Setting up a storage solution for your photos and files can seem overwhelming. There are many options to consider when investing in external storage. Some common questions include: What kind of drive should I get, and How big should that drive be? We’ll review the most common types of external hard drives, describing the benefits and best uses for these drives to help you decide what best fits your needs.


External drives come in two varieties: HDD (hard disk drive) and SSD (solid-state drive). Both are great options, but each has its strengths and weaknesses.

HDD external drives are the most common. They are widely available, affordable, offer a broad range of storage capacities, are available in both desktop and portable versions, and are well suited to storing large photo and document collections.
Strengths: Hard disk drives tend to be more affordable per GB and are often available in higher storage capacities.
Potential weakness: HDD drives have moving parts that when subjected to bumps and drops, can cause data corruption or loss.

SSD external drives are also widely available and are typically faster, more expensive, and offer smaller storage capacities.
Strengths: Besides its speed, SSDs have no moving parts, making them highly durable and portable. They are often available in significantly smaller enclosures than HDD options, so they are ideal for on-the-go use. SSDs can consume less power and are much faster at accessing data. Many devices, such as phones, tablets, and laptops, use this type of storage.
Potential weakness: SSD drives tend to be more expensive.

External Drive Connection Types

External hard drives are designed to work with most desktop and laptop computers and are available with widely used USB-A, USB-C, and Thunderbolt connections. The most significant consideration when choosing a connection type is factoring in the connection speed. A faster connection will load images more quickly and apply edits much more smoothly than a slower connection.

USB-A, often referred to as simply USB, is the most common connection type for an external hard drive. Most portable external hard drives use USB 3.0, allowing data transfer rates up to 5 Gbps.

USB-C is the newest USB format, becoming standard on most recent computers. The port is smaller than USB-A, and the plug is reversible, so there is no risk of inserting the plug upside-down and bending pins or breaking the connector. USB-C can transmit data at speeds up to 20 Gbps.

Thunderbolt 3 ports and cables look virtually identical to USB-C but can transmit data at rates up to 40 Gbps.

Hard Drive Configurations

External storage comes in several varieties. Choosing the one that is right for your needs depends on the size of your photo library.

The most common is a single drive. These are typically a single HDD or SSD in an enclosure that can be connected directly to your computer. For most users, these will be sufficient for storing photos, videos, and other important files.

Users with large photo libraries, such as enthusiasts and professional photographers who shoot with high-resolution cameras, may require additional storage beyond what is possible or economical with a single drive. Many options are available, but we’ll look at two of the most common: RAID and NAS.

RAID is an acronym for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. In a RAID setup, several drives are configured so that a computer sees it as a single device. This allows for an increased storage capacity. A RAID may protect against data loss and improve connection speeds depending on the setup. RAID setups are more complicated than single drives and are recommended for advanced users only.

NAS is an acronym for Network Attached Storage. NAS devices offer storage over a network connection rather than a wired connection via USB or Thunderbolt. A NAS can be a separate device or another computer acting as a server. This offers the potential for greater storage capacity but requires a network connection to be accessible. Access speeds will vary based on your network’s capabilities.


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