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The Ultimate File Storage Guide for Laptops

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The Ultimate File Storage Guide for Laptops

Your laptop is pretty useless to you unless you have a place to store those much needed applications and files.  In the past, your storage options were somewhat limited as the technology simply hadn’t quite evolved.  Today, however, it is a much different story, and if you want to make sure you make the best laptop buying decision, you need to make sure you are up on the latest and greatest storage technologies that are available for laptops.

Essentially, laptop storage options can be broken down into three different types today.  These are a mixture of classic storage options and new storage options as well.  They are:

  • Hard Drive – The classic hard drive that has been in use for decades, these hard drives are still a mainstay on most laptops.
  • DVD ROM Drive – Once the only way to have effective external storage of any substantial size, the CD and DVD drives are beginning to lose their luster and some laptops don’t even bother including them anymore.
  • Solid State Drive – Perfect for those users who need or just want true speed, solid state drives provide some of the fastest data transfers available today. However, they are almost always much smaller than traditional hard drives and cost more when compared to other storage media.
  • External Storage – With USB speeds being what they are today, it is easy to purchase an external hard drive or even flash memory that provides enough storage for you to easily store everything you need.

Choosing the Best Storage Options for Your Needs

When deciding what storage options you need to buy, all you have to do is ask yourself a few questions.

  1. How much storage do I need? – If you need a lot of storage, you will want to choose a traditional hard drive as these are far larger than their SSD counterparts.
  2. How fast does my laptop need to be? – If speed is an issue, you definitely need to look at the SSD options available for your laptop.
  3. Do I need to use a DVD drive for software or video? – Many people don’t need this option anymore. However, if you have a lot of software you want to use on DVD or you want to watch video, then you may have to find one that still includes a drive.
  4. Am I ok with storing files on an external drive? – If you are thinking about an SSD, you will want additional storage especially if you have a vast library of music or movies to store. If you aren’t ok with hooking up an external drive every time you need something, you may have to sacrifice some speed for a traditional hard drive.

These simple questions can point you on the proper path towards selecting the proper storage options for your laptop.

SSD DriveWhy It’s Important

Some of you may be thinking, storage is storage, right?  Wrong.  Back in the day this was most certaintly true, but today you need to look closely at your options.  Each one of these storage solutions bring to the table certain strengths and weaknesses that you must consider when making your laptop buying decision.  If you don’t choose the right options, you could find that using your brand new laptop becomes more a chore instead of the joy that it was supposed to be.  You must ensure that you have the adequate type and amount of storage when choosing a new computer.  If you don’t, you will find it difficult to access and store what you need to store and you could spend quite a bit of time cleaning out and deleting potentially important files simple because you didn’t buy the right type of storage space.

A Closer Look At Your Storage Options

Hard Drive

The gold standard for computer storage for decades, hard drives today come in all shapes and sizes and can store vast amounts of data.  They utilize a plate and reader arm technology that run at a certain speed during reading and writing.  The higher the RPM’s on the drive, the faster they will be.  Many laptops still come with slower 5400 RPM drives today meaning that it will take longer to save and open anything on your laptop.  Of course, even the fastest of these drives move at a turtle’s pace when compared to solid state drives.

Solid State Drive

A solid state drive stores information and data on non-volatile flash memory.  What does that mean in English?  Basically, unlike the traditional hard drives that store data on plates and use a small arm to read the plates, information is stored on solid banks of flash memory that don’t require an arm to seek out the data.  This makes these drives much faster compared to traditional hard drives although there is some debate on how long they last compared to traditional hard drives.  These drives are often much more expensive compared to traditional hard drives and are found mainly in high-end laptops and don’t come in the larger sizes that you will find either.

DVD Drive

Everyone knows what a DVD drive is today.  In some cases, you will also find Blu Ray players and readers on laptops as well.  Some laptop manufacturers have begun eliminating this drive altogether from laptops enabling them to make them slimmer and include space for multiple hard drives inside the laptop itself.  However, if you have a lot of software stored on DVD, going without may be difficult for you.

External Storage

The world of USB external hard drives may be a familiar one to you as these devices have been on the market for quite some time.  They are perfect for storing files that you need to take with you or use on more than one computer but it also means you have an extra device to carry around with you at all times.  However, if you have an SSD in your laptop, an external drive becomes almost essential if you hope to save your music, movies, and any other type of document or file that you need.

laptop-hard-driveCommon Combinations

So what storage combinations should you seek for your laptop?  There are several different setups that people typically use when purchasing a new laptop.  Let’s take a look at some of the most popular setups to give you an idea on what you can expect from each.

Hard Drive/DVD Drive

The gold standard that you can still find today, the standard hard drive and DVD drive setup includes one traditional hard drive usually in the realm of 500GB or more and a DVD or Blu Ray drive.  This is not a bad all around build and is perfect for most users, but you do lose the speed benefits of a solid state drive which could impact the experiences of gamers or high end users.

Users who should consider this setup:

  • Budget shoppers
  • Casual users
  • Business users

Solid State Drive/DVD Drive/External Storage

My personal favorite, this gives you the best of everything.  You install a solid state drive inside your laptop and use it to open all your applications and, of course, your operating system.  You still have access to the DVD drive for loading older software or software you purchase in the store and you still gain the advantage of a large amount of storage by using an external hard drive.  This setup means that you will also have to carry around your external hard drive, but if you want speed, storage and access to DVD’s or Blu Rays, this is by far the best option you can choose.

Users who should consider this setup:

  • Gamers
  • IT professionals
  • Video Editors
  • Audio Editors
  • Music and Movie Fans

Solid State Drive/Hard Drive

The perfect setup for anyone who doesn’t need that old fashioned DVD drive anymore, this setup makes use of the added space by leaving off the DVD drive allowing you to use a Solid State drive for your operating system and applications while reserving the second hard drive for all your data.  This enables you to get the fast speeds associated with the solid state drive along with the added storage benefits of a traditional hard drive.

Users who should consider this setup:

  • Gamers
  • Video Editors
  • Audio editors

Hard Drive/Hard Drive

This setup isn’t quite as common as the others, but you will still find people who use it.  In this setup, two hard drives are installed inside the laptop.  These traditional hard drives are often quite large giving the user access to a large amount of storage.  While not as fast as some of these other setups, it does give you an impressive amount of storage space inside your laptop without having to carry around a second external storage device.

Users who should consider this setup:

  • Media fans who don’t need speed
  • Users who need file storage


Every laptop comes with different options in regards to storage.  When you are trying to choose the right laptop, you need to pay close attention to what storage options are available for your laptop.  Of course, hard drives can be easily replaced even on laptops so you could always alter the configuration later.  But, some changes are impossible to make.  You may find it hard, for example, to find a DVD drive that will fit your laptop if you don’t order it with one after the fact, forcing you to look at external options.

Carefully consider what you need on a laptop before you buy your laptop.  By just taking a few moments to learn about what you actually need and/or want from your laptop can save you quite a bit of money and work at a later date.  No matter what you decide, make sure you have enough storage for all your files so you don’t have to worry about running out of valuable storage space after you get your laptop home.

By Matt Garrett

Matt is an IT professional with over fifteen years experience supporting network infrastructure and computers. An avid gamer, Matt enjoys his time playing and writing about his experiences both in the IT world and in the gaming communities. You can find more of his writing on our sister ShopNinja sites where he enjoys talking about anything and everything tech.

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