Best solution for a Photos library that is too large to fit on the current drive?

Asking for a friend. Seriously. I have a new MBP M1 Pro with a 2 TB SSD so I have plenty of space for my Photos library.

But this friend has a MacBook Air with 256 GB SSD. Her Photos library has, as of today, completely filled her 512 GB SD card volume that she has been using, and she can’t open up Photos anymore.

She also has a Time Machine backup on an external HD.

What are her best options?

(1) She can, I suppose, get a larger SD card and restore to it from Time Machine? I heard SD cards are no longer recommended for Photos libraries though. Is that right?

(2) She could get a 2nd external drive and connect it (she’ll probably need a hub) and move her current Photos library from the SD card to the new drive.

(3) She could increase her current 200 GB iCloud subscription to a 2 TB subscription and turn on disk optimization. But… in that case she wouldn’t have a complete backup of her photos anymore, and there’d be no point in using Time Machine, right?

Any ideas?


If a new Mac (or even just a refurb) is out of the cards, external drive would be my only other option.

She can choose to start a new Photos library. Create a new one on a new SD card. You can open the old one when you want to access the old images.

Or, if you really want everything in one library, yes, get a bigger storage device, copy the library to it, and start using it there.

No need to use Time Machine. A USB SD card reader is a really cheap item (and she may already have one or two lying around). Just mount both cards and drag/drop the library to copy it.

I personally don’t like trusting SD cards with important data. I generally reserve them for devices where there is no other choice (digital cameras, Android phone storage, etc.) and only plug them into my computer when I want to offload content from those devices.

For day-to-day use, I think SD (and USB thumb drives, for that matter) is too slow to be practical, and I am concerned about wear-leveling (since SD cards don’t have a robust controller the way SSDs do). I prefer to use external USB storage (hard drive or SSD) for anything significant that I connect externally.

For transporting a photo library around, I’d look for a good quality USB hard drive. They’re not very expensive - less than an equivalently sized SD card. A quick Amazon search, for example, finds a Toshiba hard drive priced at $46 for 1TB, $60 for 2TB, and $92 for 4TB.

If you want/need higher performance, a USB SSD is also a great option. They cost more than a HDD, but should still cost less than an equivalently sized SD card (from a reputable brand). An Amazon search finds a Samsung T5 drive priced at $110 for 1TB and $230 for 2TB.

For comparison, a SanDisk 1TB microSD card costs about $140 (with higher-performance models costing more) and 2TB doesn’t exist for any price. You can get less expensive cards, but they’re from brands I’ve never heard of and would not trust.

Thanks people. My conclusions as well.

Upgrading to a newer Macbook is probably not an option for her, but I’ll mention it.

I think a lightweight USB SSD would be great for her. I have an iodata one that is small and weighs just 61 g.


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