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Life of a USB drive for Video Editing

Ron Bergeron's picture
Last seen: 8 months 2 weeks ago
Joined: 06/27/2009 - 7:21pm

I do a lot of video editing. Perhaps it's my laziness that I not only capture raw files to a USB external drive, but I also edit and render to USB drives. I'll make an assumption that it probably slows my work down somewhat, but more importantly, I'm wondering if working off the USB drive 1) somehow hinders video quality, and 2) shortens the life of a USB drive.

The laziness for editing on the drive is because it's a pain in the neck to move working files back and forth... I'm sure a lot of you can understand that point.

However, maybe I'm not doing my end-product any favors, let alone the external drives by over-working them. Any technical insights?

Thanks! (Ron)


grinner's picture
Last seen: 6 years 3 months ago
Joined: 12/29/2007 - 2:56am

There is no image quality difference but dadgum, you are slowing things bigtime as I'm sure you know. No need to move working files around at all. Just use your USB drives to archive once done.

If you do it as you go it's no chore at all. Don't and, well, I have been freelancing downtown for the last 3 days just archiving for a company that has never done it.




UnitedNerds's picture
Last seen: 3 years 5 months ago
Joined: 11/12/2010 - 2:19pm

If you do want to continue your habit, it would be very beneficial to at least move on to USB 3.0. Things will always be faster if you capture and render to your internal peripharels. As far as lifespan is considered, the only thing that will shorten a flashdrive's life is being outdated by faster/bigger flashdrives.


EarlC's picture
Last seen: 1 year 1 month ago
Joined: 10/15/2008 - 1:15am
Plus Member Moderator

Actually, according to a few magazine articles and info found on the web, solid state or flash drive memory stability is finite. It's been tested a variety of ways and holds up pretty well for a long, long time but hey NOTHING lasts forever.


Ron Bergeron's picture
Last seen: 8 months 2 weeks ago
Joined: 06/27/2009 - 7:21pm

Haha, yeah... that's why I'm changing the way I do these now... those cheapo Seagates (as much as I loved them before) seem to need exchanging fairly soon. I had one last year that needed to be sent back almost right after opening the box. A few acquaintences have done the same. I was afraid to buy the 2T's from Walmart a little while back when they had 'em on sale for $69. I figured they were refurbs. Not sure if that even matters, though.

Then again, I just had a 500G Seagate crap out recently too. It hates to transfer multiplefiles at once. Well, I don't have time to sit there and move them one at a damned time, LOL!!

These are all of the Free Agent variety.


EarlC's picture
Last seen: 1 year 1 month ago
Joined: 10/15/2008 - 1:15am
Plus Member Moderator

Seagate and Hitachi are my "go to" brands, from 300 GB to 1TB, but my connections are either firewire or internal eSATA. I do have a couple of boxes for my JBODs (just a bunch of drives) with Seagate & Maxtor drives and USB connections. I used these for storage but not to edit from or to. I've used Western Digital. All the units I've used with the exception of two (an old 4GB and 9GB IBM) have served me well with huge gaps in mean time between failures and bad blocks.

Somehow, I guess the mention of USB drive, I got the impression we were discussing solid state drives. Sorry, my bad. IMHO even cheap drives (USB or other connections) are fine for general archive work, but I simply would not edit with a USB drive of any size, shape or description, internal or external. USB 3 or Firewire 800, even 400 ...


Dave Haynie's picture
Last seen: 4 years 3 weeks ago
Joined: 03/29/2010 - 4:12pm

USB hard drives are prefectly good for long term storage/archival. There's a better chance that you'll have at least the option of USB in 10 or 20 years on new equipment (maybe USB 4.0 or 5.0, but backward compatible) than any of the internal bus formats (SATA, PCI, PCIe, etc). And even the rate of these other formats changing has decreased... it's far more common to improve the technology in a compatible way.

I wouldn't choose USB as my normal working drive, just due to performance... USB 2.0 with a single drive isn't going to compete with SATA/eSATA or even Firewire 800 on drive performance, and actual hard drives are plenty fast enough today to make the difference a real thing. USB 3.0 is likely to change things.

