Choosing the Best External Hard Drive

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An external hard drive (EHD) is an essential part of an organized photo library. There are two types to consider: a Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and a Solid State Drive (SSD). Here are a few features and pros/cons of each, plus links to drives I personally use and recommend.

Hard Drive Size / Capacity: How much space do you need?

I answer this question specifically for photo organizing clients during their initial project appointment when I’ve had a chance to learn the details of all their photo sources. Generally, a 2TB drive is the right size for most clients. It has enough space for all photos sources and the organizing workflow and leaves some room for the photo library to grow with time. That is why all the drives I’ve linked below are 2TB. 

Some projects (especially if it involves a business) require more space. When in doubt, I default to having more space. There are resources such as SpaceSaver (cutting the fat on JPG photos which massively saves space) and removing exact duplicates during the organizing process that can be a game changer for optimizing the storage capacity needed for a photo library. 

Hard Disk Drive (HDD)

This is the most common external hard drive and the less expensive option, but it’s important to understand what comes with the cost difference.

  • Pros: Less expensive 
  • Cons: Moving mechanical parts (interior); Higher rate of failure, especially if you’ll be moving the drive often or traveling with it.
  • Bottom line: If you don’t need to move the drive or your computer often and cost is a primary consideration, then a hard disk drive is a great choice. 


Solid State Drive (SSD)

The technology of these smaller solid state drives continues to improve and the prices lately have made them even more affordable. They are considerably smaller than an iPhone!

  • Pros: No moving parts (solid); Very small and lightweight, perfect if you need to travel or just prefer a smaller profile; Speeds can be faster.
  • Cons: More expensive
  • Bottom line: Unless cost is a prohibitive factor, select an SSD. If you will travel or move the drive often, I only recommend that you invest in a SSD. And don’t forget to also get a case for added protection!


ALWAYS have a case to protect your drive.

When should a drive be replaced?

As a general rule of thumb, I suggest replacing external hard drives every 3-5 years. It also depends a lot based on how you are using the drive. But if you ever hear a drive clicking or suddenly making noises, replace it ASAP

Use Your Drive! Create a Photo Hub for Organizing

Centralizing your photos is the start of any photo organizing project and an external hard drive is where I create a working “photo hub” for that process. The Centralizing Checklist will help you identify where all your digital photos are stored, plus any needed log-in and password information so we can easily access and centralize your photos.

Currently Recommended with RESERVATION

Due to documented issues with sudden data loss, these solid state drives by SanDisk and Western Digital (it’s the same company now with two different brands) are no longer my go-to recommendation. I use these drives and have not had a problem (yet) and I hope I don’t. But the lack of clarity from the company regarding the problem concerns me and I don’t want to recommend a product with known problems. Do some research, read reviews. No technology is fail proof, but quality products and good maintenance and care habits will significant improve your experience.

More than anything, this highlights the importance of following the 3-2-1 rule: redundancies are essential! Make sure you can fully recover your data (and organization!) from another source should loss occur.

updated February 15, 2024

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Hi, I'm Lisa

Photos have always brought me joy and are one of my favorite mediums for storytelling. But let’s be honest, the sheer volume of digital photos we all have can be overwhelming. It’s my goal through Scissortail Digital to help you enjoy, use, and organize your photos so you can go from jumbled to joyful!

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