Which hard drive to choose for photo editing?


If you are faced with the dilemma of which hard drive to choose for photo editing and how to store photos, then you are in the right place. I will tell you not only how to choose the right drive, but also give you some proven proposals that will work in a computer for a photographer. In photography, hard drives have several applications in which we will use them, I divide them into three categories:

  • Disks in your computer
  • Secondary disk for excess current files
  • Disk to backup if something goes wrong
What hard drive to choose for photo editing

Disk in the computer for the photographer

For several years I have been using a MacBook Pro 15 from 2015, which has a very fast but small 256GB SSD in a computer on a PCIe connector (speed of about 2000MB/s read and 1200MB/s write), so I try to work on only one project at a time. In this way, I can cope with the processing of photos from Nikon D750 or Sony A7III where RAW have 25-50MB.

With more photos in the queue to process, I moved them to a secondary drive (512GB SSD to USB 3.2), where I imported photos via Lightroom into DNG format, while creating a RAW copy to the NAS. In this way, I already had ready-made files, which I only moved in the directory and I could immediately work on them, because they already had thumbnails prepared.

After a few years of using the MacBook Pro 15 2015 I switched to the new MacBook Pro 14 with a 1TB drive that reaches 7000MB/s readings so not only is there more space, it all works faster, so it’s harder for me to clog. I don’t have to wonder what hard drive to choose for photo editing, because now we have 4x more space than before. At this point, after the introduction of the Polish Order, there is also a little less work, so I have not had to use the auxiliary disk yet.

What else should the photographer’s computer contain?

If we are talking about the computer, for a photographer, I invite you to my entry on this topic. I also discuss to you other technical aspects from the processor, through the screen, to the connectors in the laptop, which are important from the photographer’s perspective.

Laptop for processing photos from parties and events

Secondary disk

If I have a lot of photos from several orders, I use a Samsung T5 512GB SSD auxiliary drive for USB 3.2 Gen. 2, which I got from my beloved wife. The drive is tiny, in a metal case, weighs only 51g and provides a read speed of 540MB/s. Thanks to this, working on photos from a connected disk does not differ much from a regular SSD with a SATA connector in a laptop. If I work with someone on the material, we can also lose files much faster, thanks to SSD drives, because ripping a reportage on 3-5 thousand photos from hdD takes forever …

With Smart Previews in Adobe Lightroom, I might as well convert RAW to DNG and rip to a secondary drive, and keep Smart Previews on a faster drive in a laptop. This is convenient because during machining I do not even have to have an external drive connected. I only need it when exporting photos, because then Lightroom already requires RAW/DNG files that contain all the information.

If I have a lot of work, I also rip excess photos for processing temporarily to a NAS server or use an external HDD to USB 3.0. There are also solutions similar to NAS servers that can be put on a desk, but due to noise I do not use them, although I recommend checking the topic if someone has a well-silenced office.

Backup disks

Here, speed is not so important, because capacity and reliability are more important. I use QNAP TS-453Be NAS with WD RED HDDs on which copies of RAW imported to a laptop or auxiliary disk land, and finally all finished projects. In this way, when working on a laptop or external drive, I always have a second copy in the NAS.

NAS for QNAP TS-453D Photographer

In short, this is what it looks like for me. Of course, it is also important to workflow in working with files, so as not to accidentally lose something. Next I will describe the difference between the disks so that you can choose something for yourself if you still do not know what is going on with these disks.

An external drive for a photographer is one of those things that is always not enough. Especially if we do not have a NAS file server, it does a lot.

SSD or HDD? Performance or capacity?

If going to the store you want a cheap and fast drive, then the only sensible answer of the seller is often – two disks, one HDD, the other SSD. If you have about $200 for a hard drive, then maybe you can buy a 1TB HDD. The same capacity SSD will be 2-3x more expensive.

It is necessary to clearly ask ourselves what is our priority – performance or capacity?

SSD = Performance

An SSD stores data from a Flash drive, just like a pendrive or a mobile phone. They have no moving parts, and their speed and access times far exceed those of HDDs. By the way, they do not make any sounds and do not consume as much power as traditional HDDs.

External drive for the photographer
My favorite external drive is the Samsung T5. Small, fast, well made and with different cables included.

Unfortunately, this technology is more expensive, which translates into a higher cost of one gigabyte of capacity. Although once the purchase of SSDs was really a luxury, today we can consider buying them because of the benefits they bring.


HDD is a classic in PCs. I would compare them to a vinyl record in a turntable on which a needle rides. The difference is that there are metal magnetic plates in HDDs, and above them moves a head that peaks the data. As a result, the read and write speed is much lower, and access to files is extended by the fact that the head must reach a specific place. In the case of many small files, we also have a problem with the fact that they can be located in different places, which further prolongs the whole process.

