How to choose the right SSD storage capacity and pay less for your computer: 2020 Edition

For SSD recommendations, .

To briefly put things into context

Hardware Evolution: Solid State Drives (SSDs) are now the default option on nearly all new computers!

We’re at an wonderful point in computer history where the computer industry has upgraded storage solution for computers by now using Solid State Drives (SSDs) instead of mechanical hard disk drives (HDDs) on nearly all new computers.

On the left, an older 2.5″ Solid State Drive, with its 10 memory chips visible at the bottom. On the right, a mechanical hard drive, with its rotating platter visible at the top.

Why choose a SSD over a hard drive?

Compared to hard drives, a SSD offers lower latency, faster read/writes, and supports more IOPS (input output operations per second). How much higher is the performance?

Enough to offer you a better computer experience because it responds to your inputs much more quickly. Your PC feels more responsive, programs launch far more quickly, the Operating System starts in seconds and resumes from sleep nearly instantaneously.

They also offer lower power consumption (longer battery life), less noise, no vibration, smaller physical size (smaller computers), higher reliability and higher resistance to shocks.

Simply put, I cannot see any reason nowadays to get a computer with a hard drive, other than a lower cost for an higher capacity. That lower cost comes at the price of all the benefits that I just listed.

The two main issues with SSDs:

1. Smaller available storage capacities:
As of 2020, common consumer SSD storage capacities are: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB and 2TB.
4TB is available on a few stand-alone SSD models, while 8TB SSD storage capacities can be found in high-end computers, such as the Apple Mac Pro.

There are also 8TB stand alone SSDs available for the server/enterprises market and we might see some consumer models sooner than later.

While this is more than what was available 5 years ago and is catching up to hard drives in laptops, which have storage capacities of 500GB, 1 or 2TB, it is still no match for desktop hard drives, which are available in storage capacities up to 16TB.

In an ideal world, you’d get a computer with a 2 or 4 or even 8TB SSD drive. That brings us to the second problem.

The Crucial BX500 is one of the SSDs with the lowest price per GB.

1TB SSD: 0.10$/GB
1TB SSDs start at $100, or $0.10 per GB. The price per GB goes up with smaller capacities such as 250GB or 500GB though, due to the way SSDs are manufactured.

See  article for SSDs that I recommend and their prices.

2TB Hard Drive: $0.025/GB
A 2TB hard drive can be found for $50 or $0.025 per GB. Roughly 4 times less than the price per GB of a SSD

See  article to see the hard drives that I recommend and their prices.

SSDs are still more expensive, so that’s why you’ll find computers with SSDs with lower capacities such as 128GB, 256GB and 512GB in order to lower the cost of the computer, considering the cost of the SSD.

I mean, the cost of $100+ 1TB, $200+ 2TB, $400+ 4TB or $800+ 8TB SSD will definitely increase the total price of that computer that you want and will be too much if all you want is an inexpensive laptop!

That’s also why in some computers, you’ll find a combo of a smaller capacity SSD and higher capacity hard drive: You get the best of both world, high performance and high storage capacity at a reasonable cost.

Which brings us to the main question:

‘How much storage capacity do I need for my SSD so that I pay only as much as I need to?’

5 Questions to help you answer this question:

1. Will this be your only drive for storage?

If it is, you’ll definitely need more storage space than if you have other drives to store your data on. Especially in a laptop or mobile computer, where upgrading your SSD is either impossible (soldered on) or time-consuming (cloning the time, swapping drives, etc.).

2. Do you mind clearing out files that you don’t need?

If you like to use your PC without worrying about doing clean-ups to clear some space on your drive, get a SSD with a larger capacity then. If you don’t mind taking time to clean up your drive now and then, you might be able to get by with a smaller, less expensive SSD.

3. Are your storage needs going to increase over the years?
(The answer here is yes, most likely)

You can keep using your SSD for 5-10+ years! Your storage needs will likely increase in that span of time, seeing as files are getting larger: Programs and games require more space to be installed, video and photo quality have increasing and so have files size.

