For most of the past decade, many people had more drive space than they knew what to do with. Hard drives got bigger and bigger while prices went lower and lower. So it probably comes as a surprise to realize that your drive may be getting full. The popularity of digital media means that many people are storing huge video files and thousands of photos and music tracks. Also, a growing number of computers are using solid-state drives (SSDs), which, while speedy, offer considerably less capacity than traditional hard drives. Here are four tips that Macworld editors use to slim down our own drives.
1: Clear Out Your Downloads
Every time you view a photo or open a PDF in an email message in Apple’s Mail, that file gets saved in a folder called Mail Downloads. If you don’t receive many attachments, this folder remains relatively small, but if you’re a frequent file exchanger, it can quickly siphon away hundreds of megabytes from your drive—much of it for files you’ve likely already saved somewhere else. Emptying this folder is easy once you know where it is. In the Finder, choose Go ? Go To Folder, type ~/Library/Mail Downloads, select everything in the folder that appears, and then move the lot to the Trash.
Along those same lines, chances are you’ve got a bunch of stuff downloaded from the Web that you no longer need. These files are stored in your main Downloads folder, which is a little bit easier to find—it’s sitting directly in your home folder, so you can just open it and start cleaning.
2: Remove Old iOS Cruft
If you sync your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to your Mac, iTunes is likely still hanging on to older device backups and operating system updates.
To find the old backups, launch iTunes, choose iTunes ? Preferences, and then click the Devices icon in the window toolbar. You’ll see a list of backups for your various synced iOS devices—likely multiple versions for each device—along with the date each backup was made. You definitely don’t want to delete all of these, but if a particular iOS device has been running smoothly for a while, you can safely keep only the most recent backup.
To do so, select a backup (or command-click to select multiple backups), and then click the Delete Backup button. After you confirm your intentions, iTunes will erase the unneeded backups, freeing up plenty of space. Each of the local backups for my iPhone 4S, for example, weighs in at over 4GB.
While you’re reclaiming the disk space that iTunes’ behind-the-scenes data has selfishly grabbed, there’s one other set of files you can probably remove: old iOS and iPod software updates. iTunes downloads these updates to install them, but it doesn’t delete them after installation. Getting rid of them can free up a good amount of space, and if you ever need one again, iTunes can just redownload it. In the Finder, choose Go ? Go To Folder, paste or type ~/Library/iTunes/, and then look for folders called iPhone Software Updates, iPad Software Updates, and iPod Software Updates. Delete everything in the folders. On a test computer here, deleting just two iPad updates and a single iPhone update freed up 2.4GB of space.
3: Find Other Big Stuff
Among the biggest wasters of drive space are files and folders that you’ve forgotten about or that have simply ballooned without your knowledge. A variety of utilities can help you find such candidates for deletion; my personal favorite is Id-design’s WhatSize ($13; whatsizemac.com).
Use one of these tools to view your files and folders—and even packages such as iPhoto and Aperture libraries—sorted by size, in a variety of different ways. Doing so makes it easy to identify the largest items on your drive, or even to just get a sense of how much room certain things take up. (Your Steam game library takes up how many gigabytes?!)
As an example, I recently used WhatSize to find and remove more than 6GB—not exactly chump change—of GarageBand Jam Pack loops that I’d forgotten I’d installed.
Of course, you want to be careful when removing files from inside /Library and /Users/yourusername/Library, since deleting the wrong files can cause applications, and even the OS, to misbehave. WhatSize and similar utilities can also slim down applications by removing PowerPC code or unnecessary language localizations, but I don’t recommend doing so; these files don’t take up that much room, and removing them can cause problems, such as making it impossible to update certain apps.
4: Use Network Storage
One of the best ways to free up room on your Mac is to refrain from storing unneeded files on it in the first place. You can do this with the help of network-attached storage (NAS) devices. Such devices are generally connected to your network via an ethernet cable, although a few can connect via Wi-Fi. You can get NAS-like features from a dedicated NAS drive, a USB hard drive that you’ve attached to an Apple AirPort Extreme base station or Apple Time Capsule, or a gadget such as those from Pogoplug ($50 to $100; pogoplug.com), which accommodate USB storage devices and let you access them on a local network as well as via the Internet.
What kind of data would you put on one of these devices? If you have a dedicated NAS drive, your iTunes library is a good place to start, as it can take up a lot of space—such a setup can even let you play the contents of that iTunes library from any computer you own, thus turning the NAS into a music server. You can also offload any files that you don’t need to take with you when traveling, such as older iMovie projects or big folders of older documents. Just be sure to back up important data somewhere else too.