Storing documents etc. on a Mac

Our very antiquated Sony laptop is on its last legs. Rather than getting another PC I’ve ordered an iMac. It only has a 256GB SSD so we need more storage for our documents, photos and whatnot. I’ve been Googling and have got most confused as to whether to get a USB hard drive or to use iCloud Drive. The former would cost less long term but is extra clutter and I want to keep things simple. Does anyone have any advice for me - other than cancel the order and get another PC! Thanks.

I’d use iCloud, it’s cheap enough and docs etc don’t use much memory, you also have the safety of never losing anything and always having a backup accessible on any Apple device. Did you get the Air?


It’s the new iMac that was released last week. Just the basic one.

Hi Nigel,

I moved to a MacBook years ago, back in the days of the dreaded Windows “blue screen of death” and I wouldn’t consider ever going back.

More intuitive to use, and they just keep going.

As you’re aware, a USB external drive is available for peanuts these days, and the capacity of USB memory sticks has increased hugely, ITb readily available for around 30 squids.

If you do go down this route, be aware that Macs are now on USB2, so take this into account when ordering.

Of course, extra iCloud storage can be purchased too.

Edit: you’ll have to factor in the cost of getting MS Office for Mac … quite expensive to buy the annually renewable licence, but if timed right, £30/40 as a one off purchase from third party sellers.


I have my NAS drives partitioned/ allocated for data and music and set up such that if a drive fails the data will not be lost. I also subscribe to apple’s icloud. As Hollow mentioned, Cloud type back up is the ultimate in resilience, whether it be portable drive failure, theft or your house burning down (heaven forbid!!). There are different cloud providers - I haven’t checked the market for best value and suspect Apple won’t be anywhere near the cheapest provider.


Using 256 gb on a Mac depending on the use or type of documents is limited, if you only use for work like development or small files you can live with 256. If the use will be for editing video, organize big photo libraries, produce music 256 will be a limitation.

An external hard drive is a need, for example a Samsung t5 or t7 are amazing external drives.

Using iCloud storage is an option, but the cost will always be present, the 200gb is what I use but only for some files to be accessible on my other devices, like iPad and iPhone, sync between apps.

In the actual Mac lineup the storage you choose is not upgradable after purchase.

256gb on a Mac is the same as 256gb on a windows machine, the limitations are identical in managing the workflow.

Nigel, I switched to an IMac five years ago and ICloud storage best thing I have ever done.

I am bloody useless with computers but the Apple system is so easy to use.
My new IPad was delivered on Friday so easy to set up from ICloud.

Been looking at the new IMac myself will probably update later in the year.

Thanks. Yes, I’ve seen that you can get Office very cheaply, in fact it’s what we did on our PC. I’d rather not fiddle with the Nas and keep it just for music.

iCloud storage is just like any other storage, e.g. One Drive. A copy of the data is held in the Cloud, and ALSO on your local drive, so you dont really save anything, except that when you fill up your drive, the less used documents will start to only be available when you click on them and there is a short delay while it gets re-downloaded.

As most have said, but to extend a little, I’d suggest an external SSD (say 1TB) for documents, Music etc, but in addition a second external drive that you use for Time Machine backups (unless you have a NAS drive). Apple I believe are the only people that have got backups right with their solution. You just plug it in either always, or every few days, and it backs up everything. Where it is brilliant is the interface and how to retrieve. You go into Finder (Explorer equiv) then go into time machine, and you can just simply go back through all your backups and see all versions of that Finder window - just brilliant. Suggest all you need here is a 1, 2 or 3TB HDD, then the drive can be placed out of site forever.

FYI you do get 5GB iCloud for free, and you can also install iCloud on PC’s so that the cloud drive is sync’d across all your devices which is useful

1 Like

I find iCloud great for keeping things in sync between Mac and iOS devices, especially things like contacts, calendars, photos etc. although for documents I find Dropbox much better.
Keeping locally stored copies is still worth it if your internet connection is slow.
I would strongly recommend Time Machine for backup.


If you have a NAS I’d use that. In fact I do. Folders for music, video, photos and general stuff. That way you are in total control with no ongoing subscriptions. I know its the way the world has gone, but I hate the whole subscribe or you can’t have it again piece. But I also get why it suits many.

Hi HH!

Before I write endless tutorials and what-if text (I sometimes do… :roll_eyes:) - can you specify how much data you have and of which type/usage? I.e. is it only the current laptops internal storage (how big?) or do you have already external drives/storage of any type? Is it data just for a single PC / user? Anything to share with other PCs, Mac, phones/tables or e.g. family?
And how valuable is the data to you (or: do you have a current backup strategy)?

For simple, it could be:

  • iCloud for expansion of storage for photos and documents. + 1 (better 2) external HDDs (1-2 TB 2.5" should be okay, with the small internal drive) for TimeMachine backup. 1 usually/often connected, the 2nd every now and then.
  • Just 1-2 external HDDs with “TimeMachine Backup + Expansion storage” on 1 drive (always connected) and the 2nd drive to take regular (weekly, monthly, …) backups for both. Size depends on data.
  • If you can effort SSDs instead of HDDs (with given size), that’s fine as well. (Faster, silent.)
  • One of the 2 (main or backup) could be replaced with NAS.
(Reading after here is optional.)

(i)Cloud, external drives, NAS, … all have their strengths and weaknesses.

