When it comes to building your ideal computer, one of the most underrated and overlooked parts of the build is your data storage solution. The amount of storage you want for your computer is relatively up to you, and the trends of how much storage is needed for any particular type of user does change over time. However, a much more overlooked part of data storage is how it can be organized in your system and optimized for your work. Most people are used to having just one storage drive and having everything on it — operating system, programs, documents, games, etc. However, with the use of either partitions or additional drives, there are gradual levels of storage optimization you can implement into your setup. Whether you are a general computer user, a gamer, a streamer, or even a professional content creator, these tips can help you out.
Here are a couple of housekeeping tips before we go into the storage optimization levels.
Partitions vs Additional Drives
A disk partition is an OS-based solution that helps you divide the total storage on your drive into multiple volumes. Both Windows and Mac have disk management software built-in for you to use this feature. This can be helpful if you want to keep your documents secure and separate from your programs without paying more for another drive. People with laptops definitely benefit from this approach. Say, for example, you have your OS and programs on Volume C, and your documents and important files are on Volume D. In the case of partitions, should anything happen software-wise to volume C (like ransomware or malware), your documents on D will not be affected. However, if your drive were to ever have a MECHANICAL failure, EVERYTHING on your drive will be in danger. Even if your drive has multiple partitions, every single one of them will be affected.
This brings us to the option of buying additional drives. This may cost more money, but having documents on a separate physical drive is more secure than having them on a partition. Because, should your OS drive be affected by a software or hardware failure, your documents drive will still be safe and can be moved and read on another system that can read your drive’s file format. PLEASE NOTE: If you want a drive to be read by both Windows and Mac Systems, formatting it to exFAT or getting a Mac software like NTFS Paragon will help. And, unless you download some questionable stuff on that drive and you don’t have any kind of antivirus software installed on it (Bitdefender is a great option by the way), you are less likely to face a problem on that drive than you are on your boot drive.
External Backup and Redundancy
Regardless of what your computer’s storage solution is, having an external backup of your files is the most secure way to keep your files from danger. Any drive — even an SSD, which is faster and more secure than a hard drive — can undergo a failure. The backup can be on an external hard drive or even a cloud storage service. Microsoft and Apple have been marketing their own cloud storage services — OneDrive and iCloud, respectively. However, much like Dropbox and Google Drive, the cost can fill up pretty quickly, and those solutions are really only suitable for temporary document storage where you want to access them from multiple devices. If you want a purely archival cloud storage solution where you won’t be charged for how much storage you want and you don’t need to have consistent access to those saved files from the cloud, something like Backblaze will be more up your alley. They cost $60 a year, and they give you unlimited storage.
But, if you feel more comfortable having storage archives in your own hands, a massive external hard drive or multi-drive array enclosure such as a NAS (Network-Attached Storage) can be a great option. These operate independently from your system, and they can be calibrated to back up your files automatically through software. But, make sure to have some form of REDUNDANCY in these enclosures. This means all the drives in your array should be IDENTICAL in manufacturer and capacity, and having multiples of them connected together can give varying levels of speed and protection. Redundancy comes in the form of RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks). Not to be confused with the storage optimization levels, here are the RAID levels:
RAID 0: For a NAS, NEVER use this. Unless you only care about increased speed across multiple drives, you will not get any reliability or security.
RAID 1: No matter how many drives you put in your array, you will get the performance and capacity of one drive. This is all about reliability, but most people would just get two drives for this config since it’s the most cost-effective.
RAID 10: This requires at least four drives, and you will get the capacity of half of all drives but extra performance across the array. As long as the number of drives is an even number, this will work. But, no matter how big it is, this will only survive ONE drive failure.
RAID 5 and 6 require additional raid controllers (which some branded NAS systems like the ones from Synology and QNAP will already have), but these will give you more accessible storage for your money. Your failsafe in these configs is one and two drive failures respectively. This is constant, no matter how many drives you put into the array. RAID 5 and 6 require a minimum of three and four disks respectively. And, because of how spread out the arrays can be in this configuration, the performance can be slower when you are saving files. Reading files will still be fine, though.
Regardless of what you do, it helps to follow the overused yet important 3–2–1 rule of backup. Save your files in 3 places, store them on 2 different types of storage media, and have 1 of them offsite. By this account, having an external backup storage array next to your main system AND a cloud storage service like Backblaze is the ideal solution for file security. It may cost more, but paying upfront for security is a better idea than paying loads of cash down the road to get your data back in the event of a major data loss.
With all of that out of the way, let’s get into some storage configs. Please note that I won’t give recommendations on storage drive capacities since that is kind of up to you — based on your personal preference, budget, and how much work you are doing or planning to do. Let’s dive in.
LEVEL 0 — ONE STORAGE DRIVE (Baseline) — SSD (Preferably)
This is where most people start. Usually, it’s from buying a laptop or building a computer for less than $500. If you can afford it, an SSD will be way faster than a hard drive. The capacity will be less for the price, but these days you can get a 500gb SSD for less than $100. You will thank yourself later for the extra speed you have in using your operating system. Now, technically, the other levels I will mention can be accomplished using partitions on your one storage drive. However, most starting computers don’t have a lot of storage to divide up into realistically sized parts, and you may need external drives to make up for it. At this level, if you have any important documents, an external storage device or cloud storage should be MANDATORY.
