Laptops are miracles of modern miniaturization. Unfortunately, this tendency to make things smaller also applies to the system drive.
Even inexpensive laptops these days have SSDs, and since SSDs cost a lot more than conventional hard drives (and take up more valuable space inside the laptop case), manufacturers PCs have a strong incentive to reduce the price. by offering options with smaller SSDs.
It’s a false economy. That’s why I’ve always recommended choosing the largest storage option you can afford. You’ll probably regret this decision if you’re trying to save a few bucks by skimping on the system drive.
So what do you do if you have an SSD that’s too small for comfort? Ask yourself three questions to decide which option is best.
Can I move files to the cloud?
The easiest quick fix is to move as many data files as possible to the cloud, using on-demand options such as those available at OneDrive and drop box. (OneDrive calls this feature Files on demand; Dropbox calls it Online only, and only offers it for paid plans.) Using this feature allows you to move all your data files to the cloud while seeing them in File Explorer or Mac Finder. Download only the files you need and keep everything else online, where it’s available when you need it but doesn’t use up storage space.
This option works best if you have at least 128 GB of storage on your system drive. On budget systems with 64 GB of storage, this strategy can still lead to times when the available storage space is too tight for comfort.
Can I upgrade the player?
In general, laptops aren’t designed to be upgradeable, which means you’ll need expert help and the sure hands of a Swiss watchmaker just to open the case. And even then, you may find that the system drive is soldered in place and cannot be replaced.
But it’s worth checking your laptop model to be sure. Microsoft Surface Pro 8 and Surface Pro X, for example, have a nifty little pop-up door that lets you replace the system drive. (This option is also available on Surface Pro 7 models sold through commercial channels.) Some business-class models from other OEMs have system drives that can be replaced if you’re willing to disassemble the laptop to access to the drive slot (some models even have a second drive slot, allowing you to expand storage without losing your existing drive).
Replacement SSDs can be surprisingly inexpensive. Just make sure you have a drive compatible with your system. (Some even come with backup software that lets you transfer the contents of your current drive to the new one.)
I have successfully upgraded the drive on Dell laptops which only required removing a few screws at the bottom of the system to access the drive slots. I’ve also seen systems that required removing the keyboard and disconnecting several internal components to access the drive bay, which is a much more difficult task.
You will need to find your laptop’s service manual to see if extending is an option. YouTube videos from other owners of the same model as yours may also be helpful. If you’re the do-it-yourself type, it’s worth checking out.
Is an external option sufficient?
If the cloud is not practical and an upgrade is not possible, external storage can be a useful alternative strategy.
Does your system have a slot for an SD or MicroSD card? You can add hundreds of gigabytes of storage for a pretty low price. This form factor is too slow to run applications, but is ideal for storing digital media and other data files. And it’s extremely portable.
If you have a fast USB port (USB 3.0 or USB 3.1, which are now known as USB 3.2 Gen 1 and Gen 2, respectively), an external SSD can be a useful addition. This option can be quite fast for running programs; you can even install and run virtual machines from an external drive, like I do with an external SSD on a Thunderbolt port.
The downside is that this option makes your laptop considerably less portable. But if you mainly use your laptop at a desk, you can always connect an external SSD like the Crucial X6 Where Samsung T7. These drives aren’t terribly expensive, and they’re fast enough to handle just about any task you throw at them.