How do I figure out what is taking up all the space on my wife's macbook?
May 18, 2009 10:04 AM   Subscribe

How do I figure out what is taking up all the space on my wife's macbook?

My wife is trying to get the latest update for her macbook, and an error message comes up saying she doesn't have enough disk space for it (it says she needs 3.1GB free, holy large update, mac!) And she has asked me to help her figure out what is filling up her hard drive. I am not a mac user, so I am flying blind here, but I did the following:
-emptied the trash
-cleared the cache on her browser
-restarted the mac

All of this freed up no more than 100MB of data, so I figured I would take a look through her hard drive to see what was taking up all the room. This is where I got completely lost, and couldn't figure out how to check how much space is being taken up by what folders, files, etc. I assume it is mostly used by pictures and mp3's, since that's what she uses her computer for most of the time. It is possible she has multiple copies of her MP3's and/or picture files? If so, how do I check this, and which ones are "safe" to delete? I have all of our important pictures and music stuff backed up to an external HD, so by "safe" I mean so she can still access them through her normal programs, without having two copies on her HD taking up space. I find it hard to believe she has already accumulated enough pictures and mp3's to eat up her entire 120GB harddrive.
posted by Grither to Technology (22 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Grand Perspective is a free program which will map the space used on your hard drive.
posted by beniamino at 10:06 AM on May 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

You should get Disk Inventory X. It scans your harddrive and shows you exactly what's taking up all the space (a graphical representation, and a list), and you can delete files from within the app, without having to mess around trying to find things in Finder.
posted by spockette at 10:07 AM on May 18, 2009

Omni Disk Sweeper does a good job of this.
posted by unixrat at 10:13 AM on May 18, 2009

If she uses iTunes for all of her music, make sure "Keep iTunes library organized" and "Copy files to iTunes music folder when adding to library" are checked (in the preferences pane on iTunes, under advanced).

Then any music files that are not in the iTunes folder are duplicates, and you can delete those.
posted by spockette at 10:14 AM on May 18, 2009

Best answer: 2nding GrandPerspective. I used it to find my iPhoto library was 60% of my hard drive
posted by arniec at 10:16 AM on May 18, 2009

I've used Disk Inventory X (linked above) for exactly this with great results. As stated earlier it creates a nice visual representation of what's taking up space on the computer in color coded chunks.

One note, if you've ever installed a VMWare/Parellels type virtualization software to run windows apps they create a large partition for windows use which can take up a large chunk of space even after being removed. (You'll see this in Disk Inventory)
posted by bitdamaged at 10:18 AM on May 18, 2009

Just a bit of advice, if you hold down the command button and press I, it will show you how much space whatever you highlighted is taking up.
posted by salsa buena at 10:19 AM on May 18, 2009

(on a quick look at GrandPerspective it pretty much looks like it does the same as Disk Inventory X)
posted by bitdamaged at 10:19 AM on May 18, 2009

Just a head's up. I recently had a similar issue that was driving me crazy. I finally figured out the source of my problem was backups of my iphone/ipod. Somewhere, in some folder, I had like 10 gigabyte-sized files which were just mirrored backups of apple hardware. They are unnecessary--or at least, anything beyond the last backup was unnecessary. So, if she is a ipod/iphone user, that might be the problem. Deleting the backup files for me cleared up like 25% of my drive.
posted by dios at 10:27 AM on May 18, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers so far! I will take a look at the problem again when I get home tonight and let you know how it goes. Thanks again!
posted by Grither at 10:40 AM on May 18, 2009

Open up a terminal and type:

du -h .

This will list the sizes of all directories in her home directory (assuming you started there). To sort them by size, pipe the output like so:

du . | sort -nkr 1 | less
posted by chrisamiller at 10:43 AM on May 18, 2009

Lifehacker posted a good article last week that you may find useful: Clean Up and Revive Your Bloated, Sluggish Mac.
posted by jim.christian at 11:06 AM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

du can summarise at a specific depth too:

du -d 2 . | sort -nrk 1
posted by Lanark at 11:17 AM on May 18, 2009

open /Applications/Utilities/ and enter:

du -sk * | sort -rn | less

Biggest file or folder will be up top. If it is a folder and you want to break down what's in it, type:

cd 'folder name'

and re-enter the du command. At any point if you wish to see the folder you are in with finder, type:

open .
posted by cj_ at 11:51 AM on May 18, 2009

Hmmmm it would be really useful to know how to do this for Windows XP too.

Even though I think I know where all the big files are, I've always had a nagging suspicion that something is hiding in there...
posted by markjamesmurphy at 12:29 PM on May 18, 2009

For Windows, via Google:
posted by rhizome at 12:40 PM on May 18, 2009

Correction to my above post - the command should be:
du . | sort -nrk 1 | less

(I transposed the r & k while typing quickly)
posted by chrisamiller at 12:55 PM on May 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a bit of a tangent, you might also want to look at an external drive to backup all that media, and to store the larger part of it that she likely doesn't need on a regular basis. I have a 1TB external drive that I use to store all photos and make backups, and it's made a world of difference to the available space on my laptop. They're not expensive at all these days - just catch a sale on newegg.
posted by Billegible at 1:04 PM on May 18, 2009

Grand perspective, grand perspective, grand perspective.
posted by filmgeek at 1:12 PM on May 18, 2009

In the Finder, go to New > Smart Folder. This will bring up a folder that allows you to save a search query. Select Size Greater than 100 MB. Now you have an entire folder that shows what files are taking up space.

You can change to list view in that folder and it will also give you the file sizes and allow you to sort by the file size.
posted by willnot at 2:15 PM on May 18, 2009

Response by poster: Sorry for the delay, but I used Grand Perspective, and realized that I was correct in my misgivings about iPhoto being a horrible terrible useless waste of a program. It was taking up over a quarter of her hard drive, something like 33GB. So I am deleting it, and installing Picasa instead. I think instead of storing one copy of each picture, it makes copies for each instance of the photo you have, so you can't really organize into folders/events whatever without buying three new hard drives to store the 78 copies of each picture you now have. That or she is just using it wrong, but when I glanced at it for a bit, it didn't seem very intuitive to me, either, so I don't know. Anyway, thanks for all your help!
posted by Grither at 6:14 AM on May 27, 2009

I don't have a ton of photos in iphoto but 451 photos taking up 453mb. My best guess is that all the pictures on the camera were getting re-added every time the camera was synced. I realize you do not need to know this.
posted by pointilist at 10:18 AM on June 2, 2009

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