LEVEL 1 — TWO DRIVES (General Use/Gaming) — SSD + HDD
For most people, this is all you will pretty much need. You would use an SSD for your operating system and mandatory programs, while your mechanical disk has a higher capacity and is used for documents as well as large files such as games.
One optional thing you could do to boost the performance of file management is getting an SSHD or Hybrid Drive, instead of a hard drive. This is basically a hard drive with SSD cache built-in, which will boost writing speeds to your hard drive for the most frequent files. It won’t make your mechanical disk as fast as an SSD, but it’s more time saved, regardless. This could even work as an upgrade down the line for LEVEL 0 users who don’t have an SSD. A cheaper way of getting SSD cache would actually be getting something like an Intel Optane chip, which is an M.2 card designed specifically for this function.
LEVEL 2 — THREE DRIVES (Streamer/Content Creator) — SSD + 2 HDD
If you’re a video game streamer and/or content creator, you will know that video files, depending on how high the quality of a camera you have, can be large. And, if you have them on your game drive, you will soon not be able to have enough room to download more games without uninstalling some of the old ones. To combat this, it makes sense to get a second mass storage drive dedicated to video and audio files that you use to make videos you will post online. In fact, this drive can also be the same drive you store your documents on since it is basically the “work” drive at this point.
LEVEL 3 — FOUR DRIVES (Content Creator/Music Producer) — 2 SSD + 2 HDD
The main draw you should get from this config is the second SSD. If you’re a music producer, you would know that having a drive to store all your audio plugins/samples and being able to access them at a moment’s notice is crucial to your work. This even applies to video editors who want to use some fancy plugins to make their videos sound fantastic. Having an SSD for these plugins will definitely boost your performance and save yourself some time.
The second hard drive is in there, just in case you want to play games or watch downloaded movies and shows in your free time. But, if that’s not important to you or you have another system for that (like, say, a game console), you could save some money and not get the other drive. Or, the second hard drive could be identical to and paired with the first hard drive in a RAID 1 setup, which will actually make your projects more secure outside of a backup.
LEVEL 4 — FIVE DRIVES (Multi-faceted Prosumer) — 3 SSD + 2 HDD
If you’re doing multiple things in the creative field (video editing, music, graphic design, etc.) all at once, you are bound to accumulate a ton of storage space, and that is a lot of time spent on work. Therefore, having an SSD dedicated to projects can help tremendously. You will be able to access them quickly, and they will be easier to organize in the file manager — especially when they are physically separate from all your other files and miscellaneous downloads. This would mean that the hard drive that was once for projects will now be used as a mass storage archive drive. Depending on your budget, you probably will not be able to get an SSD the same size as your archive hard drive without spending a ton of cash. So, when your projects SSD eventually gets full, you can move those projects to the Archive hard drive and be ready for the next wave of projects, while still being able to access past projects, should the occasion arise.
LEVEL 5 — SEVEN+ DRIVES (Professional Home Studio) — 4 SSD + 3 HDD + Your heart’s content
This has everything in LEVEL 4, but it also has additions that might be necessary if your budget can afford this level. I did previously mention the idea of SSD cache. In a professional environment where you are making content, another name for this is Scratch Disk. Programs like Adobe Premiere Pro have this feature where you can have a temporary holding of certain files while you are working on really huge projects. Other programs in other fields have a similar workaround that can be used to your advantage. Having a dedicated SSD scratch disk for projects can definitely shave off more time in your work and make your workflow more efficient.
Another thing about professional workspaces, even if they are in your own home, is that a lot of the stuff is time-based, top-secret, and crucial to you for making money. Not to mention, your actual hardware may be valuable to some wannabe thief that might break-in. Therefore, having some DIY surveillance camera system to monitor all your fancy stuff (and by extension, your COMPUTER AND DATA) in your studio might be worth the investment. I’m not talking about Nest Cam or Ring Camera. I’m talking about using cheap inexpensive cameras with a piece of software like ContaCam. And, you may want to record everything that happens when you are away and store the records somewhere. So, having a third hard drive specifically for that purpose will be just right for you.
As for any other drives you put into your computer build, it’s honestly up to you. If you want to duplicate any of the drives in your config to make RAID setups, go for it. If you want to add dedicated drives to operate virtual machines separate from your OS, that’s also an option. LEVEL 5 is the be-all-end-all LEVEL for storage optimization.
Whatever your ideal config is, the point is to keep your files organized and have a system that is necessary and easy to follow. As I have shown you, storage can get pretty crazy pretty quickly. But, if your field calls for it, taking the time to research your situation and spending the NECESSARY amount of cash to maximize your setup will be worth the trouble. Hope this was helpful. I thank you for reading all the way to the end. If you have any thoughts or you would like to add anything else that I may have missed, please leave a comment down below.