The computing world runs on information, and handling it is crucial. So it’s important that you select the best storage device to not only hold your data, but also distribute it. In this guide, I’ll explain the basics of storage and list the features that you should consider when shopping. If you’re ready to head to the store right now, though, I’ve also listed my top picks.
Power users hoping to get the most out of a home storage system should consider a network-attached storage (NAS) server such as a four- or five-bay NAS server from Synology, QNAP, Asus, Netgear, WD or Seagate. Alternatively, if you want your new computer to run at its top speed, a solid-state drive (SSD) such as the Samsung 850 Pro or the Toshiba OCZ VX500, or an M.2 drive (if your computer supports it) will make that happen. But if you have an older machine and don’t want to spend too much, upgrading its hard drive to a more affordable SSD, such as the Samsung SSD 850 Evo or the OCZ Trion, will also satisfy you.
If you just want to boost your laptop’s storage space or find a quick way to back up your data, an affordable portable drive such as the WD My Passport Ultra or the Seagate Backup Plus Ultra Slim will do the trick.
Storage performance refers to the speed at which data transfers within a device or from one device to another. Currently, the speed of a single consumer-grade internal drive is largely defined by the Serial ATA interface standard (aka SATA). This determines how fast internal drives connect to a host (such as a personal computer or a server) or to one another. There are three generations of SATA — the latest and most popular, SATA 3, caps at 6 gigabits per second (about 770 megabytes per second). The earlier SATA 1 (largely obsolete) and SATA 2 (available in computers made a few years ago) standards cap data speeds at 1.5Gbps and 3Gbps, respectively.
So what do those data speeds mean in the real world? Consider this: At top speed, a SATA 3 drive can transfer a CD’s worth of data (about 700MB) in less than a second. The actual speed of a hard drive may be slower because of mechanical limitations and overheads, but that should give you an idea of what’s possible. A hard drive’s real-world speed tends to be around one-tenth of the SATA3 standard. Solid-state drives, on the other hand, offer speeds much closer to the ceiling speed of SATA3. Most existing internal drives and host devices (such as computers) now support SATA 3, and are backward-compatible with previous revisions of SATA.
Since 2015, there’s been a new standard called M.2, which is only available for SSDs. M.2 allows the storage device to connect to a computer via PCI express (the type of connection once used only to connect a video card to a motherboard) and is therefore much faster than SATA. Currently only high-end desktop motherboards support M.2. These tend to come with two slots. Some ultra-compact laptops also have an M.2 slot instead of SATA. Just about the size of a stick of system memory, an M.2 SSD is much more compact than a regular SSD. It’s also much faster and can deliver the same amount of storage space. In the future, M.2 is expected to replace regular SATA drives completely.
Since internal drives are used in most other types of storage devices, including external drives and network storage, the SATA standard is the common denominator of storage performance. In other words, a single-volume storage device — one that has only one internal drive on the inside — can be as fast as 6Gbps at most. In multiple-volume setups, there are techniques that aggregate the speed of each individual drive into a faster combined data speed. Capacity is the amount of data that a storage device can handle. Generally, we measure the total capacity of a drive or a storage system in gigabytes. On average, 1GB can hold about 500 iPhone photos or about 200 iTunes digital songs.
World’s biggest microSD card
Western Digital has unveiled what it says is the world’s highest-capacity microSD card — one that crams 400GB of storage into your smart phone. The company says it’s 400GB SanDisk Ultra microSDXC UHS-I card is the highest-capacity microSD card for use in mobile devices. The card can hold up to 40 hours of Full HD video and can transfer data at up to 100MBps: at that speed, users could move 1,200 3.5MB photos per minute over USB 3.0. The card, which Western Digital is aiming at Android smartphone and tablet users, comes with a ten-year warranty and a US retail price of $249.99.
Western Digital said its memory technology, design, and production processes allowed for more bits per die, enabling it to push the microSD card capacity up again. The capacity of microSD cards had grown rapidly: only two years ago, Western Digital’s biggest microSD card stood at 200GB, which cost $399 at launch. The year before that, the state of the art for SanDisk was a 128GB card for $199. When the microSD card format was first launched in 2004, it had 128MB of capacity. “We anticipate that storage needs will only continue to grow as people continue to expect more sophisticated features on their devices and desire higher quality content,” Jeff Janukowicz, research vice president at IDC said. “We estimate mobile device users worldwide will install over 150 billion applications alone this year, which require a ton of memory on all of our favorite devices.”
World’s biggest flash/Pen drive
How much storage space do you need on a laptop? For most people, a few hundred gigabytes will do it. Maybe you need a terabyte on the device if you work with a lot of big files. Flash drives were long seen as a way to keep a subset of your files for easy transportation; they were smaller than your hard drive. That might not be the case anymore with Kingston’s new 2TB flash/Pen drive. You’ll pay handsomely for access to all those mobile bytes, though.
The DataTraveler Ultimate Generation Terabyte (GT) comes in both 1TB and 2TB varieties. They connect to the computer via a standard USB 3.1 Type-A port, not the new (and still rather rare) USB Type-C port. While that makes sense for the majority of devices right now, a Type-C port might have served the DataTraveler Ultimate Generation well in the near future.
Unlike other modern thumb drives which are much, much smaller than a thumb, the DataTraveler Ultimate GT is rather hulking by comparison. The casing is roughly 27x21mm, which means it’ll most likely cover more than one port, and may not even fit into some more cramped areas. Hopefully Kingston sees fit to toss in a female to male cable add-on to reach those ports. The drive has a zinc alloy metal casing that Kingston says is highly resistant to shock.
It’s big for a flash drive, but it’s tiny compared with anything else with 2TB of storage. As Kingston points out, that’s enough space for more than 70 hours of 4K video at 30fps; on a flash drive. This isn’t the first time Kingston has broken the terabyte limit with a thumb drive. The DataTraveler HyperX Predator was announced in 2013 with a maximum capacity of 1TB. Unfortunately, it wasn’t produced for very long and is only available at vastly inflated prices (i.e. over $2,000) from third-party sellers now. The original price was a little over $1,200.
Kingston wasn’t ready to commit to a final retail price yet, but says the DataTraveler Ultimate GT will be priced between 40 and 45 cents per gigabyte. That works out to $400-450 for the 1TB and $800-900 for the 2TB. That’s a lot of money, but a significant price cut compared with the older 1TB Hard drive.