Can I use external hard drive for video editing?

Using external hard drives for video editing and storage has become common practice for many editors and videographers. With the large file sizes of high-resolution video formats like 4K and 8K, as well as the memory-intensive requirements of editing software, internal computer storage can quickly become insufficient. External drives provide more flexibility and options for managing these storage needs. They allow for transporting files across different systems and serve as either primary scratch disks for active projects or as archival storage for finished projects. However, not all external drives are suited for the demanding workflow of professional video editing. Factors like drive speed, connection interfaces, HDD vs SSD, and RAID configuration need to be considered to build an optimal drive solution. This article provides an overview of using external hard drives for video editing and offers recommendations for drives best suited for different needs and budgets.

Video File Sizes

Video files take up an enormous amount of storage space, especially at high resolutions like 4K. For example, according to Reddit users on r/DataHoarder, a typical 4K movie can be 20GB or larger. Unencoded Blu-ray discs can be upwards of 60GB.

More specifically, a 1 minute 4K video at 30 fps takes about 350MB of storage, according to WinX DVD. So a 2 hour movie would require at least 42GB of space. At 60fps, the storage requirements are even higher.

The bottom line is that 4K video files are massive. This has major implications for selecting hard drives capable of handling video editing workflows.

Drive Speed Requirements

When editing video files, especially in high resolutions like 4K, you need drives with fast read and write speeds to ensure smooth playback and rendering. Most experts recommend a minimum sustained transfer speed of 100MB/s for HD video editing. For 4K video editing, the minimum recommended speed is around 250MB/s (Source:

HDDs tend to max out around 150MB/s, which is sufficient for 1080p editing but will struggle with 4K. SSDs are much faster, with speeds upwards of 500MB/s to 1,000MB/s for high-end NVMe drives. The interface also matters – Thunderbolt 3/4 and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 provide the bandwidth needed for peak drive speeds. In most cases an external SSD connected via Thunderbolt or the latest USB will provide the best performance for 4K editing (Source:

Thunderbolt vs USB

When it comes to speeds, Thunderbolt connections are significantly faster than USB connections for external hard drives. Thunderbolt 3 offers transfer speeds up to 40Gbps, while the fastest version of USB (USB 3.2 Gen 2×2) only offers 20Gbps. This means Thunderbolt has double the maximum bandwidth of USB.

In real-world usage for video editing, Thunderbolt hard drives can achieve read/write speeds of up to 2700 MB/s. In comparison, the fastest USB drives top out around 1000 MB/s. This makes a big difference when transferring and editing large video files.

Thunderbolt also provides up to 15W of power to connected devices, allowing some external hard drives to operate without a separate power connection. USB is more limited in the power it can deliver.

The downside of Thunderbolt is cost. Both the cables and interfaces are more expensive than USB alternatives. However, for professional video editing where transfer speed is a priority, Thunderbolt external drives are worth the premium.


HDD vs SDD for Video Editing

When choosing storage for video editing, a key consideration is whether to use a traditional hard disk drive (HDD) or a solid-state drive (SSD). Both have pros and cons for video editing workflows.

HDDs have higher capacities available at lower costs per gigabyte compared to SSDs. For example, 4TB HDDs often cost around $100 while 4TB SSDs still cost over $400. This makes HDDs appealing for storing large video files and projects (according to

However, SSDs are much faster at reading and writing data. SSDs have no moving parts, allowing faster access times of under 0.1 ms compared to HDDs’ 1-10 ms. The dramatically faster speeds of SSDs improve performance when loading, saving, scrubbing, and rendering video files. SSDs also consume less power.

For video editing, a combination HDD and SDD setup is recommended. Use the SSD as the primary drive for the operating system, applications, project files and cache/scratch disks. Then use one or more large HDDs for actual media storage and archiving (according to This balances speed and capacity at a reasonable cost.

