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Solid state drives are fast but expensive. And high capacity solid state drives very expensive, which is why many of us choose the bare minimum when we buy a MacBook. But here’s how you can add more memory.

Upgrade Your SSD

The most drastic option to expand your MacBook’s storage is to upgrade its SSD. Unfortunately, you can’t update all MacBooks because Apple has changed the manufacturing process on their newest models.

However, you you can update the following models:

  • MacBook Pro without Retina until the end of 2016
  • MacBook Pro Retina before 2015
  • MacBook Air before 2017
  • MacBook before 2010

If you’re not sure which model you have, our Mac update guide includes a section on how to find out and more. If your model is not supported, then unfortunately you cannot upgrade the SSD. If you have a supported model, the easiest way to upgrade is to buy a kit.

Other World Computing sells SSD upgrades for MacBooks (and other Macs) in two flavors: disc-only or bundled. If you opt for the kit, you’ll get an SSD upgrade, the necessary tools, and an enclosure you can fit your old drive into for data transfer.

MacBook Pro SSD Upgrade Pricing at OWC/MacSales.com.
macsales.com

You may be able to find the correct drive for your machine elsewhere. In this case, you can follow the instructions on iFixit. Just search for your MacBook model and there should be a guide with photos to help you. iFixit also sells tools for this task and other maintenance.

If you decide to go for it all, make sure the upgrade is worth it. Get a drive big enough that you’ll definitely notice the difference. In terms of cost, that’s about $300 for a 1TB upgrade as part of a kit, or $250 just for the drive. Most MacBooks can handle volumes up to 2TB, while others are limited to 1TB. Please make sure your machine is compatible with the upgrade you choose before purchasing.

If your Mac is old and still has an optical drive (for example, a pre-2012 MacBook Pro), you can upgrade your drive and add a second or third if you replace the optical drive to free up space. It’s a pretty old machine, so consider if it’s worth upgrading. You might be better off buying a new MacBook.

If you’re buying a new MacBook, go for a larger SSD, not a minimum. You may flinch at this price, but you’ll be grateful for the years of use you get from all that space.

RELATED: Can you upgrade your Mac’s hard drive or SSD?

Low profile USB drives

If your MacBook has USB Type-A connectors (the old USB standard, not the new reversible one), you can use a low-profile USB drive to add storage. These small devices plug into an available USB slot and protrude slightly from the side of your MacBook. They are also one of the cheapest ways to increase your machine’s overall memory.

SanDisk Ultra Fit Low Profile USB Flash Drive.

SanDisk Ultra Fit is our choice. It has a fast USB 3.1 interface that provides read speeds up to 130MB per second. According to one (verified) Amazon reviewer, its write speeds are between 30 and 80 MB per second. It’s not high-speed storage like the SSD in your MacBook, but it’s nifty enough to store documents and media. It comes in sizes up to 256GB for around $70.

USB Type-C MacBook owners are unfortunately out of luck. USB Type-A is a larger port, and manufacturers have been able to take advantage of its size to cram in flash memory. This makes the drive look more like a wireless dongle and you can always leave it connected to your MacBook. Nothing like USB Type-C exists — at least not yet.

USB-C hub with built-in storage

The latest MacBook Pro and Air only come with USB Type-C connectors. This means you will likely need a hub to access a decent range of ports. So, why not get one with an integrated SSD?

Minix NEO is the world’s first Type-C USB hub that adds both ports and storage to your MacBook. Inside the hub is a 240GB M.2 SSD that supports read and write speeds up to 400MB per second. You also get four useful ports: one HDMI output that supports 4K at 30Hz, two USB 3.0 Type-A, and one USB Type-C (which you can use to power your MacBook).

Minix NEO USB Type-C Hub with Built-in SSD

Due to the shockproof nature of SSDs, you can put Minix NEO in your bag without worrying about your data being corrupted. The device itself is small enough to be portable, but you might not want to leave it connected to your Mac all the time. However, some people may consider attaching the device to the lid of their MacBook using adhesive tapes.

You can also buy Minix NEO with 120 GB of storage for a little less.

Add storage with SD and MicroSD

If you have an older MacBook with a memory card reader, you can also use SD or MicroSD memory cards to increase your Mac’s total storage space. Just take an SD card and insert it into your Mac. To use MicroSD cards, you will also need an SD-to-MicroSD converter.

This is a relatively cheap way to add potentially a lot of space. You can purchase a 512GB SanDisk Extreme UHS-I MicroSD card for less than $200 (at the time of writing). And a 128GB card costs only about $25 (at the time of writing). Unfortunately, these cards suffer from the same read/write speed limit issues as USB storage.

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If you’re looking for a slightly more elegant solution, you might want to consider Transcend’s JetDrive Lite. They’re only compatible with certain MacBook Pro and Air models released between 2012 and 2015, but they fit the Mac body perfectly. For now, they’re available in 128GB and 256GB configurations, with a larger variant priced at around $99.

Network Attached Storage

NAS is ideal for people who rarely venture outside their home or work network. You can set up the NAS drive for network sharing, or use another Mac or Windows computer that has free space. Once you set it up, you can even back up your MacBook via Time Machine to a network location.

However, if you go outside of your network, your storage will be inaccessible unless you have a cloud-enabled solution. This may not be a problem if you use it to store rarely used files and archives, but it’s not ideal for your photos or iTunes library.

Netgear ReadyNAS RN422 network drive.