As the years go by, program and game sizes are likely to increase.

Do yourself a favor and think about getting a drive that’s large enough to store your data for as long as you plan on using that drive. It’s wiser to spend a bit more now on a single drive than to spend more by buying a smaller drive now and another in the future when you need more storage space.

4. How much do you care about performance?

SSD with too small of a storage capacity + additional storage from other disk(s) or online storage: 
While you could use a small SSD with an additional internal hard drive, an external drive, a NAS or online storage (cloud) to answer your storage needs, it’s not the best solution for performance.

All of these solutions will offer significantly lower performance, with lower throughput and higher latency, compared to your SSD. This is fine for long-term storage of files you don’t use often, like photos, videos and music. This will impact performance severely for files required by a program to run or files that you’re working on, in a way that’s unacceptable in my opinion.

Is that acceptable to you? If time is money, if you edit photos, work on videos (especially 1080p, 4K and higher resolutions), work with heavy files or demanding programs or if you have no patience for computers like I do, having all your files on a high-performance SSD storage drive is ideal for consistent, high-performance all the time.

Want high-performance for everything that you do? Get a SSD with a larger capacity instead of a smaller SSD with another lower performance drive.

If you don’t mind the performance hit for files located on another drive, you can save some space on your SSD by moving Windows libraries (Documents, Music, Pictures and Videos) default location to another drive.

One of our forums members, mwhals, posted a great tutorial on how to do so on the Hardware Revolution forums, many years. While the forums are no longer active, that tutorial is still good.

5. Do you mind searching and waiting to find where your files are? Do you remember where your files are?

If you have your files on several drives, you have to remember where they are if you need them for any reason. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like wasting time searching for files. My computer should work for me, not the other way around!

A good classification system will alleviate this issue, but it’s still more simple to have only a single drive to search through than to search through multiple drives.

Having a single SSD with enough storage capacity will make your life easier when searching for files: One disk to search through and higher performance, so you’ll find your files more quickly too!

4 Things to also keep in mind:

1. Performance scales up with higher storage capacity with the same model:

A 1TB SSD offers higher performance than its 500GB variant. The difference in performance between the 250GB and 500GB models is larger than the difference in performance between the 500GB and 1TB models, even more so than the difference in performance between the 1TB and 2TB models.

So if you want even higher performance, you’ll be better served by an higher capacity SSD.

2. Do you want to lose performance?

Of course not, right? To keep your SSD running at its peak performance, I recommend leaving at least 10% of its capacity unused. This will leave enough space for your drive to write/read data sequentially when possible, instead of having to write/read in various locations, which greatly reduces performance.

3. Your OS, games and your programs will take some space

The operating system (Windows or Mac OS) require 30GB+ for a base install with updates. A full complement of apps can take 40-100GB. Many programs that you’ll install can easily take 20GB to 80GB in total. Some games require 50GB or even more!

4. GB vs GiB

Hard drives and SSDs are sold with a storage capacity measured in GB. Windows will show your SSD capacity in GiB, a slightly different unit of measure.

GB (Gigabyte) and GiB (Gibibyte) are two different digital data storage scales defined by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

– A 128GB SSD will have 119GiB available under Windows.
– 256GB = 238GiB
– 512GB = 477GiB
– 1024GB = 954GiB

Common SSD storage capacities and what you can do with them:

The Intel 660p, which brought lower prices to higher performance PCIe NVMe M.2 drives.

My storage capacity recommendations:

In reality, everyone has different needs. Someone who only browse the web and watch Netflix doesn’t need as much storage as a gamer or a pro who does video editing.

