Which harddrive should I buy for video editing?
I often get asked by producers which harddrive they should buy for the projects I work on for them. I thought I’d write up a quick blog post that explains which harddrives are best for video editing and why, and some of my preferred drives to use for different tasks.
If you just want to jump straight to some drives that are good for video editing here are some solid favourites. If you want more drives, scroll to the bottom and work up.
Understanding harddrive speeds, connections & capacity
When you are video editing the two most important things you need from a hardrive are capacity and connection speed. That is getting enough space and making sure you can get to that space fast enough. The simplest of these to understand is connection speed. If you’re squeezing your data through a small pipe its going to take longer, if you push it through a big pipe it will get there quicker. So the connection (USB2, USB3, Firewire 400, Firewire 800 and the new Thunderbolt) is one of the first things to choose.
In these days of HD video you really want to have at least Firewire 800, USB3 or Thunderbolt. That said I have edited HD from USB 2 drives – its not fun, but you can get away with it if you must. Thunderbolt is the newest and fastest and more drives are now available that work with it. Whatever drive you buy, make sure the editors computer will connect to it. Older Macs do not have USB3 or Thunderbolt.
The other factor in choosing a drive is the speed of the internal workings on the drive itself. Most harddisks spin at 5400rpm and some spin at 7200rpm. The faster the drive spins the faster the computer can read from it and the quicker it gets to you. If you’re editing video you really want a 7200rpm drive.
Working out what size drive to buy
So you know what drive connections you need and that you’re looking for a 7200rpm drive. The next thing to figure out is what capacity you will need. The easiest way to work this out is to use an free online app like Video Space Online or download a free iphone app like AJA Data Calc to do the math for you.
Basically you estimate how many hours of footage you will have, what format, frame rate and codec that footage is in. If you are shooting multiple cameras factor that in too. If you are transcoding the footage from one format to another then a safe bet is to double the capacity. You’ll also need to throw in some space for all the exports, renders, music files, graphic files etc that are created during an edit.
Once you have worked out the total capacity in GB (gigabytes) or TB (terrabytes) then really you want to buy twice as many drives so that you can have a mirrored back up. That way if one drive goes down you can keep on editing straight away and still meet your deadlines. Also with tapeless workflows you MUST back up your camera originals even if you don’t back up your transcodes (which take up more space) – although I would recommend backing up everything!
Different Drives for Different Tasks
Here are a few quick thoughts on which drive to pick for different editing scenarios.
Editing in the field – If I’m expecting to travel with a harddrive then I’ll ask for a Lacie Rugged. They’re small, lightweight, rugged (as the name suggests!) and you can easily pack them in a bag to take on plane, train or automobile. I once received one with a dent in the top and it still worked perfectly! They are also ‘bus powered’ which means that they can run off the power from the computer/laptop so you don’t need an external power supply. Which is really useful if you are actually editing in a field. In the past 10 years I’ve not had any problems with a Lacie drive so I’m pretty confident in them. 500 GB is usually plenty of space for the kind of short form projects I often work on.
Similarly the G-Tech G-Raid Mini’s are also very good drives, although they tend to be a little bit more expensive than the Lacie’s. They are about the same physical size although they feel a bit more delicate. They also look a whole lot nicer! One benefit is that they run a bit cooler thanks to their design. (that and not being surrounded by rubber!) Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk
Once I update my Mac to a Thunderbolt enabled laptop, I would probably spring for something like the Lacie Little Big Disk for all the same reasons, but with the added benefit of a Thunderbolt connection. Buy from Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk
Editing in the suite – If you’re editing in an edit suite and not really planning on going anywhere and you’re working on a bigger project that necessitates more capacity then I would usually ask for something like the G-Tech G-Raid which comes in 2TB, 4TB, 6TB and 8TB sizes. They are reassuringly hefty, come with a plethora of connections and cables and have never failed on me before. Buy on Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk
If you want something a lot bigger and much more long term then I recently suggested a Promise Pegasus Thunderbolt 12TB RAID to a producer on job that ended up with 120 hours of footage (coming from 8-9 different Firewire and USB drives) that had been filmed over the course of a year. Having the space to store all of the media in one place and re-transcode much of the footage was vital to getting the project done.
The internal speed of the RAID itself was also a huge help. RAID’s are essentially a group of hard drives that act as one big hard drive, giving you increased transfer speeds as well as an internal back up. In RAID 5 if one of the drives fails you can still rebuild all your data. They’re not cheap, but on some jobs they are worth every penny. It is important to note that with a drive in RAID 5 you lose about 20% of the capacity to achieving the redundancy. Thus a 12TB drive gives you about 10TB of editing space.
The RAID is about the size of 2 toasters on top of each other (?) and quite heavy so its not the kind of thing you want to be lugging around. Handily you can also remove the drives and add capacity if you need to – although this does involve rebuilding the RAID. Another thing to know is that it takes about 10 hours for the RAID to sort itself out when you first turn it on, during which time you can use it, but it works at a slower speed.
Client Delivery Drive
The last thing you need to think about is how will you deliver the finished project. Does the client want a copy of all the footage, the project files and final exports? Depending on the final size of your project sending them a small USB 2 drive is usually fine. But as always check with them. I’ve used both Lacie Rikki’s and Western Digital Passport drives to send clients a digital copy of the final project. They are both about the size of a passport, light and durable enough to be sent by mail, if nicely wrapped.
Something big and cheap
If after all that you just want a big cheap harddrive to back up onto, store tons of data on and you generally don’t care much at all what it looks like then I’d suggest something like a Western Digital My Book. I have edited from the FireWire 800 versions and they are entirely satisfactory. Buy on Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk
UPDATE: With the newer Macs having USB 3.0, which delivers transfer speeds second only to Thunderbolt, these MyBook Studio 4TB drives represent a good purchase in terms of speed to cost ratio. Generally cheaper than Thunderbolt (in fact half the price!) these drives will give you a lot of space for a thrifty payout. Buy on Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk
* A Couple of Caveats
There are a couple more things you should know about hard drives. The more drives you connect to a computer the slower it will go. The slowest drive also becomes the lowest common denominator. Finally if you’re not sure which drive you should get for this project, definitely check with your editor first.
Finally although I’ve recommended Lacie’s a lot in this post its not because I have any affiliation with them (or anyone for that matter!) – its just that I’ve used them for years without any problems, so I tend to always get them on the next project, make of that what you will.