In a recent post, we explored the pros and cons of Time Machine and iCloud as data storage methods. While both are great offerings from Apple, neither is meant for serious data storage. They’re built around protecting and accessing your data rather than preserving it.
Which brings us to today’s article. In this post, we’re going to break down the best tools currently available for data hoarding, as well as the tools that might be used in the future.
If you’re not sure if you should be using Blu-Ray, SSDs, HDDs, or NAS drives, this article will help you find the solution that’s right for you.
Let’s get started!
- Understanding your data hoarding options
- Which is best for storing data?
- Glass, DNA, and the future of data storage
Understanding your data hoarding options
First things first, you need to know what your options are and how each works. We’re going to go through four: SSDs, HDDs, NAS drives, and Blu-Ray discs. While there are more options on the market, these four are the most popular and practical.
What is an SSD?
SSDs are probably the first storage option you’ll come across, even if you’re not looking for them. That’s because in 2020, SSDs are the go-to storage option (aside from the cloud, but more on that later).
Short for Solid-State Drive, SSDs use flash memory to store your data. Without getting too technical, SSDs store data using electrons. If a space on an SSD board holds an electron, then it is a “0”; otherwise, it’s a “1”. This allows you to store binary data, which is what computers read.
Because SSDs use electrons, there are no moving parts. This is why you might hear a whirring sound coming from an older computer but not from a flash drive. Thanks to a lack of moving parts, SSDs are fast, reliable, durable, and long-lasting.
What is an HDD?
An HDD, short for Hard Disc Drive, is the type of data storage that preceded SSDs. While it stored data using completely different science, the underlying principles are largely the same.
Rather than using electrons, HDDs use magnets. Inside a hard drive is a spinning disc. By magnetizing each point on this disc (or demagnetizing it) the disc can be read by a computer as a series of ones and zeroes.
While it may sound strange, this was surprisingly effective, as things don’t lose their magnetism until you demagnetize them. This made HDDs a reasonably reliable storage solution – unless you happened to touch your hard drive with a magnet.
What is NAS?
NAS, short for Network-Attached Storage, can use either an HDD or an SSD to store data; the NAS itself doesn’t use a unique data storage method. Instead, it’s the transfer of data that is unique.
You can think of NAS as cloud storage for your home. You connect the NAS drive to your router, and then you can upload, download, stream, or back up data to it as you please.
NAS drives aren’t as popular with mainstream consumers as HDDs and SSDs because they require a bit more technical know-how to set up. Once set up, however, they are a great alternative to commercial cloud solutions.
What is Blu-Ray?
And that brings us to Blu-Ray! It may sound odd to hear Blu-Rays described as a storage device, but they’re quite a robust. For those who don’t know, Blu-Ray discs are the tech that replaced DVDs in the optical storage industry.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but in short, the surface of a Blu-Ray is made up of a spiral filled with “pits”. These pits can be marked or erased by a laser to make ones and zeroes, allowing them to store binary data.
Blu-Rays use a new(ish) technology that allows you to store ten times the amount of data that could be stored on DVDs. At the time of writing, the average Blu-Ray disc can hold up to 50GB of storage, though it’s predicted that this amount could increase to 200GB in the future.
Which is best for storing data?
Now that we know how each of these works, it’s time to decide which is best for your data storage needs. It would be convenient if one method was plainly superior over the rest, but truthfully, there are pros and cons to every model. Some will be more compatible, while others will be cheaper, while others will be longer-lasting.
Below, we’ve put each storage method against its natural competitor so that you can easily weigh the pros and cons for yourself.
SSD vs. HDD
First up is SSDs vs HDDs. These are the go-to data storage options for several reasons. Each is affordable, relatively reliable, and easily compatible with any device you own.
That said, there are some differences.
The biggest difference is durability. Because HDDs use a spinning disc, they can easily break. They are bound to break on their own within ten years, and will most likely fail before they hit five years of use. Additionally, they break fairly easily when dropped or jostled to roughly.
SSDs, on the other hand, are much more robust. Dropping them or tossing them in a backpack is unlikely to cause any serious damage. They last a bit longer than HDDs, making it to 7-10 years easily.
However, SSDs are also more prone to error and data degradation, so they are not recommended for long-term storage. They’re also more expensive than HDDs, as the technology is newer and still being refined.
SSDs are a more durable, modern solution than HDDs, but they’re also more likely to corrupt or delete your files. However, neither option is well-suited to holding onto your data forever. Purchase one of these if you plan on backing up your data and replacing the drive every five to six years.
Cloud vs. NAS
As mentioned, NAS drives are like having an at-home cloud service. But how do they stack up against commercial cloud storage services like iCloud?
