Hard drive storage setup for artists and photographers

(Disclaimer: The Amazon links in this blog post are affiliate links, so I can make a few extra coins to help pay for a fraction of the cost to host this website. #CommissionsEarned)

For all the creative projects you make on your computer, you certainly want to have a good storage system. You want your storage system to be simple and easy. Not overly technical where you have to be a geek to keep it up. I have a great storage system that keeps all my files on an external hard drive backed up at home. No crazy RAID systems. No relying on Amazon to hold all your precious files. Just a simple USB hard drive connected to your computer that gets backed up onto a second external hard drive.

If you’d like to skip the detailed explanations, you can skip to the list of components.

Cloud storage versus external hard drives

Amazon AWS storage pricing for S3 storageBefore we even get to the details of external hard drive storage, we should first address the growing demand for storing your files in the cloud. Cloud storage can be nice, but you’ll quickly max out your space. Amazon has become the king of cheap online storage with its AWS offerings. However, Amazon’s “standard storage tier” for 5 TB would cost you $149.80 monthly! Even if you do the cheapest glacier option, that’s $30/month for 5 TB of storage. Which comes to $360/year.

An external drive with 5 TB is about $230. No monthly costs.

Online storage can be nice if you have very little to store. But as a photographer and/or creative artist, you are going to have lots of photos and images to store. With that larger capacity need (like 5 TB), it makes much more financial sense to just have your own drives. (More details about price comparisons between the cloud and external drives are in the pricing section.)

Keeping all your files stored on an external hard drive is a great idea, but what setup should you have? Next, we’ll go into the exact details of what to use to archive all your creative projects. This set is what I’m using to store all my work from the past 18 years. My system has evolved and has improved over the years. It simply works and gives me tremendous piece of mind that all my data is safe.

Two external hard drives

I have one primary hard drive that stores everything. That primary hard drive is backed up onto an identical secondary drive. I keep the secondary drive right next to the primary drive.

SuperDuper backup applicationEvery couple of weeks I run a program called SuperDuper that smart copies everything from the primary drive onto the secondary drive. I just run the program and it automatically finds all the new files on the primary drive and copies them to the secondary drive. SuperDuper is so handy! And if I removed files from the primary drive, it will remove those files from the secondary drive too. This smart copying makes it super fast to keep the two drives totally in sync.

By having two drives, you are ensured if your primary drive fails, you have a backup. Very important.

If you want to go to another level of security, get a third drive and keep that drive someplace else. I store my third drive at work. Every six months, I bring the third drive home, and run SuperDuper on it to get the third drive in sync with the primary drive. If your house burns down, or if you are robbed, your data is still safe in your off-site storage.

And yes, I keep all my files on one external hard drive. You might be thinking “One hard drive?!” Yes. But I have that hard drive backed up two more times. So I have three hard drives in total.

I used to keep multiple drives, but then I found myself spending way too much time trying to manage multiple drives with different information. One drive backed up twice makes life much easier. And that’s what we really want, right?

Determining your space

The first thing you’ll need to determine is how much space you’ll need. Here’s how my space breaks down into categories: Hard drive storage by category

  • 24 GB.....Audio (podcasts and voicemail)
  • 15 GB.....Downloads
  • 35 GB.....Dropbox
  • 12 GB.....Etc
  • 1,360 GB..Laptop backups (and former computer backups)
  • 205 GB....Movies
  • 355 GB....Music
  • 0.5 GB....PDFs
  • 821 GB....Photos
  • 83 GB.....Projects
  • 30 GB.....Sarah work (she’s an 8th grade English teacher)
  • 245 GB....to organize
  • 5 GB......Toss
  • 23 GB.....Website backups

I like to keep my laptop relatively clean of any music, photos, or other project files. Those always get kept on my external hard drive. This keeps my laptop more clean and nimble. Let the external hard drive what it’s supposed to do—store files. Let your laptop do what it’s meant to do—not be a storage device.

Pie chart of hard drive storage by categoryPhotos account for only 25% of my storage needs. It may be tempting to purchase a hard drive only for your photos, but there are so many other things that creative people need to store.

Don’t forget to account for backing up your computer as well. About half of my storage space is due to simply making backups of the entire computer. This does not include my photos or other items. It’s just the computer.

These totals were done in a Google Sheet.

I have a total of 3,200 GB of storage needs (which is 3.2 TB). I like to always have a maximum of 1 TB free on my hard drive, so a 4 TB drive would not be enough. The next size after 4 TB is 5 TB. Figure out how much hard drive storage you’ll need. For the sake of comparison, all the numbers I’ll present here are for 5 TB drives.

Buy your hard drive case separate from the hard drive

You can buy your hard drive and it comes with a case. However, if you ever have any problems with your hard drive, you won’t be able to take it out and see what the issue is. Whenever there is a problem with my hard drive, I’ve found that 90% of the time it’s the case. Why buy something where you must throw away BOTH the hard drive and the case? Trust me. Buy the hard drive separately from the case. It gives you much more flexibility down the road. You just get what’s called an “internal drive” and an “enclosure”

Don’t know what internal hard drive and enclosure to get? That’s why you are here, I’ll tell you the exact models to purchase that will work together seamlessly.

