How to live with a Mac mini or MacBook Air with a small internal drive

Posted:
in General Discussion
Today's SSD drives are so fast that they speed up your entire Mac -- but unless you spend a lot of money, they're also very small. You can manage on 128GB of space instead, but it takes discipline and apps to pull it off.




There's no question: the more storage you have on your Mac, the happier you'll be. Yet it's easy to say that a decent minimum is a 512GB SSD, it's harder to actually buy that.

You have to specify your drive size when you're buying the Mac and you have to get it from Apple. That means both predicting what you'll ever need with this machine -- and paying well for it. A 512GB SSD adds $400 to the cost of a Mac mini, or practically half the price of the machine again.

A 1TB SSD is the same cost as a Mac mini, if you get it from Apple. And if you're buying a MacBook Air, getting it with a 512GB SSD will make that cheapest Mac laptop cost $1,599.

You get the same or at least similar price issues with machines like the higher-cost, higher-spec iMac or MacBook Pro. And if you're used to having a couple of terabytes of spinning hard drives on your old Mac, even a 512GB SSD is going to feel cramped.

On the one hand, though, that SSD is going to make your Mac feel faster than ever. If you have a Mac with a small drive -- or one with just a lot less than you're used to -- then you're going to have to change how you use that machine. There are, as ever, apps that can help you. There are settings that will be of use.

More than anything, however, you're going to need discipline.

Discipline

There are certain things you have to have on your Mac's internal drive, on its startup disk. There are others where through years of habit you think you have to have there. And then there are ones you don't.

As soon as you can, buy external drives. It's another outlay but it's vastly cheaper than paying Apple for a bigger SSD. Get at least two, and train yourself to move documents to both when you're done with them.

Archive everything when it doesn't need to be on your boot drive. And if you can keep those drives permanently connected to your Mac, online services like Backblaze will back them up exactly as if they're your internal drive.

And, Thunderbolt 3 is very fast, with theoretical maximums of 40 gbit/sec. Don't be afraid to get an external USB 3.1 type C drive capable of 10 gbit/sec for things you need fast access from, like for Photoshop scratch files, or the like.

Little choice

It's best to assume that applications must stay on your startup drive. That's not entirely true, but for the great majority of applications, it is safest and wisest.

However, apps tend to use temporary space on your drive. If you're editing video in any app, for instance, you're going to get a low disk space warning very quickly because of this.

Check the app to see if you can have this temporary space on another drive, though. Final Cut Pro X, for example, lets you set any drive as the place for these temporary files. It will always be faster to be using your startup drive, but if the external is an SSD then the difference may not be noticeable.

It takes some thought, but you can move your iTunes library off your Mac's startup drive
It takes some thought, but you can move your iTunes library off your Mac's startup drive


FCPX makes this easy but you can also do it with iTunes, which doesn't.

It's well worth the effort it takes to move iTunes's libraries to another drive, but right now you should probably wait. It looks likely that Apple will split up iTunes into its constituent parts, separating music and video for instance. And while the technique for moving them to an external drive will be the same, you may decide you only want to do this for, say, books.

Apps to help get a grip

If you're struggling right now with a drive that is complaining about how little room you've got left, use some apps to help you get a handle on it.

OmniDiskSweeper, for instance, is a very good and free utility from the makers of OmniFocus. It catalogues your drive and gives you a quick way to see what's taking up space - and delete it, if you choose. It's not for people who are new to the Mac, but it's a great tool if you know you shouldn't ever delete your Library.

For newer uses or just when you haven't time to study every document's file size, you can use Gemini. This app, included in Setapp, is a duplicate file finder and it's peculiar how easily you end up with two or more copies of the same thing.

Apps to stay on top

Once you've got a decent amount of space on your drive, the most useful thing you can do is plan. Make a workflow for yourself, just a list of when you do what with your documents. Figure out when you are done with them and when you can archive them off.

Then think about downloads. Your downloads folder already has too many files in it and because you haven't looked in a year, you can't easily tell now what's important and what isn't.

