This year, one of my projects has been a documentary about my father. I shot the documentary with an professional HD camera, edited in Adobe Premiere Pro on an iMac, and found myself in a mess of troubles. Then, I learned that serious editing requires an external hard drive. I’ve become a fan of these small devices, in part because they speed up the process and reduce crashes, and in part, because it’s easy to tote the whole project from one computer (at my home) to another (in my office, an hour away). When files are especially large, it’s helpful to bypass digital transfer via ftp and the like, and simply ship the entire drive from one place to another.
Mostly, I’ve been using GoFlex Pro drives from Seagate. All of the images, video, and audio files that I recorded in the UK in May are now on a 750GB drive that costs about $125. It’s about 3 inches by 5 inches by a half-inch thick, and weighs about a third of a pound. At 7200RPM, it’s fast. It comes with a removable cable adapter, so you can use it as a FireWire 800 drive (for video editing), or as a USB 2.0 drive (offering about half the data transfer speed of FireWire 800, but useful because not every computer includes a FireWire 800 jack). Facing the future, you can buy a Thunderbolt adapter, which allows a connection that’s a dozen times faster than FireWire 800. The flexibility may be useful, but the cost is high: a $90 adapter for a drive that costs $125. (Note that Thunderbolt portable drives are not yet available, and that Thunderbolt desktop drives are still quite costly.) In any case, this drive is designed for use by either a Mac or a Windows computer.
If you haven’t explored portable external drives in a while, you’re likely to be surprised by their appealing combination of small size, light weight, high capacity, speed, and reasonable price. Some even come in colors (not sure why this is important, but it is a trend worth noting). Whether you’re buying for back-up, for convenience (no need to bring your laptop; just bring the drive), or for special projects, they’re worth a look.
What’s more, if you’ve got your eye on one of those new MacBook Air models, the portable drive adds a lot of storage without requiring a large investment in dollars or weight. Buy an 11-inch with just 64GB internal storage for $999 from Apple, then spend about $125 more to increase your available storage by 750GB (with USB 2.0, you’ll be transferring at a half a gig per second, not speedy, but certainly acceptable for most uses). Better yet, spend $225 for 10 GB per second Thunderbolt speed–Thunderbolt is now standard on every Air. By comparison, you may beef up storage with a 64GB or 128GB SD card, but transfer speed is under 100MB per second, a whole lot slower than other options. Below, left-side and right-side views of the new Air, showing both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt connectors.