External hardware for recording

I don’t want to beat a dead horse b/c I know this has been talked about a little, but I just want to clarify.

I get from several places that one wants to record to an external drive, not the on-board hard drive, but why? I can respect that you’d want to have your data put on a drive that isn’t busy trying to run the program and that houses your operating system, but is that necessarily true no matter the interface of the external?

For instance, I have an external WD Passport 500Gb that’s powered by USB and works at USB 2.0 speed. But that’s decidedly different from an externally-powered FW800 external, isn’t it? Are either better than recording to the local drive? I guess I don’t understand the demands put on a system well enough to know whether one is better than the other, or whether both are implicitly better than the internal HDD.

In most cases an internal drive will be faster than an external drive.
External drives are great for storing your exported recordings when you have finished, but it is generally better to record onto an internal drive.
A common practice is to have two internal drives - one for the operating system and programs, and the other for data. In this case, recording would be done on the data drive.

There are exceptions to this, for example if you have a super fast SCSI external drive for recording onto, but internal drives are generally a lot better than USB drives for fast and continuous data transfer.

@Steve - That’s sorta what I was thinking, lest the external shares the same or faster connection (eSATA compared with USB, etc). But in places such as:


the general response is “Don’t use the on-board HDD!” Perhaps it’s more of a workflow / reliable storage issue rather than a data-writing issue. In that case, I could see having an external for your files whether it’s audio, video, or photography, but not for technical reasons.

Admittedly, I often record to the local drive because my portable drive is downstairs in my briefcase, or I can’t find the cord to the desktop external, etc. The only time I’ve had technical problems recording is when I’ve had too much running at the same time, and that was atypical.

That’s not strictly accurate. The advice should be “Don’t use the internal system drive”.
In the case of ProTools, it is common for performance to be totally hopeless unless a second internal (or fast external) hard drive is used for recording on. This is because disk usage of the system drive (for running the program and other parts of the operating system) can get in the way of the audio data stream.

In the case of Audacity there is very little disk access other than recording and playback of the audio data, so as long as there are not other programs or processes trying to access the internal drive there should be no problem with recording to the internal drive even if you only have one internal drive.

@Steve - Right! I getcha. This did come from guys using Pro Tools on laptops (where not only are dual internal drives rare, but they often spin slower than drives for desktops). So it could indeed have to do with whether the program is a bear to begin with. Same logic with video, I imagine. I’ve always stored video externally just b/c it’s so friggin’ huge, but if you’re running full-blown FCP on a laptop, I suppose you could get bogged down accessing the files on the same place from which you’re running the program.

I’ve recorded straight to the hard disc on my laptop using both audacity and audition. I have two HDD on the laptop and I have recorded to both. I get the occasional skip, but very occasional (no reduction in frequency when I switched to the data drive). I don’t even know if it’s from HDD speed or the poor quality of my USB mic ADC. It’s rare so I haven’t bothered with it.


I’ve noticed improved performance by using a non-system drive for recording with several programs including Audition and Cubase, but the only program where I’ve had to use a second drive is ProTools.

There are also other advantages to using a second drive. Because recording will usually produce large contiguous blocks of data, disk fragmentation occurs fairly slowly when using the drive exclusively for the recorded audio. It’s also “tidy” to keep all of the audio data together on it’s own drive. For maximum multi-track recoding, there is the opportunity optimise the drive for best performance, for example using RAID 0 or optimising the cluster size,or on a suitable system using ext4 file system.