Why Are Hard Drives Getting Smaller?

Why Are Hard Drives Getting Smaller?

You are hard at work, and when you try saving a very important document, you receive the dreaded error message that says there is not enough disk space. You know that you have a sizable hard drive, but it is somehow getting smaller, or the capacity shrinks the more you use it. There are multiple reasons you may see this happening, and there are different ways you can recover the total storage capacity of a hard drive.

Hard drives are getting smaller in physical size but larger in capacity every year. Your hard drive may seem smaller because of a possible computer virus or malware, which takes up space or creates the illusion of a shortage of space. The perception might also seem smaller because of vast unused space (undetectable) and a large concealed data recovery partition.

This article will address why your hard drive space keeps shrinking and give solutions to each problem, as well as tips on how to find any unpartitioned or hidden files. Read on to find out more.

Reasons Why Your Hard Drive Keeps Getting Smaller

Reasons Why Your Hard Drive Keeps Getting Smaller?

A hard drive losing space can be very frustrating, and sometimes, the process can repeatedly happen in short periods. Pinpointing the causes of the shrinkage and finding solutions to this problem is essential. Let’s take a look at several reasons why this happens. 

Errors During the Hard Drive Shrinking Process

Hard drive shrinking is a term used for the process of purposely diminishing the size of your partition and making it smaller to create more unused space (unallocated space). Shrinking the hard drive and creating partitions will not affect the overall size of your hard drive.

In some cases, however, errors may occur during the shrinking process. 

The system might be unable to apportion space and simultaneously create a volume from the unused hard drive partitions that are unallocated. Corruption of the hard drive, internal errors in the external hard drive, virus or malware attack, or missing and damaged system files could be the root cause of these errors.

Viruses and Malware 

If you recently opened any suspicious emails or downloaded content from unknown sources, a computer virus might have latched on and pushed your hard drive to keep getting smaller. Viruses can suck up all the available space, or they can keep uploading unknown apps or files that use up space in your hard drive. 

To avoid “Space Eater” viruses wreaking havoc, you can do the following:

  • Only download movies and applications from secure and trusted sources.
  • Refrain from opening any suspicious emails or any suspicious links.
  • Download the latest Antivirus software and keep updating it.

Hidden Partitions 

Using a new hard disk automatically creates Hidden Partitions, especially using a Microsoft Operating System (OS). However, when you use Linux, you have complete control over how big your partitions are and how much disk space you allocate for the partitions.

These concealed partitions won’t typically show up on Windows Explorer, hence the term “Hidden Partitions.” However, while Disk Management will show these hidden partitions, it gives you an option to view their contents. 

You may need software that can let you browse through the contents of the hidden compartments, highlighting the total space in the partition, the overall free space, and the size of a specific partition.

What Is Taking Up the Missing Space?

What Is Taking Up the Missing Space?
What Is Taking Up the Missing Space?

The actual disk size is always smaller than that advertised. 

1 GB in your operating system and 1 GB according to manufacturers do not equal the same number of megabytes. The difference is that 1 GB in your operating system equals 1024 megabytes while 1 GB in the manufacturing world equals 1000 megabytes. 

As a result, some space may appear to be “lost.”

Hidden Partitions and Hibernate Files

As discussed earlier, most computers come with hidden partitions that can also take up space. You can go to Disk Management to find and delete them. 

Hidden system files can also consist of hibernation files and page files. Whenever your computer goes into Hibernation Mode, your operating system creates hibernation files, usually taking up half of the available RAM space. To unearth concealed hibernation files, open Folder Options, then deselect the option to hide protected operating system files.

System protection frequently builds up and saves data about your computer’s settings and system files.

Inflated Cluster Size

Cluster Size is the smallest possible space in which you can store a file. 

“All file systems that are used by Windows organize your hard disk based on cluster size”

Microsoft Support – Default cluster size for NTFS, FAT, and exFAT

In some cases, a small file can occupy an area that’s larger than the actual file, so decreasing cluster size should solve this problem. Generally, having larger cluster sizes creates more wasted space and reduces efficiency. 

Even if your file takes up just one kilobyte, the system stores it in a separate cluster, which leaves a lot of unoccupied space. If you add up all these vacant spaces in each cluster, they could amount to a substantial amount of wasted storage. 

Choosing a smaller cluster size will help prevent excessive wastage of space. Also, creating smaller clusters will mean more free space. There is a tradeoff, though:

“When file grows beyond the cluster boundary, another cluster is allocated. It means that the bigger the cluster size, the more disk space is wasted, however, the performance is better.”

