256GB vs 512GB vs 1TB GB SSDs - How Much is Enough for You?
Finding the ideal storage solution for desktop and laptop buyers
- 256GB (or even 128GB) for light/budget users who only browse the internet, watch online videos and use basic programs (Microsoft Office, very light gaming, etc.).
- 512GB: Users who want more apps, modest media collections & gaming.
- 1TB: Serious gamers, larger media collections, and/or people who have file-intensive work (video editing, music production, etc.).
- 2TB: Very heavy gaming/production work – at this point consider mixing a smaller SSD + larger HDD (hard drive) for the budget.
That’s just a very simplistic summary.
For the rest of this feature, we’re going to be breaking down each size, detail what you might want depending on your usage, and recommend the best 256GB, 512GB & 1TB SSDs to ensure you avoid fake options on the market.
(This is a long, in-depth piece, use the contents to guide you!).
Table of Contents
A quick word on where to buy SSDs
Before we get started, we need to touch on the problem with fake SSDs in today’s market.
For whatever reason, storage tends to attract a lot of inauthentic listings that usually use smaller SSDs disguised as a larger size (e.g. a 128GB drive that “pretends” it’s 1TB but will fill up very early).
I point this out because some scammers are cunning and will use a well-reviewed page to deceive buyers into thinking they’re purchasing a well-reputed product (e.g. a listing for a 1TB drive with lots of reviews is changed to a fake 4TB SSD option).
These fake drives are often more common at larger sizes because they lure buyers in with prices around 80-90% less expensive than our top, genuine picks (e.g. a 1TB SSD for $10…).
Unfortunately, we’re here to tell you won’t be able to buy an SSD that cheap for a long time, so be vigilant, keep to our recommendations later in this article if possible, and even when buying from these choices, make sure it is Amazon themselves delivering the product (or a reseller with 98%+ feedback).
If you want to stray to other picks around the web, then we highly recommend purchasing from reputable brands like Corsair and Samsung.
What type of user are you?
The easiest way to find out how much storage you need is by assessing what you will be using it for. Which of the below best fits your needs?
Note: the advice in this section applies to laptops & desktops.
How much storage do you need for gaming?
Gaming is one of the most storage-intensive activities for PC users.
If you like to have a regular library of games, you can very quickly fill up 256GB, 512GB, and even a 1TB drive.
This is all very dependent on what type of games you play and how many you cycle through at one time.
For example, if you’re into big blockbuster titles like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (231GB!) and Red Dead Redemption 2 (150GB) and like to have many games installed at once, you will want to invest in the largest SSD your budget can afford.
On the other hand, if you perhaps stick to playing a few competitive games, you’ll likely be fine with a much smaller drive (256GB or 512GB) as many of these games are well optimized and run under 30GB (including Fortnite, Overwatch, and League of Legends).
If you have a big library but only play a few of the titles regularly, then your best option will likely be to purchase an SSD + HDD combo: a smaller SSD (say 512GB) for key apps/games, and a larger HDD (1TB-4TB) for the rest of your less-played titles. We talk more about this later in the article.
Is a 256GB SSD enough for gaming?
A 250GB SSD is good for a budget gaming PC that is more focused on running simpler titles (perhaps you only play one or two popular optimized titles like Minecraft or Dota 2).
256GB is not going to be enough for any user that plays larger, modern titles like Cyberpunk 2077 (remember, you don’t get 256GB of raw space to use, after Windows, other apps, and drive configuration, you may only have around half the drive available for your games).
For desktops, we would encourage you to try and go for at least 512GB. For laptop users, if the choice you’re interested in charges significantly more for this size upgrade, then you can make do with 256GB if your gaming library is very light (we would strongly suggest buying a laptop that has a spare solid-state or hard drive slot so that you can upgrade later).
Is a 512GB SSD enough for gaming?
A 500GB SSD is the minimum size we would recommend for a gaming laptop /desktop where possible.
You will still run into some space constraints if you play lots of modern AAA titles, but you should typically be able to have enough space for a limited library at once (so you can play certain games at a time, and then install others using Steam at a later time).
