Out of disk space? Storage options for your media

Paul Butland, 32, is a hoarder. This being 2013, his hoarding takes up almost no physical space, but his digital home is stuffed to bursting with junk he never uses.

Out of disk space? Storage options for your media

“I started by ripping my whole CD collection years ago, and I’ve never really stopped,” he explains. “Right now, I have around 120GB of music on my hard disk, and – I probably shouldn’t say this – thanks to BitTorrent, my movie and TV collection is about ten times that. I also keep all the raw photos I take, which I don’t really need to do, and I’ve no idea how big my games library is right now. It’s pretty big.”

Paul might sit at the bulging end of the hoarder scale, but his situation isn’t unusual. The rise of one-click downloads, fibre internet connections and hard disks with capacities in the terabytes have combined to make us blasé about what we accumulate on our PCs. This was fine until SSDs came along and forced us to think once more about what we’re storing.

I started by ripping my whole CD collection years ago, and I’ve never really stopped

A new laptop purchase can induce a headache. A MacBook Pro with 768GB of flash storage will set you back £560 more than the 256GB model. Back in the real world, most people’s budget for an Ultrabook is unlikely to stretch beyond a 256GB or even a 128GB SSD, which isn’t nearly enough for someone like Paul.

His headache worsens in mobile, where every tablet and smartphone comes with its own bundled dilemma: how do you decide which parts of your music collection you’ll want to listen to?

While we wait for SSD capacities to catch up with our excesses, there are ways around the problem. In this feature, we’ll look at the pros and cons of a variety of alternative storage options, from the simplicity of an external hard disk to the always-on convenience of the many cloud services set up for just this kind of scenario. So, don’t bin that back catalogue just yet.

External hard disks

An external hard disk is the most basic storage solution. It can sit in a drawer and gather dust before being whipped out and plugged in when a file is needed. It’s most suitable for bulk-storing a single user’s media collection, and for a straightforward dump of excess data, it’s hard to beat.

The key things to look for when choosing a drive are the capacity and the connection: we’re dealing with huge amounts of data, so it’s essential to get one with USB 3 for the best possible transfer speeds (provided you have a USB 3 port on your laptop, of course) and compatibility with a wide range of devices.

We recently compared the performance of a LaCie Rugged drive using USB 3 and USB 2, and the results were emphatic. Copying a 5GB folder to the drive took 4mins 15secs over USB 2 and 1min 56secs over USB 3; reading a 1GB set of photos from the external drive took 42 seconds over USB 2 and 19 seconds via USB 3; and the maximum measured transfer speeds were 116MB/sec and 42MB/sec respectively.

Switching to Thunderbolt only saw slight performance gains, so unless you use only MacBooks, we’d recommend sticking with USB 3 drives – particularly since they’ll also work with USB 2 devices.

The days of needing desktop drives for large capacities of data are long gone. Today, you can buy 2.5in external disks that hold up to 2TB, and the prices are falling all the time. Our A-Listed 2TB Western Digital My Passport with USB 3 from Amazon will set you back £100 (all prices inc VAT), with 1TB drives dipping as low as £58. If you don’t mind a bulkier 3.5in model, you can get a 3TB Seagate drive for only £84.

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