For SSD recommendations, click here to visit the Best SSDs (Solid State Drives) For Your Money article.

To briefly put things into context

Hardware Evolution: Upgrading from hard drives to Solid State Drives (SSDs)

We’re at an interesting point in computer history where the computer industry is upgrading storage solution for computers by moving away from mechanical hard disk drives (HDDs) and towards Solid State Drives (SSDs).

On the left, a Solid State Drive, with its 10 memory chips visible at the bottom. On the right, a mechanical hard drive, with its platter visible at the top.

On the left, a Solid State Drive, with its 10 memory chips visible at the bottom. On the right, a mechanical hard drive, with its rotating platter visible at the top.

Why choose a SSD over a hard drive?

Compared to hard drives, SSDs offer much higher performance. How much higher?

Enough to offer you a better computer experience because it responds to your inputs much more quickly. Programs launch far more quickly, the Operating System starts in seconds and resumes from sleep instantaneously.

See the SSD FAQ for more details on SSDs.

They also offer lower power consumption (longer battery life), less noise, no vibration, smaller physical size (smaller computers), higher reliability and higher resistance to shocks.

Simply put, I cannot see any reason nowadays to get a computer with a hard drive, other than a lower cost. That lower cost comes at the price of all the benefits that I just listed.

Samsung 850 EVO

The Samsung 850 EVO, a popular 2.5″ SSD, available in 120GB, 250GB, 500GB and 1TB variants.

The two main issues with SSDs:

1. Smaller available storage capacities:
As of June 2015, most SSDs have a storage capacity of 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB.

Need more than 1TB? Right now you’ll need multiple SSDs, which is not as ideal as using a single drive.

There are 2TB SSDs coming to the market soon.

This is less storage capacity than computers with hard drives in them, with storage capacities of 500GB, 750GB, 1, 2+TB commonly found in desktop and laptop computers.

In an ideal world, you’d get a computer with one (enough for most users) or even several 1TB SSD drives. That brings us to the second problem.

2. Higher price per GB:

The Sandisk Ultra II 960GB is one of the SSDs with the lowest price per GB.

The Sandisk Ultra II 960GB is one of the SSDs with the lowest price per GB.

1TB SSD: 0.33$/GB
1TB SSDs start at $330, or $0.33 per GB. The price per GB goes up with smaller capacities such as 128GB or 256GB though, due to the way SSDs are manufactured.

See The Best SSDs For Your Money article for SSDs that I recommend and their prices.

1TB Hard Drive: $0.045/GB
A 1TB hard drive can be found for $45 or $0.045 per GB. Roughly 8 times less than a 1TB SSD.  2TB and 3TB hard drives cost even less per GB!

See The Best Internal 2.5″ and 3.5″ Hard Drives (HDD) For Your Money article to see the hard drives that I recommend and their prices.

SSDs are still expensive, so that’s why you’ll find computers and SSDs with lower capacities such as 32GB, 64GB, 128GB, 256GB and 512GB in order to lower the cost of the computer or of the SSD if you buy it separately. That’s also why hard drives are still found in some computers: They offer higher storage capacity at a lower price.

Which brings us to the main question:

‘How much storage capacity do I need for my SSD so that I pay only as much as I need to?’

5 Questions to help you answer this question:

1. Will this be your only drive for storage?

If it is, you’ll definitely need more storage space than if you have other drives to store your data on. Especially in a laptop or mobile computer, where upgrading your SSD is either impossible (soldered on) or time-consuming.

2. Do you mind clearing out files that you don’t need?

If you like to use your PC without worrying about doing clean-ups to clear some space on your drive, get a SSD with a larger capacity then. If you don’t mind taking time to clean up your drive now and then, you might be able to get by with a smaller, less expensive SSD.

3. Are your storage needs going to increase over the years?
(The answer here is yes, most likely)

You can keep using your SSD for 5-10+ years! Your storage needs will likely increase in that span of time, seeing as files are getting larger: Programs and games require more space to be installed, video quality is increasing and so are files size. Photos will keep increasing in Megapixels (MP), increasing their files size too.  Higher-quality MP3 audio files and lossless audio require quite a bit of space too, especially with a large music collection.

As the years go by, your collection of music, videos (TV/movies) and photos is also likely to grow.

