Apple hardware is built to last—there’s a good chance your MacBook has many years left in it. We’ll show you both cheap and elaborate options for adding more storage to your MacBook.
1. External Hard Drives
While the physical size and price of external storage has shrunk over the years, these drives are still fragile and slow. Hard disk drives still use an arm-and-platter arrangement, which means they need time to “spin up” and are prone to mechanical failure. External hard drives don’t stand up well to drops. You also have to carry them with you, and they occupy one of the few USB ports your MacBook has. On a newer MacBook, you’ll probably need a USB-C adapter too.
Storing data on external drives works well in certain situations. You might use them to hold large media files that aren’t part of your libraries, archived documents and project files, RAW photos, backups, and disk images. While you can span your iTunes library across multiple volumes using an app like TuneSpan, you can’t do the same for your ever-expanding photos library without moving the whole thing.
Something basic like Western Digital’s Elements USB 3.0 drive will do the trick for most external storage needs. Whatever you buy, make sure it’s at least USB 3.0.
Bottom line: A slow but cost-effective way of adding a large amount of storage to your MacBook. But you have to carry it with you, and it’s fragile. You might want to keep your external drive for only backups, archives, and home use.
2. Thunderbolt RAID Systems
Thunderbolt is an ultra-fast interface developed by Apple and Intel. It’s an active cable, rather than the passive USB standard. That means it can carry a lot more bandwidth, which makes it perfect for transferring or accessing files on an external storage medium.
RAIDs use two or more drives for a flexible storage solution. You can use RAID to create a failsafe mirror of all your files, combine several drives into a single volume, and increase read/write times by storing parts of files on different drives. Some systems—like the LaCie 2big—come with drives. Others systems ship with just the arrays and allow you to source the drives yourself.
The combination of Thunderbolt and RAID has given birth to a new breed of external drive. These include multiple bays for several full-sized hard drives. If you have money to burn, you can throw a few solid state drives in there instead. Most of them are plug-and-play, while providing a huge amount of storage to choose from.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a reliable backup solution, or you want super-fast storage, RAID is the way to go. Unfortunately, it’s likely the most expensive option on this list depending on what you go for. Thunderbolt RAID systems also have to live on your desk, since they’re much larger than portable external drives.
3. SD Cards
Older MacBooks include an SD card slot, which allows you to quickly transfer media without plugging in your media device. You can also use your SD card slot to expand your MacBook storage. SD cards are cheaper than ever; even a high capacity card like the SanDisk Extreme Pro 256GB SDXC is an affordable upgrade.
Keep in mind that on the newest MacBooks that include an SD slot, the cards don’t sit flush. This means they’ll protrude from one side of your MacBook. Aesthetic objections aside, this isn’t ideal if you’re likely to throw your MacBook in a tight-fitting bag. A stray bump could cause damage to both the port and SD card.