A quick and simple way to add up to 128GB of storage to a MacBook

A quick and simple way to add up to 128GB of storage to a MacBook

Summary: Here's how I added as much as a 128GB of high-speed removable storage to a MacBook — or for that matter any device with an SD card slot — and freed up a USB port in the process.

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TOPICS: Apple, Storage
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The other week, I commemorated my 75 days of owning a MacBook Pro by giving you a look at how I transformed the shiny slab of aluminum and glass into a system capable of doing serious work.

In that post I noted that I'd augmented the meagre 256GB SSD with a 32GB SanDisk Cruzer Fit drive. This is a low-profile drive that's not much bigger than a fingernail that fits unobtrusively into the USB port and allows me a place to store data that would otherwise clutter up my already cramped internal drive.

(Source: Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet)

See also: 75 days with a MacBook Pro

This isn't a perfect solution. First off, it's slow, averaging read speeds of only about 20MB/s and write speeds of around about 5MB/s.

Not great. In fact, if I'm being honest, it's rather frustrating. The Cruzer Fit is a great drive, but it's not built for this kind of job. 

SanDisk does make faster flash drives that make use of USB 3.0 and capable of read speeds as high as 190MB/s, but these are much bulkier and not the sort of thing I want sticking out of a USB port all the time.

Another problem is that the largest Cruzer Fit drive that SanDisk makes is the 32GB, which is somewhat limiting. Ideally I'd like something small, fast, and with much greater storage.

Then I got an email from Luke. He's a regular reader of this column, and he offered a different take on storage expansion.

His idea was to make use of the MacBook's USB 3.0 enabled SDXC card slot to expand storage. This solution ticks a number of boxes. It supports transfer rates of up to 100MB/s, making it much faster than a USB 2.0 flash drive, and SD cards are small, and yet offer capacities up to 128GB — which is half the capacity of my MacBook's internal SSD.

(Source: Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet)

I also free up a USB port in the process.

All that's left to do is pick the right card based on speed and capacity. Being an avid photographer, I have a number of SD cards lying around, so I tested a few. If you want a good balance of speed and capacity, I suggest you look at the SanDisk Extreme range of cards. These come in sizes ranging from 4GB all the way up to 128GB. They offer a theoretical transfer rate of 45MB/s, with real-world tests showing read and write speeds in the region of 35MB/s. This is nowhere near the 500MB/s I get from the internal drive, but it is nonetheless a workable solution.

Another option is SanDisk's Extreme Pro SD cards. These offer much faster transfer rates (theoretically up to 95MB/s, but in reality read and write rates seem to be in the region of 80 to 85MB/s), but the trade-off is that capacities only go as high as 64GB, and you do pay a premium for the speed. A 64GB Extreme Pro card will set you back around $140.

But you do get a quality card. As I said, I'm an avid photographer, and I have tried SD and CF cards from dozens of companies, but I keep coming back to SanDisk because of the speed and reliability they offer. I could buy cheaper, but I can't buy better.

There is one drawback to using the MacBook's SDXC card slot for external storage, and that's the fact that the card sticks out a fair bit when inserted into the card reader. I wish the card would stick into the slot a little more, but I suppose the slot has been designed to make inserting and removing the card easier, and not to use it as a  permanent expansion.

(Source: Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet)

That said, it's a great solution for those looking for a bit more storage for their MacBook or, for that matter, any notebook or tablet featuring a high-speed SD card slot.

Topics: Apple, Storage

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25 comments
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  • Yes, great solution

    Kudos...so far nobody knew how to insert a SD card into a SD card slot. :-)
    Owllll1net
    • Apparently the author had never considered

      using a card you've been programmed to think of as digital film for storing regular data. So, your arrogant condescension notwithstanding, it's a fair bet other people never thought of this "outside of the box" use for an SD card either.
      baggins_z
      • How is that outside the box?

        The only thing "outside the box" about it is that apparently on macs your SD card literally sticks outside the box when in use.

        It's storage medium. Why wouldn't you think of it in terms of storing things?
        mrefuman
        • Now that was well done

          "The only thing "outside the box" about it is that apparently on macs your SD card literally sticks outside the box when in use."

          You get kudos for that one.
          toddbottom3
  • What impact has it had on battery life?

    With Windows, I notice that leaving a USB stick plugged in all the time has an impact on battery life (because it's mounted and available); is the same true of Mac OS?
    mary.branscombe
    • Good question Mary

      yes, it impacts battery life. I see this on my new MBA. Once I plugin my 32GB Flash drive and keep it for a while, the battery runs out of juice quicker than when it doesn't have plugged in one.
      Ram U
      • Something I noticed as well

        When I have a power outage, I just plug my USB Modem into my laptop and continue accessing the Internet. The Modem supports flash storage which I have installed in the modem. But I notice when I have it connected the battery life on my laptop goes fast, I should try removing it and see what happens.
        adacosta38
        • WIfi takes considerably more power than a storage card.

