How to Find Out How Much Hard Drive Space You Need

When purchasing a new computer, some people can be confused as to how much space they need. They’ll know that their computer comes with a set amount of space, such as “500GB.” Despite this, they’ll struggle to justify just how big 500GB is. What can you store on 500GB of space? Will it allow you to install software and download media to your heart’s content? Is it too small? Given there’s no physical reference as to just how big 500GB is, it can be hard to visualise its size.

Here’s the tricky part about purchasing a certain size of hard drive: no two cases will be the same! While you can probably derive an average amount of hard drive space that people use and tell everyone to use that amount, it means that people who are on the more extreme sides of the scale – the light users and the heavy downloaders – end up with the short end of the stick.

It’s preferable to instead look at what you want to use the hard drive for. From there you can get a rough ballpark estimate for how much space you’ll need. Some people will never cap out a hard drive bought at the smallest size available. Others may require a very large drive (or even several connected together!) in order to be comfortable with their storage.

Let’s break down the use cases into several categories – light, medium, and heavy storage usage. For each we’ll explore what kind of everyday activity counts for what kind of usage. Then we’ll discuss just how big a hard drive you really need for each one.

Light Usage



If you’re using a computer purely as a work terminal, you may find yourself on this tier. Documents such as Word, presentation, and spreadsheet documents don’t take up a great deal of space – a couple of kilobytes if you’re storing raw data or a few megabytes if you’ve added pictures to it. Even if you have large documents at 10MB each, you’ll be able to store just over 100 of them before you use a gigabyte of space. Given how hard drives come with gigabytes in the hundreds, you don’t have much to fear!

Music (MP3)

We used to measure Internet speeds against how fast it would be to download an MP3 file. While they used to be a benchmark, they’re not a problem for the current user these days. MP3 files come in at around 5MB, which varies either way depending on the length of the song. If we take that 5MB figure, you’ll be able to fit just over 200 files within a gigabyte of space.

Pictures and images

If you enjoy saving cat images off of the Internet, then you won’t need too much space to store them. Images are quite small in size, coming in at around 5MB for a particularly high-quality image, bringing them in around the same weight as MP3s. While you may see an image folder get into the gigabyte range, it shouldn’t grow big enough to put your hard drive space in danger.

What You Really Need

No matter how many of the above you use on a daily basis – perhaps you do a lot of work yet carry your music around with you – purchasing on the low end of the scale of hard drives should be plenty. Computers that sport a hard drive around 250 to 500GB of space should work out alright, and you even have the world of cloud-based computers to explore, which have tiny hard drives (around 32GB excluding operating system) with an emphasis on storing files on a cloud.

Medium Usage



Technically, photography can go under the “Pictures and Images” section under light usage. However, the justification for photography under medium usage has several elements: that you’ll always be taking high-quality images, that you’ll take multiple pictures of a single subject to get the right photo, and that you’ll never delete any images. With these in mind, it’s easy to see how an avid photographer can rack up file sizes with photos alone.

At around 5MB a photo, you’ll find that you can photograph forty different items with five photos for each item before you see a gigabyte go. If you have an itchy shutter finger, it’s probably best to invest a little more in space so your computer can keep up!

Music (higher quality)

Unlike their .mp3 brethren, .flac files weigh in at a little more – around 15 to 20MB a shot. This does mean a boost in quality, but it takes up three to four times the space that a regular .mp3 would use. Load up lots of albums in .flac format, and you may find yourself using up the space quite quickly.

Movies and TV Shows (SD)

With services popping up that allow you to legally purchase and download a movie, you may find that your movie collection moves into the digital space rather than on your shelves. If you’re looking to download films, you’ll usually have a choice between SD and HD variants. For Amazon movies, an SD movie coming in at two hours or two two-hour episodes of a show in SD will set you back around 1.5GB. If you use a 250GB hard drive and assume 50GB is taken up by OS and software, you can fit about 130 movies or 260 one-hour episodes on it before you run out of space.

Small Games

If you’re a bit of a gamer, you’ll know that games can take up quite a bit of hard drive space. Thankfully, if you’re not into purchasing the big blockbuster games, you’ll probably see them weigh in around the 300MB to 4GB mark each, which isn’t too punishing given how games can be uninstalled and reinstalled easily.

What You Really Need

If you think you’ll only be partaking in one of the above activities, you can probably squeeze everything onto a 250GB hard drive easily. If you’re an avid gamer and movie watcher, however, you’ll probably make light work of 250GB and want to look for something around the 500GB bracket instead.

Heavy Usage


Larger Games

If you enjoy downloading and playing modern games, ensure you’re getting the right storage to hold your games. A high-end modern-day game can very, very easily breach double digits in terms of gigabytes these days. It’s not totally unusual for a game to breach the 20 to 40GB range, especially content-heavy games such as MMOs. Make sure you get the space so you can hold them all!

Movies and TV shows (HD)

Unlike their SD counterparts, HD movies and shows are heavy hitters. You can expect to see a high quality two-hour video weigh in at around 6 to 8GB without breaking a sweat. That’s four times the size of an SD movie! If you had a 250GB drive dedicated entirely to shows and movies, you’d get thirty-one movies or sixty-two hour-long episodes before the hard drive surrenders. If you keep a lot of shows and movies in the best quality available, hard drive space can become scarce.

What You Really Need
You can probably get away with 500GB if you’re into either gaming or HD movies. If you’re looking to rack up a serious collection, or want to partake in both, you’re going to want to get a (minimum of) 1TB hard drive in your PC, or else you might be feeling the squeeze quite quickly!

It can be hard to visualise just how much room you need for your daily activities. You can always buy external hard drives and memory sticks if you run out of memory, but it’s always more convenient and efficient to simply purchase to your size requirements. Alternatively, if you spot a computer for an excellent price that has far more storage on it than you’ll ever use, there’s no harm in purchasing more space than you need! With this guide, hopefully you’ll have a better idea as to how much space you’ll need from your next computer.


  1. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t say what MINIMUM size of storage (HDD or SSD) is necessary, which would be the operating system plus an allowance for user space and OS/application updates.

    • Just like the maximum size, minimum size depends of the O/S and apps you run. If you are running a minimal O/S with no GUI interface and only a few apps, you may need only a 5 or 10GB drive . If, OTOH, your O/S is Win 8.x Pro or Win 10 Pro and you are doing professional video editing or web design, you may need multiple terabytes of storage.

  2. I am still confused . I only use facebook ,netflix, you tube and general browsing so would 128ssd be ok for me .. Sorry to appear thick but i dont understand as i am not very techy xx

    • Hi Susan,

      You mentioned an SSD (solid state drive), which is a little different from the hard drives (HDD) mentioned in this article! SSDs are typically faster, but are a bit pricier than their HDD counterparts. Sometimes computers will have both an SSD and a HDD, so check to see if you have both of them in your computer.

      If you just have the 128GB SSD, it should be fine for general browsing. You won’t have a great deal of space to store media, such as videos, games, and music. If you’re not interested in those, however, it should be fine!

  3. Thank you for the reply . At the mo i am using a 6 yr old Pavillion G6 . It has 4 gb of Ram . xx

  4. I found this article very informative, except for an important detail. I seems to recommend the same amount of storage for light as for medium users. I think more detail , and preciseness, to choose in those two cases would be very helpful.

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