storageThere are three types of internal storage in laptops – Hard Disks (mechanical), mSATA solid state disks and SSD (solid state disk) devices.  There are also USB drives and SD-cards that can be plugged in however these are considered to be “external” – we will look at internal storage only here.

The amount of storage space depends on your usage requirements;  some people will not need much storage as they will be storing their files online or be storing everything on their network at work or at home.  Others will need more internal storage as they will be using the machine away from home more often.  If you’re going to be away from home or long periods of time, need store many large files or this is your primary or only computer then more storage space may be essential.

The type of storage is also important:

  • Mechanical hard disks are cheapest, slowest and highest capacity drives.  They have been around a long time – they are also potentially more prone to failure as they are mechanical, generally though these drives handle mobile use very well and can cope with bumps and knocks to a surprising extent.  There are also new “hybrid” drives which have some flash storage attached (this is faster than the mechanical drive) – this has the effect of speeding up the drive though it won’t be as fast as a solid state disk.
  • SSD drives – these are smaller in capacity and more expensive but are significantly faster and use far less power.  They can be 5-10 times faster than a mechanical drive and can make the overall performance of a laptop significantly better;  they also use far less power and have no moving parts so they don’t generate much heat and aren’t susceptible to shock, vibration, etc.  In the past they were significantly more expensive and far smaller than mechanical drives however you can now obtain SSD drives that have almost as much space as mechanical ones;  they tend to be 2-4 times the cost on average but are a good investment especially if you need better performance of battery life
  • mSATA drives – these are small special internal drives which are usable on some laptops;  they are similar to SSD drives in performance and capacity.   Some smaller laptops such as ultrabooks use these internally but they’re not usually “user-serviceable” (they need to be fitted by a technician and may void warranty in some cases if they’re removed);  this depends on the model of laptop.  Some gaming laptops use a number of these in parallel to give exceptionally fast performance.

Most laptops you buy will come with a certain disk configuration – work out:

  • how much space will you need (will you need a lot of space to store videos, pictures, music, etc.?)
  • how many programs will you likely need to install?  This is a problem for very small drives
  • can you afford to spend extra and buy a machine that has SSD storage?   
  • will you need the absolute maximum amount of battery life?  Is this important?

How much space you’re going to need will depend on these factors;  remember you can store additional files on external hard drives, USB memory sticks, etc. but these can be risky;  they can get lost, tend to fail a lot more than internal drives and are a target for thieves so it’s unwise to rely on them as a sole storage medium. 

Whatever you do use – make sure the data is properly backed up!  Particularly things that can’t be replaced – photographs, videos, data files… Make sure you have a proper backup that isn’t stored in the same bag as the laptop.  This is so VERY important.