How Much Storage Do I Need on My Laptop?

How Much Storage Do I Need on My Laptop

Purchasing a laptop can be a huge investment.  Two questions that are sure to be swirling through your mind as you wade into the laptop market are: how much storage do I need on my laptop? And should I go with an MHD or SSD? The latest notebooks like the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 come with either 128GB, 256GB, 512GB and even 1TB of storage. How much you need depends. In this guide, we’ll show you how to choose a laptop based on storage capacity and take you through the different types of laptop hard drives. Let’s dive right in!

Advertised Storage is Not Actual Storage Capacity

The most important thing to know is that in spite of how much the advertised storage capacity a laptop is said to come with, the actual amount of usable storage is always less if the system comes preinstalled with an operating system. For instance, Windows 10 takes up about 15GB of space.

With this in mind, we generally recommend a laptop that offers a 256GB storage capacity. This should be enough room for most use cases. If you’re a power user with a bunch of locally stored photos, videos, music or games, 512GB will give you extra breathing room.

For a more accurate idea of how much storage you need, check to see how much storage you’re using on your current device. On a PC, click the Start button, then select File Explorer and select This PC.

Using a disk size calculator and subtracting an extra 20GB for the OS is another way to get a good estimate of actual storage space for your new laptop.

Depending on what you use your system for, you can save money on your laptop by choosing one that offers a 128GB storage capacity. And if you find you need more, you could always pick up an external drive (more about this later). Cloud storage can also go a long way to offset the amount of local storage you need.

RELATED: You can increase storage space by deleting useless apps!

Storage Capacity Guide

No two users are the same. That’s why we’ve taken the liberty to break use cases down into light, medium and heavy to help you decide how much storage you need for your laptop:

TYPE OF USER
USE CASE
LIGHTDocuments, a few music files, and a handful of images won’t require any more than 250 to 500GB of space.
MEDIUMSaving lots of high-quality pictures, many higher-quality music files, HD movies tv shows, and midrange games will require 250GB for just one of these activities and 500GB if you indulge in all of them.
HEAVYIf you only collect the latest content-heavy AAA games, or just want to stock a library full of HD quality movies and tv series, you can get away with only 500GB.  If you do both, you’ll want a storage drive with at least 1TB of space. 

How Much Storage Do I Need on My Laptop?

You may not need as much as you think. 

The typical user only needs 256GB of space. The smallest common SSD is 128GB. This is enough to easily accommodate Windows 10–which only takes up 20GB of space–and many Microsoft Office apps. But this drive size fills up quickly and performance starts to suffer when your drive is around 75% full. Generally, we recommend 512GB if you play games or work with a lot of media files.   

In this section, we’ll kick things off by answering some of your more burning questions about how much storage you need for specific use cases.

How Much Storage Do I Need on My Laptop for College?

Once upon a time, the rule used to be, buy as much storage as you can afford. But now we’re living in a cloud-powered world. Using streaming services like Spotify and Netflix will lessen your dependence on local storage. Documents like the papers you’ll be writing require very little space. If you can store large files like movies and such on a flash drive or external hard drive. Then 128GB should be enough and 256GB is becoming cheaper. If you’ll be creating work on large files, you may want to spring for a laptop that offers 1TB of on-board storage, though 512GB is a good minimum to see you through four years of assignments and programs.

How Much Storage Do I Need on My Laptop for Gaming?

Enough so you don’t keep crashing in the middle of intense missions as you play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Different games have different storage requirements. Modern AAA games take up at least 25GB with some requiring at least 100GB of free space beneath which they won’t be able to run. And you’re bound to store other multimedia files like music, movies and video which will leave much less storage for your games.

You’ll be well advised to get a laptop that offers at least 512GB SSD. And if it also comes with a 1TB MHD, all the better. 500GB is practical for newbie and casual gamers as they tend to have a smaller stream library. But as you progress, you’ll find that 1TB is popular for a reason. It’s a lot of room. And you’ll be able to store a considerable number of games. Plus, 1TB SSDs are becoming quite affordable.

Seagate Expansion SSD 1TB Solid State Drive – USB 3.0 for PC, Laptop and Mac, 3-Year Rescue Service (STJD1000400) , Black
  • Expands SSD is a mini USB 3.0 SSD is featuring a lightweight, minimalist design for busy days and bustling commutes
  • High-speed, portable solid state drive is perfect for streaming stored videos directly to the laptop, scrolling seamlessly through photos, and backing up content on the go
  • This external drive includes a USB cable that works seamlessly with Windows and Mac laptops (purchase adapter separately for use with USB-C computers. Reformatting may be required for use with time machine).
  • Enjoy long-term peace of mind with the included 3 year limited warranty and 3 year rescue services

Last update on 2021-10-13 at 09:47 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Is 512GB a Lot of Storage for a Laptop?