A few points “in any case”:

  • I strongly suggest setting up TimeMachine; ideally with 2 targets/drives. (Though 1 is better than none; eligible targets: external drives or most NAS.)
    • If you add external drives for expansion (so it holds “primary data”, you should always consider a 2nd drive for backing it up).
    • If when where to use HDD, external SATA-SSD, or external PCIe-SSD is a matter of capacity needs, usage, and how much getting SSDs pains your wallet.
  • Apple iCloud integration is “smooth”, especially in the way it expands “on demand” on your internal SSD in the iMac. I.e. you don’t have to think much about, where to store what. E.g. if you want to handle a large amount of photos (beyond your internal SSD space available) with Apple’s Fotos app, it’s rather painless.
  • External disks are good for “data” (not programs, system settings, …) - especially when you like sorting things in old styles folders and stuff.
  • If you have the base model of the new 24", it only has 2 direct USB-C ports; i.e. if you entertain adding a larger number of external equipment, you might want a Hub (sort depending on use cases).
  • Don’t use USB-sticks for “important data or data you work with a lot”; it’s good for carrying copies of data you have elsewhere.

Did I want to write the short version…? :joy:

Me personally (1 Mac as sole “PC”), I’m still with a zoo of disks; never convinced myself of a NAS (running 24/7 and still needing backups; and I don’t need it yet for storing 10s of TB of data); basically single-user / single-Mac environment; and while with my latest internet link update “cloud” is surely feasible (download of 500 Mbit/s is impressive), I still like to “own” my data, without thoughts about encryption in the cloud and other hassles. But I also run now with 1 TB internal SSD.
This has led to mostly 2.5" external HDDs for backups (they don’t need extra power supplies as opposed to the 3.5" ones), and a very fun external enclosure with 2x2.5" (1 SSD, 1HDD) via 1 USB port and no extra power supply, which I use as “always connected when docked” drive for TimeMachine and extended storage (ripped DVDs, …). Then 2 tiers of backups in addition: 1 connected weekly, 1 connect monthly for updates; the latter should ideally be “off premise”, I only managed to get it in the basement yet (in mostly waterproof container), while living under the attic. (Or replaced with an online/cloud off-premise solution. Let’s see.)
Ah, yes, I’m a bit sensitive (paranoid?) to loosing the data - getting stern looks for it, but I can live with those. :wink:

Congratulations on your purchase of one of the new macs! Picture in due course please!

When I got my mac c2 years ago, I also got two LaCie SSD with USB-C connectors from the Apple store - doubtless I could have bought cheaper elsewhere, but bought here knowing they would be compatible. I use them to store a large photo library as well as a back up for the music stored on a separate drive for my Core. They work well and data transfer is quick.

Incidentally, you might find the Pages and Numbers programs included with the mac, at no extra cost, sufficient. Worth trying to save having to buy the M’soft software. The mac also includes a useful calendar and contacts so you mightn’t need M’soft Outlook.

1 Like

I was going to make a similar point in terms of the local iCloud backup. The iCloud storage is also used for emails to the AppleID and used by various apps. I find the main folder a bit untidy and wish App files were in an Applications subfolder, but that’s probably me being fussy.

Also there are options to automatically backup Documents folder and others to iCloud which I’ve never enabled as I prefer to manage things manually, and having several Macs in the house I wanted to keep different documents/files on them. That said I think if I were starting afresh I’d just use iCloud - I’m very resistant to change.

I always used to backup iPhones/iPads manually too but when Mrs AC’s iPhone 6s got damaged I could not transfer data over lightning to backup to reinstall on a new iPhone - I enabled iCloud backup and it was very impressive once it had backed up how the new iPhone could be set up from iCloud, ready to use in a very short period of time with presumably all the data trickle downloading over time.

1 Like

Try using Apple’s Pages, Numbers, etc apps first. Unless you are doing something unique and special with Word or Excel, you’ll find these programs open Word etc files just fine. Something to think about before plopping down $ for the Office suite.


Apologies if someone else has mentioned it, but Macs can also boot from external drives (there are a few hoops to set this up as it’s disabled by default on newer machines) so if you were running short of space you could even have a new or separate installation on an external.

As mentioned earlier the small form factor Samsung T5’s are excellent, I use one on my old Mini to boot from rather than the slow internal hard drive and it works extremely well.

1 Like

If you have the space on your NAS, I would at least use that for one backup copy (write only) and not be so precious about it for just music. But be sure to make back up of the NAS to a disk. For reading and writing I would find a decent Thunderbolt 3 or 4 disc to the size you need and hang that off the iMac.

Thinking about a 16gb RAM, 512gb, M1 Mini myself to replace my 2013 Mac Pro ‘trashcan’ with its 64gb of RAM and 6 core CPU. The $899 M1 is supposed to run rings around the $3500 (in 2013) Mac Pro, at one time their desktop flagship.

That’s assuming you need real maximum performance; e.g. because you edit movies on the external drive…
… I guess, for most cases, there’s significantly cheaper options out there. Though “getting the best” won’t hurt (except for cost).

True. I guess I was thinking through my own needs if/when I go from my Mac Pro to an M1. My drive bays are currently first version Thunderbolt and I’ll need to adapt or upgrade. But yeah, one can also go with USB2 if max throughput isn’t an issue.

My boss always wants the ‘office docs’ (I’m ’Apple’) - you can just, when saving files, export to the office formats if you need ‘other pc’s’ to read the files - no need to purchase ‘office’ :relaxed:

1 Like