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When I bought my 15-inch MacBook Pro in June 2012, it shipped with a 256GB solid state drive. Six years later, a comparable 15-inch MacBook Pro still only ships with a 256GB SSD.
In 2012, the iPhone 5 shipped in 16G, 32GB, and 64GB variants. In 2018, the iPhone 8 ships in 64GB or 128GB flavors. So why has Apple put the MacBook on a diet?
Read these reasons for why you shouldn’t settle for 256GB storage when buying your next MacBook. And be sure to check out our tips for when is the best time to buy that new computer.
1. The Unstable Price of Storage
Many of us expect the price of technology to fall as that technology becomes more prevalent. But in the case of components like memory and storage, that’s not always the case. Scarcity is one of the biggest drivers of price hikes in the tech space. Though the price of SSD storage has fallen overall during the last decade, there have been some notable price hikes too.
After prices plummeted in December 2016, some manufacturers hiked prices by as much as 36 percent at the start of the following year. Price rises can be attributed to shifts in manufacturing techniques, increasing raw material costs, and freak weather events like the flooding in Thailand that occurred in 2011.
Has Apple been hit by the volatile price of computer memory and SSDs? Sure. But the company has much more bargaining power with manufacturers than consumers and most retailers. This is likely why we’ve only seen small increases in iPhone storage (like a 64GB baseline taking over from 16GB and 32GB) rather than larger leaps in base storage for MacBooks (like 512GB or even 1TB).
Apple’s high-end offerings (like the iMac Pro above) come with a 1TB solid state drive as standard now, but these machines are expensive. The iMac Pro is a staggering $5,000 worth of computer.
Meanwhile, an upgrade to a 1TB SSD adds $600 to the $2,399 you’re already paying for a 15-inch MacBook Pro. In spite of the cost, Apple should still provide more than a measly 256GB (128GB in the 13-inch model) in its flagship laptop.
2. The 256GB Daily Driver
If you’re buying a MacBook and plan to use it as your main machine, buy a model with more than 256GB of storage. Even if you only double the internal storage to 512GB, you’ll thank yourself in a few years when you’re not constantly juggling free space.
Anecdotally speaking, MacBooks tend to last a long time. In addition to a six-year-old MacBook Pro, there’s an eight-year-old MacBook Air in our house. There’s nothing majorly wrong with either beyond the aging internals, and the leaps made in performance over the last half-decade or so.
The flip-side of the oft-lauded reliability of MacBooks is that you might have to live with your choice of machine for longer than you expect. If you haven’t got the money to replace the hardware, or you don’t see the sense in replacing a perfectly serviceable laptop, you’re going to regret opting for the smaller capacity model.
As a main machine, your MacBook will host your Photos and iTunes libraries. This is where all your iPhone photos and videos are stored, plus any media managed or purchased through iTunes. While it’s possible to store these libraries remotely to save space, it’s inconvenient. You’ll have to rely on plugging in external drives, or network drives being available on your local network.
If you’re not paying for iCloud storage and backing up your mobile devices to the cloud, you should create regular iTunes backups instead. These backups are stored locally in the
~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup folder. Depending on the size of your device, these backups could be huge. Storing them elsewhere is one solution, but it also relies on external drives.
Don’t forget to make room for your apps. If you’re a student who spends half your life in a web browser and the other half in a word processor, this might not be an issue. But if you’re a keen photographer with an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, you’ll likely want to get your money’s worth by installing the apps you need. Premier Pro CC 2018 is nearly 4GB, while Lightroom Classic CC weighs in at 2.3GB on disk.
Finally, you’ll want space for the projects you’re currently working on. This could be your Lightroom library or somewhere to dump your video files while editing. If you’re working with high bitrate video or another medium that relies on fast read-write performance, you’ll likely need to keep your source files on your SSD rather than an old external drive.
3. It’s Better to Buy Big
It’s always better to buy more storage than you need from the outset than it is to try and upgrade at a later date. Apple never made it easy to upgrade the storage in a MacBook, but post-2016 MacBook Pro models almost marked the end of user-upgradeability entirely.
The latest MacBook Pro ships with soldered RAM, a glued-down battery, and a proprietary solid state drive which Apple does not make available outside its own channels. It’s possible we’ll eventually see compatible SSDs hit the gray market, but they likely won’t be cheap when they do. You also need to perform the upgrade yourself.
You can currently only buy SSD upgrades for MacBook Pro models made in 2015 or earlier. A 480GB upgrade will cost around $400, while upgrading your MacBook Pro to a 512GB model at the checkout on Apple’s website is a flat $200.
Performing any of these upgrades yourself will invalidate your warranty and any AppleCare plans you’ve purchased. You could look at other methods of adding storage to your MacBook, but the latest models even lack an SD card reader which was our previous go-to method for adding a few hundred gigabytes to your laptop’s capacity.
4. Is Apple Betting on iCloud?
macOS Sierra introduced a feature called Store in iCloud. This automatically uploads files you don’t use to the cloud so that you can delete them locally. This only works if you have enough free iCloud storage space, and once you’ve enabled the feature under System Preferences > iCloud Drive > Options. (There are also some macOS folders you can safely delete to save space.)
Similarly, iCloud Photo Library offers to store your high-resolution photos so you can optimize local space with lower-quality copies. Subscribing to Apple Music provides access to some 30 million songs, while iCloud Music Library makes them available on all your devices. However, you’ll need a data connection to stream them.
The main reason most of us buy iCloud storage in the first place is to facilitate nightly backups, which takes the strain of storing all that data locally. The 5GB free storage allotment has not increased since the service was introduced in 2011, despite pushing customers further toward cloud solutions.
But even if iCloud is meant to take up the slack, we’re still in dire need of more local storage.
When Smaller Is Better for MacBooks
If you already have an iMac, Mac mini, Mac Pro, or other primary computer, this is much less of a concern. Not keeping personal Photos and iTunes purchases around might even boost your productivity. You can save money by opting for a smaller model, while relying on your main machine for storage-intensive tasks.
For everyone else: Consider how long you expect to use your machine and your storage requirements before you buy. If you don’t like adding more MacBook space by relying on external drives, the cloud, and network storage, buy bigger. If you don’t want to be fighting a constant battle for free space, then buy bigger.