Is 256GB Enough Storage for a MacBook Pro?

Now that Apple has standardized on fast flash-based SSD drives, Mac lovers must pay attention to the amount of storage they need before they buy a new MacBook Pro or MacBook Air. The trouble is, while built-in SSD drives in MacBooks provide awesome performance, they are stingy on storage.

New laptops — the problem isn’t limited to Apple — now come with 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB flash-based SSD drives as standard configurations. And many of these laptops are not easy to upgrade in the future like older hard drives used to be.

Here is how to tell if 256GB is enough storage for you.

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Do you take a lot of photos or video?

If you are a shutterbug — or have an iPhone 6 or iPhone 7 — and you can imagine yourself taking a lot of photos and video that you want to keep forever on your MacBook, you should try to figure out how much storage your current photos and videos take up.

If you don’t have much right now, 256GB will likely be plenty of storage for you for the foreseeable future.

If you have a lot of photos like me — I have more than 20,000 photos and videos in my iPhoto library, which takes up more than 100GB of space — then 256GB of storage on a MacBook Pro is flirting with danger. Why? I also have dozens of movies and some TV shows that I like to keep downloaded and handy directly on my MacBook Pro.

Of course, my habits are changing and so are the habits of others — for instance, I’m starting to stream more videos from Netflix and Amazon Prime Video instead of buying and downloading them. If you’re streaming content instead of buying it, 256GB is probably sufficient.

Storage Eaters: Movies and TV Shows

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While I’m watching more streamed content, I still like to buy and own some shows and movies. Consequently, I have too much to store on my MacBook directly, so I’ve saved hundreds of gigabytes of space by moving some photos, home video, television shows, and movies to a fast external hard drive. I just move the stuff I want to save — but won’t access often — to the external hard drive. It’s a peace-of-mind thing, really. I could probably delete it all and still live happily.

Here’s another space-saving tidbit: If you have downloaded TV shows from Apple iTunes — or whole seasons of TV shows — you can safely delete these shows from your Mac. As long as you have your active Apple ID and iTunes account, Apple will know you bought those shows and provide you the ability to re-download them at will . . . or stream them to your Apple TV. I’ve personally deleted episodes of Homeland, The Walking Dead, Life, Firefly, and Castle with no ill effects. True Detective is still on there, though. I’ll be watching that series again soon, I’m sure.

Wild Card Storage

Personal photos and video, along with purchased movies and TV shows, are the biggest storage culprits for most people. If you get a handle on these files, you’ll know if 256GB is enough.

But, there are a few wild cards. If you download a lot of apps for multiple iOS devices in your family, and these family members are all downloading and storing large multi-media book files, videos, and iOS games (the graphically rich games can blow past 1GB easily these days) you can generate a surprising amount of iOS device backup storage and a large iTunes app library. Again, there are ways to delete and trim this storage, but it’s something to be aware of.

Mac gamers can start eating up storage fast, but gamers are usually more in tune with their special needs.

If you get into creating and editing movies — say by generating a lot of footage with a GoPro or a waterproof rugged camera — your smartest move will be to invest in a fast external hard drive and store much of your video on it.

As for standard documents, most Microsoft Office, word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations take up very little storage space on a typical laptop — even for workaholics.

How to Choose the Right Mac System

All in all, 256GB is plenty of room for most every Mac lover . . . unless you also have a large iPhoto library and take a lot of photos and video — and you know that you will continue to take a lot of photos and video. If this is the case, your decision gets a bit more complicated. You can:

  • Choose a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air with 512GB of storage (about a $300 upgrade)
  • Choose an iMac, which comes with a 500GB hard drive or more
  • Choose an external drive or high-capacity thumb drive to go with a MacBook
  • Choose an iMac for the heavy-lifting at home and get a MacBook Air or iPad for on-the-go computing

For instance, you can get a 21.5-inch iMac with 1TB of storage as well as an iPad for less than the cost of a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. Or you could get a Mac mini for local home storage use and get a MacBook Air for mobile. If you’re in a family situation, the iMac method is a good plan. For most individuals, I tend to recommend just getting a versatile 13-inch MacBook Pro or 15-inch if your budget allows it.

The last option is to offload your personal photos to a cloud-based online storage service, but if you have a lot of photos, you’ll be paying for it each month in installments for years (which is why I like onboard storage and external drives).

Special Note: If you already have a newer MacBook without enough storage, you still have two good storage upgrade options, both of which use tiny flash-based drives in the shape of camera memory cards. They plug into the SDXC card slot on your Mac. For all intents and purposes, the Transcend JetDrive Lite acts like a little USB thumb drive — but it fits flush into the SDXC card slot instead. The TarDisk Pear system, on the other hand, also uses the SDXC card slot but it combines with your built-in storage to form a single “fused” drive. If you want a near-permanent, easy solution, the TarDisk Pear system might be your best bet.


About the author

Chris Maxcer

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I've been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and I still remember the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. I'm a big fan of elegant gear and great tech, but there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. Online I like to call out cool stuff on Wicked Cool Bite and blog with my buddies at Man Makes Fire. To catch me, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at the url of this site.