512GB is good enough if you’re the kind of gamer dedicated to one or two titles.
Is a 1TB SSD enough for gaming?
A 1TB SSD is what we would consider a good standard for a serious gamer who likes to play lots of titles.
You’ll have plenty of room for a large array of titles and won’t feel the need to constantly remove/re-install games (of course, this depends on your library, if you have a massive catalog, then a 2TB SSD+ will continue to provide benefits).
If you want this capability but don’t necessarily have the budget, then we recommend going for a 256GB/512GB SSD with a larger hard drive for your game library. Games won’t run/load as fast, but the cost will be a notable difference.
That said, if you can afford it, having the luxury of a large SSD is a great privilege. Compared to HDD speeds, your games will load notably faster.
For some users (like competitive gamers who mainly stick to one game), 1TB may begin to enter the “overkill” range. If this sounds like you, you’ll likely be fine with a 512GB solid-state drive.
How much storage do you need for a Windows 10 / 11 general use PC?
If you are purchasing a laptop or desktop for the purpose of very general uses like browsing the internet, using simple apps (e.g. Microsoft Word/Excel), sending e-mails, and watching YouTube/Netflix, then we think most users will find a 256GB SSD to be good enough.
This is because most modern mainstream usage all happens on the internet. Between cloud storage and streaming videos, you don’t have to worry too much about installing content on your PC.
In some cases, you can even get away with 128GB or 64GB SSD budget options, just beware you’ll be quite limited in application and backup storage (for photos, music, etc.).
The only exception to 256GB being good enough is if you’re the kind of user who has a lot of heavy work documents, or perhaps a very large family photo/video collection. If this sounds like you, going a little further to 512GB would be a good option (but you can also stick with 256GB and purchase a decent flash drive or external hard drive at a later time).
How much storage do you need for video editing?
1TB is the minimum we would recommend for a serious video editing laptop/desktop.
That said, there is very little more demanding on storage than this profession, and you could easily fill up a 1TB drive, especially if you’re an 8K video editor or work with long rolls/footage.
If budget allows, investing in a 2TB+ SSD would be a great option, but if not, you can consider SSD + HDD combos.
If you’re a professional or have a big budget, we’d consider looking at our largest SSD feature, which also covers external drives (a great idea if you want to get a laptop or desktop with a base 1TB drive and then have an enormous, portable solution for your less-used video projects).
How much storage do you need for a Macbook?
If you’re an average user who browses the internet, streams video content, and uses a few simple apps, then you will likely be fine with the 128GB/256GB SSD options a Macbook offers.
If you’re a gamer, video editor, or another type of production user, then the same advice as above applies, you’ll want a Macbook that has a 512GB/1TB storage to give you some leeway in the big apps/files you’ll be working with
(Apple does charge a huge amount for storage increases though, so another great option will be to purchase a small SSD Macbook and also pick up a large flash drive or an external SSD if you don’t need to constantly access the information).
How much storage do you need for music production?
A 500GB SSD is the minimum we would recommend for music producers. Although not as intensive in size as video work, you quickly run into high storage requirements with the various software, recordings, and sound libraries accumulated.
A 1000GB SSD would be the preferred option where possible, 512GB drives will likely be eventually surpassed if you’re a serious producer.
(That said, like the other aforementioned sections, you can comfortably combine a smaller SSD with a larger HDD or external drive, this is likely the best option for most users on a tighter budget).
Breaking down each size
So, the above section defined storage needs based on the type of user you are, which we think is the best way to determine what size SSD you need.
However, if you’re still after more info, we’ve broken down each popular SSD type below and the kind of functions we think each one fulfills (skip to the next section if you’re already comfortable with what size SSD you’re after).
Is a 128GB SSD good enough?
A 128GB SSD is good for a laptop or desktop that isn’t going to be used for much more than internet browsing, streaming, and basic document/picture storage.
Many decent family/work laptops come in this size; as long as you don’t have a large media collection (remember, Netflix/YouTube don’t count as they’re all streamed online), you’ll be fine with this option as a budget choice.
