The transition of photography from an analogue endeavor to one that’s primarily digital has meant that the pace of evolution of cameras is so rapid, it would leave Gordon E. Moore breathless with surprise. Moore, co-founder of Intel, after whom Moore’s Law was named, suggested through observation that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles every two years, and Moore’s law is frequently thought to apply to technology on a whole.
The arms race of photographic tech seems to keep in line with that, and part and parcel to this metastasizing is the growing number of megapixels, number of photos, and the exponential growth of data we all need stored.
So here’s a bold statement: Topping the list of the average photographer’s fears of today is losing data through hard drive failure. These drives store our life’s work, our bankables, memories, our babies. There’s simply no getting around the need for storage, reliable storage, and redundancy measures, so we are all faced with the task of figuring out a back-up solution, and thus we all arrive at the same question: What is the best hard drive for photographers?
If you’ve searched for cloud storage solutions, and you have, you’ll no doubt be familiar with BackBlaze, as it’s often the recipient of high praise from the likes of PC Mag, Cloudawards and in consumer reviews. BackBlaze currently runs using primarily consumer drives, but in such vast quantities (61,590 drives and counting) it puts them in a unique and particularly good position to test drives that you and I could buy, and report well on their performance.
They’ve just tallied up their Q1 numbers, and we had a chat with them about their findings; why they make certain operational decisions, and what they suggest from their data are the best hard drive options for photographers.
In Q1 2016, the hard drives in our data center, past and present, totaled over one billion hours in operation to date. That’s nearly 42 million days or 114,155 years worth of spinning hard drives.
The Blunt Question & Easy Answer
I asked Andy Klein of BackBlaze earlier today to cut through the fat and tell me what drives he would recommend for photographers, and the answer was, perhaps somewhat surprisingly: The Seagate 4TB HDD.
That was the short of it. The comfort in the recommendation came considering how well it had performed within their company, which currently uses over 34,000 of them, making them by far and away the most common drive in their systems. Just in Q1 they’ve tallied almost 3 million ‘drive days’ with only a 2.54% annual fail rate.
There are other drives that have had a slightly lower fail rate, so I asked why they didn’t use those drives only, and was told that for their purposes, cost was the main reason; that the performance-to-cost of other drives like those from HGST was not significantly better suited for their type of business. That said, looking at the company’s numbers, Seagate and HGST make up 96% of their drive hours with Seagate coming in at 45.3% and HGST drives at a whopping 51.1% – despite having some 14,000 fewer HGST drives than Seagate drives.
As far as larger drives, they are loving the HGST 8TB Helium drives, but he mentioned they’re so expensive it will be prohibitive for most consumers. To put it in perspective they use 45 of them only. There was some hesitation from their part on recommending the 6TB drives from Seagate even though they are doing well, they just haven’t had enough time with them.
So, their recommendations, and what you came here to see are:
*All drives used at 3.5 inch HDD drives and not SSDs.
Andy was kind enough to give his personal advice to photographers on how to approach storage, and it was rather simple and reinforcing that which we likely already know: “Have copies of everything. It doesn’t matter where, but have at least 3 copies.”
While he, like we do, understand the value of having on-site storage and off-site remote storage, he suggested that if we have a ton of work that we would like to keep, perhaps files we don’t intend to access with frequency, that SMR drives (Shingled Magnetic Recording) may be worth looking into as they offer a large amount of space for relatively low cost, making them typically used and useful for filing and archiving. We’ll bring more talk about SMR drives soon.
Note*: You may remember in February there were reports on a pending lawsuit against Seagate for their 3TB Barracuda drives due to less than lackluster performance, and Andy assured me that in their findings it wasn’t a Seagate-wide issue, but more specifically a model issue, and many of those drives, which were failing at an alarming rate within a year, have been replaced with great success by the 4TB drives recommended here.
You can find out all the detailed results and methodology behind them on BackBlaze’s blog, and you can find their previous findings and more about BackBlaze here. Once again, these are the recommended best drives in terms of cost, performance, and reliability for photographers:
A special thank you to Andy and Yev of BackBlaze.
CREDITS: Images/charts by BackBlaze are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.