          On a side note... does your router also have a battery backup? What do you connect to with the wifi card?
          mrefuman
          • Landline...

            "I just plug my **USB Modem** into my laptop and continue accessing the Internet"

            In other words, he relies on dial-up over a landline. No router involved.
            redgeminipa
    • Of course it has an impact.

      Any electronic device attached to your computer that doesn't have an external power supply is using the computer's battery. It has nothing to do with the OS, and all to do with physics.
      msalzberg
    • On my Surface Pro, I use a micro SDXC card for an extra 64 GB

      I've had that card plugged in almost from day 1. Actually, it "might" be impacting battery charge life but I really haven't noticed it. Still get 5+ hours on a charge. And yes, it is a SanDisk card.
      kenosha77a
  • .....

    Ok, this may sound stupid....if you are spending THAT much on an SDcard....why don't you just pay for more storage on your Mac. It may be a LARGE premium, but it makes a bit more sense than spending hundreds on a slower SD card. At the same time....how about spending $200 on a Seagate Wireless Pro 1TB, which creates a wifi-hotspot and you can store ALL your documents/photos/videos on and stream/download and upload to from your Mac/iPad/Android/iphone with full wireless speeds (a pretty speedy transfer btw).

    Your "solution" is to plug in an SDcard? That's just plain foolish....which you will find the first time you accidently SNAP your SDcard off and waste a couple hundred dollars on. Find real solutions or pay the piper and pony up for more storage......or just go buy a larger drive retail and upgrade yourself if the other solutions I mentioned are not convenient enough. This story amounts to "I upgraded my mac!! with an SD card." ZD net is full of crap stories like this. I would rather read this if you showed multiple solutions like I just mentioned and rate them all.
    Stormborn
  • Wow, that is ugly

    Having that card stick out makes an already ugly laptop like the MacBook pro even uglier.

    But isn't it interesting how you felt the need to apologize for the ugly card sticking out by praising apple for prioritizing ease of extraction of practicality of not snagging and damaging that card every time you use a bag with your laptop. Better laptops are better designed and the card doesn't stick out like that. Horrible. Wow. Terrible.

    Also interesting how your title suggests that this only works with macbook pros. Uh huh. This works with nearly any laptop and in fact is implemented better in every laptop that isn't the macbook pro.

    Still can't get over how ugly and impractical it is to have that card sticking out of the macbook. Time to scrap the design and start again.
    toddbottom3
    • Hey, look!

      There's an article about you: http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2012/12/26/apple-samsung-the-truth-hurts/
      msalzberg
    • For Once

      I agree with you. This article comes across as if someone wrote an article like "Hey, a USB hard drive gives your Mac more storage!!". As if it was anything everyone already didn't know and it only works for a Macbook.... If you are spending thousands of dollars on a Macbook with SSD storage....why wouldn't you just pay the few hundred to get more storage?? That seems more intelligent than spending hundreds to buy an SSD that sticks out of your laptop.....or just buying an ultrabook for 2/3 of the price with the storage you want. Gah! The writer of this article astounds me.
      Stormborn
      • AKH

        He is a paid apple troll, if it would stick out the same way from Surface he would have written, how ugly microsoft designs are could not make a sdxc card slot which takes the full thing in,,, here its all hanky dory because its apple which pays AKH's part bills I guess
        rana_tigrina2002@...
    • You really must be a bottom...

      Because you whine like a b**ch.

      First, the MacBook unibody design has be praised by EVERY publication (and users alike) for being a very well-built, beautiful machine. I'm sorry you think a rainbow assortment of colored plastics looks better.

      Second, I'd rather have a card slot that isn't spring-loaded, like every Windoze box uses. I've seen those slots fail, locking the card inside. No thanks.

      Third, why did you even click on this article, let alone leave a comment? You should seriously go troll CNet, since they love people like you.
      redgeminipa
      • He can't troll CNet...

        he was kicked out of there.
        msalzberg
  • other options

    Perhaps if the macbook pro is too ugly for u, you can try the macbook air which is aethestically more pleasant

    I find win8 metro tiles butt ugly too. Time for MS to scrap the design and start again
    ThinkFairer8
  • Unfortunately

    The SD card storage rarely offers decent performance. It seems the controllers are more or less optimised for FAT/ExFAT formatted storage (the free block management etc). This effectively means it is not very performant for use with a modern OS. It's FLASH storage, but it does not understand TRIM, etc. Poor performance if not used for it's intended purpose, writing/reading large sequential files.

    There have been few projects to make the SD card not stick out, and they use specially designed MicroSD holder, that fits flush with the MacBook. (*) Unfortunately, it accepts MicroSD cards, that top currently at 64GB and have worse performance... Examples are http://theniftyminidrive.com and http://www.theminidrive.com. Both work as advertised.

    (*) It's obviously designed for a MacBook. Especially the Nifty Mini Drive is made of aluminium to be just as beautify as the MacBook. Hi Toddy.
    danbi