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Tips & Tricks

How To Use An HDD/SSD Docking Station For Inexpensive & Effective Backup

By Kishore Sawh on January 8th 2016

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A little known secret: every photographer’s favorite activity, favorite way to spend time, favorite way to spend financial resources….is on data storage. It’s sexy, it’s geeky, it’s something you want to bring up at cocktail hours to ensnare that beautiful waitress to show off that you have a larger than average…brain.

If you believe this to be true, you’re likely the type who believes a stripper’s compliments to also be true. Take it from a guy who knows a few strippers by the names their mothers gave them – they’re not. 

Every working photographer I know lists this as one of the absolute banes of a photographer’s existence, and you and I would likely echo the same. And of course, it is, because being a photographer means you are a creative, an artist. You wear your camera bag and strap across your chest almost like a restraint, as if symbolic of creative genius barely contained – or something. It is our creativity that is our currency, and that’s what we want to spend the time, energy, and money on.

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Be that as it may, we also know we spend the vast majority of our time behind our computers instead of our cameras. Part and parcel to that is data storage, and it’s problematic not only due to the time it requires to do, but the systems it takes to have in place to be done effectively, and the costs involved. These days, you can do local or cloud based, but in either side, there are vast options, and where those files are located can make a big difference in accessibility, and safety of your imagery. So what do you do?

Choosing Local Storage Doesn’t Need To Lead To Expensive Systems

Cloud based is nice in theory because you don’t take responsibility for the hard copies, can be accessed from anywhere, and so on. But they can be costly, the payments won’t stop, and you’re limited to your internet’s data upload and download speeds. Actually, many internet providers now are capping your internet usage and if you want to store all the images you have, doing that the first time could take you over the limit. Comcast has some 300GB cap in many areas now, and also consider that if you have 300GB to store (not much), to upload that at Comcast’s average of arrow 15Mbps could take you tens of hours to upload.

As your data needs grow (and they will), the costs will also, and local storage is cheaper, faster, and more accessible. For the purposes involved in this review, we’ll assume you want to go locally for your primary storage, and as such, maybe you’ve thought about going RAID or something like that. Those systems for smaller businesses or those starting out have costs involved that can be jagged pills to swallow, and thus hard to justify. That’s where the docking bays come in, like the Inatek USB3.0 Dual SATA HDD Docking Station comes in.

Using A Docking Station For Photography

In short, these docking stations allow you to purchase ‘inexpensive’ drives that are typically found internally in your desktops and laptops, and use them as external drives. You connect the docking station to the computer, drop in the drives; they show up as external drives in your OS, and you can use them just the same.

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Having the dual docking station means you have two slots, and this is brilliant for photographers either on a budget, or just looking to maximize resources. At any given time, I have a larger 3.5” HDD 1TB drive in one slot and a smaller 250GB SSD in the other. The 1TB drive directly mirrors my entire image library on my computer, including my treasured .LRCAT files. On the SSD, I will keep a copy of the most current work only. Most people are still using typical spinning hard drives in their desktops, and I am no different for the time being.

That speed, however, is very costly and irritating, and keeping my current work on the SSD and telling Lightroom to access those files has saved me eons of time. From my usage, Lightroom performs all together much faster when files are pulled from an SSD; They load faster, processing is quicker, you can scan faster, and that all makes the whole experience so much better, especially in an application that’s known to be a resource hog.

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Having the drives set up this way not only helps operating and processing speeds heighten, but immediately grants a decent level of redundancy. In that very vein, is the other way in which photographers can use a docking station. I typically archive my images on an HDD, make an exact copy of it on another HDD, then store them away in some protective ProStorage hard drive foam that’s shock and static resistant. Having these redundancy measures is a little more costly, but I can’t put a price on peace of mind.

