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Heavy-Duty Hard Drive Weeding Machine Drives a Hard Bargain

Heavy-Duty Hard Drive Weeding Machine Drives a Hard Bargain

The Mac application DaisyDisk gives you a snappy visual representation of all the files on your hard drive. It might take a few minutes to figure out exactly how it works, but once you do, you'll be able to go over your hard drive with a fine-toothed comb and weed out all the unused data taking up valuable space on your Mac. It's a good app, but at $20, it's a little on the steep side.

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
05/09/11 5:00 AM PT

DaisyDisk, a Mac app from the company of the same name, is available for US$19.99 at the Mac App Store.

Hard disk drives have a tendency to fill up with all sorts of useless files. I try to keep up on the small stuff by using the trash often and frequently, but there's always some large files lurking deep within the bowels of your Mac. And inevitably, I look at the bottom of a folder and realize I've got just 10 GB left of my 320 GB hard drive.

I could certainly solve the problem, at least temporarily, by buying a new 7,200 RPM 500 GB MacBook SATA drive, but without paying attention, I'll fill that one right up, too.

No, the answer is either having time and a solid strategy for managing your hard drive space ... or you need a tool.

Enter DaisyDisk

While perusing the App Store for Mac OS X, I ran into DaisyDisk, which is a utility that helps you find and identify large files on your Mac. The idea, presumably, is that if you find a lot of large files, you'll realize that you don't need them, delete them, and free up hard drive space. Because my previous strategy left me suspecting that I'm missing some large rogue files, I splurged and purchased DaisyDisk for $19.99.

So what was my previous strategy? A) Delete anything and everything, large or small, that I'm pretty sure I don't need. B) Go through iTunes every few months and offload old movies or TV shows I probably won't watch any time soon to an external USB hard drive. C) Delete old songs that have started to irritate me, along with podcasts. D) Go through iPhoto and ruthlessly delete duplicate and blurry photos, as well as anything that isn't just plain awesome.

The strategy works pretty well. So how well would DaisyDisk work? Any better? Or just a $20 waste of time?

DaisyDisk in Action

It took less than a minute to download and launch DaisyDisk. Upon startup, it will show all your available connected hard drives -- even thumb drives. If you hit "Scan Folder," you can choose a specific folder to scan. I chose to scan my entire hard drive. Within a few minutes, DaisyDisk scanned my hard drive and displayed a big, colorful circular graph that showed big blocks for large files or types of files, along with smaller blocks for smaller files.

At first, you see a broad categorization of where your data resides by file size and/or type.
At first, you see a broad categorization of where your data resides by file size and/or type.

I started clicking on the blocks and quickly became confused. The moment I clicked on a block, it transformed the graphic into a smaller, differently shaped graphic. Pretty, for sure, but no more revealing than the first. And then I realized how this app works: If you mouse over a block, DaisyDisk will show you the file information. Click to drill down into more detail, and you'll get a new graphic of just that segment, along with a list of the files that are in the segment, sorted largest to smallest.

On my hard drive, iTunes stores files in the iTunes Music folder -- even if the files are TV shows or movies. Then, with DaisyDisk, the file blocks closest to the center of the circle are closer to main folders and your hard drive, while blocks moving outward from the center are files located within folders, which are within folders, etc., etc. Once you click on a large file or a block where large files are stored, you'll get a list of actual file names. In the right side column, you can select a type of file -- like TV Shows -- to drill down into to get a list of TV show files and their file sizes. You can preview files with a right click on your mouse or by tapping the space bar, though you might get blocked with protected files that can only be viewed in QuickTime or with iTunes.

Drill down
When you drill down into, for example, your iTunes Music folder, you can see content files. Episode 21 of "Life," the series finale, "One," is an HD version that is 1.5 GB. The entire series is 19.1 GB. Quite a bit if you don't watch it very often.

So, is it intuitive? Maybe for you, but for me, it took a solid 10 minutes of clicking and watching before I figured out what was going on. However, I was able to see some large files that I didn't want as I was learning to use DaisyDisk ... just because DaisyDisk is all about calling out the largest files wherever they are located.

Saving 6 GB

Since I had recently gone through my hard drive manually, I wasn't expecting to find a massive treasure of deletable files. Right away, though, I found a 1.5 GB file of the movie "National Treasure: Book of Secrets." Since I could not imagine watching the moving again (sorry, Nicolas Cage) I happily dragged the file to the bottom left of the app for deletion when I was ready. How did I miss this file before? It's possible to delete the reference to a movie so that it doesn't show up in iTunes ... and yet leave the file untouched on your hard drive. Such was the case here. iTunes didn't show me that the file was there, but it remained on my hard drive nonetheless.

6.6 GB
I discovered that I have 6.6 GB of mobile applications. Whoa! More to the point, just two apps take up nearly 1.4 GB. SplinterCell.ipa is a whopping 818.1 MB, and I can't remember the last time I even played it.

Similarly, I found some iMovie projects that weren't ever going to get turned into real home movies for use, and I deleted those too. Plus, there were two wedding videos that I had made for some friends. Since I had burned the movies to DVD, distributed them to the friends, and backed them up to a USB hard drive, I had no need for them on my regular MacBook hard drive. Bye bye.

I also noticed that I had 6.5 GB worth of mobile apps for my iPhone, iPad and iPod touches. What? I was floored. While most apps are relatively small, it turns out that some games are large. Tom Clancy's "Splinter Cell Conviction" app, for example, is a whopping 818.1 MB. "Infinity Blade" is 574.5. In fact, I had 10 apps that I don't use much any longer that were all over 150 MB each. If I were syncing with a space-hungry MacBook Air, I'd delete them outright. As it were, I left them -- for now, at least.

I also noticed that the iTunes Extras that came with the Pixar movie "Up" take up an astounding 1.3 GB of space on my hard drive. Since I have never bothered to even view these extras, they were ripe for deletion. The file name was "Up - iTunes Extras.ite." If you right click, you can have DaisyDisk show you the file in your finder so you can directly delete it if you want, from the finder and not through DaisyDisk (nice feature, this).

When I looked at the file, the size was "--": not shown. Basically, if it were not for DaisyDisk, I'd have no idea how much disk space iTunes Extra files take up. Ultimately, I haven't deleted it yet, but only because I'm not sure how it's tied to the movie "Up." If I delete it, will I mess up how the movie is played? Probably not, and when I have a dire need for space, I'll experiment.

Meanwhile, I was also reminded that I have two versions of "Up," the HD version (3.35 GB) and a standard definition version (1.47 GB). As old iPod touches die, there will eventually be no mobile device that I own that could not play "Up" in the HD mode. So I could save another 1.47 GB by ditching the standard def version.

All-in-All, Not a Bad Investment

When it's all said and done, savvy Mac users can find most big files manually themselves, as long as they have a little patience and understand the Mac OS X file system well enough. Still, I did find some rogue .PDF files that were stupidly large, so it was nice to catch those and remove them forever.

So who is DaisyDisk for? It's for anyone who has a full hard drive and isn't able to upgrade it any time soon. Oh, plus it's for people like me who get irritated at files they don't need and desperately want them gone forever. At $19.99, the price seems a bit steep, even for me. At $9.99, I wouldn't have thought twice about its value.

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