If you can afford it, a laptop boasting 512GB of space is a fantastic choice that will keep you from worrying about running out of storage space. Not only is it a great for future-proofing your investment. But it also helps eek out a higher degree of performance from your device. If you’re a gamer, or you have a colossal music collection or you edit video files and photos, you won’t regret this option. Typically, this will add about 150 to $250 to the cost of your laptop.

Is 128GB Enough for a Laptop?

Laptops that come with an SSD usually have at least a 128GB capacity which is the bare minimum. If you’re a light user, it’s plenty of space for all your programs and a decent amount of data. But if you’re a user with a library of demanding games or a huge media collection. The lack of on-board storage may become a hassle. If your budget doesn’t have room for more storage space, you can get around this by storing some files in the cloud or adding an external hard drive. Several gaming and workstation laptops offer both a fast SSD and a spacious mechanical hard drive for less than the cost of a similar laptop with a large capacity SSD.  In our opinion, the increase in speed is worth the trade off in lack of space.

3 Storage Types for Laptops

When anyone talks about permanent storage, what they mean is non-volatile storage solutions, which is completely different from RAM–a type of volatile storage. Below are the three main types of volatile storage you’re sure to find in laptops along with pros and cons of each.

SSD (Solid-State Drive)

SSD technology has been around for years. What makes it “solid-state” is that unlike mechanical hard drives, there are no moving parts. On the base level, an SSD is a memory chip on a circuit board. It uses flash memory like a thumb drive. These NAND chips use the power of semiconductors to flip arrays into different states of electric charge to store information. The in/out interface is usually in the form of SATA or PCIe (more on this later) to feed data and transfer power.

Pros

  1. Even a slow SSD will give you a speedier experience than an MHD; booting up and loading apps is fast.  But don’t just take our word for it
  2. No moving parts means you can enjoy relative stability that lasts for years since there’s nothing to damage or wear out as your laptop gets jostled around.
  3. This is huge even if you don’t travel because laptops take a beating over time; the information in your drive will be less affected by impacts.
  4. SSDs consume a fraction of the power of MHDs. No moving parts means no heat is generated so you don’t get that typical laptop burn from heat buildup when you sit it on your lap and your laptop will last longer from a single charge. 
  5. Unlike MHDs, there’s no fragmentation. So, that’s one less point of upkeep you have to do for the health of your laptop each month. 
  6. If mobility is of importance to you, SSDs make thinner/lighter laptops possible. 
  7. Lower failure rate.  Features like error correcting code (ECC) prevent the SSD from incurring as many malfunctions as an MHD. 

Cons

  1. Modern SSD with the newer NAND flash chips is more expensive by capacity compared to traditional hard drives–but costs are becoming more competitive.
  2. SSDs are not without their lifespan limitation.

The Myth About Flash Storage

Many inexpensive systems like Chromebooks claim to have an SSD. But don’t be fooled. Such devices use an eMMC (Embedded Multimedia Card) interface, which is a flash memory card like an SD card or USB stick. They’re made to be cheap and usually have a 32 to 64GB capacity. While slower than ab MHD, this storage solution offers increased durability and the energy-efficiency of a real SSD. But not the performance, which is the clear distinction. While the transfer rate of systems supported by this type of storage is only 37.8 MBps, they can net on all-day battery runtime of 8-hours.

MHD (Mechanical Hard Drive)

Like running water, we take digital storage for granted. The oldest and most common form of permanent laptop storage is the mechanical hard drive (MHD). MHDs have been around for a long time because of their ability to store data cheaply.

The design was first introduced by IBM in 1956. Like a record player, a metal arm called an “Actuator” arm stretches across a metal disk called platter(s) with a tip called a “Head” that hovers just nanometers above the platter. The platter spins at 5,400 to 7,200 rotations per minute (RPM). Only instead of playing music by feeling the grooves in the record, it reads/writes data.

On a spec sheet, they’re referred to by their capacity and rotational speed.  In our observation, disk storage with larger capacities tend to perform better than smaller ones.  And faster drives are usually more responsive than slower ones (although, they tend to consume more power).

Data on an MHD is Stored by Magnets

If you move the arm of a record player to a specific spot on a record, you get a specific song.  Similarly, when the Actuator arm of an MHD moves to a specific spot on the platter, it’ll read a specific chunk of data. The armature hovering above the spinning platter(s) reads and writes data by changing the magnetic field of the spinning platter(s); the faster the platter(s) spin, the faster the laptop will be. 

