As much as technology changes, one thing remains the same: Given enough time, you eventually run out of room for your files. Whether you've downloaded too many apps or you're an avid photographer, you'll need more space. Start by getting rid of the stuff you know you don't need, then read on for more space-saving tips. Another rule of tech is that eventually your storage device will kick the bucket, taking important files with it. We have solutions for that, too.

Use cloud storage for more space and convenience

If you have a reliable high-speed Internet connection, cloud storage can open up a whole new world. Not only does it save space that would otherwise be taken up on your device, but it also creates a centralized online area that all your PCs, tablets, and phones can access. It also preserves your files in case something happens to your laptop or phone. Some cloud storage services can create "real-time" backups -- the file you're working on is saved continuously, just like in Google Docs. So if your device suddenly crashes or loses power, you can pick up right where you left off. Cloud storage checks a lot of boxes.

As we discovered when we took a look at online storage last year, though, not all services are equal. In particular, there's the privacy issue. iCloud, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive encrypt your files when they're put in the cloud, but all three services make a copy of the decryption key for themselves. Keys can get lost, stolen, sold, exposed, or otherwise misused, so the fewer people who have them, the better.


One reason we recommend SOS Online Backup is its optional client-side encryption, which SOS calls UltraSafe. In this scenario, only you have the decryption key. The flip side is that the UltraSafe key is your responsibility. If something happens to the key, you're locked out of your cloud account.

Features like real-time backups don't come free, though. SOS charges $8 per month, but it gives you unlimited storage, unlimited access on mobile devices, and access on up to five PCs. If you don't place a premium on privacy and you don't need a lot of space, Google Drive offers 15GB for free; OneDrive and iCloud offer 5GB each. Each offers further space for a price. The cost per gigabyte gets cheaper as you add more. For example, Google Drive is $1.99 per month for 100GB, then $9.99 per month for 1TB. Google does not have an unlimited option, though Drive does scale up to 300TB for $300 per month.

Back up files with an external storage device

While cloud storage offers a lot of advantages unique to the platform, sometimes you need your files to stay nearby or to be available when you don't have an Internet connection. If you get one of those "slim" drives, it can get all its power through the bundled USB cable, instead of needing additional juice from an electrical outlet, which eliminates some clutter.


Companies like Samsung and Sandisk also sell external solid-state drives (SSDs), which are relatively expensive but have the advantage of having no moving parts. With a regular mechanical drive, you may have to wait a few seconds for the disk inside to stop spinning before you can move the unit without damaging the plater, which can create a hurdle in your workflow if you intend to use this drive on the go. Since SSDs don't have moving bits, they're silent, and you could probably drop one on the floor and not cause internal damage.

Ideally, you should use both cloud and external storage for your important files, since external drives can get lost, stolen, or damaged.

Handle unresponsive drives or formatted partitions

Both internal and external drives can conk out unexpectedly, possibly taking files with them. Or perhaps you formatted your disk and forgot to back up an important file first. This problem goes beyond recovering an accidentally deleted file. As with files, deleting a partition doesn't necessarily wipe the data on it; deleting usually just tells your computer to ignore the contents and use that space for other files as needed.

You have two avenues: (1) You can get a free tool like TestDisk, which may be a little difficult to use, or (2) you can pay $50 or more for a program with a more guided experience, such as EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard Professional. Then there's MiniTool Partition Wizard, which is free for personal use but needs a paid licence when used in a business environment. Detecting and recovering a formatted or damaged partition is a tricky business whose success rate varies among devices, so you may need to try multiple utilities before you strike gold.

Try professional data recovery

There's always the possibility that the drive is completely inoperative. If that's the case, you may need forensic-level data recovery, which can get really expensive. How expensive? Some of them, like DriveSavers, don't even quote prices on their website. In this scenario, you mail the device to a lab that attempts to resuscitate the device. Or, failing that, they may literally extract and move the drive platters or flash storage to another device, in the hopes that it was just the housing that was damaged and not the internal components that contain your data. These services commonly waive their fees if they can't recover your data.

Tom is the senior editor covering Windows at