Remember your first computer? You know the one. That heavy CRT monitor, the beige tower with a whopping 486 processor. It was hard to imagine ever being able to fill that baby up with data. Times sure have changed!
Even if you're not churning through hundreds of gigabytes of data to edit your next masterpiece, chances are you're piling up enough material to warrant some sort of storage device. If you're working with video, especially HD video, you will quickly find yourself in the market for more storage. The question is what kind of storage? For the purposes of this article we'll focus on three primary options. Simple external hard drives, portable recording devices, and networked storage device, also known as network-attached storage (NAS).
Who Needs It?
Technically, all three drives are "external," however, they each serve different needs. NAS is a fantastic option for anyone needing a central place to store and share data from multiple computer workstations. Rather than being hooked-up to a single computer a NAS has the ability to be partnered with multiple computers via an Ethernet or Wi-Fi router. This way, multiple operators can seamlessly store and share data without the need to transport that data from one computer to another using a physical mechanism such as a thumb drive, a DVD or a stand-alone portable drive. There are drawbacks, however, to using a NAS device. First, NAS devices tend to cost more than a simple external drive. Second, you're relying on a network to provide uninterrupted service. If there's a glitch in the system, the ability for your computer to "talk" with your NAS is also inhibited, promoting someone to call out that now familiar phrase "the server's down."
Another option, which is in use among many videographers and DPs is a solid-state solution to recording and storing media in the field.Tapeless video capture devices are built for the rigors of location production. With tried and true names like Maxell and NEXTO, you can count on this line of drives to be small, rugged, and able to hold hundreds of gigs of data without the worry of a glitch. But unless you have a lot of money to spend, these handy devices aren't typically a "one-size-fits-all" solution to recording and storing media in the field. With the bevy of options for image acquisition currently in play, different cameras, compression schemes, and so on, you have to know your workflow before making this purchase. Are you shooting SD or HD? Will you ever have need for analog input or are you full digital? What codec do you require for seamless production-to-post workflow? The less expensive of these devices are great for your pocketbook but they can paint you into a corner with respect to your I/O in post. The more expensive devices come with a nice line of options but they're, well... more expensive.
Probably the most widely used storage option for shooters and editors is a simple external drive. One of the best things about this option is that an external drive isn't all that picky about the system to which it is attached. Mac lover, PC purist, it doesn't matter. You can typically just hook up your drive, wait for it to install or be recognized, and voilá... you're in business!
So, What's Out There ?
Today it seems there is an inexhaustible variety of storage devices to choose from on the market. The first determination to make when considering a storage option is, how are you going to use it? As mentioned in reference to a tapeless recording device...it's all about workflow.
If you're using a device to simply archive data rather than rely on the device for I/O capacity, just about any of the popular brands will do. Western Digital, G-Tech, Seagate, Iomega, and Toshiba are only a few of the reliable brands on the market today. All provide external storage devices to the consumer with capacity ranging from megabytes to terabytes, and all for prices that have become quite reasonable over the last several years. It used to be that you could expect to spend on average a dollar or more per GB of space. Nowadays, that price hovers more around the $0.30 to $0.40 per GB range. Far easier to digest, especially in today's "down" market.
If you need the extra space for a dedicated workflow such as the editing of a project where high transfer rates are vital (as in working with HD video), you'll need to familiarize yourself with terms like FireWire 3200, USB 3.0, eSATA, and Light Peak. The speed at which your data transfers from the drive to the computer and back again spells the difference between a smooth flowing project workflow and one that bogs down you and your computer, turning your workflow into an exhaustingly time consuming process.
For more than ten years, USB 2.0 has been a standard transfer protocol for external storage devices. But with the incorporation of HD video into the mainstream, 2.0's promise of 420Mbps is now insufficient to handle efficient throughput of data. On that premise, USB 3.0 promises increased maximum bus power and draw current with a transfer rate of up to 4.8 Gbps. That's nearly ten times that of USB 2.0. One drawback for sure is that USB 3.0 is not supported by Apple.
FireWire is a high-speed standard in the world of system and peripheral interface, first with IEEE 1394, then FireWire 400, and again with FireWire 800. Then in 2007, FireWire 3200 (S3200) was announced. 3200 is sort of a vertical advancement that simply utilizes the exact same cabling and connectors currently used with FireWire 800, but with four times the current bandwidth of FireWire 800. With USB 3.0 on the horizon, PC users might not have need for the use of a FireWire cable, Mac users and video pros have grown to love this option mainly because FireWire uses so little processing power, unlike its USB counterpart.
Light Peak, eSATA, and So On...
Hitting the products market soon is the amazingly fast Light Peak. Developed by Intel and backed by Apple, Light Peak is a multi-platform high-speed connection that, according to all the buzz, promises not to disappoint. Carrying data to and from at a blazing speed of 10 gigabytes per second, Light Peak all but eclipses claims made in favor of USB 3.0 and FireWire 3200.
Already in wide use is an external interface known as eSATA, short for External Serial Advanced Technology Attachment. eSATA promises transfer rates up to triple that of USB 2.0 and FireWire 400 yet eSATA requires its own power connector. Still, many laptop and desktop models include eSATA connectors as a standard. For those that don't, a PCI card can be installed to provide the necessary interface.
The need to access those files and/or store them quickly and efficiently is more important than at any other time in our industry. That's why knowing your workflow, and how any number of these external device options can enhance that workflow, is essential to the success of your next project, and let's face it... your sanity - Happy storage shopping!
Michael Fitzer is an Emmy award-winning commercial and documentary writer/producer.