An external hard drive connected to a MacBook over USB.
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Solid-state drives are fast but expensive. And high-capacity SSDs are very expensive, which is why many of us opt for the bare minimum when we purchase a MacBook. But here’s how you can add more storage.

Upgrade Your SSD

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

However, you can upgrade the following models:

  • MacBook Pro non-Retina up to late 2016
  • MacBook Pro Retina up to 2015
  • MacBook Air up to 2017
  • MacBook up to 2010

If you’re unsure which model you have, our guide on how to upgrade your Mac includes a section on how to find out and more. If your model isn’t supported, then, unfortunately, you can’t upgrade the SSD. If you have a supported model, the easiest way to upgrade is to purchase a kit.

Other World Computing sells MacBook (and other Mac) SSD upgrades in two flavors: drive only, or as a kit. If you opt for the kit, you get the SSD upgrade, required tools, and an enclosure into which you can place your old drive to transfer data.

MacBook Pro SSD Upgrade Prices on OWC/

You might be able to source the correct drive for your machine elsewhere. In that case, you can follow the guides over at iFixit. Just search for your MacBook model, and there should be a guide complete with photos to help you. iFixit also sells tools to perform this task and other maintenance.

If you decide to go to all this hassle, make sure the upgrade is worth it. Get a big enough drive that you’re sure to notice the difference. In terms of cost, it’s around $300 for a 1 TB upgrade as part of a kit, or $250 for just the drive. Most MacBooks can handle volumes up to 2 TB, while others are restricted to 1 TB. Make sure your machine is compatible with your chosen upgrade before you buy.

If your Mac is old and still has an optical drive (like a pre-2012 MacBook Pro), you might be able to upgrade your drive and add a second or third one if you replace the optical drive to create space. That’s a pretty old machine, though, so consider whether the upgrade is worthwhile. You might be better off just buying a new MacBook.

If you do buy a new MacBook, opt for a larger, solid-state drive rather than the bare minimum. You might wince at the cost, but you’ll be thankful for the years of use you get out of all that space.

RELATED: Can You Upgrade the Hard Drive or SSD In Your Mac?

Low Profile USB Drives

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

A SanDisk Ultra Fit low profile USB drive.

The SanDisk Ultra Fit is our pick. It has a speedy USB 3.1 interface that attains read speeds up to 130 MB per second. According to one (verified) Amazon reviewer, its write speed is 30 to 80 MB per second. This isn’t 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 256 GB 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 the size to squeeze in flash memory. This results in a drive that looks more like a wireless dongle, and you can leave it attached to your MacBook at all times. Nothing quite like it exists in USB Type-C form—not yet, anyway.

USB-C Hub with Integrated Storage

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

The Minix NEO is the world’s first USB Type-C hub that adds both ports and storage to your MacBook. Inside the hub is a 240 GB M.2 SSD, which supports read and write speeds of up to 400 MB per second. You also get four useful ports: one HDMI out with support for 4K at 30 Hz., 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 integrated SSD storage

Due to the shockproof nature of an SSD, you can throw the Minix NEO in your bag without worrying about damaging your data. The unit 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 might consider attaching the unit to the lid of their MacBook with adhesive strips.

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

Add Storage with SD and MicroSD

If you’ve got an older MacBook with a memory card reader, you can also use SD or MicroSD cards to boost your Mac’s total storage. Just pick up an SD card and slot it into your Mac. To use MicroSD cards, you’ll also need an SD-to-MicroSD converter.

This is a relatively cheap way to add, potentially, a lot of additional space. You can snap up a 512 GB SanDisk Extreme UHS-I MicroSD card for under $200 (at this writing). And the 128 GB card is only about $25 (at this writing). Unfortunately, these cards do suffer from the same limited read and write speed issues as the USB-attached storage.

If you’re looking for a slightly more svelte solution, you might consider Transcend’s JetDrive Lite. They’re only compatible with certain models of MacBook Pro and Air manufactured between 2012 and 2015, but they sit perfectly flush against the Mac chassis. They’re available in 128 GB and 256 GB configurations, with the larger variant priced around $99, at this writing.

Network-Attached Storage

Network-attached storage is ideal for people who rarely venture outside their home or work network. You can configure a NAS drive to be shared across the network, or you can use another Mac or Windows PC that has free space. Once you configure it, you can even back up your MacBook via Time Machine to a network location.

However, if you go out of your network’s range, your storage is unavailable unless you have a solution that supports access over the cloud. This might not be an issue if you use it to store rarely-accessed files and archives, but it’s not ideal for your Photos or iTunes library.