(Some users can even get away with 64GB choices! But we’d try and stick to 128GB, having some leeway on a PC you intend to use for a while tends to be a nice perk).
If you’re a gamer, you might get away with 1 to 2 popular games installed if they’re not too large (e.g. Minecraft/Overwatch) but we’d really recommend a larger choice.
Is a 256GB SSD good enough?
A 256GB SSD will feel like a luxury for most office/general-use computers. You’ll have plenty of space for office documents and most family photo/video collections (providing they’re not very large).
It’s a comfortable minimum for gamers who don’t play huge titles or don’t mind re-installing titles, but 512GB+ is really the ideal.
A 250GB SSD isn’t recommended for users who are heavier production users (video, photo and music production, game development, or programming); you’ll definitely want to consider larger SSDs for these areas.
Many 256GB laptops come with a second drive bay to upgrade at a later time, we always recommend checking to see if your choice has this (it’s not a deal-breaker if not, but a nice bonus if you’re not 100% sure you won’t need more later).
Is SSD 512GB good enough?
512GB is likely where things become overkill for a family/office computer unless you have a huge photo/video collection or work in an industry that demands saving large office files.
This is, however, the size where gamers and some production users will begin to feel more comfortable. A 512GB SSD + larger HDD is one of our favorite recommendations for gamers.
The only common area we don’t consider 500GB a suitable minimum is video editing (see next).
Is 1TB good enough?
1TB is for serious production users (video editors, music producers, etc.) who demand significant, high-speed storage for larger files (you’d be surprised how quickly you can fill up space when working in these areas, so a serious SSD solution is best).
1000GB is also excellent for gamers with diverse libraries, especially those who want to play lots of games regularly (to make full use of the fast load times an SSD enables).
If you think many of the files/games you store may not be accessed super regularly, then we would recommend looking at a smaller SSD + Hard drive combo to ease your budget.
(Don’t consider 1TB for a general use PC unless you have a good reason/budget, we expect this will often be unnecessary).
Is 2TB good enough?
2TB SSDs are for users who are either serious gamers or professionals who will be working with large video/audio files or miscellaneous work (database files, game dev projects, etc.).
We would say that a 2000GB SSD is likely more than most gamers will need (unless you simply want the best setup no matter what); yes, you can fill this space up with games, but if you don’t use all 2TBs worth regularly, you’ll be better storing many of your lesser-played games on a second largest (and cheaper) hard drive.
You won’t see many 2TB laptop options as these power users are less common and usually stray to home PCs. That said, you can easily build a larger storage solution if you need portability by looking at a 1TB laptop with an extra drive bay. You can also pick up one of the largest external SSDs which is an excellent balance between storage & cost.
Hard Drives vs Solid State Drives?
If you’re like most users, you’re considering how much you want to invest in an SSD vs HDD.
HDDs are the more traditional hard disk format of storage that were more common in the last couple of decades.
Many PCs today (especially laptops) focus on providing SSD storage
Can I use SSDs and HDDs together?
Depending on what your desktop/laptop has available, yes!
In most cases, if you’re building a PC (or even if you’re buying a pre-built desktop) a majority of PC cases will come with spare 3.5″ and 2.5″ drive bays for SATA SSDs and HDDs (your motherboard may also include space for ultra-fast NVMe M.2 SSDs also).
For laptops, many DO come with spare SATA ports for 2.5″ HDDs or 2.5″ SSDs (typically this is the size of the drive bay available), it’s also becoming increasingly common for laptops to come with spare M.2 slots for NVMe storage (which is expensive, but the fastest around).
That said, it’s not a guarantee for a laptop to come with this option, so check the manufacturer’s website (you’ll often also find user reviews confirming if the model you’re after has the capacity to upgrade storage also).
If you like the look of a laptop and it doesn’t have upgrade capacity, we wouldn’t say this is a dealbreaker. You can focus more of your budget on getting a large primary SSD or purchasing an external drive for your lesser-used files/backup.
