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Recommended Hard Drive Configurations

Hard Drive Strategies

How customers choose to setup their individual PC's hard drive configurations is largely dependent on the customer's needs and budget. There are some general concepts about hard drives that you should keep in mind, however, when choosing your hard drive setup.

SSDs for Program Files & Hard Disks For Data Files

Lightning Fast SSD Drives

Solid State Drives, while they are completely silent and offer speeds of almost three times the internal transfer rates of the fastest hard disk drives, are also much more expensive for the same amount of data space (often up to six times the price for similar data size). So, many people still choose to purchase a spinning hard disk drive. If you then wish to further reduce the noise level of your hard disk drive, you can use a Smart Drive hard drive enclosure to do so, and still come out significantly ahead of the price of an SSD. What many customers will do, is get a small SSD or PCI-Express M.2 hard drive as their boot disk (and/or to run their programs on), and purchase a large hard disk drive for their data files.

How Much Space Do You Need For A Program Start-Up Hard Drive?

How much space you need for Program Files is a difficult question to answer. This is because:

  1. Not all programs disclose exactly how much space they take up
  2. Certain programs grow depending on set-up, temporary files, etc.
  3. Most programs need a little extra space during installation than the actual size of their program files

But, the following are some generalized ideas regarding how much space various programs take up:

  • Windows takes between about 20-60 GB space depending on set-up
  • Photoshop needs about 3 GB space (suites of Adobe programs will need more)
  • Microsoft Office 64-bit needs about 3GB space
  • CAD programs tend to need about 6GB space
  • Video Editing programs need about 4 GB space
  • Digital Audio Editing programs often need up to 16GB space
  • Other common programs usually need less than 1 GB a piece (some as little as 1/100th of 1 GB)

80GB would be sufficient space for program files for most common uses, but we always recommend having an extra margin of space for installation requirements and any additional needs that come up in the future. A 120GB SSD would make an ample program file Startup Disk for almost anyone’s needs. You can then put all your other files on a secondary hard disk File Drive. Placing your program files on an SSD will make Windows start times and Program start times lightning fast.

One Large SSD

Of course, if you can afford to purchase a large SSD drive (say 512GB or more), you can put all your files on one drive. Or, some people have other means of storing their data and media files such as external hard drives or cloud storage solutions. But, these solutions have their own downsides such as cost, lack of portability, and/or dependence on sometimes unstable internet connections.

One Smaller SSD

Also, if you really don’t keep much in the way of media files (songs, photos, and videos), and don't run a ton of different types of programs, you may find that a smaller sized SSD drive will be plenty of space for you. You can go ahead and use a 120GB or 250GB SSD typically defaulted in most of our systems and you might not find that you need any more space than that on your hard drive. A small to medium SSD might, indeed, be an ideal data size for a computer used in the public service sector, where speed is desirable, but lots of room for all sorts of files is unnecessary, even unwanted.

One Spinning Hard Disk Drive

Large Spinning Hard Disk Drive

On the other hand, except during start up, spinning hard disks are still decently speedy. If you don’t mind waiting the extra minute or two for your PC to start up or your programs to open, your hard drive speed will typically not be an issue with system performance (unless you are doing unusually intensive work). You can get a better bargain in your PC configuration by choosing a single larger spinning hard disk drive (for instance a 1 or 2 TB [1024-2048 GB] Western Digital Red).

But, no matter what your choice, file space can quickly get out of hand with today’s media files, and is frequently overlooked. When selecting your PC, it is important to think about current and future needs. How much hard drive space will you need?

How Much Space Do Document And Media Files Take?

How much space documents and other files take up is even harder to estimate, than to estimate the space requirements for program files. Document sizes, pdf files, movie sizes, photo sizes, audio file sizes, all vary widely depending on length, size, format, and what is included inside of them.

However, the following are some generalized ideas regarding how much space various programs take up:

2GB Hard Drive Space Can Hold About

  • 1 hour MPEG-2 video
  • 65 typical Semi-Pro Camera RAW images
  • 400 3000 x 2000px JPG files
  • 200-500 typical PDF Documents
  • 5000 3-4 minute mp3 Songs
  • 1000 to 200,000 typical Excel documents
  • 8000 to 200,000 typical Word documents (without images in them)

*Raw video footage can take upwards of 700 GB hard drive space for one hour's worth of footage. See this handy video size calculator to help determine your hard drive needs.

Total Hard Drive Space Needed

You can see that between the need for 80 to 120 GB of space just for Windows and other Programs, plus the space requirements of the document and media files listed above, that you can easily run out of room in a 120GB or 250GB hard drive. This is especially true if you tend to save many Photos, PDFs, or Videos on your PC. You should plan accordingly when selecting your custom PC configuration.

Always Make Sure You Overplan

All hard drives, whether spinning hard disks or solid state drive (SSD), work more efficiently if they have ample space left on them. Anytime your hard drive is mostly full (say 80% or more), your hard drive speed will slow down substantially. Keep this extra space requirement in mind when choosing your hard drive. A 120GB hard drive is really only about a 95GB hard drive, a 250GB is really only about 200GB, a 1TB is really only about 820GB, in terms of useful space.

Scratch Disks

If you run Photoshop or Video software, it is also recommended that you get a Scratch Disk in order to speed up your PC when working with large, layer intensive files. An appropriate Scratch Disk for Photoshop might be 120GB hard drive – if you want to keep open up to 30 RAW Images at one time. Professional video editing programs should also be set up to use Scratch Disk and should have a scratch disk of at least 120GB, bigger is better, depending on how much video you work with.


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