External SSD Hard Disk or Flash Drive?

wheelhot

macrumors 68020
Original poster
Nov 23, 2007
2,080
249
Okay, as per title, which should I use and what're the pros and cons as I find that other than the slightly faster speed, flash drives are cheaper and more compact?

Here's an example:
WD 256GB My Passport SSD
SanDisk SDCZ880-256G-G46 Extreme PRO 256GB

Both are the same storage space and the price is similar. The only difference is the physical size and speed. So why pick one over the other?

The use case would be to move my Photos library from my Mac onto one of these devices and probably some other files as it's taking too much space on my Mac.

While at it, any online storage space recommendations, as I would like to have an online backup source for my photos as well.
 

ruslan120

macrumors 65816
Jul 12, 2009
1,134
842
Definitely the SSD.

Even though they’re both flash memory, SSD’s (even over USB) have better controllers for the flash chips. [1] I believe SSDs are also better at small, random writes, but I wouldn’t quote me on that. and I’m pretty sure that’s better for Photos in MacOS (the app, not the general category).

Furthermore, the WD drive you linked can be used with USB C as well as USB 3.0 using its cable, but the Cruz is forever USB 3.0. If you ever change your mind about what you use the drive for (backing up MacOS, booting from it), the WD would be able to do that, the thumb drive would struggle.

[1] https://superuser.com/questions/253...drives-so-much-slower-than-solid-state-drives
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: wheelhot

Ledgem

macrumors 68000
Jan 18, 2008
1,871
710
Hawaii, USA
The Western Digital drive you chose to compare with is a fairly weak example of what SSDs are capable of - it's likely an older generation SSD. Modern SSDs, with the most popular example being being the Samsung X5, shows the difference more clearly. Your Sandisk USB drive talks about read/write speeds of around 300-400 MB/s, but the X5 has read/write speeds between 2,000-3,000 MB/S... almost ten times faster. As ruslan120 also alluded to, the random read/write speeds (which generally matter more than pure transfer speed) tend to be much faster on dedicated SSDs than on USB flash drives. Unfortunately, despite their being the numbers that matter more, they don't tend to be advertised or as readily available.

The type of flash memory - which impacts overall drive longevity (how many read/write cycles they can go through), and drive speed - is likely the higher-end architecture in SSDs, although this is also not advertised as heavily as it once was. Lastly, most USB drives are made for copying files to them and then copying off; they're not really designed for frequent access, as might occur with some photo libraries (depending on what program you're using). USB drives I've used in the past tended to become pretty warm with extended usage, which makes me think they'd be unstable for frequent operations and heavy usage; not sure if newer drives have rectified that.

Long story short, if you're low on space and need something that has fast access times, get a real SSD. If you're low on space and need something cheaper but with decent access times, get a standard HDD. I don't trust USB drives for anything more than shuffling files around.

Regarding online backup solutions, you have a few options. Apple has a built-in solution specifically for Photos that backs up everything, and that would only require that you buy more iCloud storage space if your library doesn't fit your current space. In theory, even if you don't use Photos or don't want to do it through Photos you could move your photo library to your iCloud directory for the same effect, if you want to stick with iCloud.

In the realm of personal, online backup services, I use Backblaze. If you're only looking to back up one computer, and particularly if you have a lot of data, Backblaze is the ideal solution. Compared with other backup services, there are no storage limitations; it's also one of the few services to offer a native Mac application that runs pretty seamlessly and stays out of your way. When I had priced them out a few months ago, Backblaze was also one of the more affordable options. If you're looking to back up multiple computers and/or if your storage needs aren't that high, there may be better solutions. Backblaze literally only works on one computer at a time, and there is no "family" plan option. For me, I have my photo library, along with family videos and other data, on a Drobo that takes up a few terabytes... Backblaze has the entire thing backed up, which is wonderful peace of mind.

As a note, the online storage services aren't really meant to function like Time Machine. Some do keep versions for a while, but Backblaze basically mirrors your computer and external drives; if you delete something and Backblaze performs its sync, I don't think you can get the file back through their services. But if your computer or a hard drive dies, you can download your data from them when you have replacement space available and/or ask them to ship you a hard drive with your data.

Plus, Backblaze is just a really cool company. If you've ever read some of those reports about which hard drives have higher failure rates than others, there's a good chance that Backblaze published those figures based on their data farm's hard drives. I like to read their newsletters, and the overall feel is one of a small team that wants to do right by their customers. They even had a price hike in the recent past, which still kept their prices very reasonable... based on the comments, people were saying that the company could have raised prices even more if they needed to, and they'd stick with them. I feel similarly: I want them to stay in business, as they're offering great value (even with the mild price hike) and seem like they genuinely care.
 

tizeye

macrumors 65816
Jul 17, 2013
1,041
7,244
Orlando, FL
1st choice: a 4T+ regular spinner. Just how fast do you NEED to get to a photo or fully processed video. After a while, those low capacity flash/SSD filled with photos and their equivalent RAW files plus several videos will be laughing at you with multiple flash/SSD littering your desk...and you will always have the wrong one inserted.

