t have the system disk for this machine (a reconditioned Dell Optiplex shipped from a 3rd party through a well-known online distributor) so I created an Active@ boot CD and ran chkdsk c: /f again with the hard disk volume dismounted.  The only out-of-ordinary message was “3 reparse records reprocessed” but this is a condition I have seen on other XP and Win 7 disks that doesn’t seem to be relevant..

I have repeated the above at least twice (perhaps 3 times – the true sign of insanity) and the free disk space doesn’t change.  I have also emptied the Recycle Bin and rerun chkdsk using the Active@ boot CD, again with no increase in the reported free space.

My question is whether I can run the disk defrag and feel confident of both not causing further harm and also correcting the reported amount of free space.   I have read that running defrag is not a good idea when chkdsk reports bad sectors (since it might attempt to place active file data there) but no bad sectors have been reported whenever I’ve run chkdsk, either from within Windows, during Windows reboot or when booted from Active@.

I will appreciate expert advice.
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3 Solutions
Run this program.  I've tried others and this one does the best job at removing unneeded files.


Running chkdsk c: /f and rebooting should OK.  The XP disk cleanup actually doesn't do a very good job.  You may also want to check the drive's SMART status with one of these programs.

Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
Just to be sure this isn't something really trivial ==>  Did you empty the recycle bin after deleting the files ??
i suggest to backup the data to another disk - and delete it here - this will free up a lot of free space
if not, start removing old - or unused programs from add /remove programs
you should have a free space at least of 10% before running defrag (for comfortable running)
i also suggest to run a diag on the drive (i suppose a 30 GB is really old - around 10 years?) to know it's status
 i suggest to run some diags first - to be sure about the basics
Download the UBCD, make the cd, and boot from it
Here 2 links, one to the general site, and a direct link to the download
since the downloaded file is an ISO file, you need to use an ISO burning tool
if you don't have that software, install cdburnerXP : http://cdburnerxp.se/

If you want also the Ram tested - run memtest86+ at least 1 full pass,  - you should have NO errors!
For disk Diagnostics run the disk diag for your disk brand (eg seagate diag for seagate drive)  from the HDD section - long diag !
http://www.ultimatebootcd.com/                              ultimate boot cd
http://ubcd.mirror.fusa.be/ubcd521.iso                        direct link UBCD

how much ram do you have?  if 512 MB or less updating that will also speed up operations...
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noxchoGlobal Support CoordinatorCommented:
Are you going to use Windows Defragment tool for this operation?
two other things you might look at to squeeze out a little more room, are flushing the Restore Points back to only one, and Deleting the Update Uninstall files (or at least the older ones).
ConmariAuthor Commented:
Thanks for everyone's input.

Here is some feedback/clarification:

*  I'm not having trouble finding files to delete (I've used TreeSize to find the largest directories to get the biggest bang for the buck).  The problem is that free space doesn't increase after deletion, including after emptying the recycle bin.  Besides old data, I have already archived Windows update uninstall files and, I believe, Norton update files, but haven't done anything with restore points, which I certainly can do.  (It's been my experience that restoring to a prior point hardly ever works in XP anyway.)  I also have IE set to delete internet temp files when the browser is closed.  That's all well and good, but the underlying problem is not getting the right number of reported free space, which, by my estimate, should now be about 6 GB vs. a little over 3 GB reported now, based on what's been moved/deleted.  So I believe there is actually nearly 20% of free space (could be more), which gives me the recommended 10% to run defrag.  I was planning on using the Windows native defrag tool -- is there any reason why I shouldn't?  I'm sure I can find other tools on the web (I may actually already have something on my system) if necessary but if someone has one in particular that they like, I'll take a look.

*  How is creating and booting from Ultimate Boot CD different from what I have done using Active@ and running chkdsk c: /f?  chkdsk run from the boot CD shows no errors.

*  It makes sense to run diagnostics before attempting a defrag.  I believe Active@ disk includes a SMART monitor which I will run.  I'll also give memtest86+ a go.  I'm not sure what the disk hardware is, other than its size, but will look for any manufacturer diags when I find out.

*  FYI, the system has 2GB RAM, upgraded some time ago.  Not going to upgrade any further since this system is term limited.  However, it won't be replaced for a number of months, hence my need to do the maintenance.

At this point, I need time and machine access to perform the above tests and will report back in a few days when I have results.

Thanks again.
>> ...not getting the right number of reported free space...

hmmmm... if the swapfile (pagefile) is set to Auto, Windows might still be grabbing the freed up space for that. With 2GB ram, it probably thinks it needs a big pagefile.
Try setting it only for a gig or two, and see if that helps;

Windows defrag is OK, but some of the free freeware defraggers are a little faster and can move things that are used a lot to the front of the disk where they run a little faster

these two are pretty good if you are interested.


Auslogics Disk Defrag Free
smart diag is NOT a diag, it merely records several counters  -> i still suggest to run a real diag
2 GB should be sufficient for all operations you need to run

what about moving/deleting the data?
Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
Two thoughts:

(1)  Since you're very close to out of space, I suspect that as you free up space, either Windows is adding it to your swapfile;  System Restore is using it to create restore points that you previously didn't have room for;  or some 3rd party utility that you may have installed is using the space for a similar purpose.    Disable System Restore and see if that frees up some additional space.

(2)  Since this is an older system, there's a small chance you have 28-bit LBA limit ... but that still means you can install any drive up to 128GB.   A very simple (and inexpensive) way to resolve your space issue is to just buy this:  http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822148691

... then just use your favorite imaging utility to copy the old drive to it and expand the partition to fill the drive :-)
ConmariAuthor Commented:
Final update:

I chose to try changing the size of the System Restore file from what was 4.5 GB to 1.9 GB and was surprised to find that I immediately gained 5.3 GB in free disk space!  This amounts to the 2.6 GB in the change in size of the restore file plus an additional 2.7 GB, which is in the ballpark of the size of the files I had previously archived/deleted without any change in free space.  I then archived and additional 1+ GB and, again, free space increased by that amount so I assume any further deletions will continue to have that affect.  At that point I had about 10 GB free which makes a big difference.

The reason I was surprised changing System Restore size was because I had first archived about 3+ GB where free space did actually increase before I found that additional archiving/deleting stopped having that effect.  I don't understand why this would be the case but for the moment that isn't as important as getting the result I was looking for.

The pagefile.sys is currently set for a maximum of about 3GB.  I may try to reduce that to 2GB at some point but I'm more concerned about anything that may also slow things up during regular use than an additional 1GB of space so I'll leave that alone for the time being.

Additionally, I also ran both the Dell onboard disk diagnostic, which is a system boot option, as well as Seagate Seatools for DOS.  The disk passed all of the above with no errors, including the Seatools long test, so I can feel comfortable that the hardware is currently OK.

From here, once I am satisfied that I have archived as many files as I wish to, I will do a full system backup and run a defrag utility.  This should further improve the system performance sufficiently for the relatively short time that we will be using it, which will be until MS pulls the plug on XP.

Thanks again for everyone's input, especially coral47, garycase and nobus who provided the key information relative to my original problem.  I hope the points sharing is fair.
Thanks for the feedback and the Points.    : )
ditto :-)
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