Your network speed is limited by your network storage. Everything gets significantly slower if you use a wireless connection. For best results, make sure your network drive (or shared computer) is using a wired connection to your router and, if possible, also to your MacBook.

You can buy a simple NAS like the Netgear ReadyNAS RN422 and then buy the hard drives separately, or choose a turnkey solution like Western Digital’s My Cloud EX2. Many modern NAS drives also support cloud access to your files.

How to map a network drive

To reliably access a network drive, you need to map it in Finder. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Launch a Finder window and click Go > Connect to Server.
  2. Enter the address of the network share you want to display (for example, smb://yournasdrive)
  3. Enter the required login information and click OK.

Your network drive is now visible in the Finder sidebar and desktop. You will also be able to select it as the location each time you save or open files.

How to Create a MacOS Network Share

If you have another Mac and want to share its drive over the network, follow these steps:

  1. On the computer you want to share, go to System Preferences > Sharing.
  2. Check the box next to «File Sharing» to enable the service.
  3. Click the plus sign (+) and specify a location to add shared folders.
  4. Click on the shared folder and then set the permissions (you’ll want to enable write access).

You can also click Options to choose whether to use AFP (Apple protocol), SMB (Windows equivalent), or both.

Store data in the cloud

Online storage is another option now built into macOS. Apple’s «Store in iCloud» option uses available iCloud space to take the load off your Mac. When you store files you rarely access in the cloud, your Mac has more space for the things you use regularly. It all works automatically, so you must have some degree of faith in macOS.

macOS "Store in iCloud" option.

Files stored in the cloud appear on your computer as if they were still there. To access these files, your computer downloads them from iCloud. How long it takes depends on your internet connection speed and file size. If you don’t have access to a reliable internet connection, you won’t be able to retrieve files stored in the cloud.

To enable this setting, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Apple logo in the top left corner of the screen and select About This Mac.
  2. Click the «Storage» tab and then click «Manage…» on the right.
  3. Click «Save to iCloud…» to begin the process.

macOS analyzes your drive and tries to save space. To understand what files your system can move, click the Documents section in the sidebar. This shows a list of large documents on your Mac and when they were last accessed.

To properly use iCloud storage, you’ll probably have to buy some space — you’ll only get 5GB for free. If your cloud storage starts to shrink, you can learn how to free it up here.

Third party cloud storage

You don’t need to use Apple cloud servers. If you just need to offload some files to free up space on your computer, any old cloud storage service will do.

Here are some that you may want to consider:

If you want to try before you buy, check out all the services that offer free storage.

External storage

If you really need space, are on a budget, and won’t pack a bit of extra weight, then good old external storage is the answer.

External hard drives (HDD)

The cheapest option is to purchase a standard USB external hard drive. Because they rely on cheaper mechanical hard drives, they also offer high storage capacity. However, they are more prone to failure and are also more prone to damage from bumps and drops. And you should carry your drive with you if you go this route.

In addition to reliability, one of the most important factors to consider when buying an external hard drive based hard drive is the speed of the interface. Don’t accept anything older than USB 3.0 — ideally USB 3.1 or 3.1 rev 2.

Western Digital Elements External USB 3.0 hard drive.

One of the most affordable drives is the Western Digital Elements portable hard drive. At the time of writing, it’s available with USB 3.0 and up to 4TB for around $100. You can spend more money on something like G-Technology’s G-Drive, which is up to 14TB and comes with two Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1 for lightning-fast file transfers. At the time of this writing, the G-Drive is priced at around $300 for the base 4TB model.

External Solid State Drives (SSD)

Solid state drives are superior to HDDs in both speed and reliability. They have no moving parts and are therefore not subject to mechanical failure. Their superior read and write speeds are only limited by the connection speed to your computer.

An external SSD has two disadvantages: capacity and price. SSD storage is still relatively expensive compared to traditional HDDs. You’ll likely pay twice as much for a hard drive, and higher capacity drives cost a lot more.

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But SSDs are smaller, faster, and much more reliable. Solutions like the SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD fit in your pocket and are strong enough to be easily removed from your bag. The Corsair Flash Voyager GTX offers the benefits of SSD storage in a more traditional «flash drive» form.

External RAID array

RAID is a technology that allows you to connect multiple hard drives. This allows you to perform actions such as combining multiple drives into a single volume, which provides faster read and write speeds because you can access multiple drives at the same time. You can also use RAID as a reliable backup solution to mirror one (or multiple) drives to another. This allows you to replace any drives that fail.

This is an expensive way to add storage, and it’s also cumbersome. You can’t carry a RAID array around in your bag (at least inconveniently), so it’s only a desktop solution. However, the benefits include the flexibility of the RAID system and high speed access.

G-Tech G-RAID Chassis.

If you decide to purchase a RAID enclosure, make sure you choose one with a Thunderbolt interface (ideally Thunderbolt 3). This ensures the highest possible speed (up to 40 GB per second) of any external connection. Like NAS drives, RAID enclosures are available in diskless form such as the Akitio Thunder3 RAID or in ready-to-use devices such as the G-Technology G-RAID.

Clean up your Mac

Of course, the easiest way to create more space is to clean up the files on your MacBook. There are many tips you can try to create on macOS. Apple provides all the tools you need to clean up a gigabyte of space.

In most cases, your hard drive is simply overloaded with forgotten files and applications that you never use. If you take a closer look at how you manage your Mac’s storage, you might be able to sit idle until the next update.

In the meantime, we can all hope that Apple will soon increase the base SSD storage capacities of its laptops.

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