The Mac user’s guide to mass storage

Take Control of
Your Digital Storage

Second Edition
Jeff Carlson

This book demystifies storage on the Mac, from mechanical hard drives to solid-state disks, and covering topics such as network-attached storage (NAS), cloud storage, repairing and managing disks, encryption, filesystems (including APFS), and managing data.

All Take Control books are delivered in two ebook formats—PDF and EPUB—and can be read on nearly any device.


Note: This book is slightly outdated. Although the latest revision to the book was fairly recent, macOS 13 Ventura changed a few things that the book should address. Jeff currently plans to update this book in January 2023. The update will be free to everyone who purchases the book now. (Read more about updates).)

As the amount of data we store continues to grow, figuring out where to put it and how to access it becomes more complicated. It’s not just that we need to find space for our increasingly large collections of photos, videos, music, and apps—we want it to be available whenever we need it, and be sure that it’s safe from hackers and thieves.

Every Mac includes internal storage in the form of a hard drive, SSD, or Fusion drive. But you may also have one or more external devices (such as hard drives, flash drives, SD cards, or RAID devices), not to mention network-attached storage (NAS) devices or cloud storage (like Dropbox or iCloud Drive). Making sense of all your options, managing your stored data, choosing new devices or services when you’re running out of space, or even just figuring out what’s where can drive anyone to distraction.

“Highly recommend Take Control of Your Digital Storage from @TakeControl books! Like all their titles, well-written, super easy to understand, with vital, vital information! I learned a ton and I’m only up to page 30! A must read…I used to teach this subject in workshops at Apple and thought I knew it all! But I still learned so much valuable information.” —Lars Hoel

Fortunately, Jeff Carlson has a book with all the answers! After decades of working with Macs and accumulating massive collections of photos and videos, Jeff has pulled together a wide-ranging book about Mac storage that contains just the help you’re looking for. Among many other topics, this book covers:

  • How to choose a new (internal or external) hard drive, SSD, or hybrid drive
  • Determining how much storage space you need
  • What you need to know about APFS, Apple’s new filesystem
  • How to use APFS snapshots (a.k.a. Time Machine local snapshots)
  • Formatting and partitioning disks using Disk Utility
  • How to repair a misbehaving disk
  • RAIDs: what they are and how different types compare
  • How to tell when a hard drive is about to fail, and what to do about it
  • What to do with a hard drive when it has outlived its usefulness
  • When to use a flash drive or SD card
  • How to create and use disk images
  • Deciding among local, network, and cloud storage for various types of files
  • What a personal cloud is and why you might consider using one
  • Strategies for freeing up extra disk space

NAS devices get special coverage, including:

  • Why you might want a NAS
  • How to choose a NAS—and when it’s a better idea than an external hard drive
  • Using a NAS with your Mac for a wide variety of purposes
  • Special considerations when using a NAS for digital photos

Jeff also digs into details about numerous storage-related technologies:

  • How to tell if your third-party SSD needs to have TRIM enabled (and what to do if the answer is yes)
  • How to create a software RAID using Disk Utility or SoftRAID
  • What you need to know about filesystems—and how to choose among APFS, Mac OS Extended, FAT, and ExFAT
  • Why and how to encrypt a disk using FileVault or the Finder
  • Using iCloud Drive’s Optimized Mac Storage feature

If you’ve ever been stumped at the difference between a volume and a partition, need help figuring out whether to buy a big external hard drive or a NAS for extra storage, or wonder whether Apple’s new APFS filesystem is right for your needs, this book will tell you what you need to know.

Jeff Carlson

About Jeff Carlson

Jeff Carlson is a contributing editor of TidBITS, a frequent contributor to Macworld and CreativePro, and the author of best-selling books on the Mac, digital photography, and, in earlier incarnations, web design and Palm organizers. He consumes almost too much coffee. Almost.

What’s New in Version 2.2

The storage landscape continues to be interesting. This version 2.2 release incorporates the following changes:

  • Now that SSDs are more common (and preferred), I moved “Solid-State Drives” into the first position in “Understand Storage.”
  • Apple’s current Mac lineup is finally populated only with solid-state storage, which is reflected in several areas, such as removal of some details of Fusion drives.
  • Added Thunderbolt 4, and the various flavors of USB 3.2 and USB4, to “External Connections.”
  • Added discussion of the current “Cable Conundrums” surrounding USB-C cables.
  • It’s feasible to “Build Your Own External SSD” to get good performance at more affordable costs, but the specs can be confusing. This sidebar explains the important terminology.
  • Under “SoftRAID,” I noted that SoftRAID 6.1 now supports volumes formatted as APFS (but with a limitation).
  • Apple has again made APFS more complex under macOS Monterey by running the Mac from a mounted snapshot. See the details in “macOS Monterey and Later APFS Startup Volumes.”
  • I’ve moved “Manage APFS Volumes” before “Manage Partitions” now that APFS is the default file system.
  • Throughout the book I’ve incorporated information for Apple Silicon-based Macs. For example, there’s a new process to “Run First Aid from macOS Recovery on an Apple Silicon Mac” and to “Restore an Entire Disk from a Snapshot.”
  • Another consequence of APFS startup volumes is that the built-in security now makes the topic of creating “Bootable Duplicates in macOS Big Sur and Later” much more complicated.
  • Added a sidebar about the option to “Use the NAS as a Time Machine Destination.”
  • Noted that in macOS Big Sur and later, Apple’s Photos app attempts to mount a network volume if images are stored there. Photos that are stored outside the default Photos library no longer display a special icon.
  • Under “Choose Cloud Storage,” added a note that Microsoft OneDrive now stores files just in the cloud by default, requiring you to take action to keep files and folders saved on disk.
  • Disk Utility now has a non-Terminal method to “Manage Snapshots in macOS Monterey and Later.”
  • Read Me First
    • Updates and More
    • What’s New in Version 2.2
    • What Was New in Version 2.1
  • Introduction
  • Your Digital Storage Quick Start
  • Understand Storage
    • Storage Capacity
    • Solid-State Drives
    • Hard Drives
    • External Drives
    • How Much Storage Do You Need?
    • How to Dispose of a Hard Drive
    • RAID
    • Disk Images
    • Cloud Storage
  • Format and Partition Disks
    • Understand File Systems
    • Get Started with Disk Utility
    • Format a Disk and Erase Its Contents
    • Manage Partitions and Volumes
    • Run First Aid
    • Identify a Failing Drive
    • Encrypt Disks
  • Use Network-Attached Storage (NAS)
    • Why You Might Consider a NAS
    • Features to Look for in a NAS
    • Work with Files on a NAS
    • NAS for Photography
  • Manage Your Data
    • Choose Your Own Storage Adventure
    • Free Up Disk Space
    • Make Backups
  • About This Book
    • Ebook Extras
    • About the Author
    • About the Publisher
  • Copyright and Fine Print

Jeff Carlson Discusses Digital Storage on MacVoices

Posted by Joe Kissell on June 13, 2022

Jeff Carlson joined host Chuck Joiner on MacVoices to talk about Take Control of Your Digital Storage, including USB4, Thunderbolt 4, and APFS volumes.

Jeff Carlson talks storage on MacVoices

Posted by Joe Kissell on August 7, 2020

Jeff Carlson joined Chuck Joiner on MacVoices in a two-part interview to discuss the second edition of his book Take Control of Your Digital Storage.

In Part 1, Jeff discusses APFS snapshots, mechanical drives vs. SSDs, and making storage purchase decisions.

In Part 2, Jeff talks about Fusion drives, the pros and cons of large external hard drives, and multicolored USB connectors.

Jeff Carlson talks snapshots on MacVoices

Posted by Joe Kissell on June 12, 2020

Jeff Carlson joined Chuck Joiner on MacVoices in a two-part interview to discuss the APFS snapshot capability in macOS.

In Part 1, Jeff explains what snapshots are, how they relate to Time Machine, and where to find them.

In Part 2, Jeff discusses managing and deleting snapshots, and how they affect Disk Utility.

How APFS in Mojave Affects Digital Storage Choices

Posted by Jeff Carlson on April 22, 2019

Just as the file system under macOS works quietly, without fanfare, so do the preparations for the next update to Take Control of Your Digital Storage. We’re working on fleshing out the book for an update later this year, but in the meantime, I want to note a few areas where the march of technology has surpassed what’s in the current edition.

AFPS Everywhere

With the release of macOS Mojave in late 2018, APFS (Apple File System) is now the default file system for all Macs running the latest system, regardless of what type of storage the computer runs. Previously, APFS kicked in only for Macs running solid-state memory, like current laptop models. The exception was Fusion drives, which combine a traditional mechanical (spinning magnetic platters) drive for mass storage and SSD memory for caching frequently used files and the system itself to improve performance. (See the sidebar on page 57, “Which Filesystem for Which Drive?”)

This change has resulted in mixed performance—many people with iMacs and other computers with mechanical drives are seeing worse performance following the update. I’m hoping Apple is working through these issues, and we’ll see performance parity with whichever macOS update is announced at WWDC in June.

I still recommend formatting external mechanical drives as Mac OS Extended instead of APFS. Time Machine drives must still be Mac OS Extended, too.

APFS is a fascinating, deep change to macOS that should be invisible for most people, and I think it mostly succeeds at that. But when things go sideways, that can do so in weird ways. For example, the way it treats free space differently than before, leading to situations where your Mac reports a lot of available storage but an application sees far less. I wrote about this in a recent Seattle Times column, where the culprit was several invisible snapshots: Try these strategies to free storage on your Mac.

If you don’t yet own the book and are curious about just what I’m talking about, I recommend (a) buying the book!, or (b) read this TidBITS article: What APFS Does for You, and What You Can Do with APFS (and then buy the book!).

As I get further along with the book update, we’ll post more information here.

November 23, 2022—This book is slightly outdated. Although the latest revision to the book was fairly recent, macOS 13 Ventura changed a few things that the book should address. Jeff currently plans to update this book in January 2023. The update will be free to everyone who purchases the book now. (Read more about updates.)


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