NTFS.Com – NTFS (New Technology File System) Optimization

Unpartitioned Disk Space

You don’t necessarily need partitions and can use a hard disk as a single unit. This partition is better described as an unpartitioned drive which is a drive with only a single partition on it, and it is typically shown as your C Drive. Your option is whether to have more than one partition and do you need it.

Sometimes it is impossible to use a new hard disk to save needed data without creating partitions. Unpartitioned space or unallocated disk space will take up space but not be available for use until you partition it. 

Windows Explorer only reflects the space that you have partitioned. Before you start partitioning, check if you have adequate space for the partition you need to create. If your hard drive is at its maximum storage capacity, you can’t make a partition.

Why Are Laptop Hard Drives Getting Smaller?

The perception and possible reality are that your Laptop hard drive is getting smaller because there can be a malfunction in your hard drive, or you might have malware downloading programs that are gobbling up space in your laptop hard drive. 

An old hard drive will have errors in the storage space, and some parts will no longer be functional. As a result, the data storage capacity is reduced. Free space is rapidly lost without you being aware of it, which also happens when a virus or malware is present.

Your laptop may have come with a small drive, but you can get a large Solid State Drive (SSD) or Hard Disk Drive (HDD) in a laptop or change it to one of these drives. The cost is the issue and usually determines the computer’s storage when purchasing. Hence there is a market for small drives based on price.

Please see some of our other interesting articles like “What Are Green Electronics?” and “Why Is My Data Running Out So Fast?”

How To Recover Lost Space Free

If you want to recover some lost disk space, you can use a free Disk Space Analyzer Software. This software will pinpoint where the lost space is going, deleting temporary files and other trivial information.

Windows 11

If you use Windows, you already have this free Disk Space Analyzer tool. 

This procedure is how to check how your hard drive space is allocated on Windows 10 and11 or older releases:

  • Open Settings.
  • Click on System.
  • Click on Storage.
  • Under the “Local storage” section, click the drive to see the storage usage.
  • While in “Storage usage,” you can see what is using space on your hard drive.
Windows Disk Space Analyzer
Windows Disk Space Analyzer

If you identify any suspiciously huge non-system folders, delete these folders, which won’t affect the performance of your computer. 

To access the Cleanup tool, go to “computer” and right-click on the selected hard drive. Options will pop up, then choose properties. 

Assessing this will show you how much disk space is being used up and by what. Highlight all the files you want to delete, then click OK. 

These files can include deleted files in your recycle bin that you no longer need, temporary files, or log files. Some system files won’t pop up in this section, but you can still clean them by clicking on Clean up system files.


Linux users can go to their software repository and search for something similar to Windows. One easy way to see the largest folders and files is to use the command-line tool ‘Top Disk Usage’ (tdu). This method is a single static binary code with no dependencies, written in Golang.

Linux Top Disk Usage (tdu) Quick Start Guide for End-Users

  • If you just want to use the program on Linux or Windows x86-64, then you can download a ready-to-run binary at https://bitbucket.org/josephpaul0/tdu/downloads/
  • On the “Downloads” page, you will find packages for:
  • Linux (386, Amd64, Armv6), including Raspberry Pi.
  • Windows 7, 8, 10, 11 (386, Amd64)
  • FreeBSD (386, Amd64)
Linux Top Disk Usage (tdu)
Linux Top Disk Usage (tdu)

Uninstall Applications That Are Taking Up Too Much Space

Some Applications or “Apps” eat vast amounts of space and cause storage issues in your hard drive. This App usage applies to everything from your Desktop computer, Laptop, or Tablet to your Smartphone.

You can check how much space each application uses up by clicking the Size column in the Controls and Features control panel. Keep in mind that the information displayed may sometimes be inaccurate as some applications “hide” the amount of space they use. 

Alternatively, you can look up “Uninstall Programs” in the Start Menu. In Windows 10 and 11, you can uninstall programs or Apps from the Start Menu.

  • Click the Start Button and look for the program or App you want to remove in the “All Apps List” on the left or the tiled squares section on the right. 
  • Right-click the App or program, and if it can be removed via the Start Menu, you’ll see an option for Uninstall in the pop-up menu. See picture below
  • Click the little garbage can with uninstall to the right.
  • Confirm you want to uninstall it, and it’s gone.
App Uninstall Windows 11
App Uninstall Windows 10 and 11

Disk Cleanup App

A more straightforward way to get rid of wasted space that lets Windows figure out what programs to cleanup is to go to the Start Menu and type in Disk Cleanup.

