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Spring cleaning for your Mac: How to consolidate files and remove duplicates

Glenn Fleishman | March 30, 2015
This week we tackle some of your storage questions, including consolidating, de-duplication, and management.

This week we tackle some of your storage questions, including consolidating, de-duplication, and management.

Too many drives

Reader Jon writes that he has a pile of partly full external USB drives formatted for use with Windows that he almost always mounts on a Mac, and expects there is a lot of duplication among the different drives he's using.

I need some guidance on the best approach to consolidating all of the data down to one drive, best disk file system recommendations, parsing through the data for duplicates and deleting it, and then trying somehow, magically, organize, filter or quickly search all of the content.

Let's take these in order, and the recommendations will work for any assemblage of drives, Mac HFS+ or Windows formatted.

Consolidating: The easiest way to consolidate would be the tedious but necessary task of copying everything on to a single drive. As astounding as it sounds, you can purchase a 5TB (yes, that's five whole terabytes) external USB 3.0-connected Seagate drive for $129 (Amazon) right this moment if you need that much storage. We live in astonishing times.

To keep drives' content distinct, I recommend dragging the entire mounted drive volume into the new disk. This will create a folder with the entire contents. You should name those descriptively, if they aren't already, so you know to which drive they correspond. (Later, erase your old USB drives, and donate them to a charity if you no longer need them!)

File system: Given that you're dealing with Windows files, NTFS is likely the best format to standardize on. You can store OS X files on there just fine, and you'll still be able to mount the drive on a Windows system.

Removing duplicates: You have a variety of software that finds and removes duplicates to choose from, all of which analyzes the file — it doesn't rely on the file name or other information. Only byte-identical files are matched as duplicates. After finding copies, you can choose how or if to remove overlaps. We reviewedDuplicate Detective ($3) and reviewedGemini ($10). They have slightly different features.

I just finished a review of WhatSize ($30), which includes de-duplication as part of its toolkit, and allows "hard linking," a Unix method of making multiple file-system links to one set of data, reducing storage usage without effectively deleting the point that a file existed at in the original folder structure.

Organize, filter, and search: Organizing is an idiosyncratic task, as you have to have a goal as to how you're sorting files. I've largely given up file sorting into folders, relying instead on Spotlight. In a 2013 feature, we asked several Mac experts about how they organized files, and they gave a variety of answers and software recommendations.


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