How Full is Full?


Today’s Question: When is the right time to replace a hard drive? For a 2 terabyte drive when is it “full” to the point the data should be moved or copied to a larger storage device?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I tend to make the decision about “upgrading” to a larger hard drive for photo storage based on timing. When I’m getting close to having only about a month or so of storage remaining, I will upgrade to a drive with greater capacity.

More Detail: Of course, this specific timing depends on a variety of factors. In some cases you may need a bit more buffer in terms of time, just in case a big project comes along or your schedule gets full to the point that it is difficult to make time for an “upgrade” project.

For me, as long as I don’t have any extended trips coming up soon, a one-month storage buffer usually works just fine. For example, I tend to capture around 300 photos per day on average when I’m actively photographing. That would translate into about 225 gigabytes per month for me, based on raw captures that are about 25 megabytes in size.

Of course, wanting to be conservative, that means when I start to see that my hard drive has less than about 300 gigabytes free I’m going to start planning for a storage upgrade. That includes choosing how much extra capacity I might need for the new drive, as well as selecting a drive based on various other criteria such as overall performance.

When I buy a new hard drive, I always buy three of the same type, so that I have two backup drives to go with each primary drive. After purchasing the drives, I can copy my photos and other data from the existing drive that is getting full to the new drive that has plenty of capacity. I’ll generally hold on to the smaller drives that were replaced by the new drives, so that I have an “extra” backup for a period of time. Eventually I will then repurpose the drives that had been replaced for other storage, unless they are getting old to the point of needing to be retired.

Note that I outlined the steps I recommend for a “storage upgrade” in an article featured in the August 2014 issue of Pixology magazine. This and all other back issues are available to subscribers. More details can be found here: