Increasing laptop’s storage space

Scitech Report

20 May, 2019 12:00 AM printer

Increasing laptop’s storage space

Marex has run out of space for music and graphic design work; thankfully, adding an SSD is easy. I use a Dell 15-5577 laptop with 8GB of memory for music production and graphic design.

The problem is that its 256GB SSD is not enough to store all my projects. An external drive is not an option because I want everything in the same “drawer” and it’s a pain to carry it everywhere with me. I need help with how to swap out my existing SSD with a larger capacity one, say 512GB. While I’m at it, should I also upgrade memory? Marex

The Dell Inspiron 15-5577 was sold as an affordable 15.6in gaming laptop with an Intel Core i5 or i7 Kaby Lake (7th generation) processor and an Nvidia GTX 1050 graphics chip. It costs from £799 to £1,299 depending on the processor, graphics, storage and type of screen installed. It also has an Ethernet port, three USB 3.0 ports and a full-size SD card slot.

Reviews suggested the base-level screen was somewhat lacking and one said the 256GB SSD was slow. However, if your machine’s screen meets your needs then it is a good specification for your purposes.

Now you can get extra benefits from its ability to handle upgrades. You should certainly be able to do these yourself, with the help of the service manual and couple of YouTube videos.

There’s only one screw to hold the back on your laptop, so physically installing an M2 SSD and an 8GB memory module is a two-minute job. With some upgradeable laptops, it can take longer to get the back off.

Adding an SSD

If you’re a bit geeky, the best way to find out what’s inside a PC is to run Sandra Lite. This will tell you lots of things you didn’t know, and several things you would rather not know.

But if you’re a normal person, just go to your local Crucial website. You don’t even need to know which make or model of laptop you own. Crucial has a small utility that will analyse your PC and tell you which SSD and memory upgrades will be compatible, so you can buy them on the spot.

You can, of course, use the information to shop around. I’ve been a happy Crucial customer for many years, and no longer bother.

In your case, the crucial info is whether the 256GB SSD occupies your laptop’s SATA drive bay or whether it fits into the separate M2 NVMe slot (take the back off and see if the drive bay is empty). Whichever one you have, buy the other.

If your laptop has its SSD in the drive bay, you could add a 250GB Crucial MX500 SSD (£37.19) or 500GB SSD (£61.19) to the M2 slot.

If your SSD is in the M2 slot, you should be able to install a 240GB Crucial BX500 SSD (£26.39) or a 480GB SSD (£51.59) in the empty drive bay. Alternatively, you could install a 1TB 2.5in hard drive for under £40.

Most of the benefits of having an SSD come from using it as the boot drive to run the operating system and your main applications. You should be OK with data stored on a spinning hard drive, especially if you use it on mains power and tell it not to spin down. People have been doing this for decades.

If you find you really need SSD speeds, you can always copy, for example, the loops and samples you are actually using in a music production to the SSD.

Either way, you should get a very economical upgrade. People who are upgrading laptops often have to throw away or repurpose the old part but you’ll be able to keep your current SSD.

Adding Memory

Again, you’re in luck. The Dell 15-5577 usually shipped with one 8GB memory module and one empty slot. You should therefore be able to install a second 8GB module (£45.59 from Crucial) and expand the memory to 16GB.

I strongly recommend this. Microsoft Windows loves memory and 8GB is my minimum for normal (as distinct from light) computer use. For heavyweight tasks such as music production and graphic design, it’s much better to have 16GB or even 32GB.

Unfortunately, while your laptop can handle 32GB, it would mean buying two 16GB modules and dumping the 8GB you already have. If you really want to invest that sort of money, it would be better to spend it on one 8GB memory module plus a bigger or faster SSD, such as a Samsung 850 EVO.

Before you attempt the upgrade, read the relevant parts of the Dell service manual for your laptop, including stuff about turning off the power and avoiding the perils of static electricity.

USB flash drives make it super easy to add more storage, but SD cards and external drives might be a better option.

USB flash drives make it super easy to add more storage but SD cards and external drives might be a better option. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Your laptop has a full SD card slot and USB 3.0 ports, so you have other options, too. For example, you could add 128GB of storage in seconds by inserting a U3/V30-class Samsung EVO SD card (£21.39) or a SanDisk Extreme Pro SDXC card (£40.77). The latter should be faster.

You probably won’t get the claimed speeds in your laptop but these cards should be fast enough for some purposes, including backups. If nothing else, a couple of cards would free up space on your current 256GB SSD because you can’t be using all your data all the time.

The advantage of using SD cards is that you can leave one in the PC all the time, except for swapping in the second card when you need to back up your current project. This is always wise when you’re working away from home.

It would be even cheaper to use USB 3.0 thumb drives such as the 128GB SanDisk Ultra Flair (£22.83), which claims transfer speeds of “up to 150MBps”. The drawback is that you have to keep inserting and removing them. USB ports are not my favourite connection for constant use.

Finally, while you’re not keen on external drives, there are some fast, small SSDs that are designed for portability and durability. For example, have a look at the 512GB Adata SD700 (£96.25). It’s dustproof, waterproof and military-grade shockproof. It’s also tiny, at 8.33cm square and only 1.4cm thick. It’s not a pain to carry one around.

Less robust alternatives include the SanDisk Extreme portable SSD, which weighs only 38.9g, the Samsung MU-PA500B and the WD My Passport Portable, among others.