If you’re shopping for a Chromebook, you’ll quickly realize that they pale in comparison to Windows or Macs in terms of hard disk storage space.
(Or maybe you already own one and now you’re realizing how restrictive the limited capacity is on your daily workload.)
The majority of Chromebooks come in measly 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB selections. Some larger models come in at 128GB or higher, but they cost a premium.
For most people, they don’t practice regularly deleting and removing old files they don’t need. So they hoard and it quickly fills up the drive with memes
Thankfully, there are ways to easily get more storage space without spending a bunch.
Let’s learn about why Chromebooks are built this way and what you can do to get more storage capacity.
Do you get unlimited storage with Chromebook?
Chromebooks have limited storage. You don’t get unlimited storage.
Just like your phone, taking pics over and over but never deleted them will pack it full of images/videos.
(BTW, did you know you can transfer photos from your phone to your Chromebook? Or even text with your phone from your Chromebook?)
Google did have a promo where you get premium storage with the purchase of a new Chromebook, but they scrapped it. But you get free storage with every account you create.
You have multiple options when it comes to saving your data:
- Use the onboard storage (SSD)
- Use Google Drive (“free” plan limited to 15GB per Google Account)
- Or just make a bunch of Google Accounts and distribute your files between them if you don’t want to pay for storage
The idea with Chromebooks is that you stay connected to the Internet, which allows you to access your files from the cloud (Google Drive) anytime you need it.
It eliminates having to store your important data locally on your Chromebook. You just hop over to your G Drive when you need it.
But Chromebooks are equipped with at least 16GB of onboard storage, which is good for keeping files for convenient access (such as when you’re offline or traveling).
It’s also there for your Downloads folder, apps, games, extensions, etc.
If you’re one of the types that don’t use cloud services, then I guess you can also use the storage traditionally by storing everything on it- assuming it has enough space for your needs.
It’s not going to be even close to traditional laptops though. If you’re coming from a Windows or Mac, you’ll need to cut back on what you save on your hard disk
But there are ways you can increase the storage capacity if you need it.
Why do Chromebooks have such small hard drives?
You may be asking yourself why they have so little storage space. You may even wonder if Chromebooks have hard drives or not.
I believe this is due to minimizing the cost of production, which helps answer the question of why Chromebooks are so cheap.
Smaller SSDs cost less to make than larger ones. ChromeOS is also very small in size, so it doesn’t need a lot of storage capacity.
They’re made to be an “always online” laptop that constantly feeds files to and from the cloud. Since the servers that operate the cloud service are storing your files, you don’t need to store them locally on your Chromebook.
This means you don’t need crazy amounts of TB for storage.
How can I get more storage on my Chromebook?
There are multiple ways you can increase the storage capacity of your device. Just like any other laptop or netbook, you can simply buy external storage:
- Get a flash drive (thumb drive) and plug it into the USB port (32GB-256GB common sizes)
- Get a compatible external hard drive (256GB-1TB common sizes)
- Use an SD card (32GB-128GB common sizes)
These are the 3 most common ways to instantly upgrade the storage. As long as they don’t have some crazy format, then it’s plug-and-play.
ChromeOS will recognize the popular formats so you don’t need to download or install drivers.
This is the easiest way to get more storage if you don’t want to use cloud services like Google Drive, Dropbox, etc. And it was cheap.
You can often find flash drives on sale 24/7. Somewhere there’s bound to be a sale.
If you don’t know which one to get, check out these buyer’s guides:
Does Chromebook support external hard drives?
Chromebooks will support external hard drives, SD cards, or flash drives as long as your Chromebook has the port for it and it’s formatted correctly.
For instance, don’t get a USB-C external hard drive if your device only has USB-A ports. Check what type of connector your Chromebook has, then buy a storage peripheral that supports it.
Memory cards (SD cards) are supported by ChromeOS. If you decide to go this route, use a card adapter if your Chromebook doesn’t support your current card format.
Not all Chromebooks have memory card slots, so double-check before you make the purchase.
Here are some quick things to note:
- USB-3 is backward compatible with USB 2 and 1
- USB-C is not compatible with USB-3
- MicroSD isn’t compatible with regular SD
- The microSDXC-compatible device will work with microSDXC, microSDHC, and microSD
- You can use adapters to force compatibility for nearly any format
Just make sure you safely eject it when you’re done!
Can you upgrade your Chromebook’s internal storage?
If you’re not a fan of buying external storage and you want to keep everything on your local hard disk, then perhaps upgrading the Chromebook’s internal SSD to a larger capacity is worth considering.
Note that this is not easy to do if you’ve never done it before.
The electronics of a laptop are extremely sensitive and even the slightest discharge from electricity can ruin your device. Additionally, there are only some specific Chromebook models that can be upgraded. But it can be done.
Either take it to a computer shop that’s willing to do the work or DIY it if you know what you’re doing.
It will void the warranty though and you can completely brick your device if you do it wrong (not to mention it poses other hazards as well).
So while you can upgrade the internal storage to a whopping 1TB SSD, you need to ensure that you have a model that can have its drive swapped out. Check the list first.
Or you can just buy the biggest SSD possible. Some of the top-end, expensive models have everything from LTE capabilities to keyboards with backlights.
Is a 16GB or 32GB Chromebook enough?
This question gets asked a lot and there’s no clear and cut answer to it.
It’s like asking:
“Is 64GB of space enough on my phone?”