So plan to delete or archive every download after you've downloaded it.

An extremely basic use of Hazel to stay on top of your Downloads folder
An extremely basic use of Hazel to stay on top of your Downloads folder


And if this all seems like too much trouble, it is -- but you can get Hazel to help. Hazel is a reason to buy a Mac, it's that good and useful. It monitors any folder you tell it to, and then it takes action on what it finds.

We have Hazel monitor our desktop for invoices which it archives off for us after a day. After a month, Hazel will collect up all the images we've created and not only move them to an external archive but rename and sort them to make it easy to find one later.

Archive or delete

There's genuinely no question. If you have a Mac with a small drive then you are going to have to be conscious of what you Save and where you save it.

Yet if our Macs today come with smaller drives than we're used to, they're fantastically faster. If you move from an old iMac to a new Mac mini, well, you'll likely miss the screen as well as the storage space, but you'd never go back either.



Keep up with AppleInsider by downloading the AppleInsider app for iOS, and follow us on YouTube, Twitter @appleinsider and Facebook for live, late-breaking coverage. You can also check out our official Instagram account for exclusive photos.
«13

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 59
    For a Mini, why not just get a 1 or 2 TB SSD, put it in a USB-C 3.1 enclosure, and move your entire Home and Apps folder to it?
  • Reply 2 of 59
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,871administrator
    therfman said:
    For a Mini, why not just get a 1 or 2 TB SSD, put it in a USB-C 3.1 enclosure, and move your entire Home and Apps folder to it?
    The T2 makes this a little more complex than it used to be. While you can do this, right now, we don't recommend it.
    edited April 12
  • Reply 3 of 59
    Eric_WVGGEric_WVGG Posts: 662member
    Regarding portables, there are two Mac apps that can use truly gigantic amounts of data but might fit into a user's "home" life rather than their "work" life: iTunes and Photos. I have both of these data stores on very-large-capacity hard drives that stay home, and are loaded by the apps via symlinks.
  • Reply 4 of 59
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,860member
    I have to take exception to this article.   Buying a relatively large SSD isn’t that hard nor that expensive these days.  The problem is they can’t be installed in the Mini nor most Macs these days!!!   The only people that need to be burdened by these small drives are people buying Apple hardware.  It is a sad state of affairs that we now have to deal with, that is Apple grossly overcharging for what amounts to commodity tech.  Buy hardware from somebody else, almost anyone really, and your expenses drop considerably.  
    PylonsmikethemartianChapman8torGeorgeBMacigohmmmokssipin
  • Reply 5 of 59
    My iMac setup:

     - Internal 250 GB SSD: System, most apps, and home folder. ~/Music and ~/Movies folders are symlinked to the external drive.

    - 1st external (USB 3) 4 TB HD: Time Machine Backup of the SSD, Music, Movies, lesser-used Apps, and whatever other large data I need to store.

    - 2nd external (USB 3) 4 TB HD: Alternate Time Machine backup of the SSD, and straight rsync backup of the 1st external drive.

