Jan 25

You’re down to less than 1GB on your hard drive and disk access is really slowing down as Windows struggles to write new data to it. What should you do? Well, resist the temptation to start randomly deleting files, here are some tips and free utilities to retrieve some valuable disk space without regretting anything afterwards.

First things first – backup

Make sure all your documents, pictures, videos, music and anything else of value are backed up. If you don’t already have one, invest in a backup external hard drive. They’re not too expensive these days and well worth the investment. I’ve written about my backup procedure before. Make sure you have at least two independent data backups, for example, an external drive and online storage. Then you won’t regret any ‘accidental’ deletions on your hard drive as you reclaim some space.

Run CCleaner

If you don’t already have it, download and install the free utility CCleaner to remove temporary files, internet history, cookies etc. to free up some space. If you’ve never run disk maintenance utilities, you may be surprised how much space this gives you straight off. If you’re really stuck for hard disk space and can’t download anything, portable CCleaner can even be directly downloaded to a USB drive, then extracted and run from there to free up some space on your hard drive.

Uninstall unused programs

If you’re running Windows 7, Go to Control Panel, Programs and Features and uninstall all the programs you never or rarely use. There’s bound to be a few.

Clear out your Downloads folder

Take some time to systematically go through all the files in your Downloads folder and decide which you want to keep. You’ll find that some files here, particularly documents, can be moved to more appropriate locations or deleted. Programs you’ve downloaded here before installing can probably be deleted. No need to keep most of these installers, because if you ever need to reinstall a program, chances are that there will be a more up to date version available online anyway.

Look for directories hogging disk space

Use a free program like TreeSize Free, WinDirStat or WizTree to give you a graphical view of the folders on your hard drive. I use TreeSize Free and came across a folder with 6GB of video files I rarely watched. Once they’re safely backed up, you can delete these and get back some more valuable space.

Remove duplicate files

Use a free program like Auslogics Duplicate File Finder to remove duplicate files. A couple of words of advice here. First, in the left panel, make sure it’s set to check just your important directories such as My Pictures or My Music, not the complete C: drive, otherwise you will probably be overwhelmed with duplicates.  Let’s say we start with My Pictures.  In the search criteria, you can specify to search only for files greater than say 1MB or 5MB so as just to find the larger duplicates.

Auslogics Duplicate File Finder1

You can also ignore file names if you wish, so that only the file contents are checked for duplicates. That way two files with different names but the same content will be spotted and one removed.

Auslogics Duplicate File Finder2

Next you can specify if you want duplicates moved to the Recycle Bin, the Rescue Centre where they are archived (in case you want to retrieve something), or permanently deleted. Once it has listed the duplicates, let it automatically check all duplicates but if you have time, look through the list to make sure you are keeping the duplicate in the location you prefer. Having deleted the duplicates in your My Pictures folder, move on to say your My Music folder and so on.

Remove similar images

It’s up to you whether you go this far, but there are programs like SimilarImages which will find then remove similar images. The program lets you configure the “similarity” threshold which enables you to configure which image pairs should be shown after the scan. Another option is Awesome Duplicate Photo Finder.  You don’t need to input any comparison criteria with this one.

So that should help retrieve some valuable disk space without losing something valuable in the process. Have I missed something? How do you free up space? Do you bother now we’re in the age of 1TB and 2TB drives? Drop a comment below.

Jan 16

Free for 30 days

A couple of years ago, I blogged about paying for software and online services. I made the point then that it was possible to run a completely free set-up, particularly with online services. At the time, many sites were setting up and encouraging users in with free offers. Some are still offering a limited service or limited functionality for free, for example, many online storage sites offer 2 to 5 GB free storage and you pay if you need more. That seems fair. But coincidentally, recently two online services I use dropped their free offerings, presumably because their business plan wasn’t quite working out. You’re left trying to decide is it worth sticking with them and paying or moving to another free service. I chose the latter option in both cases as there are still good free offerings to be found online.


The Wapple Architect Mobile Plugin mobilizes your WordPress blog, site and admin pages. I installed it 3 years ago and blogged then about getting this blog mobile ready. A recent email from Wapple said that, beyond 10th January 2013, sites will no longer optimise for mobile devices if you have chosen not to upgrade and that they could no longer offer the plugin for free. To continue using Wapple, prices start from  £5/$8. Not much really, but I received a Google Nexus 10 tablet recently and when I view my blog, it appears as if it’s optimised for a smaller mobile phone screen and not for the tablet. I may have missed a plugin setting somewhere to rectify this but anyway, I decided to uninstall the Wapple plugin and install the WPtouch plugin instead – they still offer a free version. I’m not altogether satisfied with it but I’ll stick with it until I get a responsive theme up and running here that will automatically adapt my site for phones and tablets and will mean one less plugin to install and run.