The most common MHD size for a laptop is 2.5-inches. Why does this matter? Since the size is standardized, repairs and replacements are easy (we’ll get into more about this in a moment).

Pros

  1. One reason for the popularity of MHDs is their large capacity. You can get them with 160GB to 2TB of space with the most common in laptops between 500GB and 1TB.
  2. Even with the price of SSDs coming down, storage is still cheaper on an MHD. If you don’t want to spend that much money on your laptop, this is the way to go.
  3. These are still the most common form of storage in laptops. 

Cons

  1. Due to the nature of an MHD, if a magnet should come in contact with your laptop. You stand the chance of either corrupting the information on the hard drive or losing it all together.
  2. The actuator arm has to move to a specific spot on the platter which means retrieving information can be slow (especially depending on the quality of the CPU).
  3. Moving parts produce heat. Heat is no good for a laptop. 
  4. Due to all their moving parts, MHDs are the storage solution most prone to failure. The result is often the loss of all your saved information.

Mechanical Hard Drive List

But there’s a catch: all though MHDs offer more space for less money, even the best hard disk storage type won’t be as fast as an SSD.  MHDs are the type of storage most prone to data loss; if you drop your laptop, you’ll get those spinning disks out of whack and there goes all your info.

However, if you have a lot of data to store or backup, they’re definitely worth looking at.  The two most important things to think about here are: capacity and speed.  Here’s our list of the best 3 hard drive brands to consider for your new laptop. 

Toshiba

The name may not be popular for laptops anymore, but products like its X300 line of hard drives is a good reason why Toshiba is still a big name in the world of computers.  These are high-capacity drives that all spin at a fast 7,200 RPM to deliver great gigabyte-to-dollar value. 

Seagate

This is our choice for the best all-around hard drives; they also offer a great ratio of gigabyte per dollar.  The BarraCuda lineup for instance offers as much as 2TB of space with 7,200RPM platters.

Western Digital Technologies

Known as WD, these are simply the best hard drives for gamers who like to take things old school with a hard disk drive.  The platters on the VelociRaptor series spin at an unheard of 10,000RPMs to launch and load games quickly!  The best part, you can get up to a 1TB capacity to hold them all.

SSHD (Solid-State Hybrid Drive)

SSHD is a marketing term first coined by Seagate. We feel that this is the best type of data storage solution for spend too much on storage – a laptop with a 2TB MHD and an 8GB SSD will be cheaper than a similar system boasting a 256GB SSD.

Some gaming laptops come with both an SSD for key application and an MHD for large data storage. You won’t find this storage solution on most consumer and business notebooks because of their thin design.

A laptop with a hybrid drive is 5-25% cheaper than one with a full solid-state drive. The reason is because of the more expensive NAND memory chips required to push an SSD. Furthermore, a hybrid drive is typically a single physical drive. If you get a laptop with a single drive bay, a hybrid storage drive will easily slide into it (more about drive bays and connectors in a moment). 

Smart Response Technology

The most common form of hybrid drives uses Intel Smart Response Technology. In a nutshell, it’s a caching mechanism that typically uses a 16GB to 64GB of solid-state memory to provide a boost to a larger rang of frequently used applications and provides the benefits of a large capacity MHD.

The two main configurations of a hybrid drive are: Dual-Drive Hybrid systems, and the eponymous Solid-State Hybrid system.

  • Dual-Drive Hybrid Systems:  In this system, a separate SSD and a separate MHD device is installed into the laptop.  Data placement optimization is performed either by the end user or automatically by the operating system through the creation of a hybrid logical device.  A good example is the Apple Fusion Drive.
  • Solid-State Hybrid Systems:  Here, the SSD and MHD are built into one unit.  Data placement optimization is performed entirely by the device in a self-optimized mode.  Or through placement “hints” provided by the operating system in host-hinted mode.  A good example is the Seagate SSHD.

SSHD Performance Compared to MHD and SSD

It’s important to keep in mind that performance is highly dependent on how you use your laptop. SSHD performance also depends on how much solid-state memory is used for the cache

Most SSHDs have 8GB of solid-state cache (which you can imagine fills up fast) requiring the purging of the cache by the system. Also, boot times can’t match a laptop with a full solid-state drive. But it’s significantly faster than one with just a mechanical hard drive. And while even the best hard drive system has lots of space, it won’t perform quite as well as one with an SSHD.

An SSHD offers a compromise between the extremes of a slow MHD and expensive SSD. It’s an easy and affordable way to moderately improve laptop performance without sacrificing storage capacity.

NOTE: We think an SSHD will reward for Power Users and Gamers or really anyone who uses the same files repeatedly.

