February 27, 2021

Storage is one of those things that you can never have too much of, especially if we go by modern trends of everything getting bigger and better. Games and programs are constantly increasing in size, while hard drive and SSD prices are decreasing.

Today you can easily get a 1TB SSD for close to or under 100 dollars. Something like this would have been impossible just half a decade ago.

In the end, it all comes down to your personal needs and how you store your data. Do you like to carry everything around with you internally on the laptop without the need for external drives? In that case, you might want a laptop with at least 1TB of storage, or more.

 Are you a gamer? What kind of games do you play? Small indie titles on Steam or GoG are usually in the 1 to 5GB range, whereas AAA games such as Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed can easily take up 50+ GB of space.

Perhaps you are a hobbyist photographer or even a pro. In that case, you will be fine with around 512GB to 1TB of storage because you can fit around 50,000 high-res RAW images into a terabyte of space. 

However, if you’re a video editor, you’ll need tons of space. For instance, a one-hour compressed 1080p 30fps video can take up anywhere from 1.5GB to over 20GB of space on your drive. It all comes down to three things-

  1. Codec
  2. Bitrate
  3. Frame Rate

Uncompressed, RAW 1080p footage can take up over 200 gigabytes of storage for just 1 hour of video. Multiply that number by 4 if you’re recording in 4k. 

So if you’re serious about editing high-res video you need at least 2 to 4TB of storage on your laptop, probably more. With laptops, you can’t be too conservative when it comes to storage since they are not as upgradeable as desktops.

So you need to consider your needs and plan well with the future in mind if you’re purchasing a laptop today.

Speed costs money, that much we know. Faster storage is better in theory, but in practice, it isn’t all that influential past a certain point. You can keep going faster but diminishing returns will greatly reduce the value you get for your money.

A standard SATA III SSD with 550MB per second (sequential) read and write is already 4 to 5 times faster than the average 5400 RPM Hard Disk Drive. It will significantly lower bootup times, game loading times, and even the speed with which your web browser responds. 

Going to a PCIe interface will boost this advantage even further since a PCIe SSD can transfer data up to 4 or 5 times faster than a SATA III SSD.

Many modern PCIe 3.0 x 4 SSDs out there can run sequential read speeds of 3+ GB per second, with write speeds in the same region. 

However, you won’t see your game loading times decrease by 4x, or your bootup became 5 times faster. There is a point of diminishing returns, and most software still isn’t designed to leverage the maximum speeds of PCIe storage.

On the other hand, you can easily fill up your PC with cheap but high capacity storage if you go with hard drives. Yes, your programs won’t open as fast but you can have tons of space to store anything you want.

For the price of a 1TB PCIe SSD, you can easily get a 4TB 7200rpm hard disk drive from reputable manufactures like Seagate or Western Digital. 

We believe the ideal solution to be somewhere in the middle. It’s hard to imagine a modern computer system without at least one SSD because hard drives just feel so slow once you get accustomed to SSD speeds. You can go the hybrid route if you want to save money but not compromise speed in key applications.

Get a 512GB or 1TB SSD for your operating system, frequently played games, programs, etc. You can also use this SSD to store videos that you plan to work on in the near future, to significantly boost productivity speeds.

And for mass storage, you can get a 2TB HDD in which you keep all your movies, photos, old files, etc. 

SSDs utilize NAND flash memory, unlike HDDs that have spinning magnetic disks or platters. HDDs are mechanical devices, and the rate at which you can read or write data to them is limited by how fast the mechanical arm can transition from one point to another on the platter.

SSDs aren’t limited by mechanical speed since there are no moving parts. You can access data from any part of the chip at any given time, in ways that aren’t physically possible on a mechanical hard drive.

Another reason is the fact that SSDs can use the PCIe interface as well as the NVMe protocol which was designed specifically to take advantage of modern SSD speeds.

Hard drives still use the AHCI protocol, which was designed way back in the early 2000s. This is back when 40GB hard drives with 40MB/s transfer speeds were considered good enough. 

You can transfer data much faster on the PCI express link compared to 6Gbps SATA III, plus the latency is lower since it is managed directly by the CPU.

Combine that with the NVMe protocol which is essentially a system controlling I/O on the SSD, and you’ve got a package that is over 20 times faster than even the best hard drives out there.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the difference in speed between PCIe 3.0 and 4.0? Is the latter worth it?

A. Unless you’re a professional working with huge datasets and need the absolute best in storage speed, PCIe 4.0 offers no significant benefit over its predecessor. Especially if you’re just gaming and editing the occasional photo/ video. PCIe 4.0 is capable of significantly faster speeds, literally double the bandwidth of PCIe 3.0 which means in theory it should deliver better performance.

But the software just isn’t there quite yet, and won’t be there until widespread market adoption. There is hope, with Microsoft’s upcoming DirectStorage API that can leverage the insane speeds of PCIe 4.0 within games. 

Q. What is the minimum SSD storage I should have on my laptop?

A. As of now, 512GB is the minimum we’ll recommend for a smooth experience. Especially if this SSD is the only storage device on your laptop. For budget student laptops, 256GB is manageable if you use cloud storage and external storage devices.

Q. How much space do I need for storing my Steam library in its entirety?

A. That will depend on your games, some of them might be older AAA games or indie titles that won’t take up more than 5 to 6 GB of space. Others will be modern AAA titles with 40+ GB install sizes. At least 1TB is what we recommend if you’re trying to store 20+ games on your machine at any given time.

Conclusion

We hope this article gave you all the information you need to make an informed purchase decision. Laptops unlike desktops are harder to upgrade, and even though you can upgrade the storage on a laptop it almost always involves removing the old drive.

On a desktop, you can add up to 3 or 4 additional hard drives since you have the physical space. On a laptop, you are usually limited to an M.2 slot on the mainboard and a 2.5” bay.

If you’re buying a gaming laptop, make sure it has at least 1TB of storage. Preferably a SSD + HDD combo so you can keep your most frequently played games on the SSD and the rest on the HDD alongside movies, photos, etc.

For netbooks and Chromebooks 128GB is fine as long as you’ve got access to reliable and fast internet so you can leverage the power of cloud storage. 

About the author

Saurav Rath

Saurav has been writing about technology for the past 4 years, but has been a fan of all things computer related since he was 7 years old. He is a ghostwriter for multiple sites, and covers everything from PC hardware to chainsaws and mobile game development (yep, the guy has a lot of range). Learn more

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