I’ve been using CX for cloud syncing and file storage and mentioned them when I blogged about scheduling automatic daily backups of changed files to cloud storage. They offer 10GB of free storage but in December, they decided that accounts inactive for 15 days would be frozen. Upgrading to a paid account would unfreeze it. In addition, the Desktop Sync tool would no longer be offered on free accounts. I needed the sync tool to automatically backup my files to the cloud, so I’ve had to close my account with CX. Fortunately, there are still many cloud storage services offering free storage without restrictions. I decided to move to Microsoft SkyDrive instead with 7GB of free storage and so far I’m very pleased with it.

So whether you pay for online services is a matter of choice. If you look around, you can still find lots of good free offerings online but I suspect that as sites come to grips with their business plans and try to increase revenues, some will fold or cut back/drop their free offerings. Make use of them while you can – but don’t assume they’ll be there forever… or free forever.

Jan 8

No internet accessIt happens to us all too frequently – our internet connection has gone. Generally, we just disconnect and reconnect, or failing that restart the router. But what if that fails to get your connection back? What next? Well I had this problem recently. Internet access just stopped late one evening. You’ve probably all seen it – a little yellow warning triangle appears over the Network icon in the tray. When you open it, it says you are still connected to the home network, but that there is no internet access. If you disconnect and then reconnect, everything is usually fine, but not this time or next morning when I restarted my PC and router. No other devices in the house could connect to the internet either.

Troubleshooting no internet access

Here are the steps I took to troubleshoot the problem:

1. Check for a dial tone on your phone line. Might seem obvious but maintenance could be taking place on your phone line by your telecom provider. No dial tone, no internet. I had a dial tone.

2. Anything newly installed or settings changed? No I hadn’t installed anything new or changed any settings on my PC and there had been no antivirus updates. The internet had just died of its own accord so the problem likely wasn’t on my PC.

3. Try a backup router if you have one. I have an old router I keep as a backup just in case my Netgear router packs up. Tried this and still no joy so it wasn’t a faulty router.

4. Check your router’s LEDs. I have a Netgear N300 and one of the LEDs was red during this time. They’re usually all green.

Netgear N300 no internet

The Netgear N300 manual I downloaded indicated that this particular LED is for the internet connection. A solid red light means that the internet (IP) connection has failed. Check your manual to see if your router has a similar LED.

5. If you have a smartphone with a data plan, check your ISP’s service status webpage.

6.  If not, phone your ISP. They may have a freephone number playing a recorded message if there are any reported problems. I didn’t have a freephone number for them as this problem hadn’t happened for a long time. I phoned my ISP on a paid number I had on file since I signed up and eventually got through to a recorded message: ‘…we are currently experiencing a nationwide issue for some customers… For updates, phone this freephone number…’. So that seemed to be my problem. ISP down. Later I tried again on the paid line to get specific information about my particular situation but there was a 30 minute queue so I left it. The connection came back later that day after 24 hours down.

Since this episode, I now have my ISP’s freephone number for service status and I suggest you find out if your ISP has one too. Worth having.

Getting internet access when your ISP is down

I work from home so I really need internet access throughout the day. So how do I go about getting connected when my ISP is down? Here’s some suggestions.

1. Well the obvious one, just use your smartphone. That’s fine if you (a) have a smartphone and (b) have a data plan on it, but I have a pay as you go smartphone with no data plan. Don’t need one much – I work from home. But since then, I now have a free Vodafone SIM card with data and minutes. Just top up £10 and you have 300 texts and 500MB of UK web access to use up within a month. That should help get me through any future short ISP failures. Once you have that set up, you can tether your phone and use its 3G connection as a wifi hotspot.

2. Get a prepaid 3G USB dongle for your laptop or PC. This should give you internet access while your ISP is down.

3. Get down to an internet cafe or some other wifi hotspot you trust. Check this out before you have a problem.

So there are some suggestions for troubleshooting when your ISP is down and getting internet until it returns. Have you any more suggestions?

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