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So I will get an inexpensive HDD like a Western Digital 1TB drive and put a fiscal quarter or 3 months worth of images on it. It could be more or less, depending on how you systemize your archiving and shooting of course, and then get another one of the same drives, and make an exact copy. Sometimes the drives are larger too, and this is another area where these docking stations really come in handy. I use the Inatek Dual docking station and it has cloning technology that allows you to clone a drive entirely without computer support. It’s literally as easy as pressing a single button.

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This is a lot of functionality coming from a device that costs around $35, and you can get that, two 1TB drives, and a 250GB SSD like the Samsung 850 EVOs like I use, for about $200.

The Docking Station & Drives I Recommend For Those Starting Out:

Inatek USB3.0 Dual SATA (SATA I/ II/ III) HDD Docking Station

Model: FD2002
Output Interface: USB3.0/2.0
HDD Compatible: 2 x 2.5”/2.5” SATA HDD/SSD
*Box notes it takes up to 4TB drives, when in fact it’s 6TB x2.
Support OS: Windows XP/Vista/7/8(32/64-bit), Mac OS, Linux

  • Support offline clone, no drivers needed, and easy installation
  • Support 2x 6TB hard drive; Supports 2.5″ & 3.5″ SATA (SATA I/ II/ III) HDD and SSD
  • Equipped with USB3.0; Support SATA III (6 Gbps) and UASP for optimal performance; Backward compatible with USB 2.0 /1.1
    *Have run diagnostics and Crystal Disk Mark and clocked 164MB/s using USB3 on inexpensive 5400 rpm 3.5” drives

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The actual dock itself is light plastic, but so are almost all of these types. It comes with a modicum of dust protection in form of spring loaded flaps to cover the drive bays. The only issue I’ve found really is that the spring mechanisms are flimsy, and when using smaller drives like the thin SSD, there is no real structural feature that offers lateral support for the drive. This just means I would suggest being a little more gentle when either loading or unloading these types of drives. The 3.5” drives sit in there like they were made from its mold.

Samsung 250GB 850 Evo 2.5″ SATA III SSD

  • 250GB Storage Capacity
  • SATA III 6 Gb/s Interface
  • 2.5″ Form Factor
  • Up to 540 MB/s Sequential Read Speed
  • Up to 520 MB/s Sequential Write Speed
  • 256-Bit AES Encryption
  • TRIM Support
  • 3D V-NAND Technology
  • TurboWrite Technology

I’ve dropped these, chucked them in bags with no case, and generally treated them like a dog treats a chew toy and have never had an issue. Are there ‘better’ SSDs? Sure, but likely if you’ve read this far, this will be more than sufficient.

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[REWIND: 3 Reasons Why Photographers Should Use Cloud Spot]

WD 1TB Blue 3.5″ Hard Drive

  • 1TB Storage Capacity
  • 3.5″ Form Factor
  • 6 Gb/s Buffer to Host Data Transfer Rate
  • 150 MB/s Sustained Data Transfer Rate (actually clocked them slightly faster)

These are the drives I use to archive. They are cheap, but they work fine for these purposes. Generally, as with most of the types, if you’re archiving them, it’s good to take them out every few months and boot them up to keep everything working well and help prevent them from freezing up (so I’ve been told), though haven’t run into the issue before.

I hope this helps some of you who may be looking for an inexpensive but still effective way at keeping the produce of all your toil and tears safe.

About

Kishore is, among other things, the Editor-In-Chief at SLR Lounge. A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

14 Comments

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  1. Armands Sprogis

    Thanks for the article Kishore,
    I’m in front of this dilema now. Do I get large system like 12TB G-Drive system or stick with cheaper option.
    I have around 8TB of photos already. Yearly I would produce around 2TB per year.
    I like idea of docking – cloning and then archiving. Currently I have random HDD’s all over the place and think your way would make a neat system.

    Question.
    – SSD drive. I definitely would like LR to use this while editing. My plan is to use LR catalog only on SSD drive and actual photos in docking station. I shoot a lot so 250GB SSD would fill up in no time. Do you think this would work or if I want to edit images your would recommend to store ongoing jobs on SSD and once job done store it in docking station.

