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Exploring Hard Drives

Riley Hooper
July 13, 2012 by Riley Hooper Alum

Terabytes. Firewire cables. Megabits per second. If you're like me, these words don't exactly get your creative juices flowing. But on the other hand, the thought of splicing clips and sounds into your latest video creation gets those juices groovin' into a creative cocktail.

And while those little boxes of technological wonder known as hard drives may not ignite your passions, in order to create your masterpiece you're probably going to need one (or several). They're an essential tool to improve the workflow of any editor, and to preserve the posterity of any project. So while I'm no geek for gigabytes, I took the liberty of researching the tech specs of hard drives. Because I love you that much.

Fortunately, I had some help from Vimean Den Lennie. So first, let's hear what he has to say:

Storage vs. Editing

When choosing a hard drive, the first thing to consider is, what you will be using the drive for? When it comes down to it, for video there are two options: Storage and editing. You either want a drive to store all your footage and keep all those precious files safe, or a workhorse drive that's fast and reliable to work off of.


The next factor to consider is location. Will you be using this drive on location at a shoot, or will it be a non-mobile drive that sits at your work studio or home? If the drive is going to be used on location, portability and durability are key factors. Small drives like the smaller G Techs are light and portable, and even come with a handy padded carrying case. The Lacie Rugged drives are also great for bringing on location because they have a rubber coating on the outside that will prevent them from cracking open if dropped. An important point that Den makes about portability is that all drives are relatively portable when switched off. However, once a drive is on and the reader is spinning inside, you should not move the drive, as that could damage your data. Another factor of portability to consider is power source. Both the types of drives Den mentioned can be powered through USB or firewire connection from a computer, and have an added option to use an external power source. However, some drives always require external power, which may not be available on location.

If you're not looking to take your drive on the go, you can sacrifice factors like portability and extra durability and instead focus on performance and speed.

Now, let's delve in to the details. As Den explains, two very important factors to consider when choosing a drive are connectivity and speed.


We already covered one aspect of connectivity, which is your power source. As you'll remember, drives can either be powered from an external cable that you'll need to plug into a wall outlet, or the power is supplied when the drive is connected to the computer. The connection from the drive to the computer is another important connection to consider. A USB connection will transfer data at about 220 megabits per second (Mbps). If you're working with HD footage, this isn't really going to cut it. For the best results, use a Firewire cable. The minimum Den recommends is a Firewire 400 (which transfers data at 400 Mbps), and ideally he recommends a Firewire 800 (which, you guessed it, transfers data at 800 Mbps).

Den also mentioned eSATA and Thunderbolt. These heavy duty connections are not available on all drives, and offer a higher rate of data transfers than USB and firewire connections. It's also worth mentioning a new connection called USB 3.0, which has a potential transfer speed of 5 Gbps.


The next factor at play is drive speed. Hard drives write and read data at specific speeds. Hard drive speed is measured in rpm (revolutions per minute) and can vary from 4200 to 15000. Most consumer hard drives operate at a speed of 7200 rpm, although some are around 5600. The higher the number, the faster your data will fly!

Other factors: RAID and SSDs

Another slightly more complicated hard drive feature to consider is RAID. Drives have different RAID level capabilities. The most common RAID levels are 0 and 1. RAID 0 refers to a drive that stores your information once without any backups, or redundancy. RAID 1 is often referred to as mirroring, and refers to a process by which your data is duplicated to a second drive, so that if one fails, the other is there as a backup. While RAID level 1 is a more safe route to take, RAID level 0 is more cost effective, as you'll use less disk space.

Keep in mind that whether you use RAID or backup manually to a completely different drive, it's always a good idea to keep your data in at least two different places. Hard drives fail. You'll be happy you backed things up if this happens to you.

I should also mention solid-state hard drives (SSDs). SSDs do not include any moveable components, like the spinning disks and read/write heads of the hard drives that we've been discussing. Without moving parts, SSDs are much more resistant to shock and vibration and use less energy, they're also really fast. The downside is that they are also more expensive than hard disk-based drives.

Other obvious factors to keep in mind when choosing a hard drive are brand name and price. When it comes down to it, it's mostly a matter of personal preference and your budget!


Once you have a drive, it's super helpful to have a system of organizing and labeling your files so that they're easily accessible. And once you become a media mogul with multiple drives, you'll need a system of organizing and labeling those too! Be sure to properly name and label your drives from the outside (use gaff tape, or a label maker if you're in to that sort of thing). It's also handy to create a list or spreadsheet of all your drives and the contents of each. That way you can just use Control F in your document to find exactly what you're looking for!

All this talk about reading, writing and organizing data probably hasn't inspired you to get up and make that experimental mermaid music video you've been scheming. But you are going to need to to invest in a good hard drive before you can move on to choosing lenses and sequin costume colors. I know the thought of throwing down cold hard cash on a little silver box isn't a pretty one, but that little silver box is going to set your creativity free! In the end it's not about brand names or rpms, it's about acquiring the tools that will enable you to create. Once you get the goods, don't look back. Focus on your creative work. We can't wait to see what you'll make!



Educative. A good read. Thanks.


Thank you very much really enjoyed watching it. Looking forward to seeing the managing data video,


Personally I think SSD is still the best way to keep your data due to their reliability. However it's still a bit too expensive. 10 years from now hopefully SSD will be standard then.

Tom McIntyre

the key word is "enterprise"
Server-grade drives cost more initially but seem to last forever in a home office/hobby application

Richard Crowley Plus

This is getting rather dated. Needs to be re-done here in the USB3 era. I have no issues editing with USB3 drives. Firewire is all but dead.

samsmall PRO

Try Disk Catalog Maker 2 a super program that copies a disk's directory so you can see what are on all those drives you have without having to mount them. searchable too. Huge advantage.

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