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The last couple of months I have been preparing for a return to hobby music production after a long hiatus. I have realised that my computer will not have enough storage space for my coming sample library, so I need to look at external storage solutions.

I basically have two options:

  1. Store the samples on a Gigabit Ethernet-connected Synology DS415+ NAS that's already on my network. I could potentially make use of double LAN ports if I purchase an extra Network switch, since all Ethernet ports on my router are already occupied.
  2. Purchase an external drive with either SSD or Thunderbolt (but probably not both – that would be too expensive). I am using an iMac from mid-2011 with Thunderbolt 1 and USB 2, but may upgrade to a new Retina iMac within 1-2 years, and not sure if now is a good time to invest in Thunderbolt 2 technology in an external drive.

Questions:

Which one of these alternatives would be advisable from both a technologically functional and cost-benefit purchase recommendation standpoint?

  • Does it make sense to store relatively large sample libraries on a remote location on the network for use in a DAW, or will it become a waiting-game headache?
  • In case network transfer is too slow to work with, would it be smarter to get a network switch to enable double LAN ports instead of getting an external drive? But then again, my computer has only one Ethernet port, so I guess that would be the bottleneck.
  • What's the wisest technology to prioritise from a cost-benefit perspective: External SSD with USB 2 or External HDD with Thunderbolt 1 connection (both due to my computer's limitations).
  • Given the above point, what's most future-proof given that I may upgrade my computer to USB-C and/or Thunderbolt 3 within 1-2 years?

Purchasing limitations:

  • Storage requirement: I need at least 0.5 – 1 TB.
  • Budget: Preferably less than $300 USD.
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Does it make sense to store relatively large sample libraries in a remote location?

It makes sense, but it's not at all beneficial. If you're going to be pulling samples into your project fairly often, you'll be much better off storing them locally so you only have to depend on drive connection transfer rates.

Would it be smarter to get a network switch to enable double LAN ports?

Like you said, this wouldn't matter at all if your computer is bottlenecking the network connection with one LAN port.

What's most future-proof solution given that I may upgrade my computer to USB-C and/or Thunderbolt 3 within 1-2 years?

The two options you're choosing from aren't desirable if you're focusing on future-proofing. Both will become completely outdated in 1-2 years because of the USB 2 and HDD technologies.


External SSD with USB 2 or external HDD with Thunderbolt 1?

Transfer rate

Taking into account the other questions, an HDD with Thunderbolt will do you well because you could connect several of these to a Thunderbolt hub and have little to no bottlenecking. Thunderbolt is rated at 1250MB/s per channel (but usually hits around 500MB/s) while HDD read speeds average around 120MB/s. This allows for a lot of room to expand your storage options later on. With an SSD-USB 2 setup, you have a connection speed of 60MB/s bottlenecking an average read speed of >400MB/s... Not too great.

Cost

Since you're looking for at least 0.5-1TB of storage space, choosing the SSD route will skyrocket the price very easily. A 1TB SSD will instantly put you over budget while a 1TB HDD won't even put you over half your budget. Also, since you're considering the future, it's better to spend less so you can potentially upgrade to a newer technology later on. You might find a good deal on an SSD with Thunderbolt for example.

Availability

Both options are fairly uncommon because USB 2 is being quickly phased out as a drive connection type and Thunderbolt on a hard drive is a mix of very old and very new technologies. Don't expect a small price tag on anything amazing.

Recommendation

G-Technology G-DRIVE Mobile 1TB 7200RPM 1xThunderbolt/1xUSB 3.0 (USD $190)

  • Enough space for large sample libraries
  • Easy to move around and manage
  • Comes with Thunderbolt and USB cables
  • Transfer rate: up to 136MB/s

A quality solution overall. But, again, you don't have too many options here given your price constraint. There are better products out there that sit outside your budget.

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