How do you manage storage on your M1 256GB iMac/Macbook?

I’m planning my next (used) purchase of a main iMac, on which I want to store all my files locally so that I can back them up (Time Machine, Backblaze, Carbon Copy Cloner). My system is currently 480GB on a 1TB external boot SSD (which seems to be currently creaking, as its takes 30 mins to boot! :crazy_face:)

If you have an M1 machine with ‘only’ 256GB how do you manage that? Do you:

  1. Simply have a need of less than 256GB for everything?
  2. Use optimised iCloud Drive and iCloud photos? (as you trust iCloud and don’t keep another backup?)
  3. Use external boot drive (M1 needs an SSD in a thunderbolt enclosure, right?)
  4. Offload music and photo libraries to an external drive?
  5. Offload all user folders to an external drive? (I’ve seen various comments online about the wisdom and reliability of this option - any problems?)
  6. Another solution?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

As you noted, if this is your primary Mac and you want to back up your photos and documents, you cannot use optimised storage or it won’t back up your data. I would never trust a cloud service as a backup.

I can barely fit my data on a 1TB, my photos are 250Gb! On my home Mac, I keep my OneDrive files (all my work files) on a separate HDD to allow some space on the internal drive.

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It’s crazy that in this day and age when digital storage is so cheap that companies like apple charge such an extortionate price for extra storage, that we have to have this conversation!

Have heard lots of good things about external SSDs and would encourage you to look at that option.


Can you move One Drive to an external SSD? Their docs say this can only be done with a ‘non-ejectable’ drive - ‘removable usb drives are not supported’.

I have it on an external drive, although I never eject it. It works fine for me, I guess I’m a rule breaker!!

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Backblaze will actually allow you to backup any drives you have connected to your Mac. I have an external 5 TB drive that is backed up to backblaze (although I have less than 1 TB of data on the drive).

I’ve got 512GB storage on my main Mac (mini), but I could fit my whole life on 256GB with room to spare. In fact, my iPad Pro is my real main machine and it’s got 256GB, and I’ve never filled it more than 60 or 70 GB with all my files and everything stored locally.

Here’s why: I have less than 2000 photos total, and I don’t work with large files like video or photo editing. I like to collect webpages, but I save them as PDFs, which is pretty space efficient. Someday I’ll be in the 1TB club, but at this rate it’ll take about 20 years.

Keep in mind I’m not 25 yet so I don’t have a long history of files to store!

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I did it by getting a 1tb iMac. I wanted everything stored internally on the machine. If you can’t do that then the best solution is to add an external and store the high volume stuff there as long as it can live comfortably on an external drive.

Yes, Apple charges too much for increased storage but my data is worth much more. I want it easy to access and protect via backups.


I have a 256Gb macbook pro, and have all my files synced to a nextcloud server (raspberry pi) I only sync the files locally that I want to, and for the rest the nextcloud instance serves as a network drive to store stuff in.

I used to have a 2TB icloud subscription but with Apple moving to on device scanning and other privacy intrusions in the near future I moved everything out and am very happy with this cheap (around 90 dollars), fast and secure solution.

That’s very interesting - I’ve never done network storage. Pardon my ignorance but do you simply save your docs to a folder on the network drive, or do you actually point/map your user folders to that drive?

My iPhone alone has the double amount of storage, so I don’t think this would really be “manageable”.
I would have a look for something with at least 1TB of storage for my “main iMac”.

But, to be honest, I deal currently with a total of around 200TB of private Data, so I might be not the best reference for “Slim Data Storage” at all… :thinking: :rofl:

I back up my photos to an external hard drive made just for media. I should do that tonight. I try to do so every couple of weeks.

I use 2 network drive options:

  1. Nextcloud; mapped documents and pictures to respective folders on the Nextcloud instance. I am connect to this instance 100% of the time on all devices with a network connection through a wireguard VPN so I always have access wherever I am.

  2. Github/Gitea: for some activities I have a Github and Gitea instance running on all devices as well. But that’s mostly for scripts, “flat” text documents and ansible playbooks.

There’s very little actually on my macbook or ipad / iphone, I only sync what I need to locally.

External boot seems like a waste and will likely just slow everything down. You’d be better off, I believe, having the OS on the internal storage and then just offload files to external. My inclination would be to put the OS and applications on the fastest drive you have (aka internal).

I’ve previously split my install with having my install/Applications and user Home folder on a separate drives. It’s doable, but it can cause headaches with some applications and workflows if they are expecting certain default file paths/locations (e.g., my dropbox sync broke). It requires ongoing maintenance to redirect things and you can easily end up with duplicates. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re desperate or really like to tinker and troubleshoot.

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Haven’t tried with One Drive, but I’ve sometimes been able to workaround this sort of thing with Symbolic Links. There is some slight risk if an app is looking for files on an external drive that isn’t connected, but if you’re diligent it can work fine.

Really interesting replies, thanks you all for replying. I should have added that we have a 256GB MacBook Air with optimised storage as well as the planned iMac, each with several user accounts (one of which is my partners work which needs to be password protected) with both currently syncing via iCloud Drive.

So your replies have helped me clarify my needs I.e. Shared storage which can be:

  • accessed anywhere,
  • kept locally, and
  • backed up to Backblaze or similar cloud backup

This seems to lead only to network storage, or Dropbox on an external SSD of my main machine (or iCloud Drive on external SSD if it can be done.

The network storage fits the bill and really interesting as a project, but it would be a technical challenge for me to sort out access whilst I am not in the house - wireless networking is outside my comfort zone and I shiver at any mention of DNS (EDIT: I have static IP so would need to do port forwarding and LetsEncrypt certificate :fearful:). But as symlinks are a challenge and I don’t want to go back to Dropbox maybe I’ll have to,

You can do this without punching holes in your router by using tailscale

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I realise there is a rather easier option 6 - just leave my 2017 existing iMac (1TB HD booting from SSD) running in addition to my new 256GB machine and backup from there.

Is there any issue with backing up from an old machine that is not running the latest version MacOS?

Please excuse my ignorance, but isn’t NextCloud an Enterprise solution? I am looking at getting off icloud so I am interested in options for personal cloud solutions

I’ve been using a crucial 2TB ssd attached via usb-c since september last year as my storage. It’s worked perfectly, backs up to another external disk and can be unplugged and moved to another computer. It’s small and compact so easily fits in a bag.

I no longer use any cloud providers.

I know this isn’t a cloud solution so please ignore if it’s no use.

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