A lot of image files are precious to us. We need to back them up and store them. And we need to do so safely so we don’t lose them! 

But they keep accumulating and accumulating and accumulating ….

Storing terabytes of data on a budget

I’m going to describe how I do it. Is this the greatest way? I don’t know. But I do know that it has been working for many years.

My current back up setup

Hard drive docking station

My slightly dusty StarTech hard drive docking station

After some hunting around, I purchased a StarTech SATA Hard Drive Docking Station. These are sometimes referred to as “toaster”-style. You can probably see why. 

This is a dual hard drive docking station that uses USB 3.1 Gen 2 connections. The dual drive docking station comes with a USB Type-A to B cable, providing backward compatibility with your existing USB 3.0, 2.0 and 1.x devices.

These have transfer rates up to 10Gbps. This is plenty fast for storage. And from my experience, it is fast enough to work on photos as well. I did not need to install drivers of any sort. With your hard drives inside, you simply turn it on and that’s it.

I purchased it in 2018 for $85. However, it currently costs about $110. There are cheaper versions of these sorts of devices, but I trusted the Startech name from previous purchases.

Hard drives

Two Western Digital 14TB Ultrastar large capacity hard drives, which I purchased at the beginning of 2021. These fit in to the hard drive docking system easily without having to take apart anything.

I read Backblaze’s Hard Drive Stats as well as several articles also offering insights on hard drive reliability and performance. I then decided to purchase two Western Digital 14TB Ultrastar DC HC530 SATA HDDs. I purchased these for $298 each. However, they are $499 each as of this writing, so unfortunately, the price has gone up on these as well. 

There are of course other high quality high-capacity drives as well, some of which will be less expensive than these. But these were rated extremely highly when I purchased them.

Six reasons why I back up using this system

The StarTech hard drive docking station with my two large-capacity 14TB Western Digital drives, ready to go to work.

1. Flexible

The “toaster”-style hard drive dock makes good sense to me. The accessibility is fantastic, as I want to be able to easily increase the amount of storage by using different hard drives and physically swap out drives. And I can also remove a hard drive for safe storage. Also, because this dock is made for SATA 3.5″ drives, I can easily access all the internal hard drives that I’ve been using for years from other computers. Being able to swap out drives this easily is appealing to me.

The dock allows me to connect to just about any computer instantly because of its near-universal connectivity. after all, just about any computer has USB connectivity.

Also, since there is no software, there is no limit to the amount of storage space. This is limited only by the size of the hard drives you get and the amount of bays you choose to have.

2. Inexpensive

I did not want to spend tons of money on the storage set up. Drives with exterior enclosures typically cost more than a hard drive by itself, after all.

3. Robust

Whatever system I had would need to be extremely reliable. Startech has been extremely reliable. And these drives are highly regarded by the aforementioned performance and reliability articles.

More than this, however, is my experience with hard drives that come with external enclosures. In my experience, as well as many of my computer nerd friends, the external enclosures are frequently the point of failure. I have taken care of or owned six hard drives with external enclosures. Four of them stopped working within two years. When I removed the hard drives from their enclosures and placed them in a computer or a hard drive dock, they worked again. The remaining two drives that continue working are both made by Glyph.

4. Easier to troubleshoot

If I suddenly could not access one of my external drives from my computer, I want to be able to figure it out quickly. Because the hard drives are so easily removed, I can test them in other systems instantly to determine whether it’s an issue with the hard drive or the hard drive dock. 

5. Portable back up

I wanted to be able to easily grab a hard drive, put it in a well-padded Pelican-style case and take it to the next room, the next computer or about 99% of the time, stored off-site.

6. Easy to back up

I wanted to be able to copy all the contents from one drive to another to serve as a backup, a perfect mirror of the first hard drive. I could take this backup drive, put in a case and store it off-site.

I have two 14TB drives. One of them is simply a backup of the other. I use File Synchronization by Nemesys Software to do this. However, you can certainly use any similar file synchronization software. Regardless, I can either have this continually backing up the drives, or I can do it manually.


For my setup, I paid about $685 for the hard drive dock and two 14TB drives. However, as of this writing, the prices have gone up to approximately $1110. The two hard drives had gone up by $200 each, accounting for much of the cost. 

To be fair, I feel like the price of many things have gone up, in part due to increased demand and lack of supply. This sounds like one of the basic premises some of us learned in Economics 101 during university studies, but it does apply here.

Lowering the cost even more

You can certainly get a good hard drive docking station for less than what I paid. For instance, I have had good luck with Sabrent products for my SSD drive and enclosure. They make a hard drive docking stations as well, such as the Sabrent USB 3.0 to SATA I/II/III Dual Bay External Hard Drive Docking Station, which currently costs about $36 for the dual docking station version. This is about $64 less than the StarTech right now.

Obviously, you can opt to choose a less expensive 14TB hard drive. Or you can purchase hard drives with less storage capacity. Or both. You could potentially reduce the cost by several hundred dollars depending on what you choose.

Variations on a theme

You may also choose multi-bay enclosures that are not “toaster”-style, such as the ones that Sinology make. Some of these also are made for 2.5″ hard drives, the kind that are used with laptops. These have the advantage of being smaller in size, although they are typically smaller in storage size as well.

But hopefully, you get the idea. A simple interface. Removable hard drives. Easy. Swappable. Done.

Backing up even more

Backing up to a couple of hard drives is not really enough. It’s not secure enough for what I want. Consequently, I also back up to Backblaze, a reliable “cloud”-based system. 

And additionally, I have other older hard drives that I store off-site that have much of the same data. This includes several 6TB drives that have much of the information that I also have on these 14TB drives. I like redundancy.

Effective backup also largely depends on your needs

Some people will tell you that they use RAID-based storage or NAS. Those are all great and have advantages as well. The latter includes having access to your files from any computer. I don’t really feel like I need this, as I almost never work on my photos when I am on the road. But as always, your mileage may vary.

I hope this helps. How do you store terabytes of data on a budget? Do you have suggestions about how to do it well? If so, please leave your comments below!