External storage for video files

512gb SD Card

Where’s the best place to store video files?

A client asked me this question this week. He wants the files to be accessible, but doesn’t want them on his hard drive. Video files are by far the largest files that you are likely to want to store on a home computer. They can consume anywhere from about 1gb to 6gb per hour of recording.

To put this in context, a Word document or Excel spreadsheet is likely to be less than, say, 5mb at most. As there are 1000mb in 1gb, this means that you could potentially store 1200 documents in the same space as one hour of video. We’re talking in very round terms, here, but these figures are of the right order. So, it makes sense to consider storing large files such as videos on “external storage”.

The same considerations apply to storing music files and even photographs, although the individual file sizes are a lot smaller. External storage makes even more sense if you have a computer with a SSD (solid state drive) that is smaller than a hard drive would be. A typical laptop might have a hard drive of 1tb or 2tb, whereas a SSD might be as small as 0.25tb (250gb).

Note that the images below are not to scale!

So, what are the options?

A NAS drive. This is “network attached storage”. It consists of one or more hard drives connected to your local network (ie your router) that makes all its content available to all devices connected to that network. NAS devices also do more than this, but it’s quite a complicated solution, so I do not think it worth considering in more detail here. If you are interested in pursuing this, I recommend looking at Synology.

Western Digital 3.5 inch external driveOne or more external hard drives. These only connect to one computer at a time, but, like all the rest of the solutions listed here, should have no problem in playing your video on that computer. External hard drives are one of two physical sizes:

3.5 inch – in which case the drive is powered by its own mains lead and plug.

2.5 inch – in which case there is no separate power supply, the power for the drive being supplied by the host PC (or Mac) via the USB cable connecting them.

Seagate GoFlex 2.5 inch DriveThe reason you might prefer a 3.5 inch drive is that 2.5 inch drives can occasionally have problems drawing enough power from the host computer via the USB connection. In particular, don’t try and connect a 2.5 inch drive via a USB hub. Doing so would probably make the drive unreliable (if it started up at all).

Whatever the physical size, the capacity of external drives ranges from 0.5tb (ie 500gb) up to about 8tb (8000gb). Larger drives are much more cost-effective when you measure how much each gb costs. If in doubt, go for a larger rather than a smaller drive. External drives are like wardrobes: they look huge when empty, but they fill up in no time.

You could buy an external SSD drive, but if you are just reading media from your drive you are unlikely to get much benefit from the faster speed and SSD drives are still quite a bit more expensive than hard drives.

512gb SD CardSD cards. Most laptops have slots to connect SD cards. Gb for Gb, they cost much more than external drives, but they can be much more convenient as they are so small.

USB sticks. Much cheaper than SD cards, but more expensive than external drives, you can now get large USB sticks (and SD cards) that have as much capacity as small external drives.

Which should you go for?

DL-USB-Flash-DriveI would suggest that the main considerations are capacity (and the relative cost of that capacity) and convenience. Generally speaking, those two considerations are in tension. A large external drive (whether 2.5 or 3.5 inch) is much cheaper byte for byte than SD cards or USB sticks, but you probably don’t want to carry a 3.5 inch drive around with you. Conversely, you might not want to pay £70 for a 512gb SD card when you can get a 500gb 2.5 inch drive for less than £30.

In summary, large media files (such as videos) can soon overwhelm your computer’s storage capacity, but external storage can overcome the problem without too much inconvenience or cost.