Running out of storage space on a PC is more than just an inconvenience - it can slow down Windows, too. Windows uses a sizeable amount of hard drive space to hold temporary files as it juggles applications, so the less free space there is, the slower your applications will be.
Fortunately, adding more storage to a desktop or laptop PC is easier than you think.
Step 1: Add a hard drive to a PC
Adding a new hard drive to a desktop PC is extremely straightforward.
Most desktop PCs have one or more empty 3.5-inch drive bays. Installing a new drive is simply a matter of slotting it into a bay and connecting it to the motherboard with a cable.
The new hard drive can then be used as a secondary drive to store a large music or video collection, for example. Or Windows can be reinstalled on the new drive and the old one reused for something else. Prices vary, but you typically get a lot of storage space for your cash.
Step 2: Add a hard drive to a laptop
With laptops, things are a bit trickier. Most models only have room for one hard drive, which means swapping out the old one during an upgrade.
While some laptops have a dedicated panel on their underside for easy access to the hard drive, others may require some disassembly. While this shouldn’t void a warranty (although always check), it might be a job to entrust to a professional if you’re not confident with a screwdriver.
Laptops use smaller 2.5-inch hard drives and while capacities aren’t much different to 3.5-inch desktop drives, they do tend to be more expensive.
Step 3: Add a solid state drive
Although they’re far from obsolete, hard drives are fast becoming outdated and newer solid-state disk (SSD) drives are well worth considering as an upgrade.
SSDs have no moving parts and instead store data on flash memory chips, a bit like a USB flash drive. This makes them extremely robust (and so ideal for laptops) and they’re very, very fast.
They're also a lot quieter than hard drives, thanks to the lack of moving parts.
Installing an SSD can be almost as effective as buying a new PC - Windows boots in matter of seconds and applications launch in just a moment or two.
Step 4: What to do with your data
If you’re replacing a hard drive in a desktop or laptop PC, rather than just supplementing it, you’ll need to decide what to do with your data. Some hard drives and SSDs come as a kit, complete with a data transfer cable and software for transferring everything from the old drive to the new.
Alternatively, you can buy an inexpensive USB adapter that converts an internal hard drive into an external one, which you can then use to transfer your personal files to the new drive.
This method means reinstalling Windows and your applications to the new drive first, but this is no bad thing for a hard drive upgrade, since it gives you a chance to get rid of unwanted applications and files that will waste space on the new drive. Think of it as giving your PC a spring clean.
Step 5: Choose an external drive
You can also use a USB hard drive adapter to convert a cheap internal hard drive into an external model, but it’s not ideal - internal hard drives are fragile and don’t come with the protective casing of external models.
If you just want to expand your PC’s storage for your personal files and aren’t too concerned about a compact set-up, then a dedicated external hard drive is a better option. These are housed in a sturdy case and connect to a PC via USB, so take just seconds to install. Desktop 3.5-inch and portable 2.5-inch drives are available, and you can use one drive across multiple computers.
If your PC supports it, it’s worth spending a little more on a USB 3.0 drive. This will be much faster than a USB 2.0 drive, which means less waiting when transferring files back and forth.
Step 6: Use a NAS drive
If you have a home network, another option is to use a network attached storage (NAS) drive. This is essentially a hard drive with an Ethernet network port that connects to a router to become part of a network.
Any PC on the same network can then use the NAS drive, and some models can even be accessed by smartphones and tablets for watching films and listening to music.
NAS drives come in all capacities, from single drives for simple use to multi-drive towers that can store dozens of terabytes.
NAS drives are also simple to install, although models designed for sharing with multiple computers take a little more effort.
Step 7: Use cloud storage
Physical storage might soon be a thing of the past for home users, thanks to the rise of cloud storage. Cloud storage simply shifts the job of storing files to someone else’s hard drive that’s accessed over the internet. This not only makes files accessible from just about anywhere - and on any device - but it’s also more secure.
Unlike information on a laptop, data stored in the cloud can’t be lost or stolen, and cloud storage companies usually offer robust security and backup options.
Many companies offer customers cloud storage when they buy products or services, for instance BT Cloud is available to BT broadband customers, depending on your package, you'll get 10GB, 200GB or 1000GB free.