Driven Fast: Choosing The Right Hard Drive

Introduction

best harddrive for pro tools

It is recommended that you have a separate dedicated drive(s) for audio record/playback – it may seem unimportant at first, but believe me it has dramatic effects on the way Pro Tools, or any DAW for that matter performs.

Why? Your system drive has to run the operating system and any programs – in our case Pro Tools. If you then burden it to also stream twenty audio tracks in real time, maybe with effects and probably with fades, the drive has to work extremely hard. By utilizing a separate drive for audio recording and playback, you are essentially spreading the load so you should experience fewer error messages and fewer issues with speed.

Check out the 3 best hard drives for Pro Tools below:

Control surfaceDetailsPrice
OWC Mercury Elite Pro
OWC Mercury Elite Pro review for pro tools
Typical Specifications:
  • AVID recommended!
  • 7200 RPM
  • Two FireWire ports, 1 USB 3.0, 1 eSata
AVID recommends this harddrive because of its excellent features, portability, and durability.
Check prices and ratings on Amazon.com
Glyph Studio
Glyph Studio review
Typical Specifications:
  • USB 3.0, FireWire, and eSATA included
  • Up to 184 mb/s
This harddrive was made for the studio. It includes a fan to keep your memory safe and equipment cool.
Check prices and ratings on Amazon.com
Transcend MLC Solid State Drive
Transcend MLC Solid State Drive review
Typical Specifications:
  • Solid State
  • Writing files: up to 470 mb/s
Off the charts reading and writing speeds for this Solid State Drive (SSD). Transcend is well-known in the harddrive arena. Can't go wrong with their products!
Check prices and ratings on Amazon.com


Internal or External?

This one’s fairly simple. If you have space for an additional internal drive, I would opt for that. An internal drive is likely to be faster than an external drive as it is connected straight to the motherboard. If however, you have run out of slots or you have a laptop then you should look for a quality external drive.


Which Drive?

There are hundreds of external and internal drives available, although the majority of them will work just fine, Avid have a few recommendations (updated for PT 10).

  1. Internal drives should be SATA (or SAS if you are using a HP Z-series PC)
  2. External drives can be eSATA, USB 2.0 or Firewire (Mac only)
  3. Solid-state drives aren’t officially ‘qualified’ by Avid, but from experience they do make excellent system drives.
  4. Don’t mix record/playback drive types i.e. don’t try to record to a firewire and a SATA drive at the same time
  5. Firewire drives should not be used on Windows 7 machines

Your hard drive will have a chipset; this will be listed in the manual or on the manufacturers website. Avid have qualified a set of firewire drive chipsets:

  • Oxford 934 – FW 400
  • Oxford 924 – FW 400
  • Oxford 924 – FW 800
  • Oxford 911 – FW 400
  • Oxford 912 – FW 400
  • Oxford 912 – FW 800

Avid also recommend two manufacturers in particular; Avastor HDX/SDX or OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro. I personally use a G-tech G-Drive which has great connectivity – two firewire 800 (or 400 with an 800-400 cable) ports, one USB 2.0 port and an eSATA port. If you’re feeling frivolous you may even consider a Glyph rack mounted drive.

Quick Tip: Go for the fastest and largest capacity drive you can afford. A 7200RPM+ drive is recommended and aim for a capacity of 500Gb+.


Best Hard Drive For Pro Tools

There are a lot of possibilities when choosing the best drive out there to use with Pro Tools so making the right choice is hard with such a wide palette at hand. Let’s take a look at some excellent drives that will work wonders with Pro Tools:

OWC Mercury Elite Pro 3 TB External Drive Review

This is one of the AVID recommended drives and it is not hard to see why – 7200 rpm and fantastic connectivity with two FireWire 800 ports, one USB 3.0 and one eSATA. That means speed – up to 300 mb/s when using eSATA or USB 3.0. Another great feature is the portability and durability of the device; it is really built to be dependable + it looks quite nifty with its aluminum enclosure.

OWC

Click here to see reviews and prices for the OWC Mercury Elite Pro harddrive on Amazon.com

Glyph Studio 2 TB External Drive Review

As the name suggests, this one was built for the studio. Whether you need USB 3.0, eSATA or FireWire 800, the Glyph Studio can handle it as it supports all these interfaces with transfer rates as high as 184 mb/s (when using eSATA). It has what the manufacturer calls an “intelligent quiet fan” – I am not sure how intelligent it is but it sure is quiet and it keeps the drive and consequently your files safe and cool. As with the OWC drive, the Glyph Studio spins with the AVID recommended 7200 rpm.

Glyph

Click here to see reviews and prices for the Glyph Studio external drive on Amazon.com

Transcend MLC Solid State Drive Review

This is an internal 2.5 inch drive but I recommend that you mount it in an external enclosure that supports connections across multiple interfaces – unless you have an extra hard drive slot. (eSATA, USB 3.0, etc.) As it is a solid state drive it does not have a spinning disk or any moving parts for that matter, thus noiseless. Also, it is impossible to get it fragmented. For writing, the drive can go up to 470 mb/s which is simply off the charts. For reading it goes even higher, 570 mb/s.

Trnsnd

Click here to see reviews and prices for the Transcend MLC drive on Amazon.com


How to use the drive

When you create a new session, all you need to do is make sure that you save the session to your external drive. If you are just buying a new dedicated drive, take some time to create a folder hierarchy to keep your projects organized.

It may be helpful to check the ‘workspace browser’ in Pro Tools (accessible via the shortcut Option_; (mac) Alt_; (windows) or the window menu) that your dedicated drive is set how you need it:

Transfer: You cannot playback or record on this drive.

Playback: Playback only – you can’t record on this drive but you can listen to sessions.

Record: Record and playback audio

Quick Tip: USB sticks, flash cards and attached USB media will show as Transfer only – don’t expect to record onto your thumb drive, even if it is 20Gb!


Disk Allocation

Earlier I mentioned that you shouldn’t record across different types of drives for the same session, it is fine and in fact recommended to use more than one drive of the same type in some situations. If you get to 24 or above audio tracks, it is commonly suggested to spread the load across multiple drives; this might be a pain for keeping tabs on your project files but it should keep PT happy (having said that, I’ve never had any real issues on the one dedicated drive).

It is a good idea to check exactly where your individual tracks are being stored, especially if you have more than one drive. Call up the Disk Allocation window from the setup menu and you can see the source location of each audio track. You can also change the locations (hold Option/Alt to change them all) using the up-down arrow button as shown below.


Final Words

Well that’s enough about hard drives. If you haven’t already done so, get out there and buy a dedicated audio drive and enjoy Pro Tools as it was meant to be enjoyed.

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