by Larry Jordan
One of the questions I get asked every week is: “What computer should I buy?” The answer is that virtually every Mac (or PC) shipped today is generally good enough for video editing. The question editors SHOULD be asking is: “What kind of storage should I buy?” So, this week, I compiled a Q&A on how to pick the right storage for video editing.
In the Olde Days, when hard disks were connected to computers by FireWire, we could select storage based upon capacity and price. Why? Because, fast though the FireWire protocol seemed at the time, it was slower than the speed of the hard disks connected through it.
The “gating factor,” as I call it, determined the speed of our storage was the FireWire protocol.
This wasn’t a big deal because we were editing standard-definition DV video at the time which easily fit into the speed of a FireWire 400 connection.
Fast-forward to today and our connection protocols are no longer the problem. USB 3.1 Gen 2, USB-C, and Thunderbolt are all blindingly fast protocols far exceeding the speed of any single spinning media hard drive or SSD connected to it.
Unlike working with DV, the shift to shooting high-resolution frame sizes, higher bit-depth, RAW and HDR media and faster frame rates, combined with ever-increasing shooting ratios, are all creating more and larger media files.
Picking the right storage is always a balance between what we want versus what we can afford. Most of us don’t have unlimited budgets. So, how do we determine the storage we need? This Q & A should help you better understand the basics of storage so you can ask more informed questions as you plan your next storage purchase.
- Can you define some basic terms? I’m lost.
Sure. This is confusing stuff.
- Capacity. The total amount of storage available in each device, measured in either GB (gigabytes) or TB (terabytes).
- Bandwidth. The speed your storage transfers data to (Read) or from (Write) the computer. Higher numbers are better. Measured in MB/second (megabytes per second). Also called “data transfer rate,” “data transfer speed” or just “speed.” As a general rule, you need storage bandwidth equal to twice that of the codec you are editing.
- Spinning media. A traditional hard disk that records data on spinning metal platters.
- SSD. Solid State Drive. Similar to RAM, except that it doesn’t forget what’s stored on it when you turn the power off.
- Locally-attached. A storage device that connects directly to your computer.
- Server. A storage device that is shared between multiple computers and attached via Ethernet.
- RAID. A storage device composed of multiple hard drives or SSDs that provides greater bandwidth and capacity than a single hard drive.
- JBOD. “Just a Bunch of Disks.” This is a RAID formatted to look like separate hard drives. JBODs are not recommended for video editing, but can be useful for audio sound design and mixing.
- Protocol. How the computer talks to a storage device. Thunderbolt and USB are popular protocols.
- Internal drive. The drive inside your computer.
- External drive. A separate box located outside your computer that stores data.
- Video format or codec. How your camera records media. ProRes, DNxHD, AVCHD, H.264, Cinema DNG are all codecs. Different codecs create differently sized files, even for media of the same duration.
- Should I buy a larger internal drive or external media?
While you CAN edit on a single internal drive, today’s media files demand more and more storage. It isn’t that the internal drive doesn’t “work,” its that it isn’t big enough. For this reason, even if you don’t buy an external drive today, you need to start budgeting for it.
It is amazing how fast you can fill a 1 TB SSD. If you plan to regularly edit media, external storage is in your future.
Also, it is easy to carry an external device from one computer to another. If all your data is stored inside your computer, moving data between systems is not easy.
- Should I buy an SSD for my internal drive or Fusion drive or … what?
In general, you want the operating system and all applications stored on the internal drive, with all media and project files stored on external storage. This means you can optimize the internal drive for speed, while optimizing the external drive for capacity.
On my editing system, the operating system and a full set of Final Cut Pro and Adobe editing software takes 125 GB of storage. Currently, all three of my current editing systems have Fusion drives; one is 1 TB and the other two are 3 TB.
However, if I were to purchase a new system, I’d get an all-SSD system. Why? Because even a 3 TB Fusion drive does not hold enough for most video projects. Fusion drives are fast. SSDs are far, far faster and you’ll appreciate this performance for the OS and apps.
- How much capacity should I buy?
Smile… However much capacity you buy, it won’t be enough.
You can read the rest of Larry’s Tutorial: “Q&A: How to Pick the Right Storage” at larryjordan.com here.