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Issue #602: February 3-9, 2019

Q: We have a tower system, running Windows 10. I used to be quite proficient in computers, but this error message is driving me nuts! Quite frequently, and throughout the day, there will be an ‘error’ message stating that Drive F: is running low on space. The odd thing is, we have NO drive F!  When I open up File Explorer, it shows a drive F (as a USB device) with nothing on it. I cannot delete the fictitious drive F, or take it off my File Explorer. Norton and other diagnostics state there is nothing wrong with the ‘drive’ and that is it empty. How do I get rid of the error message, and/or that drive!

– Patricia S.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A: I have an idea, but I’m going to have to speculate about what I think is going on here. If I’m wrong, the rest of my solution for you may quickly fall apart.

The first thing to know is that old disk adage that “deleted” doesn’t really mean “deleted”.  Unless you’ve told Windows not to use it, there is our friend, “Recycle Bin” to consider.  When you delete files, all that really happens is that the files are digitally relocated to that oft-forgotten corner of your computer.  The files are still there, and are still using up space on your computer.  Even when you tell Windows to empty the Recycle Bin, it doesn’t actually go and delete all of the data that comprised the files.  What actually happens is that each file’s directory entry is removed, and all of the disk space that was occupied by the file is re-marked from “in-use” to “free”.  The net result is that, until something else is written to the same physical space, all of that data is actually still intact on the disk.  And yes, a Geek with the right tools can easily recover some or all of such deleted files. 

Flash drives work in a similar manner.  On any given flash drive one can find, at a minimum, three hidden files that assist the drive to do its job.  One of these is named “.Trashes”, and it is the flash drive’s equivalent of the Recycle Bin.  Under normal circumstances, this folder is automatically cleaned out, but it is possible for it to accumulate so much deleted file information that the drive runs low on space.  Worse, there’s no way to directly access the files in .Trashes.  You actually have to use Windows Recycle Bin function to delete them.

Now, you stated that you don’t have a drive F, but you also said that Norton and other diagnostics claim there’s nothing wrong with it.  I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you’re sure this isn’t something like your system’s restore partition, or some other hidden volume on your PC.  Therefore, I submit that there must be “something” there that appears to Windows as a drive, and moreover, a drive that’s running out of space.  I’ve only ever seen one thing manifest itself like this, and that is a generic memory card reader.  This is one of those devices that has various slots into which you can insert virtually any type of flash device ever invented, and there are many: CompactFlash, MMC, xD, SD, MicroSD, and Memory Stick to name a few.  These devices usually have at least 3 slots on them to accommodate different physical cards.  The really good ones do not allocate a drive letter until you insert media.  The not-so-good ones allocate drive letters for each slot when Windows initializes.  That leaves you with a bunch of drive letters in your File Explorer that you can’t access unless you insert media into the corresponding slots; kind of like a CD-ROM drive with no disk in it.  I think that’s what’s happening to you.  Even though you didn’t explicitly tell me that you have such a reader on your system, it fits with all you’ve told me, right down to the fact that it’s a USB device, since most of these readers connect internally via a PC’s USB hub.

What to do about the problem?  Well, if this is indeed a media reader, you could simply disable it in the Device Manager.  Or, you could insert media into whatever slot is drive F:.  A more strong-arm approach would be to just disable the low-space message altogether.  I don’t really recommend that, since there’s no way to do it on a per-drive basis; you must disable it for all drives.  That could leave you in a bind if you accidentally overflow the capacity of your main drive.  If you want to do this anyway, there are plenty of how-tos online that will guide you through the process.  Just Google “Disable low disk space warning”.

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