Not so very long ago, only the biggest, fastest, most expensive hard drives were capable of supporting the speed and capacity necessary for nonlinear editing. Fortunately for video editors, those days are gone.
Today, even inexpensive hard drives are likely to have the performance characteristics necessary to edit video. Even so, the buyer of hard drives for video editing needs to beware: it’s still possible to purchase a lemon of a drive that might be fine for everyday use, but woefully inadequate when it comes to editing video.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the various types of hard drives and other storage devices available to computer video editors. We’ll peek at the various technologies including FireWire, Enhanced IDE, SCSI and RAIDs, in an attempt to help you make an informed decision when it’s time to purchase your next video storage device.
First Things First
Before we get into specific types of drives, let’s discuss a few general concepts you need to know.
First, it’s always a good idea to have a separate hard drive dedicated to video storage, aside from the one you use to store your operating system and programs. It is true that many video editing workstations come equipped with only one hard drive (notebooks almost always only have one), and it may be possible to operate this way without any mishaps. However, consider the following ideas:
Acronyms, Initialisms and Abbreviations
As with most things that involve computers, hard drive technologies come with their own special vocabulary as well as acronyms, abbreviations and performance characteristics. It’s a good idea to get to know the most common of these before you start your search for a video editing drive. This will help you determine if a drive you see on sale in the Sunday paper is really a bargain or not.
EIDE (enhanced integrated drive electronics) drives are very common at present and many of them are fully capable of handling the rigors of video editing chores. Before purchasing an EIDE drive, make sure your computer supports the specific type you’re looking at. Currently, the fastest transfer rate is Ultra DMA 133, but some computers might require a special card to make use of this particular type of drive.
SCSI (small computer system interface – pronounced "scuzzy") drives come in many forms, usually labeled by a number (such as SCSI-1, SCSI-2, SCSI-3, etc.) and/or a specific type (such as Wide, Fast, Narrow, Ultra, etc.). Once upon a time, SCSI drives were all but required for video editing. In the past few years, Enhanced IDE drives crept up on their SCSI brethren and have begun to offer performance characteristics that equal and in some cases surpass them. SCSI technology does, however, offer certain performance characteristics that EIDE cannot match. At a cost: SCSI is generally a more expensive technology.
RAID (redundant array of independent [or inexpensive] disks) are actually two or more drives working together for increased storage capacity and speed. RAIDs offer the best, fastest way to store video for editing, but they tend to be a more expensive solution.
FireWire drives are usually external drives that use the IEEE 1394 technology for fast performance, easy (hot) connection and disconnection, as well as portability. All external drives tend to be expensive and FireWire is no exception. Note that you need an OHCI-compliant FireWire port on your computer to be able to use a FireWire drive.
USB-2 drives are new and similar to FireWire drives in price and performance. They require USB-2 ports to operate, which are quite new (and rare) at this point. (Don’t confuse them with USB-1 drives, also referred to simply as USB drives, which are not sufficiently speedy for video editing.)
Aside from the interface type that the drive uses, there are three main characteristics to look at when making a hard drive purchase:
Spindle Speed refers to how fast the drive’s platters spin in normal operation. A drive speed of 7,200rpm is considered a minimum for video editing, but 10,000rpm and 15,000rpm drives are also available.
Sustained Data Transfer Rate is a measure of how much data the drive can move on and off of the computer, in megabytes per second, over a long period of time. Note that this rating is usually higher in the manufacturer’s specifications than you’ll ever achieve in real-life scenarios. A good bottom line for this number is around 7MB per second for good video editing performance. This may be a hard figure to find, since most manufacturers provide only the much faster burst transfer rate.
Storage Capacity measures the storage size of the drive, in gigabytes. In general, this number should be as high as you can make it, but beware: in the battle between raw size and sustained data transfer rate, the latter is more important, especially when you consider that nowadays a 20GB drive ample for working on video projects up to a half hour or more is considered small.
No Time Like the Present
Will any drive you purchase today become obsolete tomorrow? Yes, of course it will. But you have to make a purchase someday, and today’s as good as any other. Just consider the specifications laid out above, and stick with tried and true name brands. And when it’s time to install your new drive into your system, if you’re not sure how to go about it, get a professional to help you. It won’t cost as much as you might think, and it could save you a lot of frustration and heartache.