     By the way, Apple is not breaking up iTunes or shutting down the iTunes Store. They are only adding separate Apple TV+ and Apple Music clients to the Mac, for subscribers of those services. The only likely change to iTunes will be the removal of Podcasts, which hasn't been able to properly sync with iOS for years.
    edited April 12 eric deardorff
  • Reply 6 of 59
    I have a 2018 Mac mini with 128gb ssd. I just use a Samsung X5 1tb with it. I read what people were saying and I was worried about x5 being limited by the internal ssd but the X5 blazes way faster than the internal drive in literally everything I do. I will never buy anything other than another thunderbolt 3 external drive after this. There are a few apps that have to stay on the main drive because of how OS X is — which is annoying — but otherwise, everything else lives on the X5.
  • Reply 7 of 59
    therfman said:
    For a Mini, why not just get a 1 or 2 TB SSD, put it in a USB-C 3.1 enclosure, and move your entire Home and Apps folder to it?
    The T2 makes this a little more complex than it used to be. While you can do this, right now, we don't recommend it.
    This comment baffles me. It seems the obvious move, and assuming you don't encrypt your drive(s) and you're still booting from the internal drive, I don't see the issue a t2 would cause...
  • Reply 8 of 59
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,151member
    You can also save local storage space by using the Optimize Mac Storage option in iCloud Preferences and the Apple Photos app. In general, offloading content to a cloud storage service, whether it's iCloud, DropBox, or whatever can reduce demand for local storage, but I assume everyone already understands this. As part of your "discipline" routine you should also periodically open the About This Mac from the Apple menu and take a look at the Storage page to see how you're consuming all the local storage resources that you have on your Mac. There's a Manage feature in the Storage utility that can help you make some gross level storage adjustments.
    edited April 12
  • Reply 9 of 59
    ...why I am clinging to my pre-cook(ed) Apple Computers...

    The increasing hardware lock down and data mining for this life time Apple Computer customer has never been more discouraging...

    Failing and inconsistent keyboard (touchbar forced on some models, unavailable on others), inflexible expensive T2 storage and ram, lack of a decent graphics card in a 6 core mini, VESA limitations... Dongle hell ? Even the fixed batteries and odd charge port location on the mouse raises questions ? While speed (in areas) increases, has the McMac become far, far less usable, or even functional ?

    Apple claims they realize a mistake was made with the pro tower and Apple is listening to customers? That seemed questionable enough to me with subsequent releases that it brings every representation (including privacy) into question...

    Apple can keep their current McMacs, and their insidious, pervasive iCloud creep...

    If not yet seen, for possible consideration: www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzyafieRcWE

    edited April 12 Chapman8torigohmmmkestral
  • Reply 10 of 59
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,850member
    It is depressing that such articles are necessary due to the gouging Apple does because of the need for additional storage. It is probably reason number one that after thirty years of recommending macs to friends and family, I just can’t do it anymore. 

    It it is also a reason, if you are a dedicated Mac user, to buy the current iMac as it doesn’t have the T2 chip, and you can easily just boot off the TB3 port with an NVME enclosure. That said, it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem of Apple’s upgrade pricing policy, and while I am accepting of this workaround, I won’t recommend it when buying a computer to someone else.
    boboliciousgrifmxChapman8torigohmmmokssipinkestral
  • Reply 11 of 59
    entropys said:
    It is depressing that such articles are necessary due to the gouging Apple does because of the need for additional storage. It is probably reason number one that after thirty years of recommending macs to friends and family, I just can’t do it anymore. 

    It it is also a reason, if you are a dedicated Mac user, to buy the current iMac as it doesn’t have the T2 chip, and you can easily just boot off the TB3 port with an NVME enclosure. That said, it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem of Apple’s upgrade pricing policy, and while I am accepting of this workaround, I won’t recommend it when buying a computer to someone else.
    I too am no longer recommending macs...
    Chapman8torigohmmmkestral
  • Reply 12 of 59
    schlackschlack Posts: 699member
    Lack of reasonably priced storage options on the Mac is seriously making me wonder if my next machine will be a PC. Oh the horror. I have an external drive. It’s not the same. 
    Chapman8torigohmmmokssipin
  • Reply 13 of 59
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,850member
    schlack said:
    Lack of reasonably priced storage options on the Mac is seriously making me wonder if my next machine will be a PC. Oh the horror. I have an external drive. It’s not the same. 
    Well it is not an aesthetically pleasing solution for starters, a big reason to use macs. And also, it is not the Apple way, you know, “it just works“.
    Chapman8torkestral
  • Reply 14 of 59
    Booting Mac computers that have the Apple T2 Security Chip from external drives needs a setting to be adjusted.
    See > Apple Support / About Startup Security Utility
    edited April 12 entropysradarthekatkestral
  • Reply 15 of 59
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,850member
    Thanks Kohtaoke. Informative first post!
    kohtaokejohnbsiriusradarthekat
  • Reply 16 of 59
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,860member
    entropys said:
    It is depressing that such articles are necessary due to the gouging Apple does because of the need for additional storage. It is probably reason number one that after thirty years of recommending macs to friends and family, I just can’t do it anymore. 

