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Best practice for living with less computer storage
January 31, 2014 8:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm contemplating a new computer purchase, and one of the options I'm kicking around is a Macbook Pro Retina. Getting one of those with a big SSD is stupidly expensive. So I'm wondering what the best approach is for dealing with less storage on a laptop, and any particular tips or tricks.

Moving my media library (almost entirely run by iTunes) to an external drive seems like the obvious thing to do, as it's a space hog and self contained, although I'm not thrilled about always leaving my music behind. My personal and work files just don't add up to enough to make a big difference (maybe 20 GB total). I've always used desktops, and most of my work will continue to be desk work, but I do work away from my desk once a week for a few hours now, and having a laptop might change how I do my desk work.

I currently have an iMac, and am using right about ½ TB; my storage needs don't grow very quickly, but they do grow. If I get an MBPr, I'd opt for ½ TB of storage (upgrading from there to 1 TB is $500).
posted by adamrice to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You could get an external HD with Bluetooth connectivity.
posted by cubby at 9:01 AM on January 31

I dunno that I'd do any portable drive with WiFi (that one's got WiFi, not Bluetooth, which is good 'cause BT isn't really made for that) since you've got to plug it in.. maybe if it had a battery.. however, an external drive is pretty much the standard answer here. A 1TB external drive will run you less than $100 these days. Here's a decent looking Seagate one.

You could do something like the WD My Cloud, which is an external drive that you plug into your home router (not your computer) and then lets you access the files on it from anywhere (including your phone and tablet and all that). It seems to have good reviews. I don't know that I'd try watching videos off of it remotely - that would be entirely dependent on your home Internet connection - but music and stuff should be fine.

Another option is just using Home Sharing on iTunes on your iMac, assuming you're not getting rid of it. You could potentially use the Back to My Mac thing in iCloud to get at your stuff remotely that way too.

Yet another option is using iTunes Match, if your iTunes library is the main space hog on your system. It's $25/year and it matches up whatever songs you've got with their equivalents in the iTunes library, and uploads things it can't find. Everything shows up in iTunes and it downloads whatever you want when you actually play it. Also works on iOS devices. I've had it since beta and it's always worked pretty well for me (caveat: I just use it on my phone; most of my issues have been poor cell coverage where I am) but it does get somewhat mixed reviews. If you're getting rid of your iMac I would still get an external drive to back up your iTunes library on, though. Also worth noting is that it's music only - no videos or anything else.
posted by mrg at 9:33 AM on January 31

Yeah, itunes match is way worth it if you're so attached to your media that going for a spotify/rdio/gmusic subscription isn't a substitute.
posted by Oktober at 9:35 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]

I have a MacBook Air with a small HD. I regularly delete apps that I haven't used in a while, empty my trash frequently, and back up with Time Machine so anything I delete will be saved. I have several external drives that have music, photos, and backups. Not taking my music everywhere is a little annoying, but not having to carry a heavy laptop everywhere makes up for it. You can always save a few songs on the computer itself for on the go, or listen to music on your phone.
posted by Red Desk at 9:36 AM on January 31 [1 favorite]

Look into NAS options. Many NAS boxes will actually let you log into the drive remotely.
posted by valkyryn at 9:41 AM on January 31

Came here to say iTunes Match.
posted by caek at 10:09 AM on January 31

Seconding iTunes Match. Possibly CrashPlan if your needs are more archival.

I use iTunes Match, Songza, Spotify and Sonos for my music setup. Sonos is just a player, but it's cloud-connected. It's not connected to iTunes Match, sadly, or I'd ditch local storage altogether. For Sonos to see media from iTunes match it has to be on a fileshare somewhere.
posted by kalessin at 10:10 AM on January 31

But yes, NAS devices might be cheaper than a ton of on-board storage for your main computing device, depending on the NAS device.
posted by kalessin at 10:10 AM on January 31

On my Macbook Air, I've more or less permanently added a microSD card using this adapter.

If you don't need the SD card reader for regularly swapping files, that's an easy way to add additional storage. I got a 64GB card and moved my iTunes library.
posted by Eddie Mars at 11:09 AM on January 31

Come to that (adding another storage medium), I just looked and found out that for $1,300 (I know you can't afford this but this is a datapoint) you can get a 1TB USB 3.0 memory stick (the form factor is huge and would block other nearby USB ports).

1 TB is so big that it sort of defies my imagination of what you'd do with all that capacity as an add-on storage device. And honestly having an easily losable 1 TB device gives me the willies.

But it does seem that you could easily find a solution that worked for you, probably for a lot less money. A 64 GB SD card, for example, would be around $65 retail. Looks like 64 GB microSD cards can be even cheaper.
posted by kalessin at 12:37 PM on January 31

I only use laptops which have limited capacity. I keep a portable 1 tb external drive which I have yet to fill in 3 years even with all of my music and tv shows. With things like streaming media (a la spotify and hulu), I find myself using it less and less.

I am something of a power user and file hoarder, but pulling out the ext hd every couple of months makes it easy to stay well within 128gb.

Transcend's 1gb storejet is a little bigger than a pack of cards and has shock absorption for drops. Ive been carrying mine around with me.

I have thought about a NAS for the cool factor, but I just dont need it.
posted by jander03 at 2:58 PM on January 31

The WD Passport is a pocket-sized external drive, 2TB, and has no external power supply - it runs off USB power.

If you'll want it on the move, I think that approach of having one USB cable and running off a USB3.0 connection is a more convenient external drive than having one power cable with power adaptor, and running off a wifi connection. If you only need it around the home, then a wifi or network drive probably has the advantage.

Either way, you probably also want it to back-up to the cloud.
posted by anonymisc at 4:49 PM on January 31

If you have a Dropbox account, you can do selective sync so basically, you can turn off and on folders as you wish. It's basically the perfect solution (assuming you're willing to pay for the storage you need)
posted by Brainy at 9:37 PM on January 31

After spending a year attempting to keep my iTunes library on a network accessible hard drive attached to my airport wireless router, I got frustrated with all of the glitchiness (as it turns out, itunes just does not like its music files to be only intermittently available) and I broke down and bought a 128 gig SDcard addon (similar to what Eddie Mars described) and moved my iTunes library there. I'm much happier now. It's not cheap, but it's cheaper than buying one of the larger drives from Apple and I find that this gives me enough breathing room to not have to worry about storage space to much.
posted by dyslexictraveler at 11:05 AM on February 1

In the end, I decided to put all my video content on an external hard drive, which saves me about $400, and was the main factor driving this question.

It's not perfectly seamless, but the app Tunespan lets you divide your iTunes content between different drives, and I'm seeing how that goes.

I'm hoping that flash storage eventually gets cheap enough that I can consolidate everything inside the laptop.
posted by adamrice at 3:26 PM on June 5

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