RAID Configurations

When it comes to video editing, the RAID configuration you choose for your external hard drive can significantly impact performance. Here are some of the most common RAID setups and their benefits for video editing:


RAID 0, also known as disk striping, spreads data across two or more drives. This allows for faster read/write speeds since data can be accessed simultaneously from multiple disks. However, RAID 0 provides no redundancy. If one drive fails, all data will be lost.[1]


RAID 1 creates an exact copy of data on two or more disks. This provides full redundancy, as data can be accessed from the secondary disk if one fails. However, you lose storage capacity since the same data is duplicated on all disks.[1]


RAID 5 stripes data across multiple drives like RAID 0, but also dedicates one disk’s worth of space for parity information that can rebuild data if a drive fails. You get faster speeds along with redundancy, but lose some storage capacity.[1]


RAID 10 is a combination of RAID 1 and RAID 0, mirroring disks (redundancy) and striping data across the mirrored sets. This provides the speed of RAID 0 and the redundancy of RAID 1. However, it requires at least 4 disks.[1]


Drive Capacity

When it comes to drive capacity for video editing, more is generally better. Video files take up a massive amount of storage space, especially when working with high resolution formats like 4K or RAW video. For professional video editors working on long form projects, an external hard drive with at least 2TB of storage is recommended.

For independent filmmakers or YouTubers producing 4K content, a 4TB or 6TB external hard drive will provide ample space. The recommended drive capacity also depends on the length of the videos being edited. For prolific YouTubers producing lots of 5-10 minute 4K videos per week, 8TB+ drives are ideal.

On the high end, videographers working with RAW RED or ARRI footage should consider 10TB+ drives. RAID drive configurations can also help increase capacity and redundancy. Though large capacity external hard drives over 8TB used to be expensive, prices have dropped significantly in recent years. With the falling price per terabyte, it makes sense for video editors to invest in a spacious high capacity drive.

According to B&H Photo Video experts, the LaCie d2 Professional USB 3.1 Type-C External Hard Drive ( is a great option for video editing, available in capacities up to 10TB.


Portability is incredibly important if you plan on editing video outside of your home or office. Being able to easily transport your external hard drive to different locations for on-site editing can make a big difference in your workflow.

HDD drives tend to be more portable than SDDs because they don’t require any additional power cables. HDDs simply need to be plugged into your computer via Thunderbolt or USB. This makes them very easy to toss into your camera bag or backpack and take anywhere.

Some higher capacity HDDs may require an external power source, so keep that mind if portability is your priority. Lower capacity HDDs powered just by your laptop should give you the best portability.

External SSD drives tend to be smaller in physical size than HDDs, but the need for additional cabling makes them less seamless to transport. You’ll need to remember to pack the power cable and find an outlet at your editing location.

When it comes to portable external drives for video editing, HDDs tend to provide the simplest and most hassle-free experience. Just tuck the drive safely into your bag and go explore the world with your footage.

Budget Options

If you’re on a tight budget, investing in an expensive, high-performance RAID drive may not be feasible. Here are some more affordable external drive options for video editing:

  • Portable hard drives – A portable HDD like the Seagate Backup Plus Slim offers 1-2TB storage for under $60. While speeds max out around 120MB/s, it’s a cost-effective option for basic HD editing.

  • Desktop hard drives – For more storage and faster speeds, look to desktop external drives like the WD Elements Desktop at ~$100 for 3-4TB. Speeds reach upwards of 150MB/s.

  • External SSDs – An external SSD like the Samsung T5 provides fast 450MB/s speeds. A 1TB model costs around $110. Better for working with higher resolution formats.

  • Enclosures + hard drive – Buy an inexpensive HDD and an enclosure like the Sabrent EC-UASP for $10-20. This lets you build your own fast external storage more affordably.

While not as fast as Thunderbolt or multi-drive RAID systems, these single drive options deliver good performance for the price.Ideal for editors on a budget or working with lower resolution formats like HD.


When selecting an external hard drive for video editing, the best options balance performance, capacity, and budget. Here’s a summary of top picks:

  • For optimal speed, the Samsung T7 Portable SSD is a great Thunderbolt 3 drive. Though more expensive, its fast read/write speeds make it ideal for 4K workflows.

  • The WD My Book Duo offers massive capacity (up to 28TB) in an affordable HDD RAID array. It’s not as fast as an SSD but provides ample space for archives.

  • On a tight budget, the Toshiba Canvio Basics is a decent portable HDD. Speeds are slower but it’s lightweight and low-cost for basic editing needs.

  • The LaCie d2 Professional provides a good middle ground as a high-capacity desktop drive. With USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 support, it balances performance and price.

When evaluating options, consider your most common file formats, desired speed for live playback, and total storage needs. But with the right external drive, expanding beyond the limited space of internal laptop storage for video editing is convenient and cost-effective.