“Is 4 cylinders enough for my car?”
I don’t know. Is it?
The answer you should be asking is:
“What do I plan to do on my Chromebook?”
If you’re going to use it for school or work or other important things, then extra space is always a good idea.
You can utilize it to store documents, videos, presentations, notes, pictures, PDFs, and more. It’s especially important if you don’t want to upload your files to the cloud.
You’ll need plenty of offline storage so you can keep your files locally if you hoard or download a lot of things from the internet or deal with a lot of files in general.
The same goes for leisure or entertainment. Chromebooks can be converted to pretty amazing entertainment centers that can play games, make music, or enjoy streaming video. This also requires plenty of storage space.
But if you just want to use it for browsing the web, browser-based apps, watching Twitch, chatting on Discord, video calling, or just doing some light WFH tasks, then even 16GB should be enough.
If you don’t need to save files, then you’re good to go. A lot of companies now are entirely web-based, meaning that all the processing is done through their servers.
Think of online streaming, for example. You can just head to your favorite on-demand video service and then play whatever movie or series you want without installing anything whatsoever. No need for hogging up space on your laptop!
Smaller space means less security risk. The less data you keep on your drive means less loss of data. It’s damage control. Minimize what’s stored locally.
How do I get 100GB on my Chromebook?
You can get 100GB, 200GB, 500GB, or even 1TB with the power of external storage.
Just buy some storage device that has the capacity you want and then make sure it’s compatible with ChromeOS. Plug it in and you’re good to go.
If it’s compatible, you’ll see that it shows up in the Files app:
- Click on the Launcher icon
- Click on the Files app
- Look on the left menu and then find the drive you plugged in
- Click on the drive’s name from the menu (it may show something generic)
- Start dragging items into it to save them onto the storage and free up space on your Chromebook
That’s it. Congrats. You know you have 100GB of space on your Chromebook.
The other option is to use cloud storage. Chromebooks are by default integrated with Google Drive.
If you look into the Files app, you can see your Drive on the left menu. If you don’t see it there, you need to sign up for Drive first, then it’ll show up for your selection.
See how ChromeOS renders the Drive account just like a regular hard drive? That’s integration!
How to check Chromebook storage
Checking how much storage is remaining on your Chromebook is easy.
Here’s how to check:
- Click on the Launcher icon
- Search for the Files app and open it
- Click on the menu button (look at the top right corner) to open the dropdown menu
- Look at the very last entry on the menu- it’ll show a real-time storage space metric
Whenever you save something from the web, install an extension, or download an app, you’ll see it update.
This is the easiest way to check your remaining storage space on your Chromebook.
You can see a small bar that fills up towards the right to show you a visual graph of storage space remaining.
How much storage do you need in a new Chromebook?
Again, this depends on you. If you read the responses above, you’ll note that it’s completely dependent on what you do with your device.
For most people, 16GB or 32GB won’t be enough. People generally don’t use Google Drive to save everything. They don’t practice regularly deleting junk pictures, videos, or other files.
People like to hoard everything and never wipe it. This will get you the “Chromebook system storage full” warning before you know it.
The average user coming from Windows or Macs will need more storage than the average Chromebook. Saving everything into folders and never letting go will require you to plug in an external hard drive or other storage media.
Unless you change your usage habits, you’ll likely need more storage!
But if you use the Chromebook how it’s meant to be used, you may squeeze out a bit more space before you need to get more space.
If you use it as Google intended, it’s enough to run the OS and has plenty of space for temporary storage. Get the largest size you can afford to be safe.
Since they’re made to be budget-friendly, you should be able to snag a 64GB or higher without breaking the bank.
How can I optimize my Chromebook storage to give me as much space as possible?
You can optimize your Chromebook’s storage by using as little space as possible.
Save everything to google drive or other cloud storage for most of your files.
This is the biggest impact you can make on keeping the storage space maximized.
Other than that, consider the following tips:
- Only install the necessary extensions you need for Chrome
- Don’t download Google Play apps if you don’t need them
- Remove extensions and apps regularly to free up space
- Delete files when you’re done with them
- Transfer files to offline storage (external drives)
- Clear browsing data/history
- Clear system storage regularly (purge files you don’t need)
- Don’t store files locally if possible
- Delete other accounts on your Chromebook (you only need one Chromebook owner)
Can you replace a Chromebook hard drive with a Windows hard drive?
Some Chromebooks can be swapped out for a larger drive, but even if you remove the SSD, loading Windows on it will pose other problems.
Drivers, hard drive space, and other restrictions will be present. There’s no need to run Windows on your Chromebook by swapping the drive. That is too much work for most people.
There’s already software that allows you to emulate Windows on Chromebooks. Or you can use Linux with WINE. Lastly, you can set up a remote connection to your Windows computer from your Chromebook.
Now you can get the most from a tiny storage drive
Yes, Chromebooks have limited storage capacity.
But this keeps them affordable by reducing the cost of production (the most expensive part of the process).
This is why you can often find them for under $200.
If you use your Chromebooks intended, you don’t need that much local storage space. Take advantage of the online storage, and web-based apps, and practice minimalism (only install what you need).
If you do need extra space, then plug in your thumb drives, hard drive, or flash memory cards.
But if you’re looking for a huge drive without using cloud services or external storage, and it must be a Chromebook, then you’re best off just buying the Chromebook with the biggest hard drive you can find.