Either way, we would recommend using both of these formats if you are a user that demands a lot of space but has budget limitations.
SSD vs HDD Head-to-Head
- Speed – SSD: You will get a significantly better read & write speed with an SSD, which is the main reason manufacturers are moving towards them today. This is why we’ll always recommend installing your operating system and key apps/games/files on an SSD over an HDD.
- Price – HDD: HDDs are usually notably cheaper which is why they’re often recommended for larger storage requirements.
- Reliability – Tie: It used to be the case that HDDs had better longevity, but with most storage innovation focussed on solid-state drives today, SSDs now have a very similar level of reliability (in fact, because of their lack of moving parts, they can often be the better choice, especially for portable solutions like laptops).
- Noise – SSD: A SSD is the easy winner here, without the physical disk spinning inside like a hard drive, the flash memory an SSD operates on is significantly quieter, you’ll find all of our top quiet laptop choices use them.
- Best usage: As you can probably tell from the above factors, there’s a reason SSDs are becoming the de facto standard for most manufacturers. Where hard drives still rain supreme, are for lesser-used/backup storage where there is no point in forking out the extra price tag for a solid-state drive.
Best SSD + HDD combos
Providing you have the physical space in your PC, you can mix and match what sizes you like, there’s no set rule/best combination.
As a general rule of thumb though, we would recommend getting a solid-state drive large enough for your operating system, core apps (internet browser, Microsoft Office, etc.) & games/media you use regularly.
For most people, this will be a 256GB or 512GB SSD (1TB+ if you’re a big gamer/production user), and then whatever hard drive size makes sense for your needs (1-2TB will suit most, but you can get HDDs up to 16GB if desired!).
Best SSDs by Type
For nearly every pick below, we rate the same product as the best for different sizes (and we’ll make it clear where there are exceptions) – so the best 256GB 2.5″ SSD is the same product range as our top 1TB 2.5″ SSD.
You’ll also notice some sizes are slightly different (e.g. 250GB instead of 256GB), we’d recommend ignoring any differences where drive sizes are very close (we explain why in the FAQs below).
Best M.2 NVMe SSD (256GB – 2TB): SAMSUNG 970 EVO Plus
With stunning 3500/3300 read/write speeds (up to) that are replicated in real-world environments better than most of its counterparts at a competitive price point, the 970 EVO is the choice for someone after a PCIe SSD that is all about performance and can stretch their budget further than a traditional SATA drive.
Samsung stands alongside SanDisk as a behemoth in the storage space and we rate them very highly for their performance, especially when investing in expensive, premium storage.
Note: For laptop users, we would recommend the 980 EVO Plus variation, which will run slightly cooler (desktop/PC builders should stick to the 970).
Best Portable / External SSD (512GB – 2TB): SAMSUNG T7
Throughout this guide, we’ve recommended that if you aren’t able to upgrade your internal storage any further, an external solid-state drive is a great alternative. Samsung has created a competitively priced, durable drive here that runs on NVMe to reach fantastic speeds alongside gen 2 USB 3.2.
SanDisk also has a great option in this market should the T7 be unavailable.
Best mSATA SSD (128GB – 1TB): Kingshark Gamer mSATA
mSATA is becoming increasingly less common in today’s market and we recommend the other types of SSDs where possible.
Still, if you have a laptop that only has an mSATA slot available, Kingshark has created a decent option here. This would also be an excellent upgrade if you have an older laptop that only runs on a HDD.
Can I run my PC or laptop with just an SSD?
Yes! Not only is this possible but it’s becoming the standard, especially for laptops. You only really need to consider a hard drive if you’re looking at needing lots of storage and need
Best laptop SSD?
There is no universal type of laptop SSD as it varies depending on your laptops’ compatibility options (and your budget!).
Generally speaking, the most common laptop drives are 2.5″ SATA (same as our desktop picks above), mSATA/mini-SATA SSDs (same functionality as 2.5″ but smaller), or M.2 (SATA or PCIe, both are significantly faster than traditional SATA but PCIe moreso).