    It it is also a reason, if you are a dedicated Mac user, to buy the current iMac as it doesn’t have the T2 chip, and you can easily just boot off the TB3 port with an NVME enclosure. That said, it doesn’t solve the fundamental problem of Apple’s upgrade pricing policy, and while I am accepting of this workaround, I won’t recommend it when buying a computer to someone else.
    I too am no longer recommending macs...
    I’m currently in the middle with respect to recommendations.   Some people are certainly better off with Macs.   For me the only real alternative is Linux as my brief run in with Windows 10 was absolutely horrible.  Linux is far more trouble free than in the past but still suffers from the need to reinstall (actually upgrade to a new distro release), constantly.   Mac OS is perhaps the only OS going that has smooth upgrade transitions.  
    kruegdudeseanjokssipin
  • Reply 17 of 59
    Still for efficiency in a workflow and ease of use I’ll still recommend macs.  I keep my macs usually for 5 years but this time my workhorse 2012 13 MacBook Pro i7 with ssd and max ram lasted me almost 7 years still just as fast as I bought it.  Boots in 10 seconds running mojave. Tell me the same experience on a windows computer.  I finally upgraded this year to a i5 Mac mini which I got for $900 from bestbuy open box certified.    Installed 32gb of ram myself.  So for $1100 you can have a screaming machine for the next 5-7 years.  So everyone quit Bitchin about the Mac and all the quirks.  It’s more than paid for it’s trouble free service and thousands of dollars in business revenue each year.  That’s not counting the free software of photos and iMovie and iTunes GarageBand.  You can create a lot of stuff just with the free software let alone the paid stuff.  Windows/ Linux doesn’t give you that.  Sure there’s some hubs and doggles.  The mini is so small just tuck it under your desk out of sight. I love mine.  I can have photoshop open with 60 pics, three browsers open with 20 tabs open.   .  Netflix streaming on one screen.  And printing shipping labels without a hiccup.  No other company can give you that stability and efficiency to make money without worrying about “the computer”.  Windows still puts 10 wizards just to set up a damn network printer.  I set up 5 macs before 1 windows laptop got there’s connected.  
    seanj
  • Reply 18 of 59
    grifmxgrifmx Posts: 90member
    external boot drive. done
  • Reply 19 of 59
    adamcadamc Posts: 576member
    therfman said:
    For a Mini, why not just get a 1 or 2 TB SSD, put it in a USB-C 3.1 enclosure, and move your entire Home and Apps folder to it?
    If I am reading you correctly that’s what I did, I boot up from an much bigger external drive in a USB-C enclosure and it works just fine. The only problem is I have to turn on the trust mode to allow this external drive to be used and it is only available in the MacOS recovery.
  • Reply 20 of 59
    And for those on the move?
    Today (Saturday) I'm off to photograph an event. Last year I took 351Gb of images with a 36Mp camera. Now I have a 48Mp Camera it will be worse.
    So I'm going to have my 1TB MacBook plus three 2GB SSD's (2 as backups). One contains my Lightroom Catalogue so the images will be copied there before two backups are made.
    Back home I'll merge the catalogue with my master on my Hackintosh that has 10TB of SSD/HDD in the case plus a Drobo and QNAP NAS systems as backups.
    I'd hate to think what storage I'd need if I started shooting in 4K Video.

    The price that apple charge for SSD's is silly and really need to come down an awful lot.

    I'm moving from 2.5in SSD's to M2 format as the overall size inc case is a lot smaller and easier to carry with my camera gear.

    128Gb for my use case is laughable.

    Chapman8torkestral
Sign In or Register to comment.