Post Production

A Q and A about those hard drive docking stations we all use

Are they good? Bad? Dangerous? Will you lose data?

If you work in post-production then chances are you have one (or more) hard drive docking stations and a slew of bare hard drives to insert into the dock. They are very affordable, come with many different connection options and are incredibly convenient. Back in August the Digital Cinema Cafe featured guest Topher Martini and they talked hard drives. There was a comment about drive docks that made me want to follow up with Topher. The result is a short Q and A about hard drive docking stations (and a lot of pics of those who are using them).

The reason I wanted to do this Q and A with Topher is that I once heard from an engineer that bare hard drive docks are a terrible idea. that the drives you insert into them won’t last and you are just asking for trouble (and data loss) by using them. It doesn’t take a degree in video engineering to realize that a bare hard drive that is handled over and over again is a lot more susceptible to failure than a hard drive that resides in your Mac Pro. Or a hard drive that is in its own enclosure. But there’s way too many docking stations in use out there by way too many people for it to be that dangerous of an idea. I’ve been using them myself for years.

I asked the Twitterverse who out there was using docking stations knowing full well it would be a lot of folks. Many of them even tweeted over a picture of their dock. I didn’t realize there were so many different brands out there.

A white drive dock might match your decor better than a black or silver one.

A listen to the Three O’s Of Data Digital Cinema Cafe episode and you know that Topher knows his stuff when it comes to hard drives. He seemed like the perfect person to ask.

The Editblog – What’s your opinion on the little drives docks that so many of us use with a bare internal hard drive shoved into them?
Topher Martini – In general drive docks can be a very convenient storage solution, much in the way that USB thumb drives have become more prolific.
Are the bare drives used in these docks at a higher risk of failure than the same unit permanently mounted in an enclosure?
The risk to the hard drive mechanism is attributed to several factors, specifically; shock, vibration dampening, drive position / orientation, and the insertion rating of the SATA drive connectors.
Does the fact that the bare drives are mounted vertically in a drive dock make it any more susceptible to failure?
Intrinsically it does not, but vertical drive dock designs tend to have fewer points that make contact with the hard drive making vibration dampening more difficult.

Most drive docks have the ability to accept a smaller laptop sized drive as well as larger 3.5 inch drives.

Are the bare drives that much more susceptible to things like dust than a drive in an enclosure that they’d be more likely to fail?
Any debris that makes its way into the platters of a hard drive can be damaging. Having the hard drive in a physical enclosure helps minimize the risk of dust piling up, but a dirty fan can have a similar impact if it’s spraying dust more than moving cool air.
I’ve read that SATA hard drive contacts aren’t made to withstand that many inserts (maybe 50) but personally I’ve never had the contact points fail and I’m sure I’ve had a number of drives that have been inserted well over 50 times.
The connector insertion rating is unique to every drive model. Sometimes this information is on a white paper or tech specs sheet for a specific drive model, but often it’s an undocumented metric.
Are there any precautions editors can take when using these bare drives and docks to help with their longevity?
• Never move a spinning disk, wait for it to spin down
• Minimize vibration to a spinning disk
• Never keep critical data on a single storage device (the Three O’s)
The bottom of a bare drive is like a little circuit board. Should we be careful not to touch any particular parts of a bare drive?
When electricity is flowing through the drive it is significantly more prone to static discharge. Even when idle these parts are sensitive to static electricity building up.

And don’t forget a case to store the drive once you’re done with it.

How should bare hard drives best be stored?
In an ESD material such as Pink Poly (polyethylene).
Would you recommend any particular plastic case since there are quite a few on the market?
Make sure that the material is rated for storing of electronic components, and I’m a big fan of these plastic cases. Odds are when you purchased a bare drive it came with such a case 😉
Should the bare drives be stored vertically or horizontally?
The orientation of storing bare drives is less important than the vibration dampening / shock absorption.
Are there any certain brands or models of the bare hard drives that you would recommend for use in a drive dock?
In my workflow I treat drive docks and bare drives as limited-use storage. Think of them as oversized USB thumb drives for projects that are 100+ GBs. Any data that’s critical is replicated across multiple storage devices, so the impact of any damage is minimized.
Are there any dock brands or models that you might favor over another?
Making sure the drive dock has a warranty is important. Eventually all storage fails which unfortunately can happen prematurely to the MTBF (Mean Time Before Failure). Being able to RMA a drive dock through a reliable warranty at least gets you back up and running.

Thanks to Topher for taking the time to answer those questions.

These docking stations are very affordable (easily under $100) and come with a lot of different connection options. I’ve used the ones from Other World Computing for years but an Amazon or Internet search will reveal a ton more.

That’s a nice one above that has the ability to dock two drives at once.

Or you could just have two of them side by side.

Once you have removed the bare hard drive from its packaging you’ll need to store it in some kind of protective case, as Topher mentions above. Hudzee is by far the best case that I’ve come across. It’s sturdy, stacks well and has a label pocket. I like to print out a directory from the Mac Finder window as that makes it easy to see what’s on the drives.

But Hudzee isn’t the only option out there:

I’ve got a few of these that came from Amazon as well though they are a tighter fit than the Hudzee cases:

I haven’t tried this CRU DriveBox but it looks nice and sturdy:

And while we’re talking hard drives it’s worth mentioning this article that went around the other day that shows Hitachi as the most reliable brand out there:

Thanks to all those on Twitter who sent over images of their drives docks in action. But perhaps the best (though most expensive) drive dock out there would be this one from travis b. I’ve had a couple of these cases as well. Still do.

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PVC Staff
Scott Simmons was born in rural West Tennessee and didn't really realize that movies and tv had to be made by actual people until he went to college. After getting degrees in both Television Production…
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