In addition to your personal files and folders, the Windows operating system itself takes up a lot of space on your computer. With a little searching, you can find hidden Windows caches that are safe to clear when you need to reclaim space.
However, there are a few other default Windows files and folders that you should leave alone. Dealing with these could result in an unstable system, data loss or other dire consequences. Let’s discuss places that most users shouldn’t bother with their travels through the Windows file system.
1. Program Files and Program Files (X86)
Located in C: \ Program Files and C: \ Program Files (x86)
Each time you install the software, you usually open an EXE file and go through an installation process (if not, you’re using a portable application). During this time, the application creates an entry for itself in the Program Files folder, adds Registry values, and performs other tasks it needs to run properly on your system.
Therefore, if you go to the Program Files folder, you will find folders for most programs you have installed.
With rare exceptions, you never need to touch any program’s data in these folders. They contain the configuration information required for the program to run. If you start dealing with these, you may break an app and need to reinstall.
Also, when you want to uninstall software, the proper way to do it is in Settings> Applications> Apps & features . Deleting an application’s folder from Program Files will not remove other references from your system and therefore not a clean uninstall.
If you’re using a 32-bit version of Windows , install only 32-bit software so there is only one Program Files folder. On 64-bit versions of Windows, you will see an additional Program Files (x86) folder. While your computer stores 32-bit software there, 64-bit-compatible software goes into the standard Program Files folder.
What is the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit Windows? Here is a simple explanation and how to check which version you have.
Located at C: \ Windows \ System32
Almost anything in the C: \ Windows folder can make it into this list, but the System32 folder deserves special attention. It holds hundreds of DLL files and system programs necessary for your computer to function properly.
Some examples include the service that handles the sound on your PC, the files required to boot into Windows, the resources that ensure the correct display of fonts, and more. This folder also contains executables for default Windows programs. For example, calc.exe starts Calculator, and mspaint.exe launches Microsoft Paint.
While most people really have no reason to visit System32, it has been the subject of a longstanding internet joke. Some people like to deal with novice users and tell them System32 is a virus or deleting it will make their computer run faster.
Obviously, since the folder is critical for Windows to run, dealing with it could mean you have to reinstall Windows.
3. Page File
Located at C: \ pagefile.sys ( Note that you won’t see this file unless you click the View tab in File Explorer , choose Options> View , and uncheck Hide protected operating system files . But we don’t recommend doing this.)
The random-access memory or RAM inside your computer is responsible for temporarily keeping open programs. For example, when you open an instance of Microsoft Word, it is placed in RAM for quick access. Therefore, having more RAM allows you to run several programs at the same time (see our RAM guide for more background).
If your physical RAM starts to fill up, Windows uses what is called a page file or swap file. This is a special part of your hard drive that acts like RAM. If you have enough RAM on your computer, you rarely need to see the effect of getting any page file at all.
However, since hard drives are much slower than RAM (especially if you don’t have a solid state drive), relying on this will affect performance.
If you scan to see what is taking up space on your computer, there is a chance that the page file will take up a few gigabytes of space. It may be tempting to disable it to save space, but it’s not a good idea. Without a page file, when your RAM is at its maximum, programs can start to crash rather than switch to that extra memory.
Windows allows you to manage your virtual memory if needed, but most users should allow the operating system to manage it automatically. If you have memory issues, you can free up RAM on your PC, but the feasible solution is to add more RAM to your system.
4. System Volume Information
Located at C: \ System Volume Information (If Hide protected operating system files is checked, they will be hidden.)
Another large folder with no explicit purpose, the System Volume Information folder actually contains a few important Windows functions. In fact, Windows will give you an Access Denied error when you try to access it .
This folder contains System Restore points your computer created so you can go back to undo changes. To reduce the size of this folder, you can type Restore Point in the Start Menu and click Create a Restore Point . In this window, click on your C: drive and select Configure .
You can shift the Maximum Usage bar to a certain amount to reduce the space used by System Restore , but note that this will reduce your options if you ever need to perform a restore in the future.
Besides restore points, System Volume Information also contains data that Windows uses to index your drives. Without this, calls that last a moment slow down to creep. It also maintains the Volume Shadow Copy service required for file backups.
Like any other important folder, you should stay away from this. Do not try to access or modify it — Windows needs its content for healthy performance and you have no reason to edit it.
Located at C: \ Windows \ WinSxS
WinSxS stands for Windows Side by Side and was created in response to an issue that makes it difficult to work with Windows 9x versions. The colloquial term “DLL Hell” describes problems that occur when dynamic link library (DLL) files collide, duplicate, or become corrupted.
To fix this, Microsoft started using the WinSxS folder to collect multiple versions of each DLL and optionally load them when Windows ran a program . This improves compatibility, for example, when a program needs to access an old DLL that is no longer part of Windows.
The longer you use Windows, the larger this folder gets. As you can imagine, it’s a bad idea to pick and select files to delete from them. You should never directly visit this folder; instead, use the Disk Cleanup tool as part of a holistic cleanup routine to clean junk files.
Located at C: \ Users \ [username] \ AppData \ Local
We conclude with a folder that is not as critical to operating system tasks as above but still worth mentioning as many people are wondering what happened. D3DSCache is a folder that contains cached information for Microsoft’s Direct3D API.
This is part of DirectX used for graphics rendering in games and other intensive software. Under normal circumstances, you don’t need to touch the files and they only take up a few megabytes of space. However, clearing this cache can be a helpful step if you are experiencing game crashes related to graphic files.
Drop These System Folders
Windows keeps many folders hidden for some reason. The average user has no reason to directly touch these resources as Windows provides non-destructive ways to manage them.
When you see an unknown file in a hidden folder, it’s best for Google first so you don’t damage your system. Also remember to make regular backups so you can recover your data in case something goes wrong.