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How to get top speeds out of your desktop storage

Hard drives are everywhere in a creative team: external drives for a quick on-shoot backup; a desktop RAID for your video editor so they can edit their footage locally; as part of your approvals workflow, or even as an archive solution.


Liz Sunter

But while the capacity of hard drives has increased to keep pace with rising file sizes, the overall speed of these drives – and your team’s ability to perform that backup quickly, or work from them in real time – is decreasing. In fact, today’s high-capacity HDDs are often slower than the smaller drives you’d have purchased a few years ago. So how do you make sure you’re getting the best combo of capacity and speed when it comes to desktop storage?

There are three factors that might limit the overall speed of an external drive: the type of drive you’re using (a traditional HDD or the newer SSD), the protocol that storage uses (SATA, nVME) and the connection to your computer (USB or Thunderbolt).

In order to get the best possible performance, you need to match the right drive to the right protocol and connection: a SSD connecting over nVME is very fast, but a USB connection won’t have enough bandwidth to take advantage of those top speeds, so the drive’s performance will hit an artificial ceiling. It’s all about finding a format, protocol and connection with similar capabilities.


So which are the best combinations?

For older hard drives that that use a SATA protocol, it’s only really worth connecting via USB 3.0 – you won’t see any performance gains from moving to a faster connection like USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt 3. An SSD using SATA will be slightly faster, and perform best over USB 3.1Gen1 or USB 3.1Gen2 connections. This is the slowest of the combos, but it’s fine for anything that’s not time-sensitive, or for a backup or archive.

Top picks for SATA: LaCie Rugged and G-Technology Mobile Drive HDDs, or a G-Drive Mobile SSD.

nVME is a protocol developed specifically for SSDs, and can unlock faster performance than is possible over SATA. This means that in order to take full advantage of your nVME SSDs, you’ll want to connect to them over a 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 connection.

While a single SSD could theoretically use the full 40Gb bandwidth, in reality its performance will fluctuate up and down. To experience the full power of nVME SSDs over Thunderbolt 3, you need to opt for an SSD RAID – multiple SSDs working together as a single storage volume, able to saturate the full bandwidth of Thunderbolt 3 for both reading and writing tasks, giving you access to the full 40Gb performance.

We’d recommend this setup for video storage, or storage your designers are working directly from – they should still be able to edit high resolution images and video in real time or close to it

Top pick for nVME: G-Technology Mobile Pro SSD for a single disk, or G-SPEED Shuttle SSD for a RAID configuration.


What other factors do you need to consider?

The other key factor to consider is reliability. When it come to HDD storage, the metric you want to pay attention to is mean time between failure (MTBF) – the longer the better. While all drives can fail, those from professional vendors like G-Technology and LaCie are more reliable than those aimed at consumers. They’re designed for use in professional RAID arrays, and have a longer MTBF than other grades of disk.

While these models may be more expensive than consumer drives, it’s worth remembering that when a drive does fail, there’s usually no way to retrieve the data that was held on it, so it’s worth paying extra for added peace of mind.

SSDs have no moving parts (their name stands for ‘solid state disk’). This means there are fewer parts to break, and subsequently less risk of a sudden and irretrievable failure. However, SSDs do ‘wear out’ over time as they’re filled and overwritten, so it’s important to check how many complete writes the model you buy is guaranteed for. An SSD that’s guaranteed for 70 lifetime writes is fine for use in a home computer, where it will only be filled once in a blue moon, but in an on-set backup workflow where it could be filled multiple times a day, it’s not going to last very long at all.

In most professional scenarios, we recommend choosing a high-endurance SSD designed to withstand one full drive write per day (DWPD), with no degradation in speed or reliability during its warranty period.

Our most reliable SSD: G-Technology G-DRIVE Pro SSD (1 DWPD over a five year warranty).

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