That assumes you have an internal SSD. If not, you need a new computer - 256k noted above might be OK, but splurge with 512k minimum SSD. OS and programs plus workspace for processor intensive programs, like FCPX, on SSD. Finished products - Video, photo, documents, spreadsheets, archived downloads, etc go to the regular spinner hard drive where there is excess capacity.

2nd choice: Probably the flash drive. Both would suffice until completing 1st choice above where the flash drive would revert to the primary purpose - transfer files - while the external SSD would be bulky overkill accomplishing the same thing.

Speaking of external drives. As I get ready for an overseas trip, I am leaving all bulky external crap home, use only the internal SSD and move everything over when I get home.
 
  • Like
Reactions: wheelhot

robgendreau

macrumors 68040
Jul 13, 2008
3,352
267
I would use a more regular drive for attached storage that is going to require a lot of reading and writing, and changes to the database in Photos is that kind of reading and writing. You might get heat and longevity issues.

OTOH, I would consider the thumb drive for more static storage, like say some rarely used referenced images (once written, rarely written to again) or even backup. It's rather slow compared to modern SSDs so it might bog noticeably if you had to work on a bunch of images stored on it, but that might be acceptable. I use Lr, and when using old images for which I have no previews it takes more time on my external USB 3 SSD, but it's within reason.

Note the warranty periods: I assume Sandisk and WD know their own products, and the warranty period for the Extreme Pro USB thumbdrives is as long as it gets. And given the portability it could be a nice way to do offsite backup. Since you'd have a backup of the thumbdrive if it fails you get a new one free and off you go. I've used the Extreme Pro to shuffle Lr catalogs around, as a boot drive for running other systems and installing, and they're nice to have.

But again, for more permanent use as pretty much an always-attached storage device, I might want something designed more for that, and faster too. Since extremely fast SSDs (as in maybe faster than your internal storage) like the Samsung X5 are dropping in price, maybe a smaller thumb and wait a bit to see if that would be a better solution.
 
  • Like
Reactions: wheelhot

wheelhot

macrumors 68020
Original poster
Nov 23, 2007
2,080
249
In the realm of personal, online backup services, I use Backblaze. If you're only looking to back up one computer, and particularly if you have a lot of data, Backblaze is the ideal solution. Compared with other backup services, there are no storage limitations; it's also one of the few services to offer a native Mac application that runs pretty seamlessly and stays out of your way. When I had priced them out a few months ago, Backblaze was also one of the more affordable options. If you're looking to back up multiple computers and/or if your storage needs aren't that high, there may be better solutions. Backblaze literally only works on one computer at a time, and there is no "family" plan option. For me, I have my photo library, along with family videos and other data, on a Drobo that takes up a few terabytes... Backblaze has the entire thing backed up, which is wonderful peace of mind.

As a note, the online storage services aren't really meant to function like Time Machine. Some do keep versions for a while, but Backblaze basically mirrors your computer and external drives; if you delete something and Backblaze performs its sync, I don't think you can get the file back through their services. But if your computer or a hard drive dies, you can download your data from them when you have replacement space available and/or ask them to ship you a hard drive with your data.

Plus, Backblaze is just a really cool company. If you've ever read some of those reports about which hard drives have higher failure rates than others, there's a good chance that Backblaze published those figures based on their data farm's hard drives. I like to read their newsletters, and the overall feel is one of a small team that wants to do right by their customers. They even had a price hike in the recent past, which still kept their prices very reasonable... based on the comments, people were saying that the company could have raised prices even more if they needed to, and they'd stick with them. I feel similarly: I want them to stay in business, as they're offering great value (even with the mild price hike) and seem like they genuinely care.
Wow, I just checked Backblaze and they look really interesting. So Personal Backup which is what you're referring to?

And if I want to do something like Dropbox, it'll be B2 Cloud Storage? But I guess I'll need an intermediary software to do the syncing and checking for duplicates?
 

Ledgem

macrumors 68000
Jan 18, 2008
1,871
710
Hawaii, USA
Yes, personal backup. I'm less familiar with the B2 Cloud Storage. I'd imagine their software handles the storage synchronization, but I'm not sure about checking for duplicates.
 

Fishrrman

macrumors Core
Feb 20, 2009
19,661
6,849
I agree with stylinex.
Sometimes getting a "bare" SSD and an enclosure, and then "putting it together" yourself results in the best drive.
 
  • Like
Reactions: stylinexpat

tcphoto1

macrumors 6502
Aug 21, 2008
376
1,981
Nashville, TN

kallisti

macrumors 68000
Apr 22, 2003
1,599
5,400
1st choice: a 4T+ regular spinner. Just how fast do you NEED to get to a photo or fully processed video. After a while, those low capacity flash/SSD filled with photos and their equivalent RAW files plus several videos will be laughing at you with multiple flash/SSD littering your desk...and you will always have the wrong one inserted.

