So you want to buy a Hard Drive?

Which Hard Drive do you recommend for this production?

January 5, 2018

As a DIT, at some point you will be asked, "What hard drive do you recommend for our shoot?" Before you answer, ask yourself: Is your favorite hard drive the proper drive for THIS job?

Day 5: 24 Insights in 24 Days 2018 New Year Marathon

On-Set: So you want to buy a Hard Drive?

As a freelance DIT my jobs often start with a phone conversation asking the same three questions:

  • Are you available for this (these) dates?
  • Can you work for this rate?
  • What kind of hard drives do you think we should buy?

Now I’m a true believer in Michael Cioni’s concept of every production is like a snowflake, never two are the same. And depending on the snowflake of the production you’re bidding on, your choice of hard drive may change. So after dealing with the first two questions, you need to get a few details from your client before answering the third:

  • Is this project a commercial, a TV series or a feature film?   ~ (This helps you determine what size hard drives you need.)
  • What type of cameras is the DoP planning on using?   ~ (8K Red, 2K Arri Raw, 1080p C300? You get the idea)
  • How many cameras will we be shooting with?   ~ (It surprises me how often DITs or Data Loaders forget to ask this until Day 01 of the shoot)
  • What is the shooting schedule like?   ~ (Are we run & gun documentary style or are we in the same location most of the day)
  • Will we be transcoding on set?   ~ (That just doubled the space you need)

Don’t let someone else pick your drive

A few years back I was working a fairly large commercial shoot with a six-figure budget (the good old days) when a PA drops off a Walmart bag on my cart. What’s this I ask? He replied your hard drives from production. Inside were two USB 2.0 bus powered hard drives that the PA was sent the day before to pick up with the instructions to go buy some Hard Drives.  I called over the Production Manager to ask him about it:

“We are working for Client X who flew the Director and DoP in from LA and all the talent in from NYC. They are all staying at a four star hotel, yet you want to risk all that on a pair of $69 drives?”

His response was to shrug his shoulders and tell me that it was my job to make sure nothing happened to them. Apparently, I needed a different tact for him to understand the problem. So I opened the drives and did a speed test (as I do with every drive I use for the first time) to be sure it’s working like expected. I then approached the topic with him again, this time with the numbers.

“We are shooting 2K ProRes 4444 and with our current schedule we’ll expect to run out of drive space by the afternoon of Day 02 plus with all this footage there should be X hours of overtime per day to do all the transfers at these speeds.”

Overtime is the magic word that no one in production wants to say aloud. After a call to the Apple store, the Hard Drives were updated to 4TB G-Raids with Thunderbolt, which is what it should have been at the start.

A Drive for Every Job

In this Insight, I’m offering recommendations for several different classes of hard drives, as it stands at the start of 2018. The class of hard drive you choose, is very dependent on the needs of each particular production. Once you’ve chosen your class, the hard drives I recommend are in no particular order. But they’re ones I feel confident using.

Bus Powered Hard Drives


What defines a drive as being bus powered is its ability to draw power from the same cable that the data is being delivered upon from the computer. These drives are great when you are involved with a fast paced shoot where you have many setups and breakdowns to move to a new location or if your location is remote and power options are limited. The drawback to this type of drive is the slow transfer speeds with most topping off at 120-130 MB/s. Also size has been a concern but I have seen a few 4TB bus powered drives on the market recently.

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Homepage Forums Which Hard Drive do you recommend for this production?

  • Have you ever worked with RAIDs from Areca? Heard that they should be pretty good – some say even the best (at least here in Austria/Europe). I’m just curious because I’m about to get a big RAID in 2018 for my colorgrading suite and maybe also some DIT jobs.

  • Mark Kipling

    A great article which may have just come at the right time.

    A shoot I have coming up is in the middle of nowhere with very limited power, as described in your article. I’ve been looking for a solution and a guess lots of 4TB Lacie rugged drives will be the answer. I’m worried about speeds, but I guess it’ll just have to be. I’m estimating about 60TB needed overall for Master and 1 (Yes, I know, not good enough), back up.

    For context, it’s happening over 13 days. A 2 camera shoot (Red One RAW 4K 2:1. Redcode 36 (1:8), and an updated FS5 with Atoms Inferno to get 4K. There’s maybe enough power available to keep some heaters and a laptop juiced for transfer. I’ll be in a barn which is also the actor’s green room.

