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.
What’s New in Version 2.3
Storage seems like it would be a relatively static topic, but it’s always changing. This version 2.3 incorporates the following changes:
- The book has been updated to reflect changes in macOS 13 Ventura and the forthcoming macOS 14 Sonoma, such as the new locations of system settings (see above) and updated screenshots.
- Added PCI Express (PCIe) to the discussion of Solid-State Drives, which is specific to Mac Pro owners.
- It’s quite something that Apple’s entire Mac lineup now uses solid-state memory, which I’ve noted in several places, such as the discussion of Hybrid Drives.
- In macOS Ventura, Apple added another level of security to protect against possible hardware attacks. See “Accessory Security Protects Against Nefarious Hardware.”
- I’ve removed references to Drobo, the company that made NAS devices but which went out of business in 2023. If you’re still using a Drobo unit, it’s time to look for an alternative; see Features to Look for in a NAS.
- Backups are important to storage, and one of the big shifts with recent Mac models is that it’s much more difficult to make clones that can start up the computer. So I’ve rewritten references to bootable backups to avoid confusion.
- In the discussion of Disk Images, I recommend using sparse bundles, not sparse images, after reading some compelling data.
- Cloud services such as Dropbox and Google Drive now must store files in a different location on disk. At the same time, they’ve changed their behavior so files are stored on the cloud primarily, leaving placeholders on disk to conserve storage space. I cover the implications in “Cloud Storage.”
- I updated some of the “rocket factory” diagrams and added a new one that shows how the system snapshot works in relation to other macOS core components. See “macOS Catalina and Later APFS Startup Volumes.”
- The section on how to Use FileVault has been updated with information about how the feature works with Macs with M-series processors or Intel processors with T2 Security Chips.
- I added a section to “Manage Partitions” that explains how, under some circumstances, you can enlarge an existing partition that contains data.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.