I just had a valued hard drive fail. I know it happens, but I still went through the eight emotional stages after data loss. 1. Disbelief: “This is a newer drive and it has to be a system problem. Let me try rebooting the computer.” (It still wouldn’t mount.) 2. Hope: “Let me try repairing disk permissions on the main drive and rebooting.” (Nope.) 3. Hope, the Sequel: “Let me try repairing it with DiskWarrior” (Uh-uh.) 4. Anger: “WTF!! I just bought this drive 137 days ago!” 5. Self-blame: “I should have bought my usual, trusted brand!” 6. Panic: “Did I back up my drive?” (I did.) 7. Acceptance and Hail Mary: “Okay, it’s gone, but is there another way to recover my data?” 8. Letting Go of the Reins: “Let’s go see Nick.”
Nick Shasserre is one of the smartest guys I work with. To break an aphorism, he’s a jack-of-all-trades and master of all. Of course, Nick had the “fix.” He ran Disk Drill on the failed drive and was able to copy all my data to a new drive. I hadn’t heard of Disk Drill, but it’s brilliant. It’s free for the basic version and only $89 for the Pro version. Because I had my files backed up, there was never a crisis, but Disk Drill averted a time-sucking hunt for data that was scattered across a server.
Then I got to work on rebuilding my crumbled data empire with a bit more organization and planning. Because I store large sessions almost every week, I go through a lot of data and drives. I need storage that is not only reliable but also portable and svelte enough to fit into a backpack. I also abhor wall warts, so bus-powered units are my preference. G-Technology drives have been my go-to product and have never failed me. But since I’m getting quite the collection, they’re becoming unwieldy and expensive.
So, I’ve been toying with buying a dock that uses raw SATA drives, the kind you find inside laptops and freestanding drive enclosures. Yes, the dock uses an external PS and breaks my rules for portability, but I can run two drives at once, make easy backups, and have compatible I/O for any situation—a good trade-off. I went with the Newer Tech Voyager Q HDD Dock for 2.5-inch/3.5-inch SATA drives ($67.75). Much like the 500 Series philosophy, this approach lets you buy the power supply and home unit once, and then buy plug-in drives more affordably. For example, my emergency replacement drive for the Disk Drill transfer was a G-Technology G-DRIVE Mobile 1TB Portable FireWire and USB 3 for $109.05. But I bought a Western Digital Red 3TB hard drive for my new dock at the same price. That’s only $36.65 per TB compared to 109.95 per TB for the portable.
So what are the best raw drives? That’s where it gets interesting. If you Google “drive failure stats,” you’ll come up with a great archive of drive performance statistics from Backblaze. That’s the company I wrote about back in my May issue column. They offer unlimited continuous cloud backup of all your drives for $50 a year. Their report from Q1 2016 is taken from 61,590 operational hard drives and over a billion drive hours. While the tables are useful, offering operational data on many different models, you need to be careful about interpreting the results. By their admission, “Failure rates with a small number of failures can be misleading. For example, the 8.65% failure rate of the Toshiba 3TB drives is based on one failure. That’s not enough data to make a decision.”
The drives that tested best are the Western Digital RED series and HGST drives. They performed very well over time, with a consistent failure rate at 1 percent for more than 20,000 drives sampled over two years. On Amazon, HGST sells a 3.5-inch 4TB 7,200rpm SATA drive for $164.24. That’s $41.06 per TB. One note of caution if you go the way of the dock: Handle with care. Transport and handle the drive in the antistatic bag, and make sure to discharge yourself on a nearby metal surface before placing the drive in the dock. Because these drives are usually mounted inside an enclosure or computer, they were never designed to be handled day to day and could be damaged by a static charge.
Other data drama in my world is the result of bandwidth. I’ve always felt the frustration that the U.S. is third on the list of Internet users, yet outside the top 10 list of global average connection speeds. I felt the speed issue recently when I ran a live Pro Tools cloud collaboration session between Blackbird’s Studio C and the home studio of percussionist Javier Solis in Texas. It was a Pro Tools 12.5 Project session of 10 stereo, 96kHz stems over which Javier supplied percussion overdubs.
We ran FaceTime for communication, and despite some bandwidth hiccups, the experience was great. It showed the potential of cloud collaboration within the DAW, which is the future. The drag was iffy FaceTime and slow up and down. I’ve been fantasizing about how well this would work over Google Fiber, something I thought was coming soon, being that Nashville has a nest of budding fiberhoods. That is until I got an email from Google stating: “We have, like many of you, been disheartened by the incredibly slow progress.” The grimmest stat is that of the 44,000 utility polls that need “make ready” work, only 33 poles have been made ready. Yikes! The backstory is that the other cable providers are not accommodating the new fiber-kid in town. In fact, they’re pulling away from a fiber-future all together. So best-in-class Internet speed is “hurry up and wait” but I’m not feeling confident it’s going to happen unless I move to a new-construction fiberhood—and that ain’t gonna happen. Rats.