Sound libraries and applications are taking up more storage space every year, so it's important to select the optimum storage configuration for your audio workstation. This guide walks you through the pros and cons of the most common type of storage device. This guide will walk you through the pros and cons of the most common type of storage device. Choosing a faster storage device will not only make Windows boot faster, but will makes applications and samples load quicker. Choosing an SSD is the ultimate upgrade, as it also makes your workstation more responsive in everything it does, not just loading new data.
|Solid State Drives||Hybrid Hard Disk||Hard Disk Drive|
|Pros||Fastest storage available, silent||Faster than an HDD, big capacity, medium cost per GB||Big capacity, low cost per GB|
|Cons||Highest cost per GB||Still not as fast as a SSD, audible||Slow, audible|
|Recommended For||Bulk Storage,
|Budget Workstations||Any Workstations|
Solid state drives (SSD for short) are the newest form of storage device, recording your data on chips rather than a spinning disk inside a hard drive. This gives them a huge edge when it comes to performance, although you do pay a higher cost per GB. Being solid state devices, SSDs barely consume any power and silent, making them ideal for anybody wanting a quiet workstation. With no moving parts they're also a great choice for a laptop as are much tougher and lighter. Early SSDs had a limited number of times they could be written to, but this is no longer a concern and you expect to write data to an SSD for years.
SSDs are available in two types, SATA and PCI-E. SATA drives connect to the motherboard using a SATA cable, which limits their performance to a maximum of 600MB/sec, although this still much faster than a HDD or SSHD. PCI-E drives are faster still, with speeds over 2,000MB/sec possible from some drives, and are available in three main types, M.2, U.2 and AIC. Tiny M.2 drives connect directly to a slot on the motherboard but due to their small size are limited to a maximum capacity of 512GB. U.2 drives look similar to SATA drives, using a cable to connect to the motherboard while AIC (Add-In-Cards) need to fitted to a 4x or faster PCI-E 3.0 slot on the motherboard. For the ultimate upgrade, choose a PCI-E SSD that supports NVME, a new instruction set specifically written for SSDs, giving them another performance boost.
With the Kontakt and VSL libraries being gigabytes in size, flicking between sample libraries while deciding on the best sound for your track can sometimes slow to a painful crawl on a mechanical HDD.
If large libraries are important to you however and you’re working with large orchestral sound banks, one of the best investments you can make when building a new system, would be to go with SSDs for your sound banks and libraries too. The time saved and general improvement to your workflow when you’re not waiting for your sounds to load can be a real game changer for your workflow.
Hybrid hard disks (SSHD for short) combines two drives in one; a high capacity hard disk plus a small SSD that caches the most frequently accessed data, speeding up performance. SSHD aren't as fast as a pure SSD, but are faster than a HDD, transferring data at around 200MB/sec, making them a good compromise if you're on a tight budget. The small SSD is invisible to the operating system so you don't need to worry about configuring it - it automatically learns what data you use the most, steadily getting faster over a few days.
Hard disks drives (HDD for short) have been around since the 1950s although back then they could only store 3.5MB, and now can store up to 6TB - more than 17,000 times the capacity. This makes them the cheapest form of storage. Hard drives have got a lot faster too, transferring at around 150MB/sec, although this is till a fraction of the speed of an SSD, making them best used for bulk storage such as old projects. As mechanical devices, hard drives make a bit of noise, so are best avoided for a system located in a recording studio. If you need lots of storage, why not consider a NAS box, you can locate this small external box in another room, so you don't have to listen to the hard drives clattering away.
Scan Pro Audio recommends a fast drive for your operating system, not only to accelerate the load times, but to ensure the swap file on the drive that Windows uses is also nice and snappy to ensure the bare minimum of lag. SSDs are great for this task.
For any drives that are holding your samples or other audio used in projects, the faster drive options are ideal for ensuring super quick load times, both at start up and while browsing your sound libraries which can really improve your day to day experience while you work. However with sound libraries that can easily stretch in multiple terabytes in size SSDs may not be cost effective, so you may end up wishing to mix and match between SSD and HDD drives for known large libraries such as VSL or some Kontakt banks, and then fall back on a cheaper good quality HDD for streaming audio and handling smaller sound banks.
Lastly for back up duties, we would suggest going with some good quality large mechanical drives such as the WD RED series, or other drives specified for 24/7 usage with a good warranty. This ensures the drives are designed to be used heavily over the long term, which is exactly what should be considered when choosing somewhere to back up all your data too, to ensure it's being kept safe.