Deane Nettles | Advertising & Graphic Design

External Drives

I had an interesting time with drives when I took video classes as part of my MFA at the University of Baltimore. I didn't have a lot of money, and that money seemed to always go for larger and faster drives. I started with a 500mg orange LaCie, and ended with a 2T G-Technology, and they always seemed to be full. (Didn't help that I didn't have any way to back them up, because I only had a DVD burner. I highly recommend a Bluray burner.)

I still haven't learned from my own lessons, but I recommend getting twice as much space as you can possibly afford or need, and burn projects to disk when you're done with them.

There are two ways you can work on large files on your computer.

  1. You can work on your files on your computer. This would be the fastest, because you are routing everything through the internal networks in your computer, but on a laptop you are probably limited to 1 terabyte in file size, which can be a problem with video. SSD drives are the fastest here, but limited by size and money. (8/2015 they are $500 for 1T.)
  2. You can work on files outside of your computer, in which case you are only limited by money in how much space you can occupy, but are limited by how much data you can move through the connection (Thunderbolt2) and the limitations of the drive (the drives themselves and the drive configuration, controllers, connections, etc.). My understanding is that Thunderbolt2 is the fastest most reliable external connection widely available, and only available on Macs. Firewire 800 is good. USB3 is pretty fast, but glitches when sending really large files. USB4 is fast but an unknown quantity.

You then have two types of external hard drives available

  1. Single disks — limited by size of drive, speed of drive, and speed of connection. Solid State (flash) drives are going to be fastest, and are about $500 for 1 terabyte right now. Regular drives are limited to about 4 terabytes. If the drive fails, you have a problem.
  2. Arrays — Arrays are drive shells that contain multiple drives. (The LaCie I was talking about contains 2 drives; CalDigit contains 3.)

Arrays and RAID

Arrays can be set up many ways, but the common ones are:

  • RAID 0 — Set so they “stripe” their information across multiple drives for a speed advantage, but if it crashes they are largely unrecoverable (they are best used for things like video editing). IMPORTANT! Many arrays are set to RAID 0 out-of-the-box.
  • RAID 1 — You can mirror (duplicate) the information to multiple drives for maximum safety. In this case, your 6T array will really only hold 3T.
  • RAID 1+0 — Best is mirror+stripe, which gives you maximum speed plus backup, but need 4 drives to do it. (CalDigit 4T is about $1200, so we’re talking something like doubling the price.)
  • JBOD — Just a Bunch Of Disks — You can use the drives as separate disks for maximum storage.

RAID Levels Tutorial



If you want to save money, you could get 2 single drives:

  • a thunderbolt2 drive that you could use for live work when you need more drive space than is available on your laptop,
  • then another larger drive that you use for backup for projects you want to keep access to.

If you want an array, from what I read (can’t tell how recent the reviews are, etc.) the 2Big Thunderbolt 2 array doesn’t really take advantage of the Thunderbolt 2 performance advantage, so the CalDigit array is faster for about 25% more. Neither will be able to do mirror+stripe.

LaCie specs for its Thunderbolt 2 are 420m/s for $599, while CalDigit spec is 580m/s for $749 (both speeds are RAID 0).


CalDigit Thunderbolt Professional RAID T3

Here's a comparison, but the CalDigit is their Thunderbolt 1 model and the LaCie drives aren’t arrays, they are single drives: Barefeats Roundup: Multi-drive Thunderbolt Enclosures

It's hard to get current apples and apples reviews of drives.