I use SATA drives for project archival (with a copy of the critical pieces on Blu-ray). I have SATA slot carriers for both 3.5" and 2.5" drives, and just use the raw drives. Of course, today these could be turned into USB or something else if SATA ever started going away... with all of these things, you'll have ample warning before the format is hard to find. And that's true of any other storage format, too... nothing necessarily lasts forever. It's also likely that, when a replacement is introduced, it can store more or all of your other stuff. For example, everything I ever had on any Amiga hard drive, floppy, CD, etc. will fit on a single cheap USB flash drive today.... that's what 20 years does for you.

USB flash drives generally use MLC flash (multi-level coding), which has a mimimum life of 10,000 write/erase cycles.? If you re-wrote the drive 9 times each day, it would last you at least three years.? But of course, you probably don't re-write the whole drive anywhere near that often. They all use wear-levelling technology, so even rewriting the same file over and over will use different blocks on the drive.

And realistically, within a year or two, falling prices will make your current drive seem limited. It's not likely a USB drive even needs to last three years. In fact, there's a good chance you'll see today's drives at 1/2-2/3 the current price by the fall/winter this year.

I wouldn't trust a USB drive as an archival solution. The stored charge in modern flash memory is supposed to last 10 years under good conditions (about what I've seen out of some tapes), but you don't always have those conditions. Of course, I don't trust any single piece of media for long term storage... I use hard drives, DVD or Blu-ray, even some tape around here.


Moab Man's picture
Last seen: 1 year 4 months ago
Joined: 11/02/2010 - 3:35am
Plus Member

I use USB 3 External Hardrive and it flows beautifully. However, USB 3 doesn't run at even at 25% of its claimed speed. Still recommend it but don't be surprised when the claimed speeds are not even approximated.



doublehamm's picture
Last seen: 7 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: 11/29/2009 - 5:52pm

Now that's almost a scarier thought. At least have a separate HD for editing from.


Kenkyusha's picture
Last seen: 6 months 5 days ago
Joined: 09/22/2011 - 6:46pm

+ 1 Doublehamm- installing a medium-sized (500GB to 1TB) 'scratch' drive to work on will save your main system drive, and cut down on heartache.  You can always archive to the external drives of your choice (based on the speed/budget equation).


Jaimie's picture
Last seen: 1 year 1 month ago
Joined: 10/14/2009 - 1:25pm

I no longer use USB drives for anything. My previous experience was with various brands and they all failed. Yes, every single one failed after a few weeks to about a year of constant daily use. The failures were all due to overheating which caused the electronics to fail. The external USB drives with internal fans lasted the longest. Fortunately, the drives themselves were fine and as they failed I dug them out of their enclosures and connected them up bare to the PC.

There was also a speed problem. As long as I was editing SD with CS3 they seemed to be ok, although I did have occasional crashes which I always attributed to other causes. When I went to editing HDV, things got worse to the point that I was spending 40% of my time rebooting.

Out of desperation, I switched to internal drives and firewire connected externals. That cured the crashes and somewhat sped up CS3. I found that internal SATA drives and IDE worked equally well. I tried external SATA drives with mixed results, but that may have been due to the external interface card.

I didn't pursue researching those drives because I was satisfied with the firewire performance. Since then, I have switched machines and am running CS5 with firewire external drive connections.


composite1's picture
Last seen: 3 weeks 2 days ago
Joined: 12/11/2008 - 7:54pm
Plus Member Moderator

I wouldn't consider using a USB flashdrive to edit with. Storage for Archiving a finished product that will get stashed in a lockbox long term, definitely. Short-term storage for project media (small projects) when I teach on public computers, also a yes. I don't even like playing back video from a USB drive. Until prices for SSD drives drop considerably, stick to standard harddrives. I used to like Seagate, but they crapped out too regularly. That said, I've still got a unit I built back in '02 with Seagate drives that still works after years of heavy editing. Primarily, I use Western Digital or Toshiba drives for if they do crash, they have a 3 year warranty and long as they aren't physically damaged, both companies replace them free with no fuss. They even gave me brand new ones instead of refurbs. I'm not a fan of WD's external drives. They'll work solid for a year or more of heavy editing but will eventually crap out.

H.Wolfgang Porter, Composite Media Producer Dreaded Enterprises Unlimited, Inc. www.dreadedenterprises.com