How to Increase Storage on a Laptop

You can upgrade your drive, use external storage, or use the cloud

When you buy a laptop, you probably chose it based on its specifications. One of those was likely the size of its storage system. Over time, the drive may fill up before you're ready to replace the laptop.

Thankfully there are lots of ways you can get more storage on a laptop. Some are more expensive or require more technical skills than others. So choose the solution that best suits your needs.

The MacBook line of computers has not allowed the internal expansion of storage since 2015.

How to Increase Storage on a Laptop

The most expensive way to get the most additional storage on your laptop is to upgrade the internal drive. The least costly is using cloud storage. Use the following tips to decide which option is best for you.

  • Upgrade internal drive: This option is best if you do a lot of offline work with your laptop and want a significant size upgrade. It's also the most convenient since you won't have to worry about bringing anything with you, and you won't have to worry about getting files off the internet.
  • Use an external drive: If you access most of your files only rarely and only need very few files accessible all the time, an external drive is your best option. Thumb drives and Micro-SD cards would be considered external drives in this case.
  • Cloud storage: Cloud storage doesn't cost anything to use up to a specific limit. After a certain limit, you'll only have to pay a small monthly fee, and you can even sync a folder on your PC with cloud storage.

How to Upgrade the Internal Drive

If you've decided upgrading your internal drive is the best option, you'll need to get a few things ready. You'll need a small screwdriver, a clean surface free of clutter, and an anti-static wrist strap. We're going to use Crucial in our example, but you should choose a vendor you like best.

  1. You'll need to determine the type of hard drive your laptop has currently installed to get started. The best way to do this is to visit Crucial's upgrade site, choose your computer manufacturer and model (see your computer's system information), and select Storage in the left menu.

    Screenshot of Crucial drive search page
  2. Crucial will display whether your specific system uses a solid-state drive (SSD) or a spinning hard disk drive (HDD). You'll see all options when you scroll down. Chose the drive size you prefer.

    Screenshot of Crucial's list of hard drives
  3. Once you have your new hard drive, it's time to do the installation. You'll want to move your data and all programs to the new hard drive before you get started.

  4. When you're ready to swap drives, put on your anti-static wrist strap. Look for any potential hard drive access flap on the bottom of your laptop. Not all laptops have them, but if yours does, the installation will be much easier. Just remove the screws holding the panel in place. Remove the old drive, and insert the new one.

    Image of hard drive access door

    J-Nattapon\Getty Images

  5. If there is no access door, you'll need to open your laptop case. Carefully find and remove all screws around the bottom of the case. With some laptops, you also need to carefully remove screws at the screen's base to unplug and remove the screen.

    Image of opening a laptop case

    FSerega\Getty Images

    If you're at all uneasy about opening your laptop case, hire a professional to do the hard drive installation safety. It's easy to damage a laptop if you don't know what you're doing.

  6. Once you have the case open, you should have no problem locating the hard drive. It's usually under a protective metal cover. You can slide the old hard drive out and install the new one.

    We're simplifying this a bit because each manufacturer does it slightly differently, so if it's not apparent what you should do once you get to this step, go to the manufacturer's site to see how they handle this.

    Image of installing a new hard drive in a laptop

    Chonticha Vatpongpee / EyeEm\Getty Images

  7. Replace the laptop cover and reinstall all screws. Plug your laptop in and start it up. If you cloned and copied all data and programs from your old hard drive, your computer should start properly. Except now you have additional storage space.

Using External Drives and Other Storage Devices

Rather than going through the process of replacing the internal drive, many people opt for the easier external storage option. You have a few options to choose from if you prefer this route.

  1. When you buy an external drive, you'll find the storage capacities are impressive, and at times exceed those of internal drives. The only drawback to these is you'll need to plug it into a USB port, which reduces the number of USB ports available for other devices. When you plug in the external drive, your operating system will automatically detect it and add it to Windows Explorer as another drive letter.

    Image of an external hard drive


  2. Another very convenient option people use for increased storage is thumb drives (also known as flash drives). These tiny sticks work just like the external drive when plugged in; however, they usually offer small storage sizes.

    Image of using a thumb drive on a laptop

    Ryan McVay\Getty Images

  3. Another convenient option is extending your laptop storage using a Micro-SD card if your laptop features a Micro-SD card slot. These are tiny cards, not much wider than two fingers. Once slid into the Micro-SD slot, they're virtually undetectable and show up in Windows Explorer as another drive letter.

    Image of a micro-sd card


Using Cloud Storage

Why purchase hardware if you don't have to? So long as you have a reliable internet connection, cloud storage offers you a perfect solution to increase storage on a laptop.

There are many free cloud storage solutions to choose from that range anywhere from 2 GB up to 100 GB. For example, Google Drive offers 15 GB of storage free, which is shared across Gmail, Google Photos, and all your Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drawings, Forms, and Jamboard files, but you can purchase 100 GB for $1.99 up to 10 TB for $49.99 (per year).

Each service offers software that lets you connect and sync with your cloud storage on either Mac or Windows 10. You can also continue updating synced files while offline, and they'll automatically update once you reconnect.

  • How much storage do I need on my laptop?

    It depends on your needs. You'll want as much hard drive space as possible if you plan on downloading a lot of movies and games, but if you just need a computer for surfing the web, then storage is not really a concern. Between 1-2 TB is more than enough for most people.

  • How do I check my laptop storage?

    Go to This PC or My Computer (depending on your version of Windows) and right-click the drive, then choose Properties. Use this same method to check external drives including USB flash drives.

  • What is flash storage on a laptop?

    Flash storage uses flash memory chips to store and access data without the need for moving parts like a traditional hard disk drive. Solid-state drives and USB flash drives both rely on flash technology. Flash storage is one of the major advantages of SSDs over HDDs.

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