In other words, check with the manufacturer’s website what drive options there are for your specific laptop and go from there (we have recommendations for all types in the section above).
Best type of SSD (NVMe vs SATA)?
Traditional SATA drives (2.5″ and mSATA) are the slowest of all the SSD choices (still decent overall and perfectly fine), SATA M.2 are notably faster but more expensive & PCI-E M.2 (NVMe) drives are the fastest but run the highest cost.
Note that when considering these different types of SSDs, it really comes down to what your laptop/desktop has available (in terms of SATA/M.2 & PCIe ports) so be sure to check before making any purchase decisions.
How long do SSDs last?
SSDs typically last 10 years by today’s average estimates. This of course varies dramatically depending on how much you use it, physical care (i.e. no using your SSD as a tennis ball!) & how often you replace (read & write) data on the SSD.
That’s not to strike fear in you though, there’s a reason SSDs are now the common standard in storage, they last as good as any mainstream drive solution in 2022.
240GB vs 256GB SSD, 480GB vs 512GB SSD & 960GB vs 1TB SSD difference?
You may have noticed there are many confusing differences in sizes when shopping for SSDs; drives that advertise as 240GB, 250GB & 256GB (with similar minor variations in higher sizes).
Because of the way SSDs operate, there is typically a “usable space” that is slightly smaller than the usual 256GB/512GB/1TB “true” sizes.
This is because an SSD performs better and has increased longevity when not completely full – generally speaking, 10-20% of the drive should remain empty.
In nearly every case, all of these drives have the same amount of actual space (256, 512GB, etc), but many drives like to lock the maximum space to ensure drive health (even many drives that advertise as 256GB end up being 230-240GB on arrival).
Note, there technically are exceptions to this rule (i.e. drives that operate on slightly different technology), but without getting needlessly complex, we would suggest it’s worth treating 240GB and 256GB SSDs (and similar variations) the same during your search.
Best SSD + RAM combo/ratio
Although not strictly related, we see a lot of our users curious over what combination of SSD and RAM is typically best.
As always, these things are far from set in stone, some users will want 1TB of storage and 8GB RAM, others 32GB RAM and 256GB storage (though unlikely!)
Generally, the RAM sweet spot is 8GB-16GB, and the storage sweet spot is 256GB-1TB. If you’re not very experienced with PC buying, operating within this spectrum based on your budget will be your best bet.
If you’re interested in the details of RAM speed, we have an extensive feature covering it.
Is 16GB RAM 512GB SSD good enough for a laptop?
This combination is one of the most common in laptops today, and for a good reason!
For a majority of laptop users (work, general use, and some light gaming), 16GB RAM + 512GB SSD is a great balance. 16GB ensures you are relatively “future-proofed” for the next several years and 512GB offers plenty of space for apps, files, and smaller games.
If you’re a production user (video editor, etc.) you may want to invest in 32GB if possible, but more importantly, you will appreciate 1TB+ in storage (we would say this is typically going to be a higher priority upgrade than surpassing 16GB RAM).
Is 8GB RAM 256GB SSD good enough for a laptop?
8GB RAM + 256GB Storage is a good budget standard for most users. If you’re the kind of person to mostly consume online content (social media, Netflix, Youtube, etc.), we expect you’ll be fine with 256GB in storage.
Of course, upgrading to 16GB RAM would be preferable, what we would recommend, if possible, is picking up a laptop that has 1 stick of 8GB RAM with a spare second slot so later on, you can add a second stick of 8GB to get to that nice 16GB upgrade.
The key information about today’s features is in the sections above.
If, however, you find yourself stuck between 2 specific sizes, we’ve built this quick-fire list of comparisons to give you some indication.
Important point: With these head-to-heads, we are assuming the 2 drives you are picking between have the same secondary specs (speed, etc.). Make sure to consider you’re not buying a slower, larger drive over a faster, smaller one (as for many users, the latter may be the better pick overall).
128GB vs 256GB SSD
Typically, we would recommend people go with 256GB if possible. Even though many users can get by on 128GB, 256GB gives a nice safety net as files, work documents and family photos manage to fill more and more storage over time (it’s not fun running into limitations and feeling like you need to keep your PC super clean at all times).
