How To Build Your Own External Hard Drive

Dennis Faas's picture

An External Hard drive can come in handy for backing up files or freeing up some disk space on your PC. The only problem is they can be pretty expensive. An easy alternative is to buy a drive enclosure for about $20 and build your own using an internal hard drive.

Building your own external hard drive enclosure can be done in as little as 5 to 10 minutes time, and without opening up your PC's case. Not only does assembling your own external hard drive save money, it provides flexibility in choosing the connections, capacity and style that fit your needs. It is also an excellent way to make use of the older hard drives from previous computer systems.

I saved quite a bit of money when I built my external drive a few months ago. For example: I bought a 200GB internal IDE hard drive for only $60, and a USB 2.0 external hard-drive case for only $19. Comparatively, a pre-built enclosure with similar specs at Best Buy cost over $200. That makes for over $120 saved!

Laptop Hard Drives Versus Desktop

If you're shopping for all your parts, it's worthwhile to examine the options. There are three dimensions of internal drives to consider: laptop (1.8 in., 2.5 in.) and desktop (3.5 in.). Laptop hard drives are smaller and lighter, and most draw power through a USB cable. However, because laptop hard drives are physically smaller in size, they are always more expensive than a desktop hard drive and seldom offer as much storage capacities. Desktop drives of today offer capacities of up to 500GB; the down side is that they require their own external power source. In my case, I decided that the 3.5 inch hard drive was the better choice because it offered more storage capacity.

IDE Versus SATA Technology

In either case, there are two main types of hard drives: SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) and IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics). IDE drives have been around for quite a long time and are therefore much more common, and also tend to be cheaper.

On the other hand, SATA drives have become much more popular in the past few years because they can transfer data at up to six times the speed of IDE drives. However, keep in mind that for an external enclosure, the increased speed of a SATA drive is limited when the data is passed through a USB 2.0 cable because this type of connection transfers data at a slower speed.

Types of Enclosures

For an enclosure you are best off to go with an aluminum case since the aluminum enclosure will act as a heat sink to keep the drive cool. On the other hand, plastic cases will not help cool the drive as much and you will need most likely need to buy one with a fan.

USB 2.0 Versus Firewire

Most enclosures come standard with a USB 2.0 connection, but you can spring for the faster more expensive Firewire connections. Before choosing the latter, make sure you have a Firewire input on your computer ;-)

Assembling the Unit

Building the an external enclosure is relatively simple, and about the only tool you'll need is a small screwdriver.

  1. First, consult the hard drive manual and ensure that the jumpers are set to the "master" position.
  2. Next, secure the hard drive into the case.
  3. Following that, plug in the power cable and a data cable. Connecting the two cables to the drive is a no-brainer as these connections are shaped so they can't be plugged in the wrong way.
  4. When complete, close the case and connect all external cables (Power and USB).
  5. Before you use the drive you may need to install the software that came with the enclosure. For the most part users running Windows XP will not need to install any software as the drive should be detected automatically.

You now have your very own external hard drive!

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