That assumes you have an internal SSD. If not, you need a new computer - 256k noted above might be OK, but splurge with 512k minimum SSD. OS and programs plus workspace for processor intensive programs, like FCPX, on SSD. Finished products - Video, photo, documents, spreadsheets, archived downloads, etc go to the regular spinner hard drive where there is excess capacity.

2nd choice: Probably the flash drive. Both would suffice until completing 1st choice above where the flash drive would revert to the primary purpose - transfer files - while the external SSD would be bulky overkill accomplishing the same thing.

Speaking of external drives. As I get ready for an overseas trip, I am leaving all bulky external crap home, use only the internal SSD and move everything over when I get home.
I would humbly disagree with you and offer my own setup as a counterpoint.

My LR library is currently over 2 TB. A few years ago I stopped storing it on my laptop and instead started using an external SSD drive. I initially used a Samsung T4 SSD 2 TB with a second cloned version of the T4 that I kept off-site at work. Once the 2 TB drive was too small I switched to a Glyph Atom Raid SSD 4 TB. With a LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt SSD 4 TB as my off-site backup.

The Glyph Atom is an order of magnitude faster than the LaCie drive. It is also significantly faster in my usage than the Samsung T4 (or T5 which I swapped in when 2 TB was still enough storage and I wanted a home backup of my photo library in addition to the off-site backup).

To your point about speed--an SSD drive is significantly better in actual use compared to a "spinner" drive. For working with individual files it may or may not matter (talking photos, not video). Uploading hundreds of files from a shoot (or trip), the speed difference can be noticeable. For backup purposes, the speed difference is huge. I can transfer GBs of files to/from the Glyph drive in seconds/minutes. Cloning the Glyph drive to the LaCie drive can take hours, depending on how much new data needs to be copied over. The initial copy of my LR library to the LaCie drive was an overnight affair. To the Glyph drive it was well under an hour, if I remember correctly. Of course the LaCie drive is quite a bit cheaper.

Portable SSD drives are small and they have very decent capacities. 2 TB SSD drives are fairly inexpensive. 4 TB SSD drives aren't cheap, but they are significantly cheaper than getting a new MB Pro with an internal 4 TB SSD.

The reason I chose to switch to external SSD drives for my LR library instead of storing it locally on the computer are several fold. As my photo library was growing, storage was becoming the main reason I would need to update my MB Pro. Since Apple SSD upgrades aren't cheap on a new laptop (and aren't possible on an older laptop), it became a fairly significant cost expenditure to potentially update my machine solely for storage reasons when I really didn't need any of the other hardware upgrades for my uses. A second reason to switch to external storage is that it can be plugged into any computer and isn't tied to my laptop. So if I ever get an iMac for example, I don't have to worry about keeping my LR library synced between the iMac and my laptop. Just plug the external SSD drive into whatever computer I am using. The final reason is that it makes backup significantly easier.

With my LR library stored on an external SSD it is very easy to clone the drive (using Carbon Copy Cloner) to a second or third external drive. Since the only thing on the drive is my LR library, it is quick and easy to clone it to another drive. One drive for off-site backup (at work in my case). Potentially another for a copy at home. The cloning process is quick since it's only my LR library and not all of my files (though as stated above, the LaCie drive isn't exactly "quick").

I also have an external SSD drive clone of my laptop's internal SSD at home, but those files are also backed up to iCloud and Carbonite. The only time I have ever needed to use the clone of my laptop was after a MacOS update that caused a startup loop nightmare because of an incompatibility with Little Snitch. The bootable clone drive (cloned pre-update) was *very* helpful in that case ;).
 
Last edited:

MCAsan

macrumors 601
Jul 9, 2012
4,556
419
Atlanta
Yesterday I put two Intel 660P 2TB NVMe SSDs into a Nestor NA611TB3 enclosure. I hooked to my iMac via TB3. I formatted the APFS and set them up as a RAID 0. With BlackMagic disk test the read and write speeds where both in the 2000MBs speed range. Granted that is a sequential test and not real world. But it is one heck of a lot faster than my previous RAID 0 made of WD Red HDDs. So I copied over all my data from the old RAID 0 to the new RAID 0. That took a couple of hours to move 2.4TB of data.

Huge improvement in performance with the SSD RAID 0 vs the HDD RAID 0. I did have to stick with a large HDD for doing Time Machine backups.

Makes me wonder if the next iMac generation will have a spot for a HDD at all. All the new iMacs would need is 1 SSD for boot and 2 to 4 other SSDs for data storage. The only moving parts then will be cooling fans.
 
Register on MacRumors! This sidebar will go away, and you'll see fewer ads.