Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, January 7, 2017

What is the best buy right now in data storage?

January is the time for the Consumer Electronics Show or CES in Las Vegas, Nevada. For most genealogists, newly announced technology is like a sport they are not interested in. But those of us with huge databases and an immense online presence, any new development in making our lives faster or easier or more secure is welcomed. I like to read about all the new developments, not that I am really interested in some of them, but those that do merit my interest primarily concern new computers and changes in data storage. I am also very interested in mobile devices. I spend a considerable part of every day on my computer, iPad or my iPhone.

However, genealogists are also technology consumers and to keep up with the vast increases in online genealogical sources and records as well as other important developments, they need to be, at least, peripherally aware of the technological changes.

It was not too long ago that we were telling everyone to back up their data to CDs and DVDs. Currently, none of the newer computers are coming with CD or DVD drives and when I purchased my most recent Apple iMac, I had to purchase an external CD drive. For some time now, I have been cautioning those using CDs or DVDs to migrate their data to other storage formats. A recent online graph showing the media for music purchases, for example, showed that CD purchases had peaked some years ago and that they were starting to crash downward. I expect that with the advent of online streaming, both movies and music CDs and DVDs will disappear in the next few years.

Developments at CES indicate that the move is towards flash drives (AKA thumb drives, etc.). I just purchased a 128 GB Samsung Flash Drive for about $30. But at CES, Kingston announced a 2 TB (2000 GB) flash drive. Right now, the price for this size flash drive is comparatively expensive, but as demand for larger capacity flash drives increases, the price will inevitably fall. The price of the new flash drives is expected to be as high as $800; not a very attractive alternative yet since the proportionate price should be around $240.

For smaller data storage needs, flash drives are now an economical alternative. Their compact size and portability make them very attractive to genealogists. The downside, of course, is that they are easily misplaced or lost completely along with all the data. But I am sure that I will keep buying ever larger capacity flash drives in the near future and they will eventually replace my hard drives.

The addition of flash memory to my current iMac has measurably decreased the time it takes to startup and load programs. The internal memory in all devices will shortly migrate to flash storage and internal hard drives will be another disappearing device, along with CDs and DVD drives.

Right now, hard drives are the lowest cost data storage alternative. A 2 TB external hard drive, compared to the Kingston 2 TB flash drive, has an online cost of about $80, one tenth the price of the flash drive. However, a 2 TB hard drive is not the most economical alternative. Here are some current prices for different capacity hard drives.

  • 1 TB -- +/- $55
  • 2 TB --  +/- $80
  • 3 TB --  +/- $90
  • 4 TB --  +/- $110
  • 5 TB --  +/- $128
  • 6 TB --  +/- $189
  • 7 TB -- Not available
  • 8 TB --  +/- $210

When I refer to hard drives, I mean "spinning media" or mechanical drives. These prices are changing rapidly. Hard drives larger than 8 TB are not yet generally available and most ads for larger capacity drives are really RAIDs or arrays of multiple smaller capacity drives.

If we were to consider that the base cost of a TB of storage was the low price of $55, you can immediately see that larger capacity drives cost considerably less than their smaller capacity alternative per Terabyte. In fact, the least expensive drive per TB is the 8 TB at $26.25 per TB. Compare that to the $400 per TB of the Kensington 2 TB flash drive. You can see that flash drives have quite a way to go before they are competitive based strictly on price.

What about online storage? Some prominent online storage companies are now advertising prices or around $5 a month or $50 a year for one computer and unlimited data. You still have to be extremely careful about the use of the term "unlimited." Many companies who use the term really have a cap on the total amount of storage you can upload. But there really are some online services that provide unlimited storage for one device and all its attached external drives. If you have a business account, the price increases. An added advantage is that back ups can be scheduled to be automatic.

We are definitely in a time of rapid technological development. On the horizon, as I have written recently, Intel is developing data storage devices with virtually unlimited capacity that will start appearing during 2017 for limited applications. See "Regular or premium? Intel pumps out Optane memory at CES."

For more information on backing up your data, see the following BYU Family History Library YouTube Channel video:

Can You Afford to Lose all your Genealogy? Backing it Up - James Tanner


  1. Your opening graphic shows SD cards but you don't mention them. ??

    1. Flash drives or thumb drives and SD and MicroSD cards are all the same technology. They are also about the same price as flash drives.