Simply put, your storage needs will likely increase over time.

Do yourself a favor and think about getting a drive that’s large enough to store your data for as long as you plan on using that drive. It’s wiser to spend a bit more now on a single drive than to spend more by buying a smaller drive now and another in the future when you need more storage space.

The Intel 750 SSD, the highest performance SSD currently available, thanks to the use of the NVMe protocol.

The Intel 750 SSD, the highest performance SSD currently available, thanks to the use of the NVMe protocol.

4. How much do you care about performance?

SSD with too small of a storage capacity + additional storage from other disk(s) or online storage: 
You could use a small SSD with an additional internal hard drive, an external drive, a NAS or online storage (cloud) to answer your storage needs, it’s not the best solution for performance.

All of these solutions will offer significantly lower performance, with lower throughput and higher latency, compared to your SSD. This is fine for long-term storage of files you don’t use often, like photos, videos and music. This will impact performance severely for files required by a program to run or files that you’re working on, in a way that’s unacceptable in my opinion.

Is that acceptable to you? If time is money, if you edit photos, work on videos (especially 1080p or 4K!), work with heavy files or demanding programs or if you have no patience for computers like I do, having all your files on a high-performance SSD storage drive is ideal for consistent, high-performance all the time.

Want high-performance for everything that you do? Get a SSD with a larger capacity instead of a smaller SSD with another lower performance drive.

If you don’t mind the performance hit for files located on another drive, you can save some space on your SSD by moving Windows libraries (Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos) default location to another drive.

One of our forums members, mwhals, posted a great tutorial on how to do so on the Hardware Revolution forums.

5. Do you mind searching and waiting to find where your files are? Do you remember where your files are?

If you have your files on several drives, you have to remember where they are if you need them for any reason. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like wasting time searching for files. My computer should work for me, not the other way around!

A good classification system will alleviate this issue, but it’s still more simple to have only a single drive to search through than to search through multiple drives.

Having a single SSD with enough storage capacity will make your life easier when searching for files: One disk to search through and higher performance, so you’ll find your files more quickly too!

The Samsung 850 EVO, in a mSATA form factor, commonly found in modern laptops.

The Samsung 850 EVO SSD, in a mSATA form factor, usually found in modern laptops.

4 Things to also keep in mind:

1. Performance scales up with higher storage capacity with the same model:

A 500GB Samsung 850 EVO offers higher performance than its 250GB variant. The difference in performance between the 120GB and 250GB models is larger than the difference in performance between the 250GB and 500GB models, even more so than the difference in performance between the 500GB and 1TB models.

So if you want even higher performance, you’ll be better served by an higher capacity SSD.

2. Do you want to lose performance?

Of course not, right? To keep your SSD running at its peak performance, I recommend leaving 10-15% of its capacity unused. This will leave enough space for your drive to write/read data sequentially when possible, instead of having to write/read in various locations, which greatly reduces performance.

3. Your OS, games and your programs will take some space

Windows 7, 8.1 and 10 require 20GB. Whichever programs you’ll install can easily take 20GB to 80GB in total. Somes games require 50GB!

Mac OS X Yosemite requires 16GB for only the default apps plus one or two of your own favorites. If you want to test Yosemite with a full complement of apps, at least 40 GB to 100 GB of available space for a clean install of Yosemite is recommended.

4. GB vs GiB

Example of a 256GB SSD with 238GiB available under Windows 7.

An example of a 256GB SSD with 238GiB available under Windows 7.

Hard drives and SSDs are sold with a storage capacity measured in GB. Windows will show your SSD capacity in GiB, a slightly different unit of measure.

For a detailed explanation, read this article.

Simply put 1GB = 0.931323 GiB

– A 128GB SSD will have 119GiB available  under Windows.
– 256GB = 238GiB
– 512GB = 477GiB
– 1024GB = 954GiB

These are rough estimates, actual numbers may vary.