To delete files in Windows with the Disk Cleanup App:

  • On your Home Screen, in the search box on the taskbar, type disk cleanup. 
  • Select the Disk Cleanup Desktop app from the list of results. There are multiple ways to open the App, as you can see in our picture below.
  • Select the drive you want to clean up.
  • Under files to delete, select the file types for disposal. To get a description of the file type, select it.
  • Put check marks on all the items you want to clean up, then select ok.
  • Click the Delete Files button to confirm and begin the cleanup process.
Windows 11 Disk Cleanup App
Windows 10 and 11 Disk Cleanup App

How To Access and Delete Temporary Files In Windows 10 and 11

Temporary Files are cleaned up in Windows Disk App when you check the box next to the listing. Most of your temporary files get stored together in the Windows Temp folder by accessing (c:/Windows/Temp). By deleting temporary files from your computer it. 

To delete Temporary Files in Windows 10 and 11:

  • On your Home Screen, in the search box on the taskbar, type temp. 
  • Select the Delete Temporary Files App from the list of results. Again there are multiple ways to open the App from this location.
  • Scroll down to Temporary Files, click and select.
  • The delete Temporary files folder will open and show you which files you can open and delete as apps need some files.
  • Scroll down and put check marks on all the items you want to clean up, then select ok.
  • Click the Delete Files button to confirm and begin the cleanup process.
Delete Temporary Files In Windows 11
Delete Temporary Files In Windows 10 and 11

Remove Temporary and Duplicate Files from Third-party Programs

The preinstalled Disk Clean Up tool cannot necessarily clean up and delete all temporary files from third-party programs. You can use software from a trusted source to delete and clean up these files. 

You can also remove duplicate files as these are unnecessary and take up much-needed space.

To Remove Temporary and Duplicate Files from Third-party Programs in Windows 10 and 11:

  • On your Home Screen, in the search box on the taskbar, type Disk Cleanup. 
  • The Disk Cleanup Drive Selection box will appear.
  • Select a drive.
  • Select from the Disk Cleanup Files List you want to delete..
  • Click ok.

If this does not remove the Third-party Programs, then do the following to clean up System Files.

  • On your Home Screen, in the search box on the taskbar, type Disk Cleanup. 
  • The Disk Cleanup Drive Selection box will appear.
  • Select a drive.
  • Click on the Clean up system files box.
  • The Disk Cleanup Drive Selection box will appear again.
  • Select a drive.
  • Select from the expanded Disk Cleanup Files List you want to delete.
  • Click ok.

An additional step to remove any Third-party Programs or other Programs and Features is the following.

  • On your Home Screen, in the search box on the taskbar, type Disk Cleanup. 
  • The Disk Cleanup Drive Selection box will appear.
  • Select a drive.
  • Click on the Clean up system files box.
  • The Disk Cleanup Drive Selection box will appear again.
  • Select a drive.
  • Select the More Options Top Tab.
  • Select from the expanded Disk Cleanup Files List you want to delete.
  • Click on the Cleanup Button .
  • This brings up the Control Panel Uninstall or change a program page.
  • Right-click on a program you want to remove.
  • Click Uninstall

If this does not work, you can try some of the free Third Party Disk Cleanup Software listed below or even upgrade to a Pro Version or purchase one if necessary.

Free Third Party Disk Cleanup Software:

Disk Cleanup SoftwareCost/PricePlatforms
App Cleaner & UninstallerFreeMac
Ashampoo WinOptimizerFreeWindows 11/10/8/7
BleachBitOpen SourceLinux and Windows
CCleanerFreeWindows 11/10/8/7
Disk CleanupFreeWindows 11/10/8/7
Iobit Advanced SystemCare FreeWindows 11/10/8/7
Privacy Eraser FreeFreeWindows 10/8/7
Storage SenseFreeWindows 11/10/8/7
System NinjaFreeWebapp, Windows, Mac
Tree SizeFreeWindows 11/10/8/7
Wise Disk CleanerFreeWindows 10/8/7

The following videos will shed more light on the reasons why hard drives are becoming smaller and also highlight a few solutions: 

Final Word

Several factors can contribute to decreasing the size of your hard drive. Viruses can upload unknown files or suck up the available space in your hard drive. Certain applications and hidden files can also take up space on your hard drive and give you headaches. 

Large clusters can waste space, while unallocated space in your hard drive can take up space. You can create partitions and reduce cluster size to maximize space usage and prevent any wastage.

Upgrade to Windows 11 for free.


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John Mortensen

As a kid I wanted to be an astronaut, geologist, or scientist. I became a project manager which is involved with many of those things. I am a project manager and tech writer who researches the latest alternative and green technologies. We write helpful articles about green electronics and green technology products. AI, extreme weather, electric vehicles, are all in our future and we want to know the best way to deal with the effects of these on the power grid and emergency preparedness. https://techevaluate.com/author-bio-page-john-w-mortensen/

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