128GB is okay if all you do is browse the Web, watch Netflix, listen to Spotify. In other words, pretty much everything is streamed online, so that doesn’t require much local storage capacity.
256GB would be fine for the average student but not for a gamer, unless you are fine with using a hard drive as a secondary drive to store your games.
– 512GB is a better choice, you won’t have to worry nearly as much about running out of space, nor worry as much about requiring a secondary drive and you’ll get higher performance. The minimum that I’d recommend for gamers who want a decent amount of games installed on their SSD, but it’s still a good idea to have a hard drive as a secondary drive to store more games, perhaps older ones that don’t take as long to load. Good starting point for a Creative Pro, but again, with a secondary drive, for long-term storage.
1TB is good. Enough for most gamers, decent amount of space for photographers, still won’t last you that long if you do video editing, 3D though. Again, Creative Pros will want a secondary drive for additional storage.
2TB is great and should satisfy the vast majority of gamers. Enough for most photographers, a better choice for video editing, 3D etc. Creative Pros may want a secondary drive for additional storage.– 4TB is a lot of storage for the average user. Probably overkill unless you are a Creative Pro, use your computer for work, have a large collection of lossless music, videos, high resolution photos, etc.

‘OK, I know how much storage capacity I need for my SSD!’

Do you have any recommendations for which SSD to buy?

Of course. 

Learn from my experience using a 256GB SSD and a 4TB USB 3.0 external hard drive

I use a laptop as my main computer for work on Hardware Revolution and for my photography projects.

My laptop has 256GB of SSD storage and it is complemented by a 4TB external hard drive.

On that 256GB SSD, 238GiB can put to use.
– Windows uses 25.1GiB.
– Programs use 17.9GiB.
– The Users folders (music, photos, downloads) use 120GiB.
– Other files take about 47.6GiB

The SSD in my laptop has 27.4GiB of free space left, slightly more than 10%. I try to keep at least 25GB free for optimal performance.

I’m almost out of space that I want to use.

I’m limited on space, but I’m a bit due for a clean-up and it’s just enough for me to work with comfortably.

You see, a lot of the storage space that I use is for photos that I post-process in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, with my 24MP digital camera RAW files that take 25MB each. 40 pictures take 1GB, 400 pictures take 10GB. So it adds up very quickly.

As I process my pictures, I delete the pictures that I have no use for. When I’m done processing the pictures, I move them to my USB 3.0 external 4TB hard drive for long-term storage. I’m backlogged in my photoshoots, so I have a lot of pictures on my computer right now waiting to be processed or transferred to the external drive, hence why I’m a bit tight on space at the moment.

I use Netflix with a Chromecast on my living room HDTV and Spotify for music.

I also have a movies/TV show collection on the external hard drive. Local music is on a 128GB SD card that I leave plugged in my laptop. In both cases, I rarely need to access them, with Netflix and Spotify doing the job just fine most of the time. Besides, I just don’t have the space on my SSD to store them all locally.

This is a fine solution for me. My laptop came with 256GB of SSD storage. For a long time, I considered swapping out the two 128GB SSDs for higher capacity models, but in the end, the combo of a 256GB SSD with an external hard drive did the job just fine and I had a hard time justifying spending money on an aging laptop. Might as well save up to buy a 8 core laptop down the road.

Nowadays, I could get a laptop with a 512GB or 1TB SSD for that price that I paid for my laptop 4 years ago. I would enjoy 512GB or 1TB of storage, it would let have more pictures, my full collection of music and some movies/TV shows.

1TB would be great; I wouldn’t have to worry about running out of space for a long time, I would have all my pictures for current projects, music and videos on a single drive and wouldn’t need to transfer files on a regular basis, other than to archive/backup older photo projects.

Had I known back then when I know now, I would have saved for a bit longer and would have gotten the 512GB model instead.

That’s why I say, you’re better off spending a little more now, than to save a bit in the short term, but be stuck spending more in the future to have enough storage for your needs.


I hope that you’ve enjoyed this article and that it provided valuable information to you. If you have a question, please leave a comment below this article and I’ll get back to you.