If you’ve just started working in visual media, you may have noticed you’re starting to accumulate a lot of digital files. Yes, digital files take up less space in your apartment than literal files, but figuring out what to do with all of that stuff can be daunting. How many copies should you keep? And where?

Storing your projects on your computer  can slow it down, and sharing a computer at work or school will limit what you can leave on a machine. An easy solution is a portable hard drive. It allows your computer more memory on its own internal hard drive, letting your software work faster, and you can carry your files with you easily. Not to mention you can save a backup of everything important on your computer in case of the worst. First time choosing a hard drive? No problem. We’ve got a crash course for you.


Your first choice to make is how much memory you’ll need. If you’re investing in visual media for the long-haul, we recommend your first purchase be a hard drive with at least one terabyte of memory. What does that mean?

Digital memory is measured in bits, very small increments of storage. Terms like kilobyte and gigabyte are probably familiar to you. We’ve listed the increments for digital memory below.

  • 1 Bit = Binary Digit (small)
  • 8 Bits = 1 Byte
  • 1,000 Bytes = 1 Kilobyte (KB)
  • 1,000 Kilobytes = 1 Megabyte (MB)
  • 1,000 Megabytes = 1 Gigabyte (GB)
  • 1,000 Gigabytes = 1 Terabyte (TB) (large)

Here are some example file sizes:

  • Lower-resolution JPG photo: 300 KB
  • High resolution JPG photo: 5 MB
  • RAW photo file: 25 MB
  • Full-size iPhone photo: 2 MB
  • Three-minute music file in mp3 format: 8 MB
  • 15-minute interview in WAV form: 172 MB
  • Two-minute video: 60.6 MB
  • Movie-length video file in .mv4 format: 2 GB
  • Large Premiere project folder (all raw video, plus extra audio, photos and graphics-172 items in total): 23 GB

Files do add up, but one terabyte of storage should be more than enough to store your first few projects.


If you’re going to be using your portable hard drive to edit projects, and not just to store files or backup your computer, then the speed of the drive matters. Drive speed is measured in RPM, or revolutions per minute. The higher the RPM, the faster and stronger the processing power. If you want to edit videos from your drive, you should get a hard drive with at least 7200 RPM.

Connection & Power

There are a few different types of connections you can choose for a hard drive. Which kind you need depends on what your computer accepts and how fast you want to be able to save to and from your drive. USB 3.0 is the latest incarnation of USB and is one of the fastest connections available. USB 2.0 is the older and slower version. However, not all computers are equipped with the appropriate plugs for USB 3.0. Using USB 3.0 with an older computer will create a much slower connection than if you were to use USB 2.0.

FireWire ConverterBefore USB 3.0, FireWire was the fastest connection. You can get a FireWire in speeds of 200, 400 or 800, and FireWire 800 is the fastest. You may need a USB to FireWire converter if you want the speed of FireWire but only have a USB 2.0 port (left).



Many new external hard drives come with just USB 3.0 or with both FireWire and USB 3.0. This means you can use your FireWire connection on most older computers. On newer computers, you should use the USB 3.0 ports. Newer Macs also have a Thunderbolt connection, which is faster than FireWire and USB 3.0. (From left to right: three USB ports, a FireWire 800 port, and two Thunderbolt ports.)


The cost of a drive varies based on storage size, speed, and quality. A drive with large storage capacity that writes quickly will cost more than a drive with less memory and a slower RPM. Prices range for portable drives, but generally don’t go up above around $200 for 2 TB drives. You can also get desktop drives – these are much bigger, reaching up to 6TB, and are built to set next to your desktop. You generally have to plug them in to an alternate power source to power them up – a USB connection won’t be enough to run it. There are a lot of options. (Photo below is from Google Shopping.)

Shopping for Hard Drives



The first thing you should do with a brand new drive is format and name it.  You can name it with your last name or with any moniker that will help you recognize it as your own. Most hard drives come with generic device names – if you leave the name set like this, it will be more difficult to identify your drive later on. If you have the same brand drive as someone working next to you, or you have two drives plugged in to the computer, you could unknowingly switch with someone else or save something to the wrong drive. You also may end up with more than one drive as your project library builds. We’re also a fan of label stickers with your name, email and phone number.

Now all you’re on your way to organizing your files. Good luck! If you need help formatting your hard drive or organizing your files, you can make an appointment with the Digital Media Associates.

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