Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Strange Case Of PC Slowness…*

Someone called my biz asking for my help with a very slow computer, that was also “acting odd”.  Nothing unusual there; a lot of my calls start that way. What was unusual was that my investigation revealed that all the usual suspects were not at fault, and I really couldn’t detect anything “wrong” with the machine. That was unusual.

volume_props So I looked further and I found a possible culprit (ahem) — their rather large hard drive was totally, absolutely, and completely full. Oops. Not good. I won’t bore you with the geek, but I will tell you that Windows needs “free space” in order to function properly.
My caller had none. Zip. Zero. Nada.

My questioning, and looking at the file system, revealed that the caller had set their computer to record their favorite television programs – much like a TiVo or DVR does – and had not really been too good about actually watching the recordings, or deleting them when finished with them. And Windows Media Center had just kept recording and recording…

Tip of the day: Limit the amount of space Windows Media Center can use for recordings, and prevent hard drive fill-up syndrome.

1) Open WMC and scroll the menu down to Tasks, and then left to Settings, as shown below.

2) Scroll down to Recorder and then over to Recorder Storage.

3) Use the (minus) sign to reduce the Maximum TV limit number to a reasonable fraction of your available space. And then click Save.

To finish my caller’s story.. I deleted nearly 100 Gigabytes of recordings (some the caller couldn’t even remember setting the schedule for..) which gave Windows the free space it needed, and the machine started behaving like normal again. I then did the above steps so that it would not happen to them again.

Related links: Your hard drive, and the “file system” it contains, needs some routine maintenance to keep performing in tip-top form (often called “optimization”) and your computer comes with the tools (called “utilities”) you need to perform those maintenance tasks. I demonstrate those in this article: Revitalize Your PC With Windows’ Utilities*

Today’s free download: The tool I used to quickly analyze my client’s file system was WinDirStat (Windows Directory Statistics) which provides a graphical image of what size your files and folders are.. so you can quickly find the ginormous ones.

* Orig post: 11/24/09

Copyright 2007-2010 © “Tech Paul” (Paul Eckstrom). All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.

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July 7, 2010 - Posted by | computers, file system, hardware, how to, Microsoft, PC, performance, tech, troubleshooting | , , , , ,


  1. Wow! Little are we aware that a full hard drive would slow down our computers,logical of course…

    While I do not have that problem, this information is good to have on hand, as well as the WinDirStat also.
    Problem solved!


    Comment by Gaia | July 8, 2010 | Reply

    • Gaia,
      I forgot to mention in this edition of the article that the way to see your hard drive’s used/available pie chart is to:
      * Click Start > Computer (“My Computer” in XP)
      * Right-click on “Local disk C:” > Properties.

      If the pick wedge is very skinny, it is time to start thinking about file management, and “cleaning”.


      Comment by techpaul | July 8, 2010 | Reply

  2. This particular problem is always fun to try and track down, I’ve had maybe 2 of these in the last year or so, one was traced to Kaspersky Antivirus going crazy with it’s log files, and the other (an XP box on a domain which took some time to figure out) was traced to a glitch with offline files, instead of updating files copies were being created.


    Comment by Dave B | July 8, 2010 | Reply

    • Dave B,
      I am aware of the first (ZoneAlarm Pro has this too) but that second one… wow, that’s the sort that can give gray hairs puzzling out.


      Comment by techpaul | July 8, 2010 | Reply

  3. “(some the caller couldn’t even remember setting the schedule for..)”– So silly of us.. We make mistakes ourselves and blame to the innocent computers for not running properly..

    I too today cleaned 8GB+ clutter off my friend’s C: to give windows a fresh breath free of suffocation..


    Comment by Ranjan | July 8, 2010 | Reply

    • Ranjan,
      I could tell you stories…

      But the facts are these: you have “x” number of dollars> you go to store> you buy a machine> you’re online.
      Can you imagine the scene if we sold cars like that? (“read the booklet, it’s in the glovebox.” {PC’s don’t have gloveboxes.. or manuals.})


      Comment by techpaul | July 8, 2010 | Reply

  4. thnks for ths infrmtion


    Comment by John | July 8, 2010 | Reply

    • John,
      Thank you for your support.


      Comment by techpaul | July 8, 2010 | Reply

  5. So, what is the minimum, absolute necessary free space Windows needs in order to properly work?

    I know I’m a bit late on this, but was under the weather until yesterday.



    Comment by Irvin R. | July 12, 2010 | Reply

    • Irvin R.
      Actually, this question has been the topic of some fairly heated debate; and, I don’t think there actually is a known # or % (as an absolute). The official Microsoft line has been 15%, but the dates on those postings predate the mass adoption of NTFS, SATA, and back then, HHD’s were 20-80 GB’s. (File system indexing tools have improved too.)
      I have seen systems stay “normal” until there was less than 2 KB’s, and I have seen some start acting “weird” when there was still over a Gig of free space.. so.

      In today’s world 15% seems ridiculous to me, as that would translate to leaving 150 Gigabytes free on a Terabyte drive. But I am an advocate of a “lean and mean” machine, and so I like to see HHD’s have plenty of “pink showing”, and not be cluttered with hundreds of programs and scads of old files that don’t get used. That said, I would say that a good “rule of thumb” is make sure there’s room for the swapfile to work, and prefetch folders to expand into.. say 2x what your RAM is, as a minimum. And, more is better.


      Comment by techpaul | July 12, 2010 | Reply

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