• Why Apple Needs to Make a PC - The Sad State Of Excessive Storage On A Mac


    My rule when buying hard drives is this. "Whatever I think I need, double it." There's a short lived period where your 3TB external USB drive feels unlimited, but eventually, all your free frolicking through a buffet of digital indulgence comes to a halt. Suddenly Sabnzbd stops downloading, your plans to copy a friend's terabyte of movies is stalled and your parent's Windows 7 discs sits idly on your desk until you get around to installing that bootcamp partition you've been putting off.

    Or maybe you're like me, who was handed 1.5TB of video files for an editing project, with a 1TB iMac and a 2TB time machine drive.

    Whoops.

    We're at a weird place with technology. MacBook Airs and the Retina MacBook Pro means laptops are much faster than they used to be at the expense of often unused disk space. Ubiquitous internet and cloud services like Spotify, or Netflix for US users means there's less need for turning every computer into an offline archival box (remember when we used to save funny pictures to a images folder for "later"?). But for Pro users who need 3TB+ of storage, Apple's currently line up is woeful. Let's look at our options, in order of supported-ness.

    1 - Buy A Mac Pro

    Officially, this is Apple's best offering for extensive, custom upgradable computer. It has four hard drive bays, configurable up to 8TB through Apple or up to Whatever The Hell You want if you buy the drives separately. It's also $3000, and while it's still fast, it's outdated. Next option.

    2 - Spec out an iMac

    For photographers who find their Lightroom library of 30 megapixel raw photos too much to bear on a laptop drive, this might not be a bad option. The iMac can take a 2TB internal drive with a 256GB SSD for $2849, which would solve my 1.5TB project problem (for now). Best of all, it's all internal drives, so backing up to a 3TB external for time machine is trivial (though I'd recommend a 4TB drive for time machine). The downside again is price. Apple charges $720 for that SSD, and when 240GB SSDs can be had for around $200 now, that price is a little hard to swallow. On top of this, 2TB really isn't that much if you ALSO want to store a photo library, use Bootcamp, or archive video files.

    3 - Use any computer with an external drive.

    This is what I'm using now. It's inelegant, slow and cluttered. Because I need a backup, I have two drives - a 2TB Seagate GoFlex Desktop with Firewire connection, and a boring 3TB Western Digital to back up the Seagate. Again, the scalability is useful, but it can be unpredictable, price wise. My 2TB drive costs $125, plus around $35 for the firewire adaptor. If you want/need a thunderbolt drive, the options start at around $570 for a 4TB Western Digital. Then of course, how do you back THAT drive up? I'd kill for Gigabit internet and Amazon Glazier/Crashplan, but unless a tornado whisks me off to Kansas any time soon, Aussie Mac users will have to find others ways to back up their backups.

    4 - Use your internal drives and offload later to a NAS.

    This is probably the most reasonable long term solution on a budget. Picking up something like a HP Microserver will only set you back around $200 (Read this guide of sorts by our very only Benny Ling) and can be fitted with 4 drives, with the potential for around 12GB of storage. For an editor like me, it kinda works. I can keep a project at a time on my internal drive, then move the files to the NAS later on if I need to make changes. But it's not portable, and unless you configure the drives in a RAID 1 setup, you risk data loss without backup.

    5 - Some kind of internal drive naughtiness.

    And how we've reached the hackier stage. It's of course possible to swap out drives on various Apple machines, with various levels of difficulty. Non retina MacBook Pros are simplest, although I was constantly sweating over losing screws down tiny holes when I added an SSD to my MacBook Pro. Mac Minis seem moderately hard (I've never done it) though you have to take out a lot to get to the drive. iMacs frighten me. Until I get somehow start working at the genius bar, there's no way I'm going to take off my iMacs screen with SUCTION CUPS to upgrade the internals. OWC has a turn key upgrade, where they'll upgrade it for you, and that's nice. But it also voids the warranty, so you'd have to buy their warranty too if you wanted protection, and I can't seem to see if they accept shipments from Australia. Again it's a nice upgrade - 480GB of SSD and a 4TB secondary drive, but it's risky, and not something I would consider unless my machine was at the end of it's life anyway.

    So where does all that leave me?

    Right now, Apple's extra storage options are a series of comprises. I'd love for Apple to build a mid range PC. Something with the high end iMac's internals - fast enough for HD video editing - but with the expandability that only comes with Apple's Mac Pro computers. Looking forward, I'm not sure Apple will tackle this need. Will we see an iMac with a drive bay as accessible as the RAM bay? Will the MacPro demote itself to consumer i7s? If I had to answer, I'd be more inclined to bet on the second option. But honestly, I have no idea.

    But until then, I think it's time to start applying for those Mac Pro loans.

    Jared is an amateur filmmaker and full time procrastinator who don't need no deadlines. You can follow him on Twitter at @jaredzammit, or someone funnier like @rare_basement instead.
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