    Thanks,
    Regards,
    Armands

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hey Armands. Well, the thing about storage solutions and systems is it’s personal, and you’ve just got to know how you operate. I mean you can go and buy more expensive NAS systems, which I’ve used as well, but there’s something nice about storing away the drives and knowing there are two physical copies.

      Anyway, about the SSD. I can’t stress enough how much better LR life is when you’re using an SSD, so my recommendation would be to keep your source files AND catalogues of projects that you’re working with on the SSD during your culling and editing. When you’re totally done with a shoot, then I’d move it off the SSD and onto an HDD, which I then clone and store either as needed or once a quarter. The point of the SSD is just to have some speed as your working on or with the files – it’s a transient space really, and the HDD is the end destination. I only would keep your current open projects on that. But if you go through 250Gb quick, then you’ll just have to gauge what size you’ll need.

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  2. Greg Ginger

    I’m trying this with a 2015 MacBook pro and the same docking station you recommend. Problem is the drives keep randomly disconnecting while I’m trying to work! Anyone having the same problem and possibly have a solution?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I’m sorry to hear that Greg. I have yet to have a fault with mine, but I would suggest contacting the company or the retailer. Check the connection first, however, make sure the ports are clear

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  3. Ferenc Petho

    Love this article. Thank you for sharing it Kishore. Quick question about your SSD? Do you back up your SSD while you are working on it? You say you have a copy of these files on your SSD. Are you using your 1TB to copy those current files too? Or just use it to mirror your entire image library on your computer? So after you are done with your current projects on your SSD, do you move them to your image library on your computer?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      It does vary, but Essentially directly from SD cards I’ll import to my computer, then a copy of all files as a folder to both the HDD and the SSD. This is just safety. I will work on the SSD files just knowing that if something should go wrong I have another set. After I’m done with them, I move them to an HDD which is copied exactly to another HDD giving me two HDDs with all files. Does this help?

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    • Ferenc Petho

      What do you do with all the copies of the images? Do you delete the working backups when you are done with them? Do you clean off your computer after each 3-month quarter? Make room for the next quarter? Sorry for all the questions.

      Just to clarify if I am getting this:
      Step 1. Copy Images from SD card to computer, HDD, and SDD.
      Step 2. After working on the files on the SDD, you move the finished images to your 1TB in your dock or to your computer?
      Step 3. Then copy the 1TB to another 1TB for safety.
      Step 4. After your 3-month period of time, you start a new 1TB?

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  4. Travis Volkman

    Just curious if you know if hosting Lightroom on the external SSD that you keep your current work on would speed things up?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I haven’t tried But i don’t see why it wouldn’t. But by how much is the question.

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  5. Lynne Bardell

    Hi Kishore, thank you for the article, it isn’t something was aware off, so will look at the prices and options in the UK.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      No thanks needed Lynne. I’m in the UK for much of the year and I’ve seen these there. Tesco can have some decent pricing at times on drives, though I still find the pricing on B&H or Amazon typically better. Cheers

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  6. Thomas Rathbun-Moser

    Awesome article!
    Earlier today I was looking at upgrading my HDD to a SSD, my concern was cloning over the drive I’m using now. Do you think I could get that bay you suggest, clone my drive to the SSD, format my HDD and then use the HDD as a backup just for my photos?

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Glad you found it useful and applicable Thomas. About what you’re considering, I like the idea. However, I’ve never cloned an HDD to an SSD, but I can’t imagine it would be any different than cloning HDD to HDD. My suggestion would be to check with Inatek so be sure. I will ask around and see if I can come up with a better, more sure answer for you.

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    • Thomas Rathbun-Moser

      Just wanted to add this in case its helpful to anyone else. I spent some time reading the reviews of the station on Amazon and many people have done want I want to do, so it should work as expected. I also sent Inatack an email just to double check.

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