Save it, store it, back it up and back it up again – if you work by this, you may never have to experience that tummy churning sensation of remorse. In this section of our backing up series (read part 1 at Backing Up and Saving Your Images) we look at external hard drives, which are arguably one of the most cost effective and simplest ways to store your images.
Shopping for a suitable product may seem like a complete headache, especially if you are unsure of what specifications are good and which is average. Below you’ll find some short explanations to help you get started.
This refers to how much information your device can hold in the same way a memory card or your computer’s hard drive does. As mentioned in Part 1 you can pick up a ‘cheap’ 1TB for around £60, but this isn’t necessarily the best deal as purchasing several slightly cheaper yet lower capacity units will reduce the risk of lost files if your one and only external hard drive breaks. The range of capacity is vast; you’ll find everything from a USB pen storing as little as 1GB of information (which may enough for the very casual photographer) to larger data backs offering 2TB or more (perhaps more than even the most professional shooter will need). Ideally opting for something around the 250GB gives you the best of both worlds and should only set you back £40 ($60). With 250GB of space, photographers will easily be able to store up to 80,000 images (depending on resolution), so a terabyte will provide room for around 320,000 – much more than many will need. It is also worthwhile knowing that although you think you are buying say ‘250GB’ of space, as much as 30GB of that could be taken up with pre-installed files such as for virus protection and operating software, etc from the manufacturer – so you never quite get as much space as you think you will.
There are two main ways to connect an external hard drive to your machine; USB and FireWire. USB, the predominantly used connection variant, simply plug in and your computer should detect it automatically. Firewire, similar to the USB in its plug and play operation, but is available in two speeds: Firewire 400 (which matches the performance times of most USBs) and the faster version; Firewire 800 which is mainly compatible with Macs.
Calculated by how quickly the discs inside the drive spin, a hard drive’s operational; speed is quantified in RPM (rotations per minute). How fast is fast? Well the short answer is the higher the number the faster the transfer and upload rate, for example 7200 rpm is quicker than 5400rpm. Most devices tout times of: 7200 RPM, 5400 RPM and 4200 RPM, with 5400 RPM being the most common. Upload speed is measured in megabytes per second (MB/s), and again the more the better; with 100MB/s being an attractively fast speed. Seek speed may also be mentioned, as this is rate at which the device sources your files. However it is fair to say that this speed is fairly levelled across the board and will only range into milliseconds.
This refers to the internal memory of the product, which after searching and retrieving a file will temporarily load any extra information it predicts the processor could ask for next. The larger the buffer size the smoother the flow of information. The best external devices will hold a buffer of 8MB or 16MB.
As well as the features worth noting above take care to assess the dimensions and overall design of the product – will it fit with your current set up and do you like its appearance? There are so many varieties of external hard drives available today, produced in a rainbow of colours, shapes and sizes – so don’t feel like you are restricted to a bulky black box if bubblegum pink or bumblebee yellow is your thing. Also check what software the unit comes with, as today most should include virus protection. Check the product is compatible with your computer, and ensure the product comes with a warranty as accidents do happen.
Until you buy the device you can never be completely sure of how it will operate, for example how noisy it will be, how hot it will get, how sturdy or reliable it is etc. With this in mind source a few reliable reviews either written by technology journalists or customers who have purchased and used the device. Both of which can be found online.
Who’s who in the external hard drive market?
There is a plethora of products pouring into this market, all designed for different users, in different colours, for different purposes, made from different materials and methods, and all claiming to be the best. Separated by specifications, design and budget – there is literally an external hard drive for everyone. However, as with other technology markets there are a handful of established key-brands to look out for, and here they are…
Producer of sleek, business orientated devices, Seagate manufacture a range of large and small storage units. One of its most recent launches was the ‘FreeAgent Go drive’ pledging an entire terabyte squished into a petite and pocketable drive and its BlackArmor has become a popular seller, as an all-in-one USB 3.0 toolkit that combines a 500GB 7200RPM 2.5–inch portable hard drive, power cable and PC express card, delivering a transfer speed of up 100MB/s, which is three times faster than current USB 2.0 devices.
Today, as well as providing popular portable units for casual users, LaCie has brought out a professional range of devices into the mainstream, with the well regarded D2 Quandra; LaCie’s entry level professional storage solution which is available for less than $160 and is available in capacities up to 2TB (as well as other configurations).
Check out the complete range of external hard drives from Lacie over at Amazon.
Famed for their attractive and sleek ‘Passport’ range of small and portable devices, WD has a reputation for good-looking products. In particular its My Book family has received much praise for a svelte build whilst covering capacities of up to 4TB.
All is not lost…
“Ah but what if your external hard drive corrupts?” I hear you ask. Well if you have fallen victim to data loss because your storage device breaks there are new methods in which you can recover files. For example, memory card manufacturer Lexar now produces products with Image Rescue software that recovers and restores lost or deleted images from any memory card even if it isn’t a Lexar-branded product. Similarly hard drive manufacturer Western Digital incorporate a similar program called SmartWare with the hard drives it ships, and there are more and more manufacturers following suit. Before buying a drive, plough through its list of contents to discover whether this feature is included.
If not, be sure to read part four in this backing up special guide (next week) as we explain how to recover lost or damaged files. Make sure you are subscribed to dPS to get all the rest of this series.