How Much Storage Do You Need in a New M1 Mac?

Not sure how much storage you need? Here’s a guide to help you out.

Michael Mohr
PixelPoison
6 min readDec 10, 2021

--

Figuring Things Out

Aside from parting with the money, choosing the amount of storage can be one of the hardest parts of buying a new laptop these days. Luckily, there’s some questions you can ask yourself to make the process a lot easier. This guide will lay those questions out and also provide some extra knowledge to help you make a more informed purchase.

What is your budget?

This is the most influential question you need to ask yourself.

The lower your budget, the more these questions matter. If you have a high budget you can get more storage without much sacrifice, but if you’re reading this article I’m going to assume you don’t.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I’ve heard lots of YouTubers recommend getting as much storage as you can afford, but I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. Firstly, when you max out your storage you leave yourself in a tricky situation when it comes to resale. Resale value doesn’t increase as much as you might like with higher storage capacities. It also allows you to put your entire digital life on one drive. That can be convenient… but it also causes problems:

  1. If you don’t back that drive up properly, you’re going to lose everything some day. Separating everything out on multiple drives is safer for people who aren’t good at keeping everything backed up. But please, for the love of God, back your shit up.
  2. It’s more expensive (and cumbersome) to back up larger drives. If you have a 500GB SSD, you can easily back that up with a 1TB hard drive. If you have a 4TB internal drive, then you would need something like an 8TB desktop external hard drive to back that up if you’re actually utilizing the space.
  3. Internal storage is bound to a single device. That means it’s not ideal for storing files you plan to keep longer than the expected lifespan of the computer. Sure, you can keep the computer Time Machine backed-up and restore all that onto your new laptop, but that’s a fragile system and it’s not how I would recommend doing things. More on that later in the article.

What kind of apps do you use?

Different lifestyles demand different tools. The type and variety of apps you use may be more important to your storage needs than the actual documents you are wanting to store.

My storage space at the moment (you want to give yourself plenty of room to grow)

Do you just use your computer for word processing, web browsing, and some email? Or do you have three different video editing suites, Logic Pro, and the entire Adobe suite on your Laptop? Programs are significant when considering your storage needs. Especially ones that install dependencies and libraries like Logic, which installs something like 70GB of library files.

If you’re a poweruser or if you’re unsure what the future holds, 1TB is a good place to start. That’s what I have. I would have gotten 2TB if I had a larger budget but I have been working with 1TB for a few years now and I am comfortable with that number.

If you’re a light office user, 256GB is fine, but I would recommend 512GB for future proofing and convinence. Especially if you use iCloud to sync things such as your picture library. Speaking of iCloud, that brings us to my next question.

Do you use cloud, external, and network attached storage?

I have the luxury of using my old Mac mini as a personal server and NAS. That means I can attach drives to it and access them over my network. This along with cloud and external drives means I rarely store documents on my internal storage.

Photo by Jonathan Farber on Unsplash

Ok look, I get it… nobody wants to deal with a mass of external drives and having things stored in differnet places. Thankfully, there are ways to organize your files so that most of your files are stored somewhere other than your internal storage… without causing you a headache. In fact, it can make your workflow a lot smoother.

  1. Use your internal storage primarily for apps and cloud sync’d documents. So think of how much data you have in iCloud, Google Drive, or whatever cloud provider you use. Calculate how much of that you want on your device at all times, then add them together. Then double that number. That’s a roughly how much internal storage you need on a day-to-day basis.
    Example:
    - I have about 100GB in iCloud
    - I have about 200GB worth of programs
    That leaves me with ~300GB in use at any given time which means 600GB of internal storage is the minimum amount I should have.
  2. Use external drives for large data that needs to be carried around. For example I have a hard drive that has my Lightroom library of around 13,000 images on it. That same drive has all of my design and art files. There are times when it would be more convinent to have all of that stuff just on the internal storage, but it complicates things if you ever want to use that data on another computer. And the files are too large and numerous for it to make sense on the cloud. For stuff like this I keep it on an external drive and back that drive up with something like Arq or Backblaze. Data is important. Back it up. If I’m at home and not concerned with super speedy transfers, I can plug the drive into my Mac Mini server and access it over wifi anywhere in my house. Same goes for anything that’s permanently attached to the server like my time machine backup drive.
  3. Use cloud storage for things that have to stay in sync everywhere. I keep my personal photos in sync via iCloud. It’s sitting at about 30GB worth of pictures from various phones over the years. I also have a few folders in iCloud that I keep some important documents in. I would caution against throwing everything into a cloud service. They are not 100% reliable. And someday you’re going to be without internet and realize you screwed up by relying on the service to sync that crucial powerpoint for your big presentation. It’s a convinence feature. Don’t rely on it for mission-critical things.
  4. Once you figure out which aspects of your data needs to be segmented into internal, external, and cloud… be sure to back up ALL of it. Yes, I will keep reminding you.

How does it fit in with the rest of your configuration?

Your configuration should be balanced. You probably wouldn’t want to get the most expensive processor with the least amount of storage, or some other really unbalanced configuration. Make sure you are balancing out your budget with your needs. Something to consider is that some of the higher capacity drives will be slightly faster than the lower capacity ones. They are all so fast the difference will be minimal in practice, but it’s there. Check on benchmarks and reviews before purchasing so you know what to expect.

Good Luck

Hopefully this article will help someone in making the hard decision of which configuration is right for their life. As a reward for reading the whole thing (or at least scrolling to the bottom… yeah I see you) here’s a picture of a cute cat:

Photo by Val Tievsky on Unsplash

--

--