How to Build an External HD?

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader John R. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

I have a question regarding how to make a custom built external 2.5 inch USB hard drive (similar to the Western Digital My Passport drive). First, can you tell me: do external USB hard drives operate similar to 3.5 inch hard drives found in PCs? Also, are 2.5 inch hard drives just as reliable as the 3.5 inch desktop PC hard drives? Lastly, do you have any recommendations for external 2.5 inch hard drive enclosures? "

My Response:

For what it's worth, the Western Digital MyPasport hard drive is a solid unit (I own the 2TB model), but it tends to lock up on me during large file transfers, for some reason or another. This happens with other USB hard drives I've tested as well (even if made by different manufacturers), whether I'm using USB 2.0 or USB 3.0. This happens to me on other computers as well, so I don't think it's an isolated issue. As such, I prefer to use eSATA (external SATA) instead of USB for large file transfers.

If you want to build your own external hard drive, I have done some research and have put together some excellent recommendations in this article -- including an external hard drive enclosure that does USB 3.0 and eSATA.

What's the Difference between 2.5" and 3.5" HDs?

To answer your first question: standard 2.5 inch hard drives are similar to 3.5 inch hard drives, except they are smaller in size. Many of today's 2.5 inch hard drives are just as reliable as 3.5 inch drives -- if not more reliable, as they tend to generate considerably less heat because of their size.

That said, many of the standard 2.5 inch hard drives sold today are 5400 RPM (revolutions per minute), whereas many of the 3.5 inch desktop PC hard drives are 7200 RPM. Put another way, most desktop PC hard drives tend to be a little quicker than their 2.5 inch counterparts, because the platters spin faster. But that's not always the case, and it depends on the models being compared.

What about Solid State Hard Drives (SSDs)?

SSDs (solid state hard drives) are not the same as 'standard' hard drives I just mentioned. That's because SSDs are made up of chips instead of spinning platters. As such, they generate very little heat (because there's no moving parts), and they are screaming fast (because there are no read/write heads, as is the case with standard hard drives).

If you're in the market for an SSD, I highly recommend the Samsung 840 EVO drive. Using an SSD hard drive compared to a regular hard drive is like night and day -- it can make any PC, laptop, or netbook twice as fast (if not faster) than it is with a standard hard drive. An external SSD hard drive would also be extremely convenient if you plan to take advantage of USB 3.0 or eSATA speeds.

How to Build Your Own External HD

If you want to build your own external 2.5 inch hard drive, then I highly recommend you get one that supports both USB 3.0 and eSATA (external SATA) technology, and one that properly supports SSDs (using the proper interface / chipset).

As I mentioned earlier, USB hard drives tend to lock up on me during large file transfers. When this happens, the only way to rectify the problem is to reboot the computer, because 'ejecting' the device safely in Windows doesn't ever seem to work. After rebooting, I have to check the drive for errors, then figure out which remaining files I need to copy, and that is a major pain in the butt. Based on my experience, my external drives with eSATA don't have this issue.

With all of that said, my recommendation for you (as far as enclosures are concerned) is the Anker USB 3.0 and eSATA External Hard Drive Case. It's made from aluminum and also has support for SSDs, and has received very good ratings from users on

How to Use eSATA with an External Hard Drive

If you want to use the eSATA connection (whether it's the Anker 2.5" external enclosure, or another), you will need the following:

1. An eSATA connection. If your PC doesn't have an eSATA port, you can make a connection using an eSATA transition bracket that plugs into the back of the computer. These are relatively inexpensive.

2. An eSATA cable. The eSATA cable is used to connect the PC to the Anker 2.5" HD enclosure.

Using USB 3.0 with an External Hard Drive

USB 3.0 is convenient if you don't want to use eSATA, or if you prefer to use the 'Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media' option via the Windows tray bar when you're finished using the drive. As far as I know, Windows doesn't offer a feature to 'safely eject' an eSATA device, though there may be a utility that does this -- but I am unaware of one at this time. Note that you should always safely eject media whenever possible, as it avoids possible corruption of data.

USB 3.0 is very quick when it comes to transfer speeds, and that's especially true compared to USB 2.0. Based on my own experiences, USB 2.0 typically does somewhere around 24 megabytes per second on writes, while USB 3.0 does around 80 megabytes per second or higher on writes. eSATA speeds are close to USB 3.0, though if you used an SSD, the writes would be faster.

Using a Front Panel USB 3.0 / eSATA Connection

Having to plug and unplug eSATA or USB 3.0 from the back of the computer is a major pain because locating the port is usually difficult, depending on the location of your computer and how many cables you have plugged into it, and (usually always) because of poor lighting.

If you want a USB 3.0 / eSATA unit that works from the front of the PC (instead of the back), the Rosewill 2-Port USB 3.0 eSATA hub is my recommendation. This particular unit plugs into a 5.25 inch drive bay in the PC (typically used for DVD or CD drives). Note that you need an internal USB 3.0 connection on the motherboard of your PC in order to use the USB 3.0 connection on the Rosewill USB 3.0 front panel unit. If you don't have USB 3.0 internal connection on your motherboard, you will need to buy a separate card for your PC (mentioned next).

For a USB 3.0 card, I recommend the Inateck PCI-E to USB 3.0 5-Port PCI Express Card (with Internal USB 3.0 connection). This unit offers 5 external USB 3.0 and 1 internal USB 3.0 connector, which can be used in conjunction with the Rosewill 2-Port USB 3.0 eSATA hub mentioned above. You will need a PCI Express port on the motherboard to use this card (most motherboards made in the last 8 or so years will have this).

If you have any questions, you can reach me via chat on the site.

About the author: Dennis Faas is the owner and operator of With over 30 years of computing experience, Dennis' areas of expertise are a broad range and include PC hardware, Microsoft Windows, Linux, network administration, and virtualization. Dennis holds a Bachelors degree in Computer Science (1999) and has authored 6 books on the topics of MS Windows and PC Security. If you like the advice you received on this page, please up-vote / Like this page and share it with friends. For technical support inquiries, Dennis can be reached via Live chat online this site using the Zopim Chat service (currently located at the bottom left of the screen); optionally, you can contact Dennis through the website contact form.

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Stuart Berg's picture

I use an eSATA connection to my external 2TB Fantom GreenDrive from my HP i5 laptop running 64-bit Windows 7. I also use Acronis True Image Home for my backups. I've never seen it "lock up", even when it's writing a 150 GB image of my entire hard drive. Also, I use Zentimo xStorage Manager [] for stopping all USB & eSATA external media. It works perfectly. I have similar results for a PC running Windows XP, Acronis True Image Home, Zentimo, and a 3 TB USB 2.0 external drive. Again, I have never seen a "lock up" there either. The major difference with what you are describing is that I use Acronis for my backups instead of directly copying files. Also, Zentimo has no problem whatsoever with stopping eSATA devices.

Dennis Faas's picture

You can search Google for "external USB locks up lag freeze file copy transfer windows", and similar, and you'll see posts from other people complaining about the exact same issue.