That said, we appreciate budget is a big concern for users (especially if you’re looking at a Macbook, where the upgrade to 256GB can be very expensive). If this sounds like you, then rest assured, you can get by on 128GB, especially if you’re mainly focused on internet/cloud/streaming usage. You’ll also always be able to buy an external SSD if your storage isn’t looking enough.
One important thing to bear in mind when looking at the smallest drives is, assuming you are using either choice as your main storage, the drive configuration, operating system, and your key apps will likely take up around 30-40GB of space.
On a 256GB, this is only 10-20%, but on a 128GB SSD, it’s cold be p to 40% of your space being taken before you consider adding media/games. For many this is fine, but just bear it in mind if you think you have things to store.
128GB vs 512GB SSD
We see this question asked by some readers but really, these drives are in separate leagues.
128GB is for the budget user who is confident they only need a small amount of space for media/documents (most of their usage likely being online).
A 512GB SSD, on the other hand, is for users who have a larger budget and want to be able to store games, larger media collections, and/or have room for some novice production use (music, photo editing, etc.).
Although we’d recommend 512GB where possible, it is going to be overkill for many simple users who don’t do much more than browse the internet/e-mails, so let your budget & intentions decide.
256GB vs 512GB SSD
One of the most common storage questions is between 256GB and 512GB as most mainstream laptops come in one of these two specifications.
256GB will suit most users after a simple family/work computer used mostly for online content, basic document storage, and even light gaming.
512GB is better for those who are more serious about gaming, have large work/media collections to store, or do not want to worry about managing storage as much.
We imagine most people building a desktop PC will likely be the sort to at least want a 512GB SSD (unless you plan on running a 256GB SSD + large HDD combination).
512GB vs 1TB SSD
512GB will suit a majority of average users fine, even those after a long-lasting laptop or desktop.
The big exceptions here are gamers, large media collectors, and serious production users (video editors and similar) who are going to demand serious, fast storage.
Remember also, this is the period of storage where combining say, a 512GB SSD with a 512GB/1TB HDD may make a lot more sense for your budget.
1TB vs 2TB SSD
1TB is a generous size for a majority of users, with plenty of room for the games you’re currently playing, demanding work storage & fairly large media collections.
There will, however, certainly be enthusiast gamers, collectors and serious production users who would benefit from the jump to 2TB (if you’re working in 4K video editing, for example, this can fill up faster than you can imagine).
Remember also that as we get into these larger drives, the price increases are steep, so a 512GB/1TB SSD for your main files alongside a larger HDD for your secondary documents/games may suit you best.
2TB vs 4TB SSD
We’re getting to the very serious storage now. Both of these picks are really only for enthusiast PC builders, hardcore gamers who demand lots of game storage at once, or production users who are dealing with a lot of content.
This really comes down to personal preference. We expect most users can manage with a 2TB drive if they keep things clean (e.g. keep games in their Steam library uninstalled when they haven’t played for a few months, organize video projects) but there’s no denying that the freedom of 4 terabytes is a wonderful feeling.
In other words, it’s a choice between budget and convenience, which is more important to you?
If you need an even bigger option than 4TB (say, if you’re trying to build the best PC possible, a server, or something special), check out our feature on the largest SSDs available today.
And there you have it! We’re pretty confident this is everything you need to comfortably know as someone looking at 256GB vs 512GB vs 1TB solid-state drives.
To sum up: the smaller drives are going to suit simple, internet-using family computers and those for basic work. 256GB or 512GB will be enough if this sounds like you.
The larger drives will be more suited toward gamers, serious production users, and enthusiasts with big budgets.
And remember, where possible, try to look for a laptop (or PC case) that has space for upgrades later (e.g. spare SATA/m.2 PCIe ports and drive bays). If that isn’t possible for your desired choice, then there are also always the external SSDs above which are great options.
Best of luck, and be careful to avoid the fake drives around by sticking to our recommendations above where possible!