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Best External Hard Drive for Video Editing?

Update: After blowing nearly £1500 on a new Retina MacBook Pro, I decided to go for the USB 3, 1TB Lacie Rugged as it was the cheaper option. I’ve had it for a week now and edited 2.5k video in Da Vinci Resolve and played with some motion graphics in Cinema 4D Lite without a hitch. Both the computer and drive are blisteringly fast. Unless you’re made of money, buy the USB 3 one!

I’ve been doing quite a bit of research just lately as I’m about to make a purchase of a 15″ Retina MacBook Pro. Whilst these new Macs have beautiful displays and are extremely fast, there is a compromise in terms of disk space. There is no hard drive per se in the Retina line of MacBook Pro’s, they have a similar setup to RAM where individual memory modules are soldered directly on to the main board. This is a bit of a disaster as far as upgrading goes. The same applies for memory as well. Anyway, this subject has been covered in many blog posts around the web. I’ve made the decision to get one and I need extra HDD space for all my files when editing.

Editing footage that is 1080p and up, directly from an external hard drive is going to require a bit of speed. Thunderbolt is definitely the fastest, but can you get away with using the much cheaper USB 3.0? Gizmodo have done an in-depth comparison between the two technologies. In short, Thunderbolt wins as far as outright speed goes:

Even so, it’s obvious to us that Thunderbolt is wickedly fast. We could literally copy 16.9GB of files to the R4 configured with SSDs in 23 seconds

But USB 3.0 isn’t to be underestimated either:

Performance wasn’t stellar, but it wasn’t horrible either. USB 3.0’s speed is actually very respectable, but Thunderbolt clearly has the edge in pure performance.

I guess the answer to that question depends on what your editing and who your working with. If your doing same day edits or need to show clients work almost immediately, every second counts and Thunderbolt will be your best friend. Even from the point of view of offloading footage from the camera, it will be quicker and save you time. If you don’t need that blistering speed, maybe a cheaper USB 3.0 HDD is worth a shot and will certainly save you a fair amount of money.

Hard Drives

The Lacie Rugged 1TB HDD looks great and sports both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 Ports. This is perfect for working with clients and allows you to move files on to other computes that may not have a Thunderbolt port available. It looks great as well with a rugged orange bumper to protect it from minor drops.

As discussed earlier though, the thunderbolt technology will set you back over £100 more as this hard drive is priced at £182.95 or $216.41 in the US. (Click on your currency for Amazon link to your country).

If you are on a budget, it’s slightly slower younger brother is available for just £88.35 or $119.99 in the US. This is an absolute bargain for a USB 3.0 hard drive that is shock resistant.

The equally good looking (but badly named) Freecom 56236 1TB Mobile Mg is a slightly cheaper but equally as quick Thunderbolt Hard Drive. It will look great next to your mac, but does lack any kind of protection. One thing going in it’s favour is a two year manufacturers warranty.

It’s available only in the UK/Europe as far as I can see at present for £169.31.

It also has a slower younger brother in USB 3.0 available for £91.49.

Buffalo’s offering is in the form of the MiniStation 1 TB this seems like a good alternative to the Freecom but is only available in the US for $189.99. Again it’s a slightly cheaper than the Lacie but lacking the rubber shock protection.

This has been a fairly non-technical review, but I will update it in the future with more Thunderbolt Hard Drives as they become available. It seems difficult to find out what is available and there are still only a handful of options. Obviously if you want all out speed to take advantage of the raw bandwidth of Thunderbolt, then SSD’s inside these enclosures are an option. A very expensive option that I will maybe cover in a later post.

For me I’ll be choosing the Lacie, the rugged coating could save the day if the Hard Drive is dropped.  I’m very surprised other manufacturers haven’t designed something similar in their offerings. They are also one of the more reliable brands out there and in general, the more technical reviews I have read rate this product very highly. I’ll also be going for the Thunderbolt version, I think the extra speed will pay for itself in the long term and I see this drive lasting me for two or three years.

If anyone has any input or would like me to add some more information about a specific device, please get in touch in the comments and I’ll be happy to help.

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