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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hi-Tech Studio: Portable Hard Drives

Take copies of your most important files wherever you go, with the peace of mind that only redundant data provides

Portable Hard DrivesMost of us wear several hats in addition to photographer, one of them being archivist. That used to mean organizing and storing film; today it means managing multiple copies of images, from the original RAW file through numerous versions for different end uses. What hasn't changed is the importance of safeguarding our images, making data backup perhaps the most important step in our workflow.

One of the best ways to ensure adequate protection for your digital files is to have more than one backup, and portable hard drives make it easy to keep your most important files with you wherever you go. They're also a fast and convenient way to port images from one computer to another or from studio to client.

Performance And Speed

The traditional knock against external drives was their speed—or lack thereof. That's not true anymore. Several factors contribute to drive speed performance, including rpm, cache buffer size and seek time. Rpm is the measurement of how fast the data platters rotate within the drive housing. The cache buffer temporarily stores data as it's transferred to the computer. Seek time refers to how fast the read/write heads can be repositioned over the data tracks. Taken together, these three specs help you gauge the overall speed of a drive. Tremendous improvements in all three of these specs have resulted in external portable drives that compete in performance with internal drives.

The tightest bottleneck for portable drive performance is transfer speed. It's the weakest-link principle—the fastest drive specifications make no difference if you're using a slow connection. Thanks to Hi-Speed USB, FireWire 400 and FireWire 800, transfer speeds are no longer tediously poky.

Hi-Speed USB, also known as USB 2.0, provides a maximum transfer rate of 480 megabits per second (Mbps). Don't be confused by products labeled “Full-Speed USB.” That certification merely means that it performs at the maximum level of the obsolete USB 1.1 standard—a paltry 12 Mbps. FireWire 400 trucks along at 400 Mbps while FireWire 800 doubles that at a speedy 800 Mbps.

Portable drives are not only convenient and reliable backup devices, but also a fast way to get files from one computer to another—excellent if you're the type who takes work home with you. You can also tether them in a RAID 1 configuration to give you the complete data security that only redundancy can deliver.


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