Internal hard drive

hard drive WD50EZRX

Internal hard drive, 5GB, Green

Western Digital makes its drives in different color-coded categories. Green, Blue, Black, and Red. You’ll want the Green drives. But what do all these colors mean?

Green doesn’t spin all the time, so it saves on electricity. It saves on noise. And it will extend the life of your drive because it’s not always spinning. And they are cheaper.

Blue is super fast, because there’s only one platter, limiting it to 1 TB total. If you are gaming off your hard drive, this is the drive to use.

Black is between green and blue in speed. It’s supposed to last longer and be more durable. But it caps off at 4 GB. And it’s the noisiest of all the drives. I got the Green instead of Black, because I don’t need my hard drives spinning ALL THE TIME. Mine are more for storage. I did a lot of thinking about if I wanted a black drive because that has better performance. I was so tired of my computer being so slow. But there were some reviews that said on a daily basis you won’t notice the difference between a Green and Black drive.

The Red drives are pretty much the same as the Green ones, except Red is for NAS and RAID systems.
Green versus Red:

  • Quiet: Red is just as quiet as Green.
  • Power: Red draws just as much power as Green.
  • Life expectancy: The Red has a longer life expectancy than the Green.
  • Cost: A Red drive would cost about $5 more per terabyte than a Green drive.

One of these days I’m going to learn how to set up a RAID system, but for now, I’m not. So I went with the cheaper Green.

Enclosure with fan

Often my hard drives run really hot. Sure, many hard drive enclosures claim they are designed to cool off the bard drive by dispersing the heat across the entire enclosure. But then you have this hard drive case that is hot all over. Sometimes in the summer when I’m backing up files, I’ll point a little fan onto my hard drives to keep them cool.

StarTech SAT3510BU3
Instead of jerry-rigging a fan, and being concerned about heat, I just got some hard drive enclosures with a fan built in. The Startech SAT3510BU3 is great because you can turn off the fan, and still run the hard drive. I also like how when you stand these up, they look like books.

Installing the hard drive into this enclosure is SUPER-EASY. The only screws are on the cover. Just take the cover off and you’ll slide the hard drive inside. It’s so nice when there are no screws inside the enclosure. Really. Anyone can put a hard drive inside this case.

USB hub


The Plugable USB3-HUB7-81X has seven USB 3.0 ports. All seven ports are available to connect devices to your computer. In fact, two of the seven are 1.5 amp ports for faster charging. These two fast-charge ports will charge your devices three times as fast as a normal USB port which is 0.5 amps of power.

If you buy another USB hub, be careful. I purchased the EasyACC Y44BUS with 8 ports (no longer available on Amazon). Only four ports can connect devices to my computer! The other four ports are ONLY for powering up a device. In the EasyACC, if I connect a device to the power-up port, it will not connect to my computer. With the Plugable USB hub, you don’t have this problem.

Amazon’s full name for the Plugable is Plugable 7-Port USB 3.0 SuperSpeed Hub with 25W Power Adapter and Two Ports with BC 1.2 Charging Support for Android, Apple iOS, and Windows Mobile Devices. What a mouthful!

My only hang-up with this hub is the location of the power cord on the back of the hub. That means I can’t push the hub against the back wall of a drawer. Minor detail. But it is nice to have seven devices connected to one hub for a reasonable price.

The list of components

If you are doing off-site storage, instead of two enclosures and two hard drives, you can get 3 of each.


Cost of hard drive system

The total price for all the components comes to $494.15.

Compare that to Amazon’s tier of storage for one year of 5TB:

  • Standard storage: $1,797.60/year
  • Standard – Infrequent Access Storage† : $750/year
  • Glacier storage: $360/year

What is that asterisk on the infrequent storage? Amazon says, “† Standard – Infrequent Access Storage has a minimum object size of 128KB. Smaller objects will be charged for 128KB of storage.” So what about all your smaller files? This little asterisk is terribly confusing.

The Glacier storage is tempting, but over two years you’ll spend $720. Much more than the $500 you’ll spend on your own drives.

And don’t forget that Amazon charges you to access your own data! You can download up to one gigabyte per month for free. But let’s say you want to download, say 20 GB in a month. At $0.090 per GB, that’s $1.80. Sound reasonable. What if you want to download your entire 5 TB? That’s a whopping $450.00. Yup. If you ever want to back out of Amazon storing your files, you’ll have to pay them $450.

It makes much more sense to get your own hard drives and store them where you have complete access to your files. If you use a different setup, please let me know in the comments.

(Disclaimer: The Amazon links in this blog post are affiliate links, so I can make a few extra coins to help pay for a fraction of the cost to host this website. #CommissionsEarned)

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Erik Maldre
Erik Maldre
8 years ago

Can you share a link to a 2TB hard drive that you recommend?

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x