How to Quickly and Cheaply Upgrade a Laptop or Tablet’s Storage

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Many new laptops, tablets, and devices in between are coming with an ever-smaller amount of storage. But you can expand your device’s storage without spending much money or time.

It’s actually a good thing that modern laptops are coming with less storage. This means they have faster-but-smaller solid-state drives. An SSD offers a much better desktop (or tablet) experience than a larger mechanical drive.

Micro SD Cards

Most Windows laptops and tablets — and even many Android tablets — come with a slot for a Micro SD cards. When the SD card is inserted, it will generally slide the entire way into the device. It won’t poke out or get in the way. This means you could get an SD card, insert it into your device, and leave it there all the time. You could treat the SD card’s storage as a permanent part of your device.

Before picking up an SD card, be sure to check which size your device supports and consider which “class” of card offers the appropriate speed for you.

Micro SD cards can be had for pretty cheap. You can get a 32 GB Micro SD card for under $20 on Amazon, or a 64 GB Micro SD card for under $40. That SD card won’t be as fast as your device’s internal storage, but it’s a great place to store your files and media library.

This solution can be used to upgrade a smartphone’s storage, too — if the smartphone has a Micro SD slot.

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Low-Profile USB Flash Drives

If you don’t have a free Micro SD slot, you may want to examine USB flash drives instead. Traditionally, most USB flash drives have been fairly large and poked out of the device quite a ways. They wouldn’t be ideal for leaving in a laptop and throwing that laptop in a bag, but not all flash drives are that physically large.

So-called “low-profile” flash drives are very tiny. They’re mostly a USB plug, and only a small nub will poke out of your laptop or tablet. With a flash drive like this, you can leave it inserted into your device the entire time and treat it as a permanent expansion to your device’s storage. They’re similar in size to the USB receives used by modern Logitech wireless mice, for example.

USB flash drives are fairly cheap, even tiny ones. On Amazon, you can currently get 16 GB low-profile? USB 2.0 flash drives for under $10, or 64 GB ones for under $30. Depending on how much speed you want you may want to invest in a faster and more expensive USB 3.0 flash drive instead.

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Cloud Storage

We’re mostly focused on internal storage here, but you may also want to consider cloud-based storage solutions. Microsoft’s OneDrive is integrated into Windows 8.1 and Windows 8, and it offers an entire 1 TB of storage space along with Office 365 for $7 per month. Dropbox and Google Drive both offer 1 TB of space for $10 per month. If you need less, you can pay just a few dollars a month for hundreds of gigabytes.

If you just want an archive for your files that you can occasionally access from anywhere, you may want to consider cloud storage. Prices have been dropping very quickly.

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Upgrading the Internal Drive

This option isn’t as easy or cheap, but we have to mention it anyway. If you can open up your laptop, you can replace its internal drive with a larger drive — or insert a second internal drive, in the off chance that your laptop has a second drive bay. Upgrading your laptop is often possible, but it’s definitely more work than quickly plugging in an external storage device!

This is an especially good idea if your laptop has a slow mechanical drive — not to get more space, but to upgrade it to a much faster (but smaller) solid-state drive. An internal solid-state drive will be much faster than a Micro SD card or USB flash drive. It’s the ideal upgrade if you need additional storage space that’s as fast as possible.

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The next time you get a laptop or tablet with a small amount of storage space and need more, just pick up a Micro SD card or low-profile flash drive. If you know someone who’s complaining about not having enough space on their current laptop, one of these devices could make a great — and cheap — gift.

Image Credit: Intel Free Press on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.