Expanding a hard drive?
July 5, 2016 8:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm buying a new laptop, and have a choice (via work) between a 500GB but faster (7200) harddrive, or a 1TB hard drive that is slower (5600). I'm fairly certain I'm going to go with the faster drive as I will need to do some video editing, but I'm worried about the size of the memory (precisely because I'll be doing some editing!). Any advice? How hard would it be to expand the size of the drive if I find that I am, indeed, in need of space? I have a couple of external drives, but I don't know if they get me ahead at all as they're the slower speed as well... THANKS! :)
posted by johnsohl to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It would help to know what model of laptop you were getting. Some are easier to upgrade than others.
posted by procrastination at 8:43 AM on July 5, 2016

You can now buy a USB 3 flash disk (a thumb drive) which holds 512G of memory, for about $250. It's about as fast as a real hard disk. Any new computer is going to support USB 3. I've got a couple of them and they're really nice.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:44 AM on July 5, 2016

Go for 5600. The greater bit density and the fact that you will be doing a lot of sequential access means that it might even be faster than the "faster" drive.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:49 AM on July 5, 2016

The 7200rpm drive will have a better seek time. Small files will open faster, but big files will probably be about the same speed as the 5600rpm drive.

The 5600rpm will probably use a little bit less power, which means your laptop's battery life will be slightly better.

If you can get your work to do it, get them to buy a 1TB SSD. A 7200rpm hard drive might transfer data at 125mb/sec. That SSD will transfer data at 500mb/sec.
posted by gregr at 9:12 AM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Remember that the space available on a storage device is not the same as the total RAM memory in a machine.

Concur with the recommendation to look at SSD storage.
posted by justcorbly at 9:22 AM on July 5, 2016

If performance matters to you at all then get an SSD. Magnetic disks are basically obsolete for anything other than mass storage.

As far as external drives go, USB3 is way faster than anything a magnetic disk can throw at it, so you should be fine there.
posted by neckro23 at 9:30 AM on July 5, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks! I'm looking at a Dell Precision 5510... some of my choice is curtailed by work purchasing contracts. I did look at SSD, but it's out of my price range for anything larger than 256GB, which strikes me as far too small, so I'm stuck with old school :P

I think the core of the dilemma is the video editing requirements (shorter length pieces, mostly for the web), which I'm new to but understood that 7200 was pretty much the minimum of what I needed. The machine will need to work in a some time for when it's not new to me! :)
posted by johnsohl at 9:35 AM on July 5, 2016

If it helps, I have used a 128GB laptop as my primary for nearly five years.

The trick is having lots of convenient external drives around for storage. As long as you have enough room to do one or two video editing projects, for me the benefits of an SSH far outweigh the limited storage space.
posted by katrielalex at 9:39 AM on July 5, 2016

Chiming in to agree on the recommendation of the SSD if at all possible. The performance will be vastly better.

If you're nervous, look at how you're using the disk on your current laptop, what the sizes of the video files are you work with, etc., and do some back of the envelope calculations. I suspect you'll find that 256GB is more than enough to hold everything you're actively working on, and then you can offload older projects to an external drive if necessary.
posted by bfields at 10:40 AM on July 5, 2016

I would go with the 256GB SSD for your working files and an external drive for very large/archived videos. Unless you're working in raw, uncompressed video, 256GB ought to be enough space to work in. An hour of 1080p MPEG2 video is 36GB. An hour of 1080p Apple ProRes is 99GB. An hour of h.264 compressed video (from an SLR, for example) is about 25GB.

Conversely, if you really can't get an internal SSD, I would buy an external SSD for my working files. 256GB SSDs are well under $100, and a drive enclosure is $30 or less. The performance difference between SSD and mechanical is absolutely immense.
posted by cnc at 10:53 AM on July 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

For what it's worth, my main laptop has a 256gb SSD, and i have a 1tb external drive. I would choose this setup every single time over a 500gb or 1tb hard drive as my main disk. As cnc says, it's immensely faster and makes everything nicer to work with. And yes, it's enough room for any projects i've done with the machine. Can everything fit at once? No, but it's been way more than enough for individual things i move on and off.

It also got me to be way more diligent about backups, since not everything is on the machine at the same time anyways...
posted by emptythought at 11:00 AM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

They still make laptop hard drives? I've been on solid state drives for years now. Is that not an option?
posted by w0mbat at 11:08 AM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

To echo everyone else, definitely get the SSD. I can't imagine using a mechanical hard drive ever again -- the difference is night and day.
posted by crazy with stars at 11:24 AM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yup, memory is cheap, write speed is expensive. As everyone's saying, go with the internal SSD and an external for mass storage. The perceptual difference in read/write speed between a 7200 rpm mechanical drive and an SSD is pretty stark.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:42 PM on July 5, 2016

Nthing that you want to get the 256 GB SSD, as it will massively improve your system's perceived performance over any spinning disk hard drive. If you need mass storage, get a separate portable hard drive for it, or use a cloud storage service. I have one of these and it is literally pocket-sized and requires only the single USB3 cable for both power and data. If you keep mostly just the data that you need to work with at any given moment on the SSD itself, or just work with files directly on the external drive, 256 GB is plenty of internal storage for most people. Even with the video editing requirement, I would recommend this setup.
posted by Aleyn at 3:49 PM on July 5, 2016

It sounds like you have special needs that are not adequately addressed in the bulk purchasing contracts. Have you tried to make the case for a purchase outside the usual purchasing arrangements, or explored all the options for upgrading under the standard arrangements? That has worked for me in the past in similar situations.
posted by GeeEmm at 4:40 PM on July 5, 2016

(Just a small piece of advice: If you do buy a big thumb drive to act as auxiliary storage, be sure to reformat it to NTFS before you use it. The default is FAT32 which is terrible. NTFS is a lot faster, not to mention safer.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:44 PM on July 5, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! I've gone with an SSD in the end - now to sort out the rest of life! :)
posted by johnsohl at 4:50 AM on July 7, 2016

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