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External Hard Drives

Probably the best option for photographers, especially as the prices keep falling and the capacities keep increasing. An external hard drive is encased within it's own box and comes with a power supply. They are usually connected to your computer via a USB port, although some of the larger models do use Firewire connections.  They are normally plug and play devices so do not need to stay connected to your computer all the time, and some of the larger Terrabyte capacities come with USB ports so you can add additional drives. They come in all shapes, sizes, capacities and colours, and it can seem a bit daunting when you go into a computer shop or online to try and find the one that suits your needs. So in the first instance detail what it is you need.

Capacity. The first thing to decide is probably how big you want the drive to be and this will depend on the amount of data you are trying to store. With digital photography it is so easy to shoot more images than before and with RAW files the images are bigger and larger in size. They are measured in Gigabytes (GB) and Terrabytes (TB) a terrabyte being 1000GB, if you have 1GB cards in your camera a 1TB drive will hold 1,000 cards. They come in a range of capacities and these include 250GB, 320GB, 500GB, 750GB, 1TB, 1.5TB, 2TB and 6TB.

Desktop or Transportable or even both. If you are looking for both increasing your normal desktop storage and the need to have backups then the larger storage capacities of 500GB or more are probably what you need to look at, particularly for RAW images. However if you want to be able to have your images available on the move via a laptop then currently 500GB is the largest capacity you can have on a small 2.5" drive like that you find in your laptop. These smaller drives a lighter to carry and will fit more easily into your camera bag. With the transportable versions make sure they are rugged enough to stand bumps and knocks.

Connectivity - USB, USB2, Firewire, eSata. The lower capacity drives and those with transportability generally will connect via a USB port on your computer, and most today (2008) have USB2 connections. However depending on the age of your computer you may only have the earlier USB connections, and if so it will still connect it just won't transfer the data as fast. USB2 connections transfer at a rage of 60MB/s. Firewire comes in two modes Firewire 400 and Firewire 800 and this method of connecting to your computer gives a faster connection at 98.25MB/s, but the fastest is the eSata connection transferring at 300MB/s, to use firewire or eSata your computer will need to have the relevant connections. Nearly all computers are supplied with USB ports, some multi-medias will also be supplied with a firewire connection, but for the eSATA connection an upgrade will be required. We found a plug in board that had two external eSATA ports for 25 from Maplin.

Write Speed - Should be a consideration, especially if you want to upload cards when out and about. Transferring data can be a slow process and if you're not very good at doing regular back-ups having large quantities to move across can be time consuming. They will quote write speeds of so much capacity/s transfer such as 165MB/s transfer, but this will usually be the optimum via the best connection method to the computer. Generally Firewire transfers faster than USB, and USB comes in two forms with the USB2 connection being faster than the normal USB. How fast it writes is also dependent on how much free space you have left on your computers hard drive, the less space the slower it goes.

Budget - Probably the biggest deciding factor is your budget. Prices have been coming down and will continue to do so, but for the most secure back up you are looking to buy at least 3. Prices depend on their capacity and in more recent months the price per Gigabyte has dropped, and you can pick up a 250GB drive for around 50, a 500GB for between 50-120, a 1TB drive costing 100-150 with a 2TB for around 300-350. Of course you don't necessarily have to have them all the same size, you could go for a larger capacity to be permanently connected to your computer and use smaller capacities for the other two back ups.

See Also:

Organising and Indexing Your Images

Keywords and Captions


Flags and Filters

Free Organising Software

Backing up your photo collections



By: Tracey Park Section: Photography Section Key:
Page Ref: external_drives Topic: Editing, Printing and Publishing  Last Updated: 11/2009

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