With the massive file sizes involved with video editing, having enough storage space and fast data transfer speeds are crucial for a smooth editing workflow. Many video editors are turning to external solid state drives (SSDs) for both additional storage capacity and improved performance compared to traditional hard disk drives (HDDs). But can you actually edit video files directly from an external SSD? Let’s take a closer look at the benefits and potential drawbacks.
The Benefits of Using an External SSD for Video Editing
There are a few key advantages that make an external SSD a good option for video editing storage:
- Faster access speeds – SSDs provide much faster read/write speeds compared to HDDs, thanks to flash memory and no moving parts. This improves previewing, scrubbing, and exporting timelines.
- Better reliability – External SSDs are less prone to damage or corruption from drops, bumps, vibration, etc. Solid state drives have no internal moving parts.
- Portability – External SSDs are small, lightweight, and don’t require external power. Easy to move projects between editing machines.
- Noise-free operation – No distracting spinning disk or mechanical sounds.
- Low latency – The faster data transfer reduces latency while editing, especially with high resolution footage.
For these reasons, an external SSD can make an excellent scratch disk for holding active project files. The speed advantages are most noticeable when working with processor-intensive formats like H.264, HEVC, and high resolution raw footage.
Potential Drawbacks of Using an External SSD
However, there are some limitations to be aware of:
- Lower capacities – External SSDs currently max out at around 8-16TB, while HDDs go up to 60TB+. Need to consider total storage needs.
- Higher cost per GB – SSDs are more expensive than similar sized HDDs. Budget is a factor.
- No built-in RAID support – To implement a RAID array for redundancy, you need to use a specialized multi-disk RAID enclosure.
- Interface bottlenecks – The transfer protocol used (USB, Thunderbolt, etc) can limit maximum speeds. Interface bandwidth is important.
While external SSD capacity and cost are improving, HDDs still offer greater storage potential for archiving completed projects. An external SSD is best suited for active editing, while large HDDs provide affordable long-term storage.
How to Use an External SSD for Video Editing
If you decide an external SSD meets your needs in terms of capacity, speed, and budget, here are some tips for setup and use:
- Connect the external SSD via a fast interface like Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 4, USB 3.2 Gen 2×2, or USB4. This prevents interface bandwidth from bottlenecking drive speeds.
- Format the drive in a high-performance format like APFS (Mac) or NTFS (Windows). Avoid exFAT or FAT32 as they are slower.
- Set the external SSD as your primary scratch disk in your NLE media settings. Spreading the scratch cache over multiple disks can improve performance.
- Ensure TRIM support is enabled for optimal speeds. May require 3rd party utilities on Windows.
- Avoid file fragmentation. Periodically optimize/defrag the drive.
- Make redundant backups of critical project files. While reliable, SSDs can still fail unexpectedly.
Video Editing Program Considerations
Some additional tips when using common non-linear editing programs with an external SSD:
Adobe Premiere Pro
- Leverage Premiere Pro’s built-in proxy workflow to edit high-res media stored on the external SSD more smoothly.
- Adjust sequence settings to lower resolutions while editing to reduce strain on SSD bandwidth and I/O speeds.
- Use separate scratch disks for peak data redundancy. Spread media cache, capture scratch, and export files across multiple disks.
- With Resolve’s FAST IMPORT feature, transcode source media to an optimized editing codec like ProRes or DNxHD when offloading from the camera to the external SSD.
- Use Resolve Color Management and optimized media for smooth editing, grading, and rendering performance.
- If using a USB SSD, ensure the port supports UASP for added performance benefits in Resolve on Windows systems.
Final Cut Pro X
- Create ProRes Proxy editing files when importing high resolution media from cards into FCPX. Proxy files can reside on the external SSD while originals are stored on an HDD.
- Set the SSD as the designated FCPX library location for best performance.
- Make use of FCPX background processes like optimized media generation, proxy creation, and rendering to keep exports running smoothly.
External SSD Recommendations
When evaluating external SSDs for video editing, look for models with fast real-world sustained read/write speeds at least over 500MB/s, sufficient capacity for your needs, and Thunderbolt 3 or better connectivity.
Here are some top-rated options to consider from major brands:
|External SSD||Interface||Max Read Speed||Max Capacity|
|Samsung T7 Touch||Thunderbolt 3||1050 MB/s||2TB|
|WD Black P50||Thunderbolt 3||2000 MB/s||4TB|
|SanDisk Extreme Pro Portable SSD||USB 3.2 Gen 2×2||2000 MB/s||4TB|
|G-Technology G-DRIVE mobile Pro||Thunderbolt 3||2800 MB/s||2TB|
|Glyph Atom Pro||Thunderbolt 3||1400 MB/s||4TB|
There are also more affordable external SATA SSD options in the $100-$200 range that connect via USB 3.2 Gen 2 or Thunderbolt 3. While not as blazing fast, these can still deliver good real-world speeds around 500-600MB/s.
M.2 NVME SSDs with Enclosures
Another high performance external SSD option gaining popularity is using an M.2 NVME stick SSD combined with a compatible enclosure or adapter cable. This allows connecting new generation PCIe Gen 3 or Gen 4 M.2 drives over Thunderbolt or USB.
With transfer rates reaching up to 2800MB/s, these compact builds can match or even outperform some prepackaged Thunderbolt SSDs. However, you have to factor in the added cost of both the M.2 drive and enclosure.
Some examples of fast M.2 NVME SSD sticks ideal for video editing include:
- Samsung 980 Pro
- WD Black SN850
- Seagate FireCuda 520
- Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus
- Corsair MP600 Pro LP
Matched with a compatible Thunderbolt 3 or USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 enclosure like those from Sabrent, Plugable, Orico, or StarTech, you can build a DIY external SSD with great speeds for video editing use.
While HDDs still own bulk storage duties, external SSDs are an increasingly popular option for video editing thanks to their lightening fast speeds, reliability, and portability. Models with sufficient capacity connected via fast interfaces like Thunderbolt 3 provide real productivity benefits when it comes to previewing, scrubbing, and exporting media timelines.
When shopping for an external SSD, look for reputable brands and models optimized for sustained read/write performance. Thunderbolt 3 and the latest USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 interfaces can fully take advantage of the extra bandwidth SSDs provide. With the right external solid state drive as your primary scratch disk, you can significantly smooth out your video editing workflow.