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Will an SSD External Hard Drive Hold Up Better for the Long Term Storage Of Photos?

I have a 1 Tb 2014 iMac. I found myself with very little storage space about a year ago and haven’t known the best course of action to take. I have 58,000 precious photos and videos that are taking up the majority of my storage space. I have iCloud storage but have not used the “optimize storage” feature yet as I want to be sure I have a proper external back up before altering the original versions of my photos (which I know iCloud will do when I turn on optimize storage). I did an external hard drive back up last year when I first got the notification that my storage space was low and not much has been added to my hard drive since, as I had very little storage space available (about 20gb or so). I am reading about SSD hard drives being one piece rather than many pieces and I am wondering if I should secure my photos on one for the long term. Or should I plug the external hard drive that I saved to last year back into my computer to save the 20 gb worth of data that was added?

Comments: 10 Responses to “Will an SSD External Hard Drive Hold Up Better for the Long Term Storage Of Photos?”

    4 years ago

    Technically, solid-state drives should last longer than hard-disk drives. HDDs have moving parts, so they will wear out over time.

    But the main advantage of SSDs is performance. They are much faster than HDDs. But that is lost when you connect it as an external drive, since the bottleneck is then the USB3 connection. So in some ways it doesn't make sense to ever use an SSD as an external drive, at least not over USB3. You'd be paying a lot more for an SSD drive when a HDD will do.

    Another thing is that when comparing the life of a drive, people usually think of drives that run all the time and are under a constant load. But most external drives, like backups, archives or drives for things like storing music or photos, aren't being used nearly that much. So the wear-and-tear is less.

    If money is no object and you just want the best chance that this drive will last for decades, then I guess an SSD is fine. But otherwise, I would just use a HDD as an external. Maybe the SSD will last longer, but will that matter? I know that even if the drive I was using 20 years ago still worked, I wouldn't be using them. They were probably 200GB drives or less. Why would I be using them now? Then of what $100 will buy you 20 years from now and how it may not make sense to worry about getting something that lasts that long.

    4 years ago

    Thank you for your quick response! I appreciate the information on the SS drive speed being not important in this case and the amount of usage playing a part in the life of the drive. I understand your point that I won't be using that hard drive that is many years old for additional back ups in the future. But the reason I want the drive to last is so that I can access my photos many many years from now. So what would you recommend I do to save my photos to be seen far into the future?

    4 years ago

    Vickie: For digital archiving the only good solution is: vigilantly maintaining the files. That usually means backing them up, and also changing the media every 5-10 years at least. So the drive you buy now will be for the next 5-10 years. Then at some point, say 8 years down the road, you'd buy a new drive, or whatever technology replaces it. Imagine someone archiving audio recordings in 1960 to reel-to-reel tape. Then transferring them in the 80s to cassettes. Then in the 90s to CDs. Then in the 2000s to digital files on drives. Then in 2010s to newer drives, or cloud storage.
    So get what you need for now. But there is no "forever" solution.

    Doug Brandt
    4 years ago

    Haha Gary.... I could not help but laugh reading your last comment to Vickie.. your example of archiving audio from the 60's to today... and how someone would change storage depending on the newest and greatest storage device... that was ME!

    Richard Zollner
    4 years ago

    Good question Vicki and helpful responses Gary. Thanks. I do like your audio metaphor, I kept my reel to reel going well into the 70's. I liked the length of music from it.
    Back to Vicki's question, what about replacing the HDD in her iMac with an SSD? I, too have a 2014iMac with a 1TB drive and have been toying with the idea of replacing it. It doesn't take much money.
    I have 9000 photos in Photos uploaded to iCloud and google so my drive doesn't need to be as big. thoughts?

    4 years ago

    Richard: I don't think it is ever a good idea to go backwards in terms of drive size. So if you are thinking about putting a 1TB SSD in a 6-year-old MacBook, just weigh that against putting the money toward a new MacBook. You'll eventually need one as they don't last forever.

    4 years ago

    Is using an External ssd Good for using as a Replacement for the existing hard drive in a 2011 iMac which is failing.
    Also would switching on the computer be any different and could I transfer my app’s to the new ssd
    William Middlehurst

    4 years ago

    William: As your main drive? No. It would be so slow to access it from USB. Especially from a 2011, which I think is USB 2, maybe? That would be almost unusable. If you need to replace the drive, replace the internal drive. Though you'd be much better off putting that money toward a new Mac. Throwing money at a 9-year-old machine isn't something I would recommend.

    4 years ago

    “They” used to say CDs, specifically the CD-R format, was the safest bet for long term archival, up to 100 years, stored in a safe deposit box, for example. Notwithstanding their obvious drawbacks, I wonder if they might still be the safest medium? Just be sure to have something to play them back on! Still a good idea for the most precious media? Also, I like having backups on different types of media for obvious reasons. Gary, thanks!

    4 years ago

    TS: I've never heard that optical media like CDs and DVDs can be trusted for more than 10 years or so. I've seen them break down after 10. Plus, they don't hold enough data. How many 4GB DVDs would it take to hold my data? Even without video projects, I probably have 500GB at least.
    The answer: There is no way to archive data permanently in a archive-and-forget fashion. You have to maintain your archives if you want them to survive. So maybe a big external HD now, but move to a better drive in 5-10 years, then another thing 5-10 after that. Or, store online and move to another online service at some point if something better comes along, etc.

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