I do a lot of video editing on my Mac and need a way to store very large (30 GB) files, and don't have room on my HD.

A USB/Firewire external hard drive would work, but it seems way too slow for consistently working with such large files. I've also considered buying another computer, with a large hard drive, and putting it on the same network with a shared folder.

What's the fastest / most efficient way to do this? Please consider USB 2.0 speeds, hard drive read times, ethernet speeds, etc. Are there other options I should consider?

  • What kind of Mac do you have? – Chris W. Rea Aug 23 '09 at 16:40
  • It's a MacBook Pro – philfreo Oct 6 '09 at 19:48

If you're looking for consistent speed for accessing data from external hard drives on your Mac avoid USB 2.0 if at all possible - use Firewire or eSATA (if you have a MacPro or Power Mac G5) instead.

While USB 2.0 has a higher theoretical throughput than say Firewire 400 (480 vs. 400) it's real world throughput is less and is "bursty" which can result in dropped frames quite easily. Firewire and eSATA won't have that issue.

Anyway a quick rundown for theoretical speeds you can get from the different connections:

USB 2.0:       480 Mbps  (~60 MB/sec)
Firewire 400:  400 Mbps  (~50 MB/sec)
Firewire 800:  800 Mbps  (~100 MB/sec)
eSATA 150:     1500 Mbps (~188 MB/sec)
eSATA 300:     3000 Mbps (~375 MB/sec)
Fibre Channel: 1000 - 10000 Mbps depending on installation. (Expensive)
Ethernet:      3 - 100000 Mbps depending on installation and overhead. (Cheap to exceedingly expensive)
Future / Extremely new Protocols
Firewire 3200: 3200 Mbps (~400 MB/sec)
Firewire 6400: 6400 Mbps (~800 MB/sec)
USB 3.0:       5000 Mbps (~625 MB/sec) (with protocol overhead)
               3200 Mbps (~400 MB/sec) (actual throughput of data excluding protocol overhead)
eSATA 600:     6000 Mbps (~750 MB/sec)

Those are the theoretical speeds that a single connection can give you - whether or not the hard drive(s) you have connected can saturate that link is a different story. For example a 5400 RPM drive

The theoretical maximum data transfer rate on a hard drive can be determined by dividing the sectors per track * 0.5kb divided by the revolution time. (Source: IBM) Which is why you'll find larger sized hard drives will actually give you better transfer rates (more data per sector). A 7200 RPM drive should be sufficient for most applications depending on what file you're attempting to read and how fast. (eg. It won't be sufficient for Uncompressed HD, REDCODE, etc.)

The other way as specified before is to set up a RAID in order to attempt to saturate the link you have between the hard drive(s) and your computer. RAIDs, fibre channel networks, or even 10-gigabit (or even 100-gigabit) ethernet networks can get very expensive very fast but can offer speeds not possible with more normal connections.

  • Excellent post, with some good information. I would suggest putting a 7200 RPM drive in a Firewire 800 capable caddy. – EvilChookie Aug 23 '09 at 6:09
  • I'd suggest looking at 10k SATA drives in a firewire case, personally - a bit more expensive, but very fast – warren Aug 23 '09 at 6:55

I do a lot of video editing on my Mac and need a way to store very large (30 GB) files, and don't have room on my HD.

external storage drives are just that, storage devices. if you have to work with such massive files, upgrade your internal hard disk. 1 TB HDDs are dirt cheap and if you want it really big and really fast, get the all new Hitachi Deskstar 7K2000.

... or wait for USB 3 to become available.


Does your computer have an eSATA interface? eSATA is exactly the same as having the hard-drive connected internally in your computer, except that it's external. In other words, it uses the same interface as your internal hard drives and so they run at full speed (up to 300MB/s)

If you don't have an eSATA port, you can purchase an eSATA PCIe card to put into your computer.

  • 1
    The OP said his computer was a Mac. Unless he's using a PowerMac, he won't be adding eSata to it, and I don't believe that any of the current Mac Lineup supports eSata. – EvilChookie Aug 23 '09 at 6:07

When you need to store large amounts of data with access speed,
it helps to go RAID 0.

Remember, while we say RAID here, its not about redundancy but, speed.
If you need redundancy too, look at the linked article for mirroring with striping.

As an aside, there are now Compact Flash devices that incorporate RAID striping for speed:
Photofast CR-7200 CompactFlash Adapter Runs Four microSDs In RAID
However, that may not be a good solution for working with a 80GB file,
That CF RAID jacks up capacity to 64GB with striping speed -- useful for many other applications.


Look at a NAS - you can get them with 2 drives and RAID which should be super quick, and they just hang off your local network - not as bulky as a new computer :)


For a good local option go with RAID 1, mirrored disks, with some good SAS drives at 15000 rpm. A step beyond that in complexity and price would be a NAS with some good RAID 5 storage, again SAS at 15000 rpm. The truly fastest option but probably completely unrealistic is a SAN. Though you could actually do something between a NAS and a full on SAN. Get yourself set up with a NAS on its own dedicated switch, and a different network. Then put another network card (gigabit ethernet) into your workstations(s) and use a dedicated network to access your NAS. Not as fast as 10gb fibre channel SAN, but should be really fast.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.