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.
SSD or HDD?
The question of whether you get an SSD (Solid State Drive) or an older-style HDD (Hard Disk Drive) may sound like a separate topic, but really it’s inextricably tied into your storage capacity. SSDs are, on average, about double the price of an HDD, so you’ll be getting about half the storage for your money.
On the other hand, they offer significantly faster read/write speeds that are vital to heavyweight tasks like gaming, video editing and so on. You’ll need to consider whether the trade-off of speed for capacity is worth it.
Here’s our general rundown of what kind of things are best stored on what kind of hard drive, which will help you decide on the capacity and type of hard drive you need.
SSD: Demanding games, Video Editing, Photoshop, Other Demanding Software, Operating System
HDD: Documents, Movies, Music, Pictures, Small games, Lightweight software and small apps.
How Much Space Do I Need?
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.
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 (which is rare), 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!
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, usually coming in at 3-5MB, bringing them in just a little lighter than 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.
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.
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.
As these games tend to be less resource-demanding or older, you don’t necessarily need to store them on your SSD either, as their load times are much small anyway.
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.
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 quite common these days for a game to breach the 40 to 70GB 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.
This article was first published in Sep 2016 and was updated in Dec 2018.