Hard Drive Overview


Hard drives are physical devices used to store data. Internal hard drives are built directly into a computer while external hard drives can be plugged into any computer via USB, Thunderbolt, or Firewire. They are used to store your footage, audio, project files, and any other data related to your production.

Types of Drives

  • Hard Drive Disk:
    • The most common type of drive used in video production is a Hard Drive Disk or HDD for short. Hard drives work by storing your data magnetically on spinning platters. The data is then read by a tiny arm that rapidly moves left and right. These moving parts make them more fragile and likely to fail. Because physical movement is required to read data, hard drives aren’t exceptionally fast either. However, they can store a lot of data in a small size. Most range from 500GB to 4TB. They are also quite affordable for the amount of storage they provide.
  • Solid State Drive:
    • Solid State Drives or SSDs are less common in video production but slowly becoming more popular due to their many benefits. They use flash storage which means they have no moving parts. This makes them very physically durable. Their flash storage is also super fast which is great for moving large files. However, the tradeoff is that they are much more expensive per gigabyte than a HDD. Generally a 1TB HDD would cost about the same as a 256GB SSD.
  • Flash Drive:
    • Flash drives are small storage devices that plug directly into a USB port. They are designed for quickly and conveniently moving files between computers. They use flash storage like an SSD but a much more basic version. They have no wear leveling which means that they deteriorate eventually. They also are slower than SSDs due to the cheaper flash storage they employ. Flash drives are usually small capacity but also inexpensive.
  • SD Cards:
    • SD cards are used in cameras to record your footage. They are very similar to flash drives in terms of internal technology. However, instead of a USB connector they have contacts that are read by small pins within your camera or SD card reader. Some more modern SD Cards are very fast to meet demands for 4K recording at high bitrates. These newer SD cards may require newer readers as well.

Best Drive for Editing

Generally, when editing you want to use a HDD or an SSD. They are both fast enough that you won’t experience stuttering while playing back footage. These two types of drives can also withstand the constant reading and writing that editing programs tend to perform. Flash drives and SD cards, however, are not designed to be written and read to at the same time or in high volume. This shortens their life and puts your data at risk. You will also likely see stuttering when editing off a Flash Drive or SD card. It is recommended that you move your media off your flash drive or SD card and onto a HDD or SSD for editing.

File Systems

Not all drives organize your data the same way. It depends on the way they are formatted. The different types of organization are called File Systems. The file system of a drive can effect which operating systems you can use your drive with and how large the individual files on each drive can be. Below are some common ones:

  • HFS+ (Mac Extended Journaled)
    • Apple machines were historically formatted using the HFS+ file system. Data can only be read or written on Macs. Windows machines require special third-party software to interact with HFS+ drives. There is no realistic max file size.
  • APFS (Apple File System)
    • New Apple machines are formatted using the APFS file system. This format is ideal for Solid State Drive devices. Since this file system is rather new, it is possible that you may experience compatibility issues with Windows or experience unexpected behavior on a Hard Drive Disk (as opposed to a Solid State Disk).
  • NTFS
    • All Windows machines are formatted using the the NTFS file system. Macs can read NTFS drives but cannot write to them. Third-party software is required to write to them on a Mac. There is no realistic max file size.


  • FAT32
    • Most inexpensive flash drives and SD cards are formatted with this file system. This file system is designed for removable devices. FAT32 formatted drives have a max file size of 4GB(this is why a single video is split into multiple clips on some cameras). They can be used with both Mac and PC.


  • ExFAT
    • ExFAT is a more modern version of FAT32. It is also designed for removable devices. Unlike FAT32, there is no meaningful max file size. It can also be used with both Mac and PC, however, some older devices can’t read it. It is useful for external drives because it is cross-platform but is also known to cause problems to editors. ExFat also has a reputation of being unreliable. We suggest avoiding ExFat unless you need to access your media from both Mac and PC.

How to Format

In order to use any of these File Systems on a drive it has to be formatted . This means all your data is wiped and the drive is organized in the new file system. Again, all your data is wiped so be sure to have a backup before formatting.


On a Mac to format open Disk Utility. Plug in your drive and select it on the left. At the top of the window select erase. At this point a window will open asking you to name your drive and select your file system. Select “Erase” to format your drive.


On a Windows machine open Explorer and right click on your drive. Select format. Window will then open asking you to name your drive and select your file system. Select “Start” to format your drive.


Best File System For Editing

Keep any internal drive formatted as either NTFS on Windows or HFS+ (Mac Extended Journaled) on Mac. However, external drives can be any format. If you will be using exclusively Macs use HFS+ and if exclusively Windows use NTFS. However, many projects need to be accessed by both platforms. In this case ExFAT is a good file system for your external drive because it is cross-platform. The only downside is that ExFAT can cause problems with Avid occasionally.


Modern file systems like NTFS and HFS+ support a feature called permissions. ExFat and FAT32 do not support this. Permissions allow you to set who is able to read or write to a drive. Individual files and folders can also be setup to have permissions. This is useful when you want to share a file with someone but do not want them to modify it. Sometimes you may be unable to access a file because of its permission settings so it is important to know how to change them.


On a Mac right click on the drive or file in question. Click “Get Info”. A window will open and at the bottom you will see the Sharing and Permissions section. Here you can modify permissions. You will have to press the lock and enter an administrator password to make changes .


On a Windows machine right click on the drive or file in question. Click “Properties”. A window will open with tabs at the top. Select the “Security” tab. Click “Edit” to modify permissions. You will have to enter an administrator password to edit permissions.

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