Facts & Figures: Is 256GB of Hard Drive Space Enough for Me?

If you're considering purchasing a new Macbook that features SSD storage, you may be wondering if the standard 256GB space is going to cut it. It's an interesting question, and the answer, of course, depends on your personal use. I've crunched some numbers to help you determine if the 256GB drive is enough for you.

The 256GB SSD (solid-state drive) is standard on current model Macbook Pros with Retina Displays, as well as an option for the Macbook Air. An SSD offers big advantages in boot-up time and program start-up times compared to traditional hard disk drives — as well as offering reliability improvements due to a lack of moving mechanics. Those benefits, of course, come at a price. Which is why instead of just springing for a 512GB or 1TB drive without thinking about it, it's worthwhile to consider whether the minimum 256GB option on the Macbook Pro will be sufficient.

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Programs and Applications
(30GB - Remaining Drive Space 226GB)

Right out of the box, about 20GB of your storage will be taken up by pre-installed applications and the Apple OS itself. Another four to eight gigs of space could easily be taken up by word processor and spreadsheet applications, as well as photo and video editors. We'll be conservative and assume all the applications you download are likely to take up an additional 10GB of space (on top of the 20GB of preloaded software).

An average user example:
  • 21 GB for Apple OS and pre-installed applications
  • 3 GB for Office Programs (iWork 1.2GB / Microsoft Office 2.5GB)
  • 1 GB for Photo Editor (iPhoto)
  • 1 GB for Video Editor (iMovie)
  • = 26GB TOTAL
A professional user example:
  • 21 GB for Apple OS and pre-installed applications
  • 3 GB for Office Programs (iWork 1.2GB / Microsoft Office 2.5GB)
  • 3 GB for Photo Editors (Aperture/Lightroom + Photoshop)
  • 2GB for Video Editor (Final Cut Pro)
  • = 29GB TOTAL
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iOS Device Backups
(8GB - Remaining Drive Space 218GB)

The next significant chunk is taken up by our iOS device backups — considering that most people will choose to sync those devices on their shiny new toy. How many iPhones and iPads do you own? How full do you keep them? What models did you swing for? The answers to those questions will determine how much of this precious space will be divvied up for emergencies. I've seen a lot of people assume that a 16GB iPad is going to take up 16GB of your hard drive for backups. That's not exactly true, since most of your iPhone/iPad is filled with music, photos, and pictures that are already stored within your iTunes library — and iTunes is smart enough not to simply make a duplicate copy in your backup file. I've found in my own use that backups generally take up about 25% of the device capacity. So a 16GB iOS device will likely take up around 4GB of space in the backup file. This can of course vary based on your usage and how full you keep the device, but I think the 25% is a good conservative ballpark we can base this exercise on.

I'll assume most people considering a Macbook Pro have at least one iPad and iPhone in their household, and further assume those are the 16GB varieties. Using the 25% metric from above, that means we can guess 8GB of space will be taken up by backups (25% of 32GB [16GB iPhone + 16GB iPad ]).

You can use this equation to adjust for your own personal use accordingly.

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Media (music, pictures, video)

Now it's time to answer the question we're all curious about. How much space is my media going to take up? This obviously depends on how many mp3s you have (or are you going to offload to iCloud?), and how often you are taking pictures/videos and storing them on your computer. Here are some numbers to chew on for data storage.

Music (500 songs)
  • MP3 [192kbps Standard Compression]- 2GB (@4MB each)
  • MP3 [320kbps High Quality] - 3.5GB (@7MB each)
Photos (500 Photos)
  • iPhone Photos [PNG] - 1GB (@2MB each)
  • Point & Shoot Camera Photos [HD JPG] - 1.5GB (@3MB each)
  • DSLR Camera Photos [RAW] - 7-14GB (@14MB -> 28MB each)
Video / Movies (60 minutes)
  • Movie File [MP4 file] - 1GB
  • Point & Shoot Camera Video [640x480 - SD] - 5GB (@80 MB / minute)
  • iPhone Video [1080p] - 10GB (@167MB / minute)
  • DSLR Video [1080p - high frame rate] - 20GB (@334MB / minute)

Nobody knows how much media you create or download more than you. Using the table above should help you make some good guesses. I'm guessing the average Macbook user has 1000 mp3's at standard quality, takes 1000 JPG photos, stores 60 minutes of iPhone video, and downloads a few movie files annually. That all tallies up to about 20GB of data needs each year. If you are a more professional user and take 500 photos a month in RAW format those numbers can look a lot different (up to 168GB in photos alone each year!).

In the average case the 256GB drive should be more than sufficient, but a more professional user may find themselves scrounging around for more space rather quickly.

Don't forget to also subtract how much space your data currently takes up — all those old word docs, spreadsheets, and music folders that you plan on migrating to your new machine. Adding up those media numbers and subtracting from the 218GB left (after applications and backups) should give you a good idea of how roomy that 256GB will be for your personal use. You can use these numbers to figure out what drive to swing for with Macbook Airs as well — which are available in 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB configurations. Considering the high cost of upgrading to the next bigger size drive, however, I'd personally go with the smallest drive reasonable for you and be resourceful with offloading media to less expensive external drives.

What size SSD did you decide on? Have you found the drive space to be sufficient for you?

(Images: Chris Perez)

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