The Netgear ReadyNAS RN422 Network Drive.

The speed of your network limits your network storage. Things get significantly slower if you use a wireless connection. For best results, make sure your network drive (or shared computer) uses a wired connection to your router and, if possible, to your MacBook, too.

You can buy a bare-bones NAS drive, like the Netgear ReadyNAS RN422, and then purchase hard drives separately, or you can opt for a ready-to-go solution, like the Western Digital My Cloud EX2. Many modern NAS drives also support cloud-based access to your files.

How to Map a Network Drive

To reliably access a network drive, you have to map it in Finder. Follow these steps to do so:

  1. Launch a Finder window and click Go > Connect to Server.
  2. Enter the address to the network share you would like to map (e.g., smb://yournasdrive)
  3. Enter any login details required, and then click OK.

Your network drive now appears in the Finder sidebar and on the desktop. You should be able to select it as a location whenever you save or open files, too.

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 machine you want to share, head 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 the share location, and then set permissions (you’ll want to enable write access).

You can also click “Options” to specify whether to use AFP (Apple’s protocol), SMB (Windows equivalent), or both.

Store Data in the Cloud

Online storage is another option that’s now baked into macOS. Apple’s “Store in iCloud” setting uses available iCloud space to take the strain off your Mac. When you store files you rarely access to the cloud, you have more space on your Mac for the things you use regularly. This all works automatically, so you have to have a certain degree of faith in macOS.

The macOS "Store in iCloud" option.

Files stored in the cloud appear on your computer as if they’re still there. To access these files, your computer downloads them from iCloud. How long this takes depends on the speed of your internet connection and the size of the file. If you can’t access a reliable internet connection, you won’t be able to get any of your 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 then select About This Mac.
  2. Click the “Storage” tab, and then click “Manage…” on the right.
  3. Click “Store in iCloud…” to begin the process.

macOS analyzes your disk and attempts to save space. To get an idea of which files your system might move, click the “Documents” section in the sidebar. This shows you a list of large documents on your Mac, and when you last accessed them.

To make proper use of iCloud storage, you’ll likely have to purchase some space—you only get 5 GB free. If your cloud storage space starts to dwindle, you can learn how to free up some here.

Third-Party Cloud Storage

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

Here are a few you might want to consider:

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

External Storage

If you really need space, are limited by budget, and don’t mind carrying a bit of extra weight with you, then a good old-fashioned external drive is the answer.

External Hard Disk Drives (HDD)

The cheapest option is to purchase a standard USB external hard disk drive. Because they rely on cheaper, mechanical hard disk drives, they also offer high capacities. However, they’re more prone to fail and also more susceptible to damage from bumps and drops. And you do have to carry your drive with you if you go this route.

Reliability aside, one of the most important factors to consider when you purchase an HDD-based external 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 this writing, it’s available with USB 3.0 and up to 4 TB for around $100. You can splash more cash on something like the G-Technology G-Drive, which features volumes of up to 14 TB, and comes with dual Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1 for lightning-fast file transfers. At this writing, the G-Drive starts at around $300 for the base 4 TB model.

External Solid State Drives (SSD)

Solid-state drives are superior to hard disk drives in both speed and reliability. They have no moving parts and, thus, aren’t susceptible to mechanical breakdown. Their superior read and write speeds are limited only by the speed of the connection to your computer.

There are two drawbacks to an external SSD: capacity and price. SSD storage is still relatively expensive compared to traditional HDDs. You’ll likely pay double the price of an HDD, and the higher-capacity drives are much more expensive.

But SSDs are smaller, faster, and much more reliable. Solutions like the SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD fit in a pocket and are rugged enough to swing 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 do things like merge multiple drives into a single volume, which provides faster read and write speeds since you can access multiple drives simultaneously. You can also use RAID as a rock-solid backup solution, to mirror one (or multiple) drives to another. This allows you to swap out any drives that fail.

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

The G-Tech G-RAID Enclosure.

If you decide to get a RAID enclosure, make sure you choose one with a Thunderbolt interface (ideally, Thunderbolt 3). This provides the fastest speeds possible (up to 40 GB per second) of any external connection. Like NAS drives, RAID enclosures come diskless, like the Akitio Thunder3 RAID, or in ready-to-go units, like 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 space on macOS. Apple provides all the tools you need to clear up gigabytes of space.

Most of the time, your hard drive is just bogged down by files you’ve forgotten about, and applications you never use. If you take a more critical look at how you manage your Mac’s storage, you might be able to limp by until your next upgrade.

In the meantime, we can all hope Apple increases the base SSD storage capacities on its laptops soon.

Profile Photo for Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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