December 14, 2015 at 5:35PM

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Is a USB 3.0 External Drive Fast Enough for Full HD Editing?

I'm currently using a 2TB G-RAID mini external drive (set to Raid 0) from G-Technology to edit full HD video in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2015.

Does that provide enough throughput?

My PC is fast. I'm just not sure about whether USB 3.0 is too slow for 1920 x 1080p video editing.

Someone from Adobe said USB 3.0 was too slow, and I get choppy playback at full resolution in Premiere. But the playback seemed fine in Avid at full resolution.

14 Comments

It depends on how your media is encoded, how the drives are allocated to the interface, and whether the drive is dedicated to playing back a single stream or multitasking. According to this document from Apple (https://www.apple.com/final-cut-pro/docs/Apple_ProRes_White_Paper.pdf), ProRes encoding scale up from 36MB/sec (for Proxy) to 117MB/sec (for 422) to 176MB/sec (for 422 HQ) to 396MB/sec (for 4444 HQ no alpha). USB3 can theoretically deliver 640MB/sec, which is enough for a single stream at any of these encoding levels. However, most single spinning drives top out around 140MB/sec +/- 20MB/sec, which means things are pretty secure for ProRes 422, but dicey for ProRes 422 HQ--for a single stream. Spinning disk drive performance falls apart rapidly when you try to play two streams from the same device, or when you try to write while also reading. Thus, if by editing you mean "reading and writing to the same disk at the same time", then a spinning disk will not be great.

There are USB3 interfaces that provide multiple independent USB3 channels so you could, for example, have three source disks and one destination disk that all run full speed.

You can also put a suitable SSD (solid state disk) inside a USB3 enclosure. SSDs don't have the same performance limitations as spinning disks because they don't have to constantly shift the location of the disk head trying to do two things at once. You can thus support multiple streams, or simultaneous reading and writing on an SSD.

There are many things that can cause choppy playback on Adobe Premiere (or any other NLE). When building a system, it helps to understand all the performance requirements and bottlenecks so you don't build yourself into a corner from which no NLE can escape.

December 14, 2015 at 6:50PM, Edited December 14, 7:07PM

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Hi Glenn,
Michael probably meant MegaBIT per second (instead of MegaBYTE per second).
So a 396 Mb/s 4444HQ is 49,5 MB/s (1MB = 8Mb).

I work on PC and have no problem playing back DNxHD files with 175-350 Mb/s in Adobe Premiere with an average 2.5" USB3-HDD.
Though keep in mind what Michael wrote about 2 streams / writing + reading at a time (that's why I create low bitrate proxys when dealing with multicam Clips).

Josef Weisleitner

December 15, 2015 at 8:36AM, Edited December 15, 8:36AM

@Josef Weisleitner: You are correct. I misread the document (but glad I linked to it, so that others with better eyesight could read it correctly).

December 15, 2015 at 2:41PM

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Thanks, Michael/Josef.

I really appreciate all the info that you've provided here.

Thankfully, I'm not doing a multicam edit on my current project. I was limited to a
single-camera shoot, so I did most of my shots as master shots.

I shot about four hours of ProRes 422 HQ footage. So, it's not a massive project.

But I'll definitely take your advice for future projects in which I have multicam footage and I'll use SSDs.

December 17, 2015 at 11:33AM

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Glenn Bossik
Videographer
421

You need to test your disks to know their capacity.
An USB 3.0 cable just indicates the maximum possible (= when every other part in the chain is at least that fast) transfer speed, but it tells you nothing about the drive's real speed.

Here you can find free software to check the speed of your drives:
https://www.raymond.cc/blog/measure-actual-hard-disk-perfomance-under-wi...

December 17, 2015 at 7:24PM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8884

Thanks, Walter.

Glenn Bossik

December 18, 2015 at 6:24PM

Hi. We've been using cheap USB 3 bus powered drives for a 2 or 3 years now to transfer footage on shoots and then transcode or edit in fcp7 premier cc and even Resolve on mbp laptops. Never had any problems with 1 or 2 streams of proRes 422 or HQ and I'm pretty sure it's fine with 4444 as well. We also edit with native MXFs from the F5 FS7 and C300 without any problems. Haven't used FireWire for ages and it's really noticeable when we go back to our 2008 Mac Pro which is our main edit suite without usb3. We have an Ethernet based network storage setup using an old G5 Mac and can't see any difference in speed using that. We've probably gone through about 10 western digital my passport 2tb drives without any problems other than filling them up or them just dying through lots of usage. Hope that helps.

December 19, 2015 at 4:52AM

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David Jones
DP, photographer & editor
46

Thanks, David. I appreciate your providing insight into your experience using USB 3.0.

I'm currently using a fairly simple timeline in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2015. I have A-roll and B-roll footage and four audio tracks, including dialogue, music, sound effects, and room tone.

Basically, I have 13 scenes. So, I've set up 13 sequence files within my Premiere project file and, after I complete a rough cut of each scene, I'm going to create a master sequence file and drag all 13 sequences into that file for the final cut, color grading, and sound mix.

Glenn Bossik

December 19, 2015 at 6:27PM

I've been editing 4k-6k Red footage off of USB 3.0 drives for the last 2 years. HD footage should be fine

December 20, 2015 at 2:30AM

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Charles C.
Editor/ Director/ Director of Photography/ Wannabe Thinker
948

I've edited a few 4k RED pieces off of a USB 3.0 drive in Premiere Pro CC and everything worked great. You should be good to go!

December 20, 2015 at 6:07PM

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Alex Bolen
Cinematographer
165

Thanks, Charles/Alex.

That's good to know. I'm glad my current setup will work.

December 20, 2015 at 8:00PM

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Glenn Bossik
Videographer
421

Everyone saying: "I use an USB 3.0 drive and it works", doesn't mean every drive is fast enough for your desired workflow.
Most will probably be, but you just need to check the speed of the drive.
In my experience the diskspeeds can vary up to almost 100% (comparing to the slowest).

December 21, 2015 at 2:31AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
8884

I totally understand, Walter. I'll definitely run some tests.

Thanks.

Glenn Bossik

December 22, 2015 at 3:51PM

check out tomshardware.com for testing and comparison for hard drive speed

December 21, 2015 at 1:54PM

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