The advantage of HDDs is certainly their price-to-capacity ratio. Here, 1GB of data is cheaper than with SSDs.

Price difference of 1GB SSD and HDD

If we want to buy a basic hard usb, without additional stuff (designer, rubber, colored case, etc.) with a capacity of 1TB, we will pay approx. 200 PLN, and for an SSD about 500 PLN, which gives us in a big simplification:

  • SSD – 50 gr for 1GB
  • HDD – 20 gr for 1GB

Hard Drive Speeds

If we have already chosen a disk and we want to overexpose it a little more, we can check their write and read speed, but here are different measurement methods that are worth bearing in mind.

It is worth considering what we care about the most and whether we want to pay extra for a higher read or write speed, because disks do not always have these symmetrical parameters. It can be like when buying cable, where you get 300MB/s of downloading files, and you want to send the material to the client and it turns out that the operator gave you 15MB/s, which you have in a half cheaper subscription. If you can’t see the difference…

Read/write speed

The read speed that manufacturers boast in the first place is the speed of reading, it is usually easier to get a good result here, because the operation is not much simpler than writing. So the read speed is usually exposed the most.

The more difficult it is to find the recording speed on the packaging or on the product pages, it probably hides, where in the so-called datasheets – pdf files with exact specifications. It is probably the manufacturer who has nothing to boast about and wants to keep silent about it.

A great example are Samsung SDHC cards, which I use myself in the PRO Plus version, where the card shows 100/90MB/s (read write). The card of the same capacity from the EVO Plus series will also have information about the speed of 100MB / s, but when we check the recording specification, it turns out that we get only 30MB / s , which in serial photos will already be felt.

Sequential read/write speed

Sequential read/write speed is the most commonly given parameter, which is usually used in passwords such as “Read speed up to 500MB/s!!! WOW!” So the manufacturer in laboratory conditions ripped files weighing several GB and saved the highest reading. If you record video and you have long recordings in large files, it may overlap to some extent, because it is the movement of large blocks of data.

In fact, we often lose large amounts of small files at once, e.g. RAW/JPEG files from the camera and here more will tell us the random read/write speed.

Random read/write speed

Random reading uses data scattered in blocks throughout the hard disk. Which gives us a more real speed of work, since we often use many small files (we jump between photo previews), which are not necessarily arranged sequentially (one after the other). The random velocity is given in IOPS (input/output operations per second).. In this case, HDDs have no chance, because the disk head has to run around the entire disk to read all the data blocks for each file (because the files on the disk actually consist of smaller blocks that the disk must collect together).

If you use SSDs, you can forget about something like defragmenting your hard drive or indexing files. Because these are solutions created specifically for HDDs, to arrange data blocks into easy-to-read sequences. Indexing was also supposed to help in searching for files on the disk thanks to a special “table of contents”. SSDs don’t care where the blocks are scattered, and for this they do not need an index so much.


I’ve probably already convinced you that SSDs are better, but every computer scientist knows that, so let’s go one step further. Let’s talk about interfaces.

What I noticed among people looking for a new laptop or stationery is to simplify your decision to this “SSD with some amount of GB” and that’s it. They buy a laptop with some SSD and they had an HDD, they go home and they’re happy that the computer goes faster. I envy their happiness because I am more inquisitive. If you do too, I invite you further.

SSD on SATA connector

SATA III (Serial ATA) is an interface standard that appeared in 2009 and is still used today. On this connector you can have DVD drives, HDDs and SSDs connected and reaches speeds of up to 600 MB/s. To operate SATA, you need a memory controller, which is usually located on the motherboard. An old, but cheap and proven patent for connecting hard drives. In practice, it gives us a dizzying 550MB/s read and write. Well, that’s as much as an SSD for USB 3.2. Let’s move on.

SSD on PCIe NVMe connector

As I mentioned, SATA was created long ago to support optical drives and HDDs, and its highest version SATA III appeared in 2009. So maybe for the first SSDs it was fine, but why limit yourself?

Around 2009, work began on the NVMe standard, which appeared on the commercial market around 2013-2014 and gave the ability to write / read at the level of 1800MB / s so SATA III could hide, but it is doing well to this day.

In 2020, there are already hard drives such as Samsung 980 PRO PCIe 4.0 NVMe M.2, which have a speed of 7000/5000MB/s (sequential read/write) which sticks in the chair, but you can easily get the drives on PCIe 3.0 NVMe the previous series, which reaches 3500/2700MB/s (read/write). The difference between a 1TB drive with a SATA III connector and PCIe 3.0 NVMe is about 100 PLN, but the difference in speed is huge and in my opinion the choice is obvious (NVMe). Of course, we are talking about applications, i.e. Photography and not browsing Facebook and playing Candy Crush, then you can forgive yourself this stówka.