Things to Keep in Mind About SSHD

  1. If you want to move a File to a different storage drive, you have to do it manually yourself. 
  2. Similarly, moving a Program to a different drive requires uninstalling and reinstalling it to the new location. 
  3. Also, you won’t notice the benefit of a laptop with hybrid storage compared to a mechanical hard drive immediately.  But, as the system learns which files should be cached, the speed will improve. 
  4. Just like any device that comes as a combination–if either the SSD or MHD stops working, the entire device fails. 
  5. That’s not all… data recovery on an SSHD tends to be complicated compared to just an SSD or just an MHD
  6. That’s not all… since this technology is relatively new, long-term reliability will be an unknown factor in your decision-making process. 

Drive Accessibility

If you purchase a laptop with an access panel to components like RAM, the CPU and the storage module, then this feature will become important come upgrade time. You’ll want to get an idea of what kind of drive bay and the size requirement for the laptop you’re considering.

MHD and SSD drive bays are typically 2.5-inches. You can also find them with the larger 9.5mm form factor, which has better performance and a larger capacity. Or the smaller 7mm variety to fit in the slender profile of thinner laptops. 

Hard Drive Connector Types

On top of the physical size limits of the storage drive, it would be useful to familiarize yourself with the type of interface in your laptop before making any upgrades. Why? Because the interface type of the storage unit has a significant impact on the performance of the laptop.

Hard drive connectors are just the in/out interface (how the hard drive is connected to the motherboard). They can be broadly divided into a few different options.

SATA III

Whether you’re talking about MHD or SSD, most hard drives use a SATA interface. On an SSD, the bandwidth is 4x more than an MHD. Serial ATA III works with both MHD and SSD store drives. They can handle a maximum bandwidth of about 600 megabytes per second (MBPS). This technology came out in 2009 as the final evolution of Serial ATA interface to bridge the gap for the traditional MHD and newer SSD technologies. Today, it’s a limiting factor for SSDs.

PCIe

Peripheral Component Interconnector Express connectors bypass SATA connections. It provides a short channel to the PCIe lanes in motherboards for a more direct flow of data. Because of this direct connection speeds are around 1GB per second. It’s an awesome technology. Expect the price of your laptop with a PCIe connection to reflect this.

M.2

Some systems use the mSATA or M.2 interface rather than a 2.5-inch hard drive. SSDs with this connection are smaller. But they don’t sacrifice storage capacity for size. They’re available in both SATA III and PCIe variants.

M.2 and 2.5-inch refer to the physical size, shape and connector on the drive. 2.5-inch SSDs are the most common. They’re the same shape and size as an MHD, which means they can pop into the same bays making it convenient to do upgrades. 

And since the modules are thin memory sticks that look like RAM DIMMs, they can also take up less space and pop into slots on the motherboard.

High performance laptops with a solid-state drive use the new M.2 cards with PCI Express (PCIe). The fastest SSD using the PCIe-NVMe standard can theoretically read and write up to 5x faster than the SATA interface. But if the spec sheet labels a drive as M.2 256GB SSD, and doesn’t mention PCIe, you can assume it has a SATA interface. It offers the same speed as a 2.5-inch SSD. Bottom line, as long as you can safely open the laptop and access the slot, you can upgrade an M.2 SSD.

NVMe

None-Volatile Memory Express connectors augment PCIe connections. Designed to solve the problems of SATA connections, NVMe is relatively new. This connection maximizes the number of requests sent to an SSD and makes it possible to receive requests from multiple processor cores at the same time.  They make SSDs more versatile, easier to upgrade, and generally faster than the PCIe connection alone. This will make your laptop even more expensive. NVMe come in both PCIe or M.2 formats.

NOTE: Not all M.2 connectors are created equal. Check benchmark reviews to see how the drive you want to get for your potential laptop performs against others so you can make the best-informed decision.

External Hard Drives

Why spend a lot of money on a laptop with a big storage drive at all when you can just as easily get an external drive? If budgetary constraints are a limiting factor to storage capacity. We recommend going for a laptop with enough storage to support the basic functions of your laptop (like 128GB). Then you can focus your money on other important areas of the system like RAM. External hard drives are relatively inexpensive. And you get the added benefit of protecting your library by keeping your information in more than one location.

Final Thoughts

Trying to visualize how much room you’ll need on your laptop can be tough. The right storage drive size depends on your needs and budget.  For our money, an SSD is the only storage type worth getting for its superior performance. Yes, a laptop with an SSD will typically be more expensive than one with an MHD. But as the price per gigabyte flattens against other hard drive types, we’re finding it increasingly difficult to recommend anything else. Even budget-oriented machines frequently come with SSDs! If you find that you need more storage than your budget allows, document storage software, cloud storage and external drives can provide additional space.