Computers / Buying Guide

Best Portable Hard Drives for Video, Audio, and Photo Needs

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Buying a hard drive for most people is easy—you pick the highest capacity, the lowest price, an interface, and the type you need (external or internal). You check out deal zones, you scan circulars, you look through catalogs, and that pretty much sums up about 50% of users. You can even (usually) install them yourself without too much technical knowledge.

The other 50% of users need hard drive and storage space for very particular reasons, and suddenly, the choices you make are not so simple. You can’t just pick lowest price and highest capacity. You have to dig deeper into your technical knowledge and determine if the speed of your drive, and the speed of the transfer interface is important, if the cache size will matter, and if your budget can sustain SSD or PCIe prices, which are costly. At this point, you may also want to consider RAID and NAS configurations, because a simple plug-and-play external drive may not cut it.

Who are these people? Creative professionals mostly. Professional video post-production engineers, audio technicians, and photographers all need to consider alternate factors when purchasing hard drives, and you should use a checklist before you make a hard purchase.

Photography

Photography is probably the first creative profession that requires specialized storage needs (and we’re avoiding a much larger discussion about on-camera storage needs, like SD cards). When a photographer goes back to the office, whether that’s at home or in a studio, they have to offset their day’s haul, which in some cases can mean hundreds of photographs at a time. While they appreciate a drive with a high transfer speed, what is more important to a photographer is reliability. Watching hundreds of files transfer slowly is not as horrifying as seeing a drive corrupted and all of your work lost.

For storing photographs, you may want a high-capacity drive with automatic mirroring, which means that all information on the drive is duplicated automatically on another drive. Yes, both drives could fail simultaneously, leaving you back at square one, but the likelihood of that event is minimal. The whole point of a drive like this is to provide a secondary home for your photos in case the primary drive goes down. Consider units like the WD MyCloud series. They come in dual-drive configurations of 4 to 20TB (meaning that they contain two matching drives of 2 to 10TB each). You can also save, stream, and access your information from any Internet web browser, which adds convenience and flexibility to your storage needs.

WD 8TB My Cloud EX2 Ultra 2-Bay Personal Cloud Storage Server

For photographers who need to empty their cameras’ contents while on the road, portable hard drives make more sense. You can read this excellent article for travel photographers’ storage needs. If you’re looking for memory cards for photographers, this article, The Fastest Memory Cards Money Can Buy, gives you some great advice, as well.

Professional Video

For professional video editors, speed and delivery are of utmost importance. That’s why professional video editors would be better served by SSDs or external drives that use Thunderbolt™ connectors. You should also know how much space you need. A good rule of thumb is that you need twice as much storage as your source material size, so if your source material is 50GB per hour of footage, you should be looking at 100GB of storage for post-production. If you’re looking at transcoding footage, lots of effects or multiple renders (common for feature films) then you may need three or four times original source file.

For professional editing, having an SSD over a traditional spindle hard drive is always a boost. The speeds you gain with the file copy or write speeds on an SSD are about five times over an HDD. The file opening speed and boot-up times for an SSD are about 30% faster than their HDD counterparts.

That’s why a unit like the Promise Technology 2TB Pegasus2 M4 Thunderbolt 2 RAID Storage Array might be the storage solution you need for high-end jobs. It features dual Thunderbolt 2 ports for speedy delivery of data, and four hot-swappable drive bays, and although pre-configured in RAID 0 Mode, it supports RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, and 10. You can daisy-chain six Thunderbolt 2 devices, which is good, because the 2TB total may be slightly less than you need.

Promise Technology 2TB Pegasus2 M4 Thunderbolt™ 2 RAID Storage Array

Another option is the G-Technology 24TB G-SPEED Studio Thunderbolt 2 External Storage System, which features 24TB storage capacity (via four 6TB 3.5" Enterprise Class Drives) and dual Thunderbolt 2 ports, with RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 compatibility (the unit comes preconfigured in RAID 5) with a 700 MB/s RAID 0 transfer speed. That should be enough storage for any project, and it costs about half the price of the Pegasus model.

G-Technology 24TB G-SPEED Studio Thunderbolt 2 External Storage System

Audio Recording Storage

Storage options for audio professionals vary, but it’s broken down into four basics: operating drives, write drives, sample library drives, and back-up drives. Post-production storage needs for audio can be found in this excellent article called Save Your Music: The Basics of Hard Drives for Audio, which breaks down the usage of each component. We have some updated suggestions, including this Samsung 1TB 850 Evo 2.5" SATA III SSD for the operating drive, which will house your operating system, DAWs sample library and plugins. It features 1TB capacity, a small 2.5" size for small-form-factor PCs, and up to 540 MB/s read and 520 MB/s write speeds.

Samsung 1TB 850 Evo 2.5" SATA III SSD

The write disc fulfillment can be handled by external hard drives, which should contain, if possible, SSD and Thunderbolt (or at least USB 3.0) connectors. We like the LaCie 500GB Rugged Thunderbolt External SSD with USB Type-C Port, which features both of these, along with USB 3.0 ports and bus power for portability. A favorite among audio professionals, as well, is the Glyph Technologies StudioRAID TB 6TB 2-Bay Thunderbolt 2 RAID Array. While it doesn’t feature SSD drives, it does feature 6TB of storage and Thunderbolt 2 connectivity, which also allows you to daisy-chain other Thunderbolt devices (including monitors). It’s also RAID configured for even more reliability.

Glyph Technologies StudioRAID TB 6TB 2-Bay Thunderbolt 2 RAID Array

Backup drives and sample library drive requirements can be handled with a combination of extra internal SSD or HDD drives or external SSD or HDD drives. You’ll want portability when moving from studio to client, or when you want to take a laptop and not lug around your desktop machine, but you also want at least USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt connectivity.

These are our recommendations for those of you looking to install, upgrade, gift, or browse storage drives for specific needs. Check out the articles linked on this page for even more information, and let us know in the Comments section below of any suggestions or experiences you may have had with storage drives. We appreciate any tips, tricks, or recommendations from our valued customers.

1 Comments

Interesting choice to exclude Thunderbolt 3 devices from the "Best Portable Hard Drives for Video, Audio, and Photo Needs". 

Thunderbolt 3 - 40 Gbps

Thunderbolt 2 - 20 Gbps

USB 3.1 - 10 Gbps

USB 3.0 - 5 Gbps

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