Storage Media By Joshua Blagden | JB - Mac Help | JBlagden

Storage Media By Joshua Blagden

In this article, we’ll cover primary storage media. Specifically, hard drives and solid state drives. We’ll also compare and contrast them in the areas of speed, cost and capacity.

One important thing to consider is your Mac’s primary storage media. Most likely, your Mac will have a hard drive. By default, a new Mac which is not a Retina MacBook pro or MacBook Air will have a 500 gigabyte 5400 RPM hard drive. Sometimes, that hard drive will not be sufficient either due to speed or space. For example, when I upgraded my Mac to Mountain Lion a year or so ago, my MacBook Pro  slowed down dramatically. To remedy this, I upgraded my Mac’s hard drive from the stock 5400 RPM drive to a faster 7200 RPM hard drive, specifically, a solid state hybrid. For this drive, the hybrid part is an 8 gigabyte cache. It’s bit like having an extra 8 gigabytes of RAM. Also, I was running out of space on my Mac’s stock hard drive, so I knew that I wanted a larger hard drive, but I also wanted more speed. I chose the 750 gigabyte Seagate Momentus XT SSHD(Solid State Hybrid Drive) because it provides an extra 250 gigabytes of storage and it’s significantly faster than my Mac’s stock hard drive. I wanted a faster hard drive because Mountain slowed down my Mac, but I also wanted a larger hard drive while I was at it. Of course, I’m running out of space now(having only 37.86 gigabytes free), but I have an external hard drive that I use for all of the TV shows and movies that I’ve copied from my DVDs, which comprises about 300 gigabytes of my media. That just proves how important it is to have enough hard drive space, especially because it’s an annoyance to have to carry around an external hard drive for most of your storage.

Beyond that, there are two types of main storage mediums:

1. Hard drives

           2. Solid State Drives

Hard Drives

Hard drives have two main advantages:

                                                              1. Cost 

2. Capacity

Background: Hard drives have been around for decades and have been improved over time. Hard drives use metal discs, called platters, to store information. The data is written magnetically with a read/write head which is just above the platter. 

There was a time when a hard drive would only hold a megabyte or two, but now you can get desktop hard drives that hold 8 terabytes(6000 gigabytes) and some desktop hard drives will run at up to 25,000 RPMs. There are two main sizes of hard drives, 2.5 inch and 3.5 inch. The former are used in laptops and the latter are used in desktops. Laptop hard drives peak at 4 terabytes, although those are of the slower 5400 RPM variety and require more space(due to thickness) than a 2 terabyte or smaller drive. If you don’t need that much storage and would prefer more speed in your laptop you can buy 7200 RPM hard drives. Hard drives are rather inexpensive compared to solid state drives, which makes them good for primary storage as well as backup. The only problem with hard drives is that they’ll usually fail after 3 years or so, which is something you should keep in mind when contemplating backups.

Solid State Drives

Solid State Drives(AKA Solid State Drive), on the other hand, are relatively new. With solid state drives, there are two things two consider:

1. Cost 

2. Capacity

Background: Solid State storage was invented in the 1980s, but was not used for mass data storage until several years ago. Solid State Drives use transistors and capacitors to store information.Solid State drives are expensive and don’t come in very large capacities. A terabyte solid state drive used to cost $1000, but now you can get one on Amazon for about $300. Still, that’s very expensive, especially since for about $100 you can get a terabyte hard drive on Amazon. However, despite the price, a Solid State Drive can speed up a computer dramatically! Also, if you look around you’ll likely find a Solid State Drive for a low price. For example, Best Buy was selling a 480 gigabyte Solid State Drive for $110, and I bought one. To combat the issue of storage space, I’m thinking about replacing my MacBook Pro’s optical drive with a 2 terabyte hard drive.

The dramatic increase in speed is why Apple has been gradually moving all of its products to Solid State Drives. Of course, to do that, they’re getting rid of the traditional MacBook Pros in favor of the new Retina MacBook Pros, which are their Solid State Drive-based MacBook Pros. In fact, Best Buy only sells one regular MacBook Pro(sans Solid State Drive), the 13 inch MacBook Pro. By the end of 2014, Apple completely discontinued manufacturing regular hard drive-based MacBook Pros. The problem with this move is that Apple is using PCIe-based Solid State Drives instead of drives which use a less expensive interface, such as SATA, mSATA, or M.2, which makes upgrades very expensive.

Note - The most cost effective way to use a Solid State Drive(512 GB or less) in a non-retina MacBook Pro is to load the operating system and programs onto the Solid State Drive and keep the videos and photos on the hard drive, and then use the OWC Data Doubler(or something similar) to replace the optical drive with the old hard drive and the old hard drive with the Solid State Drive. 

The most incredible thing about Solid State Drives is their lifespans. Today’s Solid State Drives are rated to be able to write 20 gigabytes a day for 5 years. With moderate usage, a modern Solid State Drive should last around 60 years, provided you power it up once in a while, since Solid State Drives lose data if they’re not powered up occasionally. This lifespan makes Solid State Drives the best choice for your boot drive.

Hard drives and Solid State Drives each have their strengths. Hard drives have the advantage of high capacity and low cost, which make them ideal for storing tons of photos and videos. Solid State Drives have the advantage of speed and extremely long lifespans. The best thing to do would be to use a Solid State Drive as your Mac’s boot drive and then have a hard drive for all of your media. But make sure to keep a backup of that media drive and make sure to update the backup every time you get new media, so you can replace it after it fails. If you’re using an iMac, or a Retina MacBook Pro, your backup should be external because the iMac is a big pain to open and the Retina MacBook Pro doesn’t have a hard drive bay or an optical drive bay which can be converted into a hard drive bay. With a (pre-2013) Mac Pro, non-Retina MacBook Pro, Mac Mini or a Hackintosh, internal drives are the way to go because these machines are easy enough to get into, the easiest being the pre-2013 Mac Pro and the Hackintosh. It’s unfortunate that Apple has completely phased out hard drives from its MacBook lines. The nice thing about hard drives is that they have a much greater storage capacity than the Retina MacBook Pros. You could have a large hard drive in the hard drive bay and you could also convert the optical drive bay into a hard drive bay with an OWC Data Doubler or something similar.

© Joshua Blagden & Justin Barczak 2013-2015
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