Portable Drives for Visual Communications Sequence

New computers in our school labs have new ports, so I’m updating the portable drives I recommend. Our Visual Communication students will store large graphics files and edit video. So they require a fast, large drive. Bus power is good for portability. Computer labs in the Journalism School (and rest of campus) have lots of different computer models, meaning students should be prepared to deal with lots of different ports and connections.

I recommend a HDD 7200 rpm, at least 500 GB, bus power and either a Thunderbolt port or a Firewire port. I don’t recommend a drive with only USB unless you are sure  you will only use computers with USB 3.0 ports. 

Only a few models currently on the market meet these specifications.

My current favorite is the G-Technology’s G-Raid Mini with blazing fast speeds. 1 TB runs about $250.

Other models by G-Technology are G-Drive Mobile with a Thunderbolt port at $220 for 1 TB of storage, while the G-Drive Mini with Firewire ports, at $140 for 500 GB, is a great bargain option for students.

Another good model is LaCie Rugged Triple USB 3.0 500 GB HDD 7200 rpm, which has two Firewire ports despite its name, and runs about $130.

You can also get this drive in SSD with thunderbolt for about $500 as of January 2014.


“Triple USB” has one USB 3.0 port, two Firewire 800 ports, and the HDD spins at 7200 rpm. If you ever plan to edit video, don’t bother getting a standard HDD drive (usually 5400 rpm.)


This solid state drive (SSD) has one USB 3.0 port and one Thunderbolt port. USB users: remember if your computer and cable must USB 3.0. Otherwise your drive will work, but you’ll be using SLOW USB 2.0.


Thunderbolt to FW adaptor

Some of the J-school computers have Firewire ports, others have Thunderbolt ports. Whichever you have on your drive, you will need a Thunderbolt to Firewire adaptor for the other so you have access to computers.

For more information, check out the Beginner’s Guide to Ports on your Mac.

Outside of class usage, the type of drive you buy depends on lots of factors. For instance, most professional video editors use very large, very fast non-portable drives for much of their work.

Here are a couple good videos that walk you through some of the variables.
Video: How to Choose Hard Drives for video production from Den Lennie on Vimeo (10 min.)

Video: Choosing a Working Drive From the Series Creating Time-Lapse Video (3 min.) by Rich Harrington

Key words to know when looking at portable drives:
Bus power runs off your computer’s power, so you don’t plug it in to a wall outlet.

RAID drives save your data more than once, so it’s easier to recover. It’s called redundancy. Not surprisingly, these drives are more expensive.

Hard Disk Drive (HDD): This is the kind of data storage in most computers and external drives (that’s why we call them hard drives.) It has a spinning disk in the center. Most HDDs run at 5400 rpm. For video, you need at least 7200 rpm. Spend the money for a fast one.

Solid State Drive (SSD): This is the kind of data storage in a thumb drive, camera memory card or tablet. There are no moving parts, so it’s quieter and faster. There are no rotating parts, so the rpm rate is irrelevant. It is now available in external drives, but it’s expensive (prices are falling all the time.) SDD is great for video if you can afford it. Here’s a detailed explanation of HDD vs SSD.

About mcgillmedia

I take pictures and teach other people how to do it, too.
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