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Don't Compromise on External Storage

With your growing portfolio of videos, photos, music, artwork and creative projects, the ability to add more storage easily and cost-effectively becomes a necessity. You need something that's going to last. And whether you're a digital video producer, a graphic designer or photographer, storage performance is critical.

Before you go out and buy your next external drive, here are a few must-have storage criteria that separate the toys from the tools.

Nothing Does It Better Than RAID

For high-performance and/or data redundancy nothing is better than RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks).

RAID uses two or more hard disk drives enclosed in an external storage solution. For the more techie folks, you can also build a RAID array inside of your computer. However, the latter requires a bit more work so, for the purpose of this article, we'll focus on simple, plug and play external storage RAID. Here are some important terms to know when discussing RAID with your hard drive supplier:

RAID 0: Also known as "striping," RAID 0 provides full capacity with the fastest possible sustained throughput – continuous large sequential read/writes. RAID 0 takes a file and spreads it across two or more drives to reduce the time it takes to write or read the file.

RAID 0 pays off in situations where speed is paramount, such as working with multiple streams of digital video. As you probably already know, when your interface or hard drive can't keep up with your system, your video can be butchered by dropped frames. To avoid this, a good solution is the G-Technology G-RAID 2 external drive. With capacities up to 2TB and specifically designed for the A/V market, the company guarantees simultaneous playback of multiple layers of video in real-time in Final Cut Pro, Premiere and Xpress. (See chart below.)

RAID 1: When you invest countless hours and dollars amassing hundreds of gigabytes of data, you would probably care more about data protection than speed. The easiest way to protect your data against accidental loss is to "mirror" the files.

This can be achieved easily with a two-drive external storage solution. Whatever gets written to the first drive is automatically copied, or mirrored, to the second drive. This means if anything should happen to either disk, your data is still safe.

The G-Tech G-SAFE is an easy to use RAID 1 solution. If calamity strikes and a hard drive fails, you simply pull out the defective drive bay, plug in a new hard drive, and the system automatically rebuilds itself, getting you back to a protected state in no time. Other RAID 1 hard drives require you to send the entire storage device in for repair if a drive fails.

Keep It Cool

Hard drives hate heat, so product quality and overall product integration are important. Your data is your livelihood, you don't want to depend on shoddy hardware prone to overheating and premature failure.

Make sure your next external hard drive has an adequate cooling system. An external drive with an all-aluminum enclosure is ideal. The aluminum acts as a heat sink, pulling heat away from the drive for increased data longevity and reliability.

Some drives also incorporate a "smart fan" to circulate air inside the enclosure. As the name implies, when the fan senses that the drive is warm, it automatically turns on, keeping the drive cool. Another benefit of a smart fan is that it's only used when needed, keeping the drive quiet.

There Is No Such Thing as Too Much Capacity

Keep the future in mind. Your storage needs will grow.

Take for example digital video. Some estimates say that a single hour of captured DV takes anywhere between 13.5GB to 15GB. And that's not including preview files or the memory required to exporting to DVD, which can add a few more gigabytes in temp files.
When selecting your external hard drive, be sure that you have enough storage for the type of digital media content that you wish to store. If you need 1TB (or 1,000GB) of external storage today, you're bound to need twice or three times that amount before you know it. If you're into video, here's a rough capacity guide from G-Tech:

Every 100GB holds up to:
9.25 Hrs of HDV
7.5 Hrs of DV25
1.75 Hrs of DVCPRO HD
1.25 Hrs of 8-bit SD
1 Hr of 10-bit SD

When adding a hard drive to your computer, make sure that your main internal hard drive (C:) is designated for the operating system and applications. All other data -- including projects, captured files, graphics and audio – should be stored on a separate, external hard drive.

Future-Proof Your Interface

As with most technology, external storage interfaces improve with time. Here are the most current interfaces and their maximum transfer (burst) rates:

  • FireWire (1394a) – 400 Mbps (megabits per second)
  • USB 2.0 – 480 Mbps
  • FireWire 800 (1394b) – 800 Mbps
  • eSATA 3.0 – 3.0 Gbps (gigabits per second)

Based on these numbers, eSATA is almost four times as fast as FireWire 800 and eight times as fast as USB 2.0. Ideally, your storage solution should accommodate all of these so you're prepared for whatever system or peripheral you decide to connect with in the future.

The good news is that industry-leading external storage solutions offer a combination of interface choices and some even come equipped with all four, dubbed a "quad" interface solution.

Keep in mind that few workstations come equipped with an eSATA or a FireWire 800 port, so you may be required to install a PCI Controller Card. This is a relatively easy process – opening up your computer may prove to be the most difficult part. But go for it. It's worth it!

Real-World Performance

While benchmark numbers, such as the maximum data transfer rate (as stated above), can be used to quantify the raw performance of the external drive, they do not translate in to real-world performance.

Sustained throughput is what matters most. Let's take another look at video. We all know that video is data intensive, especially when working with multiple streams. If the sustained data rate of the drive or interface dips below the required transfer rate for the video, the result is jerky playback, messed up audio and dropped frames. You need a solution that's going to keep up with you.

Put this all together and it's a pretty hefty shopping list. Doing a little research up front will help as there are many benefits to purchasing a thoroughly implemented product. Not only will you get the reliability, speed and data protection you're looking for, you'll also be able to rotate copies off-site or have the flexibility to work from multiple computers quickly and easily.

Let's face it, content creators have their own set of special storage needs: they need faster, bigger and better storage solutions because their livelihood depends on it.

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