SSD Worth the Cost?

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Today’s Question: Do you think SSD [solid-state drive] external drives for photo storage are worth the premium price?

Tim’s Quick Answer: On balance I would say that for large-scale photo storage, it makes more sense to use traditional hard drives rather than SSD storage, unless performance is critically important and you are perfectly comfortable with the higher price of SSD storage.

More Detail: To be sure, SSD drives provide a variety of benefits. You can achieve faster data transfer speeds with SSD, with less power consumption, no moving parts, and various other benefits. The primary disadvantages of SSD storage are the higher cost as well as the lower capacity compared to traditional hard drives.

Since I travel so extensively I prefer to use bus-powered external hard drives, and opt for drives that are designed to be a bit more rugged. Therefore, my go-to hard drive is the 4TB LaCie Rugged (https://timgrey.me/rugged4tb), which sells for about US$159. That represents a cost of just under US$40 per terabyte.

There isn’t a 4TB Rugged drive from LaCie, so the highest capacity available is 1TB. You can get a 1TB LaCie Rugged SSD drive (https://timgrey.me/rugged1tbssd) for about US$499, which of course is US$499 per terabyte compared to US$40 per terabyte for the traditional drive. In other words, the SSD drive in this example is twelve times more expensive on a per-terabyte basis.

Of course, there are less expensive SSD options. For example, a 1TB bus-powered SSD drive from G-Technology (https://timgrey.me/gtech1tbssd) is available for about US$269. That is still almost seven times as expensive as the traditional drive noted above, and the LaCie drive has the added benefit of being somewhat ruggedized.

The challenge here is making a decision about whether the cost for SSD drives is worth the performance benefit. If you want the best performance, you should opt for SSD drives for all storage. But if you’re not entirely comfortable paying the premium price for SSD storage, you may want to take a hybrid approach.

My current approach involves having an SSD drive as the internal drive on the computer I use for managing my photo library. My Lightroom Classic CC catalog is on this SSD drive, helping to maximize performance when working within Lightroom. My photos are stored on external hard drives that are traditional rather than SSD. There would be some benefit to having these external drives be SSD storage as well, but in my view that relatively modest benefit is not worth the considerable additional cost for SSD drives.

So, if money is no object, I’d recommend buying SSD drives for all of your storage. If you want to save a bit of money and have greater storage capacity for a single drive, traditional hard drives still offer an advantage in that regard. In the meantime, we can all look forward to the price of storage on SSD devices continuing to come down over time.