SSD Hard Drive Designs

The size and shape of the disk is not a matter of design, but how to connect and communicate with the computer’s motherboard.

2,5″ drives

In this category we find SATA III HDDs for laptops, but also SATA III SSDs. Their common feature, as you have noticed, is SATA III, which limits their speed to approx. 550/550MB/s. If something looks almost like a square, know that it will be free.

As a curiosity, I will only mention U.2 disks PCIe, which appears in professional applications such as servers and resembles 2.5″ drives in shape. They are high capacity and you will know them by the price.

M.2 connector

Here you can fool yourself. because M2 drives can be in sata and NVMe standard, and they look similar, they differ in the so-called SATA and NVMe standards. key, i.e. indentations on the connector. They resemble longitudinal stripes. If they are mounted to a computer, they usually have exposed memory bones. They can vary in length, because we have several standards for the width and length of M2 disks. This is marked in the name – if we have 2280 it means that the disk is 22mm wide and 80mm long.

Sometimes the motherboard supports both standards, it is worth checking in the specification whether it is SATA III or NVMe and in which version (3.0/4.0).

M.2 disk connectors
The M key is for the PCI-Express connector, the B key is for the SATA connector, and the B+M key supports both standards.

Standard PCIe

In 2021, Intel introduced processors with PCIe x5 support, but only in 2022 you can expect some devices in this standard. So I only mention it as a curiosity. There are currently 2 PCIe standards available for purchase:

  • PCIe 4.0 x4 (gen4) offering up to 7GB/s read and 5GB/s write
  • PCIe 3.0 x4 (gen3) offering up to 3.5GB/s read and 2.7GB/s write

The designation x4 indicates the number of PCIe lanes that affect better communication with the motherboard, and thus the transfer speed.

It is also worth knowing that PCIe standards are compatible with each other as USB 2.0 and 3.0. So by inserting a PCIe 4.0 x4 disk into a computer with a PCIe 3.0 slot, we will not use its full power, so it is not worth overpaying. For basic tasks (Facebook, YouTube, Excel), we can also insert a PCIe 3.0 disk into the PCIe 4.0 slot and everything will work very smoothly.


AIC drives are such an expansion card for desktop computers, which is mounted in the PCIe slot on the motherboard just like a graphics card (if someone does not know each other, it can be mistaken). It can be an adapter for PCIe disks on M2 and then we can be able to connect 2-4 PCIe disks.

SSD ACI karta - Urbanflavour.pl

SLC, TLC, MLC what’s going on?

SSDs have different types of memory chips, which are divided into three types:

  • SLC – Single Level Cell – one bit per cell
  • MLC – Multi Level Cell – two bits
  • TLC – Triple Level Cell – three bits
  • QLC – Quad-Level Cell – four bits
  • PLC – Penta-Level Cell – five bits

In order not to write too much, I will tell you what is going on with these bits, because it is important. One bit per cell in SLC is the highest reliability, food and ease of data recovery. Four bits is its inverse, and on the horizon you can still see PLC bones.

If we have a good backup and control the work of disks, or we do little operation on the disk, then very often mlC and TLC drives are enough for us, because for most users they still have a really long service life compared to the first SSDs. You can even try QLC drives, because with a small use they can still serve for quite a long time, and they can be very large, up to 8TB of capacity. They will definitely work in a computer for the Internet and simple tasks.

By the way, remember that the life of disks is influenced by their capacity, because it is estimated in cycles determined by the TBW parameter. And the larger the disk, the longer each cycle is (such as a lap).

SSD Lifespan

The parameter that determines in some way is the TBW value, which more or less determines the amount of terabytes of data stored, after which problems may arise. Of course, it is not the case that a disk with 300 TBW after exceeding such a amount of data will explode, you will lose all data and the computer will go up in flames. They can work much longer or fall earlier. This is just such a determinant to determine its service life in relation to other disks. Usually, the larger the SSD, the higher the TBW value, because more cells to consume.

What does IT look like in practice SSD consumption?

Let’s take a popular hard drive as an example 970 EVO Plus NVMe™ M.2 250GB SSD, which we will buy for about 300 PLN.

  • Samsung V-NAND Technology
  • Up to 3500 MB/s sequential reading and 2300 MB/s write
  • 5-year limited warranty
  • Up to 150 TBW

In this case, we have to save 150 TB of data on it or it must take 5 years to lose the warranty. In practice, the warranty will pass faster than the hard drive.

If we save 50GB of data every day , after a year we will grind a little 18.25TB. So day in and day out would have to work like this for 8.2 years to reach 150TB. Choosing a 512GB drive, the result doubles, and with a 2TB disk we have to do as much as 1200TBW to make it feel tired.

But why use HDD?

