Searching for an external hard-drive is like trying to find the best running shoe. There are many different brands with twice as many variations in just as many colors. Figuring out which external hard drive is the best for you requires some careful thinking and often a little compromise as well (high-end external hard-drives can cost you as much as a pro-level lens). I recently bought the LaCie 500GB external SSD because I needed a drive that I could basically run Lightroom from and store image files larger than 2GB each without creating a bottleneck between my MacBook Pro, Lightroom, and the external drive.
The file sizes I am working with are RAW images taken from the Nikon D810, roughly 7300 x 4900 pixels. To create the images for the project I am working on requires a combination of sometimes hundreds of these single files to create one massive file.* It was clear from the beginning that I would need external drives to manage the sheer volume of data I needed to be able to massage to create the end product my client wants. I don’t half-ass things, only the best will do. As usual, I did copious amounts of research (so you don’t have to) and came up with the two best external SSD’s… This is the one I bought.
*No matter how fast your HD is it would still likely take hours to merge the number of images I’m working with. There are other factors that impact the speed at which your computer handles tasks like this which I won’t get into today.
First, let’s talk a little about speed… If you are going to buy an external drive you have to figure out exactly what you are going to use it for before you can determine what you’ll need or how much you should spend. Solid state drives are far more expensive but also far faster and usually much more durable than a traditional hard drive. You traditional hard-drives are much less expensive, which means most people usually get far larger drives than if they were buying an SSD, and adequate for most needs. If you simply want a place to back up your hard-drive or photo library then a traditional hard-drive will suffice. If, on the other hand, you want to work with images directly off of the external drive so you can jump from computer to computer or just keep lots of space free on your computers hard-drive then you’ll need a drive that is at least as fast as or faster than the drive inside your computer.
Build QualityWill It Last?
The build quality is second to none. The drive is lighter than it looks and feels as if it could take a beating and still back up your precious cat pictures without missing a beat. In fact, I unintentionally dropped the hard drive from about waist height and it escaped unscathed (I won’t be trying that again).
The thunderbolt cord wraps neatly around the hard-drive for always-with-you easy access. Once wrapped, there is a small rubber strip that seals the USB port. This is probably my only quasi complaint, the small rubber strip isn’t attached to the wire so it falls right off. Be sure to keep an eye on that thing or you’ll lose it.*
* The USB cord that comes with the drive has another rubber strip attached to it that you could use if you lose the one attached to the Thunderbolt cord.
Ease Of UseDo I Need A PhD?
This is the easiest drive I have ever set up (emphasis on the period). There is a quick start guide printed on the back of the cardboard cradle, used to hold the USB cord and small warranty paper, that simply shows you plugging the drive into your computer and double clicking the icon representing the LaCie drive. After that, the drive walks you through about 4 steps and you are ready to go within about 3 minutes. That’s it.
Conveniently, the setup includes registering your drive so you don’t have to visit their website as a “next step” that most people skip. The drive has a three-year warranty so you’ll want to register it just in case.
While setting up the drive you’ll have the choice to partition a fraction of the drive to use with other computers on different platforms (Mac to Windows or vice-versa). It couldn’t be easier and it is spelled out so anyone could figure it out. There is a little slider that you simply move to the right to have more space for sharing between platforms or move it to the left to use more of the drive for the platform you are on. Why not have the whole drive partitioned to share between platforms you are probably wondering… The handy setup program will inform you below the slider that the shareable partition is slower than a partition formatted for your specific platform.
ReliabilityCan I Trust It?
3 year warranty aside, the drive is built like a tank and one of the highest rated drives in circulation. This is a drive with a proven track record of safely storing photographers images.
ValueIs It Worth The Premium?
I saved the best for last, this was probably your first question… Is it worth the extra money for the LaCie brand and furthermore, the SSD over the traditional spinning disk HD? Yes and yes, and I’ll tell you why.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I needed a drive I could essentially back up all of my photos as well as run Lightroom off of. My MacBook could certainly handle the images but it would not take long to fill up its HD with the 2GB images I am creating. With the type of speed I needed came a cost, literally. For the 500GB drive you’ll shell out around $500. If I didn’t plan on working right off of the drive I would have opted for the more traditional, spinning disk, hard drive (around $200 gets you 2TB).
I considered the Samsung T1 Portable 500GB USB 3.0 External SSD which is a fraction of the cost but after reading mixed reviews comparing Thunderbolt connections to USB 3.0 I opted for the drive that allows both. I also believe the LaCie drive is built tougher and has a better reputation in the video/photography community. Aside from that, Samsung has bloatware that they force you to load onto your Mac (there are workarounds to eventually get it off your computer but it takes some time) and that was enough to get me to look elsewhere.
If your primary concern is cost, the Samsung T1 is a great option as well. Either one will be substantially faster than a spinning disk HD. I docked the LaCie drive 2 points in the Value category because of its cost compared to it competition. It’s worth noting that some of that cost is due to the design and attention to detail but money is money and nobody likes shelling it out… Amiright?
I strongly recommend LaCie SSD drives. In fact, my wife will be purchasing one for her photography business as well. I still use my WD 1TB My Passport Wireless for clearing off and backing up my SD cards (reviewed here) after I have uploaded them to my Mac (LaCie) drive.*
* In my review I talk about the benefits of the WD drive having an SD reader and it’s ability to back up your SD card and then clear the images from it auto-magically. It’s worth a look.
The build quality, speed, and ease of use are instant winners for me. I appreciate the fact that when I move a Lightroom folder holding 50GB of images to the LaCie drive it’s mere seconds before it’s transferred instead of minutes or hours. If you are a working professional or simply desire the best then I highly recommend giving the LaCie SSD drives a try. They come in three different sizes on Amazon:
Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.