What is the best external SSD for photo editing?

As a photographer, having a fast and reliable external SSD (solid state drive) is crucial for photo editing. When working with high-resolution RAW images, photo editing software like Photoshop and Lightroom can slow down significantly without enough speed and bandwidth. An external SSD helps improve workflow by reducing lag, crashing, and errors. But with so many SSD options on the market, how do you choose the right one? Here’s a comprehensive guide on picking the best external SSD for photo editing.

Benefits of Using an External SSD for Photo Editing

External SSDs have several key advantages over traditional external hard disk drives (HDDs):

  • Faster read/write speeds – SSDs have much faster data transfer rates, with sequential read/write speeds of up to 1050MB/s over USB 3.2 Gen 2×2. HDDs max out at around 120MB/s.
  • Better durability – SSDs have no moving parts, making them more resistant to damage from drops or shocks. HDDs rely on fragile spinning disks and pivoting heads.
  • Lower latency – SSDs can access data almost instantly, while HDDs require more time to spin up and find data. This translates to less lag when working on large files.
  • Lighter and more portable – SSDs are lighter than HDDs and do not need to spin, allowing for quieter operation.

For photo editing, faster speeds, lower latency, and greater durability mean you can import, edit, and export images more seamlessly without frustrating lag or unexpected crashes. The speed advantages are especially noticeable when working with RAW files upwards of 50MB each. Overall, external SSDs can save photographers and creative professionals significant time and hassle.

Key Factors in Choosing an External SSD

Here are the most important criteria to consider when selecting an external SSD for photo editing and design work:

Storage Capacity

How much storage capacity do you need? For professional photographers and videographers working with 20-50GB of RAW images at a time, 1TB or 2TB is recommended. For hobbyists, 500GB or 1TB is likely sufficient. Going for a higher capacity SSD gives you room to grow and ensures you don’t run out of space.

Interface Type

Faster interface types like USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 and Thunderbolt 3 provide transfer speeds up to 2500MB/s, while USB 3.2 Gen 2 caps out around 1050MB/s. Make sure your computer actually supports the fastest standards to take full advantage of the SSD’s capabilities.

Read and Write Speeds

Faster SSD read/write times enable quicker transferring and backing up of large batches of RAW images and video files. Look for sequential read/write speeds of at least 900/800 MB/s for the best performance.

Build Quality

Since external SSDs are portable and moved around frequently, physical durability is key. Check reviews to see that cases are made from materials like aluminum or silicone to withstand being carried around and used on location.

Data Protection Features

Photos and videos are invaluable assets, so make sure your SSD has features to protect those files. Water, dust, and shock resistance add physical protection against accidents, while 256-bit AES hardware encryption keeps your data secure if the drive gets lost or stolen.


A longer warranty of 3-5 years provides more coverage in case you encounter any manufacturing defects. This is especially important for drives that you plan to use for several years.

Software and Accessories

External SSDs aimed at creative pros often include helpful software like workflow optimization, backup tools, and WORM (write once, read many) file versioning. Some may even ship with Thunderbolt cables or other useful accessories.


External SSD storage is more expensive than HDDs, but prices have dropped significantly in recent years. Determine how much storage, speed, and features you need, then find the best value option within your budget.

The Best External SSDs for Photo Editing

Based on the criteria above, here are my top recommendations for external SSDs to improve photo editing.

Samsung T7 Touch

The Samsung T7 Touch is one of the fastest and most reliable portable SSDs thanks to its USB 3.2 Gen 2 interface, read/write speeds up to 1050/1000 MB/s, and AES 256-bit encryption. It has a sleek and durable aluminum unibody and an integrated fingerprint scanner for biometric security. With capacities up to 2TB, it’s ideal for photo editors, videographers, and creative professionals.

SanDisk Extreme Pro Portable SSD

For those needing max durability, the SanDisk Extreme Pro Portable SSD features up to 2TB capacity, read/write speeds up to 2000/2000 MB/s over USB 3.2 Gen 2×2, and an IP55 rating for dust and water resistance. It also includes 128-bit AES encryption and up to 2 meter drop protection. The unique carabiner loop makes it easy to attach to a bag or belt loop.

WD My Passport SSD

Western Digital’s My Passport SSD offers a more affordable external SSD option at just $119.99 for 512GB. Speeds top out at 1050MB/s with the USB 3.2 Gen 2 interface, and data protection includes 256-bit AES hardware encryption and up to 6.5 foot drop resistance. The sleek, compact drive has a textured ridged metal casing.

Seagate Barracuda Fast SSD

For photographers and videographers needing lots of storage on a budget, the Seagate Barracuda Fast SSD provides up to 2TB for under $250. Performance is snappy with USB 3.0 interface speeds up to 540MB/s read and 500MB/s write. The reversible USB-C cable allows hassle-free connectivity.

Glyph Atom RAID SSD

The Glyph Atom RAID SSD is an excellent option for the ultimate in speed and data protection. It uses blazing fast Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C connections, providing up to 2800MB/s transfer rates in RAID 0. Optional RAID 1 gives real-time data mirroring for maximum security against drive failure. Sizes go up to 4TB.

External SSD vs. Internal SSD: Which is Better for Photo Editing?

When choosing SSD storage, photographers and editors may wonder whether an external or internal drive is optimal for their workflow. Here’s a quick comparison of the pros and cons:

External SSD


  • More portable and convenient for working across different devices
  • Offer higher capacities than internal laptop drives
  • Typically utilize faster connections like USB 3.2 Gen 2 or Thunderbolt 3
  • Provide additional data backup and security


  • More expensive per GB compared to internal SSDs
  • Require cables and ports to connect to devices
  • Not as seamlessly integrated into file systems

Internal SSD


  • Faster read/write speeds from direct SATA/PCIe connections
  • Allow for cleaner builds without excess cables
  • Let you take full advantage of Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • Seamless user experience once installed in a system


  • Limited capacities in laptops, typically up to 2TB
  • Not bootable across machines and OSs like external drives
  • Require opening up computer case for installation
  • No protection if laptop is damaged, lost or stolen

For most photographers, an external SSD offers the best flexibility and performance for photo editing. But upgrading your laptop’s internal SSD is still a great way to give your system a snappier response when working with a local image library.

Tips for Using an External SSD for Photos

Follow these tips to make full use of your external SSD for photos:

  • Store your Lightroom catalog and RAW photo libraries on the external SSD to improve import and export speeds.
  • Make sure to use a USB 3.2 Gen 2 or Thunderbolt 3 port for fastest transfer rates.
  • Keep a copy of your images on a second backup drive as well in case of file corruption or SSD failure.
  • Utilize the SSD’s built-in encryption and password protection to secure your original images.
  • Eject and safely disconnect the external SSD after each usage to prevent data loss or corruption.
  • Consider a portable SSD with durable build and water/shock resistance for use in tough environments.


Investing in a high-performance external SSD can take your photo editing workflow to the next level. Faster read/write speeds, greater durability, and extra security features make external SSDs ideal for photographing editing and managing large RAW image catalogs. Just be sure to choose an SSD with enough speed, storage, and reliability features to suit your specific needs and budget. With options like the Samsung T7 Touch, SanDisk Extreme Pro, and Glyph Atom RAID covering a wide range of prices and capabilities, there’s an awesome external SSD out there for every photographer and creative professional.

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