I’ve probably already persuaded you to PCIe NVMe 4.0 SSDs on the M.2 connector and you’re already running to the store. Relax, HDDs are also ok. If you care about the capacity to store photos and videos, HDDs will prove to be an affordable solution. It is especially worth thinking about them in terms of backup, which we do less often. In this way, we can once a year rip and to a 1-2TB HDD our data from a given year and take, for example, to the family home. This is the so-called 3rd stage of backups.

Which hard drive to choose for photo editing – HDD 2,5″

2.5″ drives have been standard in laptops for a long time, but at the moment they are already starting to move away from them. In new designs, the M.2 SSD standard for SATA or PCIE is becoming applicable. With the cheaper ones, it can still be 2.5″ SSDs on SATA. It happens that someone wants to replace their disk in an old laptop, or add a second one, then it is worth looking inside beforehand.

Hard drive instead of DVDROM
Special adapter for mounting the HDD in place of the DVD-ROM drive.

In the case of some laptops, it is even possible to mount two hard drives, but you need to check what connectors we have, because it can be SATA + M.2 configuration, and sometimes only M.2 + M.2 and we will not put in 2.5″ HDD / SSD. A popular solution in the days of DVD drives in laptops was also the replacement of the drive with an additional slot for a 2.5″ SATA HDD. In this way, I put an additional SSD into my Samsung laptop on which I put the system and walked like crazy.

Seagate BarraCuda

As I mentioned earlier in this post, HDDs, due to their construction, will have worse performance than SSDs, and their maximum speeds mainly apply to large files that are well arranged. Slightly better performance may have disks rotating 7200 rpm, but as a rule, they are louder and more warm.

  • Format: 2,5″
  • Interface: SATA III (5400 rpm)
  • Capacities: 500GB/1TB/2TB/4TB
  • Memory: 3D NAND
  • Reading: approx. 180MB/s
  • Record: approx. 180MB/s
  • Warranty: 2 years

What hard drive to choose for photo editing worth buying – SATA SSD 2.5″

Samsung 870 EVO

Usually more expensive, but more durable drives due to higher TBW, and consequently, also have a longer warranty. With 1TB disks, this is a difference of about PLN 100, so not so much. I have already had several different drives from Samsung and have never had problems with them.

  • Format: 2,5″
  • Interface: SATA III
  • Capacities: 250GB/500GB/1TB/2TB/4TB
  • Memory: Samsung V-NAND 3bit MLC
  • Read: 560 MB/s
  • Write: 530 MB/s
  • TBW: 150/300/600/1200/2400
  • Warranty: 5 years

Crucial BX500

  • Format: 2,5″
  • Interface: SATA III
  • Capacities: 240GB/480GB/1TB/2TB
  • Memory: 3D NAND
  • Read: 540MB/s
  • Write: 500MB/s
  • TBW: 80/120/360/720
  • Warranty: 3 years

Goodram SSD Cx400

  • Format: 2,5″
  • Interface: SATA III
  • Capacities: 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB
  • Memory: 3D TLC NAND
  • Read: 550MB/s
  • Write: 500MB/s
  • TBW: 80/180/350/720
  • Warranty: 3 years

Samsung 870 QVO

The QVO series is based on MLC memories, which have the lowest lifespan (low TBW and 3 years warranty for each capacity), but they give us large, cheap and fast drives. If you want to install games, or keep files that are not important to you, this is an interesting solution. Samsung offers up to 8TB of capacity in the 870 QVO series.

  • Format: 2,5″
  • Interface: SATA III
  • Capacity: 1TB/2TB/4TB/8TB
  • Memory: 9XL V-NAND 4bit MLC
  • Up to 560MB/s Read
  • Write: up to 530MB/s
  • TBW: 360/720/1440/2880
  • Warranty: 3 years

What Hard Drive to Choose for Photo Editing – PCIe SSD

Samsung 970 EVO Plus

Samsung 870 comes in two versions, the older 970 EVO and the newer 970 EVO Plus, which are characterized by faster writing, due to the use of a new larger number of layers in the cells. Therefore, no new naming was used, e.g. 980 EVO. In addition to these small changes, the drives have similar technical specifications, so if there are no special promotions for the 970 EVO versions, then it is better to choose the EVO Plus.

  • Format: M.2 2280
  • Interface: PCIe 3.0 x4 with NVMe
  • Capacity: 250GB/500GB/1TB/2TB
  • Memory: TLC V-NAND
  • Read: 3500MB/s
  • Write: 3300 MB/s
  • TBW: 150/300/600/1200
  • Warranty: 5 years

Kingston A2000

  • Format: M.2 2280
  • Interface: PCIe 3.0 x4 with NVMe
  • Capacity: 250GB/500GB/1TB/2TB
  • Memory: 3D TLC NAND
  • Read: 3200MB/s
  • Write: 2200 MB/s
  • TBW: 150/300/600/1200
  • Warranty: 5 years

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