Buyer's Guide 2006: Speedy, Spacious Storage
Solutions for creating a reliable digital image library
At the time of this writing, reliable 80 GB drives were selling for around $90 to $100, a fair enough price when the alternative is the loss of your unique work.
The latest capacity craze is the terabyte or half-terabyte drive. A terabyte is 1,000 GB worth of space (a half-terabyte is 500 GB) and is commonly split up among four (or two) 250 GB hard drives that are connected and work in conjunction with one another (see the RAID sidebar). Recent prices for terabyte drives start at around $1,000.
Fast Access. RPM (revolutions per minute) is a measurement of how many revolutions a hard disk drive makes in one minute. The higher the RPM, the faster that data can be accessed. A typical RPM in hard drive models used to be 5400, but because of today's larger files, especially with those images shot in RAW, 7200 is becoming more common.
There's a noticeable time difference between the two speeds when accessing and downloading large files, so if you aren't a patient person, look for a drive with an RPM speed of 7200. Also, this faster hard drive speed is important if you're working with video.
Automatic Backup. Most external hard drives have a backup wizard interface or come with separate drive-cloning software for you to install. Such software can program backups on an hourly, daily, weekly or monthly schedule and might be your saving grace.
Additionally, if you have a few drives linked together, this software can routinely spread your data over all of the discs, creating multiple copies to ensure your images still will be accessible in the event of a crash. Some software and hard drive interfaces also have a password-protected safety feature in case your drive is lost or stolen.
Size. The space you have available on your desk and in your office may play a part in the type of unit to purchase. The terabyte stations have big housings and look like small computers, while the smaller-capacity, single-drive units have become incredibly compact. Many of the latter are designed to be stackable, and others can be propped up vertically to save space on your desk.