Storage (you might think of it as memory) is a fundamental component of virtually all consumer electronics. When you think storage, the classic example is computers. Without storage, all your files disappear the instant you turn off the computer, making storage critical. The number of files and size of files you can store on your PC is dependent on storage capacity, while how quickly you can load those files depends largely on the speed of the storage. Having sufficient storage also makes it easier to keep your files and media organized (think walk-in closet versus a crowded wardrobe). Want to take files with you? The easiest way is by using portable storage.
In other words, stay on top and ahead of your storage needs.
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There are three primary digital storage technologies in widespread use today: hard disk drives, solid state storage and cloud storage.
Hard Disk Drive (HDD)
Hard disk drives are the traditional storage choice for computers. They are mechanical, with a read/write head moving back and forth across a rapidly spinning disk with a magnetized coating. Hard drive mechanisms usually come in two form factors: 2.5-inches (for laptops) and 3.5-inches (for desktop PCs). The faster the hard drive spins, the faster a computer can read and write data. Typical hard drive speeds are 7200 rpm for 3.5-inch drives and 5400 rpm for 2.5-inch drives.
While SSDs are increasingly common in laptops, HDDs remain popular wherever inexpensive, high capacity storage is required.
Solid State (SSD, Flash drives and memory cards)
Solid state storage gets its name from the fact that it stores data in flash memory chips—there are no moving parts.
This makes solid-state storage fast, silent, reliable and also uses less power. The tradeoff with solid-state storage is cost: at lower capacities, it’s become very affordable but high capacity solid-state storage remains more expensive than HDD storage.
Solid state storage is available in multiple form factors.
SSDs (or solid state drives) are made to take the place of a hard drive in laptop or PC. As such the SSDs are usually encased in a 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch enclosure. although some laptops are now ditching that enclosure and using a blade-style SSD (which looks like a DRAM stick) since doing so saves considerable space and connects to the faster PCIe slot. Upgrading a computer from HDD to SSD storage is one of the easiest ways to greatly increase its speed and maximum SSD capacity has increased tremendously with 1TB and up now available.
If an SSD is too costly (especially for mass storage), some manufacturers offer hybrid drives that combine a small SSD for fast system performance with a traditional HDD for bulk storage. For example, Toshiba offers an affordable 1TB hybrid laptop drive that combines HDD mass storage with SSD speed, and automatic storing of frequently used files in flash memory.
Memory cards. Used primarily by devices like digital cameras, some smartphone and tablets, and portable game systems, memory cards offer fast flash storage in a very small package. Memory cards are available in a variety of formats including SD, micro SD, SHDC, SDXC and Compact Flash. It’s important to check which of those formats your device is compatible with. Memory cards range in capacity anywhere from 4GB to 200GB.
Speed is an important consideration with memory cards, especially when they’re being used to store photos or video from a camera or camcorder. Speed ranges from Class 2 (2MB/s) to Class 10 (10MB/s). In terms of shooting video, Class 10 is recommended for Full HD or use with a DSLR, while the new UHS Class 3 (30MB/s) is recommended for 4K video. Pick a card that’s too slow and it won’t be able to keep up with your camera as it shoots, leading to frustrating pauses while data is written.
Thumb drives (or flash drives). These very handy storage options put flash storage inside a compact and highly portable case.
Cloud Storage Solutions
It’s increasingly common for tech companies to offer cloud storage options. Microsoft and Apple offer OneDrive and iCloud storage for free with their operating systems, but beyond the basic free level (typically 5GB), you have to pay a subscription fee.
Cloud storage is very handy to have—it’s great for offsite backups and can make remote access of your data easier—but local storage is much faster and usually more convenient.
Capacity: how much do you need?
This is always a key question when choosing storage: how much do you need?
That is going to vary tremendously depending on the device you need the storage for, and what you’re doing with it. However, file sizes are continually getting larger. One minute of 4K video shot on your smartphone can generate a 375MB file. A single Xbox One game install can take up 50GB of storage space or more. A photo shot on a DSLR and saved in RAW format can result in a 25MB file.
The chart below gives a rough idea of how many files of different types will fit within a specific storage capacity. However, there are always additional variables at play, including space that may be used by the operating system—so make sure to leave yourself plenty of room when estimating your needs. Generally speaking, when it comes to storage there’s no such thing as too much. Overestimating your space needs is always better than underestimating.
|What can you store?|
|Digital Videos 1080p and 4K
|Full HD Digital Movies||Digital Photos||Game Installs|
|64 GB||up to 10,000||8 hours FHD, 2 hours+ 4K||12||4,900||3|
|256 GB||up to 40,000||33 hours FHD, 11+ hours 4K||50||19,700||12|
|500 GB||up to 80,000||64 hours FHD, 22+ hours 4K||100||38,500||25|
|1.0 TB||up to 160,000||128 hours FHD, 44 hours 4K||200||77,000||50|
|3.0 TB||up to 480,000||384 hours FHD, 132 hours 4K||600||231,000||150|
|Based on 30 fps video shot with iPhone||Based on 1080p purchased digital movie||Based on highest quality jpg photos on mid-range DSLR||Based on 20GB video game install|
How do you connect your device to storage? That depends on the device and the type of storage.
Memory cards slide into a special slot in a camera, smartphone or tablet and some PCs have this slot as well. Otherwise, you can use a USB adapter to access a memory card. Internal HDDs and SSDs connect directly to a computer or game console’s SATA or PCIe connector.
External storage typically connects to devices using a USB 3.0 cable, while some newer generation devices offer USB-C connectivity. This thumb drive from Sony offers both USB-A and USB-C connectors. Thunderbolt is sometimes offered, especially with external storage solutions aimed at Mac users. It’s also possible to find external hard drives that connect to devices wirelessly, while others—called NAS drives—are physically attached to your router and accessible over your Wi-Fi network.
There are many cases when you’d want to be able to take your data with you, or move it from device to device. That’s why portable storage is so popular.
The thumb drive is ubiquitous when it comes to portable storage. USB thumb drives are small, inexpensive and because they use solid-state storage, they’re also fast and durable. That makes them perfect for applications like students bringing assignments to and from school. Thumb drives range in capacity from 8GB to 256GB.
External hard drives are the storage of choice for data backups, or moving large amounts of data between sites. Typically they use USB 3.0 connectivity. Portable versions are easy to carry and some are ruggedized to make them more durable. External drives are typically equipped with HDD storage in their case—for cost and capacity reasons—but external SSDs are beginning to make their way into the marketplace. These are smaller, lighter and far faster than standard HDD external drives.
Take the Next Step
Now that you understand the advantages of the different storage options, it’s time to decide what capacity you need, then check out Best Buy’s huge selection of storage solutions for your computers, cameras, game consoles, tablets and other devices. Check out memory cards, thumb drives, SSDs, gaming hard drives, and other storage solutions.