Common SSD storage capacities and what you can do with them:

  • 30/32GB: Install the OS and a few lightweight programs. Badly limited locally, you’ll have to rely on streaming, online storage and/or another (external?) drive.
  • 60/64GB: Install the OS and a few programs or games with some local music. Very limited locally, you’ll must like will have to rely on streaming, online storage and/or another (external?) drive.
  • 120/128GB: Install the OS and some programs/games with some local music. Limited storage locally, online storage or another drive for additional storage is usually a must.
  • 250/256GB: Install the OS, some programs, some games, some music and some TV shows/movies. Not ideal if you have a lot of media, especially in high resolution. Not ideal for gamers.
  • 500/512GB: Install many programs, games, your music collection and some TV shows/movies. Another drive for additional storage is necessary if you have a lot of music, pictures, video and/or games.
  • 1TB: Best option if your SSD is your only drive and have many programs, games, a music collection and HD TV shows/movies. Another drive for additional storage may be necessary if you have a lot of music, pictures, video and/or games.
The Crucial BX100, the SSD with the lowest power consumption. Ideal for laptops where you want every minute of battery life that you can get.

The Crucial BX100, the SSD with the lowest power consumption. Ideal for laptops where you want every minute of battery life that you can get.

My storage capacity recommendations:

256GB would be fine that I’d recommend if you intend to use the SSD as your main drive don’t have many large files to store and/or are fine with a secondary drive or online storage for other files.
– 512GB is a better choice, you won’t have to worry nearly as much about running out of space, nor worry as much about requiring a secondary drive and you’ll get higher performance. Minimum that I’d recommend for gamers who like to have a lot of games installed.
1TB is ideal. This will ensure that most of you won’t run out of space, even in many years.

‘OK, I know how much storage capacity I need for my SSD!’

Do you have any recommendations for which SSD to buy?

Of course. Click here to see our article on The Best SSDs For Your Money!

Learn from my experience using a 256GB SSD and a 1TB USB 3.0 external hard drive

I use a laptop as my main computer for work on Hardware Revolution, for my photography projects and media entertainment (connecting it to my HDTV).

Like most laptops, my laptop is limited to a single 2.5″ drive for storage. It is complemented by a USB 3.0 external drive, internal network storage in my office and online storage (my servers, Dropbox, Flickr, etc.).

The Crucial M4 256GB, the SSD that I'm using in my laptop.

The Crucial M4 256GB, the SSD that I’m using in my laptop.

In my laptop, I have a 256GB SSD. I have 238GiB that I can put to use.
– Windows uses 25.1GiB.
– Programs use 17.9GiB.
– Between the three accounts I have, the Users folders (music, photos, downloads) use 120GiB.
– Games and other files take about 47.6GiB

The SSD in my laptop has 27.4GiB of free space left, slightly more than 10%. I try to keep at least 25GB free for optimal performance.

I’m almost out of space that I want to use.

I’m limited on space, but I’m a bit due for a clean-up and it’s just enough for me to work with comfortably.

You see, a lot of the storage space that I use is for photos that I post-process in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, with my 24MP digital camera RAW files that take 25MB each. 40 pictures take 1GB, 400 pictures take 10GB. So it adds up very quickly.

As I process my pictures, I delete the pictures that I have no use for. When I’m done processing the pictures, I move them to my USB 3.0 external 1TB hard drive for long-term storage. I’m backlogged in my photoshoots, so I have a lot of pictures on my computer right now waiting to be processed or transferred to the external drive, hence why I’m a bit tight on space at the moment.

That said, my movies/TV shows are either on DVDs or on the external drive. Some of my music too. I just don’t have the space on my SSD to store them all locally. So I have to plug my external drive when I want to access those files.

This is not an ideal solution, but it was the compromise that I made back when I bought my 256GB SSD a few years ago. It was $220 for 256GB or over $400 for 512GB. I had just enough budget to buy a 256GB SSD at that time, not a 512GB.

Nowadays, I could get a 512GB model for that price and I would. 512GB would let have more pictures, my full collection of music and some movies/TV shows.

1TB would be perfect; I wouldn’t have to worry about running out of space, I would have all my pictures, music and videos on a single drive and wouldn’t need to transfer files on a regular basis.

Had I known back then when I know now, I would have saved for a bit longer and would have gotten the 512GB model instead. Today I’m saving to upgrade straight to 1TB and stop worrying about running out of space for a long time.

Conclusion

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this article and that it provided valuable information to you. If you have a question, please leave a comment below this article and I’ll (or other people will) reply to you.