  • Hi Nico,
    I myself have never worked with the Areca brand. However I was DIT on set for a Japanese commercial being shot here in Florida. The editor from the Tokyo agency was using an Areca raid that he brought with him. Through a translator he told me that he loves the drive and takes it with him everywhere. What amazed me was that it was Thunderbolt 3 long before they were available here in the US.
    Thanks for your question. Good luck with your purchase.

  • Hi Mark,
    If I were in your shoes I’d ask production if the grip department can provide you with a Honda 2000i generator. They are very quiet and can run all day on about a gallon and a half of fuel. It would open you to many options that right now are unavailable to you. Including larger faster hard drives. And if they need extra convincing just tell them the Director and DoP will have a place to charge their phones.

    Good luck on your shoot. Let us know how it turns out.

  • Chris Detjen

    I have a question that is somewhat related. More centered on post production and active working storage for high-res media. I have a project with 8K R3D footage (shot in raw and proxy). Looking for recommended storage for working with the footage. My question isn’t related to on-set DIT backup, but more about editorial post and finishing storage advice.

    I recently switched from an iMac workstation to a new PC workstation. I have two GTX 1080 Ti GPUs, Gigabyte Z270x motherboard which touts USB 3.1 Gen 2 connections. That USB 3 Gen 2 sounds like something that could help with performance.

    I was wondering should I place multiple SATA 3 hard drives into the PC (ex, 10TB 7200 RPM Baracuda drives)? Or, would I get better performance with an external USB 3.1 RAID (ex. the LaCie 16 TB 2big Dock 2-Bay RAID Array)?

    Thanks for any advice or links to articles that may thoroughly give workflow advice for R3D storage while in post.

  • Thanks for your answer, Rich!
    And I hope to read more helpful DIT related articles from you in the future. They’re really helpful and provide a great insight. Thanks!

  • In my opinion USB3.1 is the better option. But I think everyone has it’s own opinion on that topic.
    BUT with a Lacie 2big you won’t have enough speed for 8K R3D RAW. That’s for sure. As for speed the number one rule is: the more drives the better/faster. I think for 8K RAW you need a RAID0 with at least 6 or even 8 drives. And always keep in mind that RAID0 is suicide for backing up data. You should only have your raw-footage for your current project on the RAID0 (no project-files and whatsoever) and also have at least 2 to 3 backups of the footage on other drives to be safe.

  • Chris Detjen

    Thank you for the info. We do have the footage backed up on a pair of external HDDs.

    You bring up a good point about building a RAID with at least 6 drives. That’s what another person recommended to me. What class hard drive in the RAID? I suppose if budget is not a hindrance then a series of SSDs. But if limited on budget, would a setup with 7,200 RPM hard drives suffice?

  • I would go for 7,200 RPM enterprise-class harddrives from Seagate. But I think any enterprise-class harddrive should do the job reliable.

  • Chris Detjen

    Thank you, nico. Appreciate the insights

  • Mark Kipling

    Hey Rich,

    I’m back from the film shoot now. I tried pushing for something better drive-wise, and the generator, but the price of anything above ~£500 was out of the question for both unfortunately. Ended up having to use several 4TB lacie rugged drives. And to be honest, I’d probably have had even bigger problems if I were working with something that needed plugging in because this barn I was in didn’t have any power for some parts of some of the days. At least when that happened all I was losing was my charger power, and not having a drive switching off mid transfer.

    The RED actually didn’t take too long as far as transfer times go. It was our B cam that was spitting out DNG sequences which was chewing through storage. It was taking a long time to transfer even the shortest clips. Luckily we didn’t use it too much actually. Just for pick ups or when the RED kept crashing (….) It all stopped me from doing other DIT duties. No time to properly talk colour or properly view rushes with the DOP/Director.

    The real neck ache was making the back ups each evening between two lacie drives. I’d start it before bed and a couple of times i was sitting in the car the next morning about to drive to set as it was finishing! Nightmare fuel.

    Never actually suffered any backlogs though, so that’s great and the camera guys stayed happy and the rushes are looking very nice. I’m definitely not going to take on another job like this again unless a few things are in place first. So I’ll be coming back to your DIT articles in the future for sure.

  • Thank you for the follow up. I’m glad it was a successful shoot for you. Yes, as DITs we have all stared at the drive sitting there wondering why it is taking forever to just copy. People tend to forget that format’s that shoot in still sequences such as DNG or TIFF often take twice as long to transfer as apposed to a MOV or R3D file. It’s the opening and closing for each file that takes time in the process. Good luck on your next shoot.

  • Mark Kipling

    Ah I didn’t know that about why image sequences took so much longer. I’ll remember that one for next time I have to explain it. Thank you.

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