First, it’s important to remember that NAS drives use either HDDs or SSDs to store data, so they’ll only last as long as the drive they’re using. Some come with replaceable drives, but the point stands that you’ll need to take precautions for when your NAS drive inevitably fails.
That’s where commercial cloud services succeed. When you store a file in iCloud, you are basically guaranteed to never lose that file. Apple stores your files on a server, which backs up your files to several other servers, which are all maintained and replaced on a routine schedule.
You could create a similar setup at home with a NAS drive. It would be more costly upfront, but you would be able to skip the monthly fees (and privacy concerns) that come with cloud services.
NAS requires the most investment and commitment upfront, but it also has the best payoff. If you want a simple storage solution, commercial cloud services provide an affordable and flexible option.
Blu-Ray vs. Thumb Drives
Lastly, we have Blu-Ray and thumb drives. When we say “thumb drives” we’re talking about the USB sticks you can pick up from the grocery store that have anywhere from 8GB of storage to 100GB.
Thumb drives use flash memory, the same as SSDs, so the same concerns will apply here. You’ll want to back up your data and replace your thumb drives every five years or so to avoid losing any files. That said, they’re a cheap, convenient, and ubiquitous solution, not to mention they’re compact and easy to store.
But what about Blu-Rays?
In terms of archival storage (i.e., storing data and leaving it alone for decades) Blu-Ray wins. You can leave a Blu-Ray disc sitting in a stable environment for over fifty years with no worries of data corruption or loss. They’re also compact, easy to store, and super affordable. At 50GB a disc, you can get a terabyte of storage for less than $100.
However, you’re also storing things on discs, and while it doesn’t seem so long ago that this was normal, the truth is that it’s quickly becoming dated. I doubt too many readers even own a computer that can read and write to a Blu-Ray disc.
When it comes to data archival, Blu-Ray is the best option available in terms of durability and longevity. However, there’s no guarantee that you’ll have a way to read the data you store on Blu-Rays fifty years from now. Thumb drives offer a simple, affordable solution and are about as minimal as you can ask for.
Glass, DNA, and the future of data storage
The same way that VHS was replaced by DVDs which were replaced by Blu-Rays, I can predict with confidence that SSDs and HDDs are likely to be replaced by something superior in the future. In fact, data scientists are already pouring their efforts into replacing the storage methods of today.
One of the most exciting areas of research is around glass. By laser-etching data into glass in five dimensions, scientists can store 360 terabytes of data on the same surface area as a CD. Additionally, data stored in glass is predicted to last up to 13.8 billion years, which is older than the universe itself. Assuming, of course, that you don’t smash the glass.
Another area of data science is looking to store files in DNA. While the science is a bit complex, the principles remain: Create a sequence in DNA that translates into ones and zeroes. Similar to glass, DNA lasts for hundreds of thousands of years, is infinitely abundant in our world, and can store an immense amount of data.
According to John Hawkins, a researcher in DNA data storage, “You could fit the entire internet in a shoebox [using DNA].”
Pretty exciting stuff. But until we’re able to graft the internet onto our eyes, you’re going to have to choose between the storage options listed in this article.
As always, we hope you found this useful! Be sure to check out the rest of AppleToolBox’s blog for Apple-centric tips and sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly updates.
What’s the cheapest way to store data?
A free cloud storage solution like Google Drive is the cheapest way to store data. For larger amounts of data, here are what your costs are going to look like:
- SSD: $0.25/GB
- HDD: $0.03/GB
- Blu-Ray: $0.04/GB
These prices were averaged from external storage devices on Amazon.com. Keep in mind that prices will differ when comparing features, brands, compatibility, etc.
What’s the difference between HDD and SSD?
An HDD, or Hard Disc Drive, uses a spinning disc and magnets to store data. An SSD uses electrons and a silicon board. It has no moving parts, which makes it faster and more durable than HDD storage. However, it’s also more expensive.
How long do SSDs last?
SSDs last anywhere from five to ten years, with most lasting closer to ten. SSDs typically don’t break but instead experience data rot, wherein the data you have stored starts to degrade.
How long do HDDs last?
HDDs will usually last six to seven years before failing. These failures are typically the result of the hardware itself breaking down, which is due to the moving components within the HDD.
An HDD that is not being used daily will still breakdown eventually due to data rot, though this won’t occur until around ten years.
How long do Blu-Rays last?
Blu-Rays have a projected lifespan of fifty years, though some manufactures claim they can last over one hundred years. The lifespan of a Blu-Ray depends on how well it’s cared for. Keep it out of direct light and humidity, avoid rewriting or “burning” data to it, and create new copies of your Blu-Ray discs every ten or so years to avoid losing the data.