If you’re looking for some extra external storage for your notebook you could go out and buy a ready made USB or FireWire external 100GB hard drive for around $200, or you could more cheaply and quite easily make your own portable external hard drive by buying an enclosure and “naked” hard drive and slapping them together for around $100. Furthermore, instead of chucking away that old 40GB notebook hard drive you just upgraded you can read this guide and see how to easily use it as an external hard drive for data backup.
Cents Inch External Hard Drive DIY
If you need an external hard drive for extra storage, why buy one “ready made” when you can easily make it yourself for much cheaper? Or why throw away that 40GB notebook hard drive that you just replaced with a faster 100GB 7200RPM drive?
Recently I was in need of a bigger external drive. I had seen a Seagate came out with their own branded “Portable External Hard Drive” and thought, why not try to match the performance and capacity of the Seagate “ready made” drive with a DIY style and see if it’s worth it.
The Seagate 120GB external portable hard drive reviewed here not long ago is a fine external hard drive. It sports a 2.5″ 5400 RPM hard drive inside, has a stylish aluminum case with a blue LED light and 1-year warranty. It can be bought for as low as $219 according to our review, but if you look hard you might find it for even cheaper. Either way I will not focus on price only since there are other benefits to building your own drive, nor is this a case study against big name external HD makers such as Seagate.
What you’ll need
- A 2.5″ hard drive of your choosing (naked, no enclosure)
- An enclosure to put the hard drive in and that will connect to your laptop via USB/FireWire and interface with the hard drive.
The hard drive I chose was Samsung SpinPoint 120GB 5400 RPM Bulk to match the Seagate drives size and speed, I bought it at Ewiz.com because they offered the lowest price of $139 (they were kind, helpful and agreed to take my order unlike NewEgg.com who have strict policies), at the time of writing these lines I see Ewiz.com lowered the price of the Samsung drive even more to $127.
For the enclosure I went with a Coolmax HD-211 2.5″ USB 2 Aluminum enclosure because I liked how it looked and it is one of the cheapest out there at only $10 (also purchased at Ewiz.com). If you think I’m superficial and cheap, well you are right, but this choice has some logic to it as well — more about that later.
the enclosure (left) and hard drive (right) ingredients, just mix togther … DON’T add water! (view large image)
Packing and contents
The Samsung SpinPoint HD came in a static shield bag without much else, the Coolmax enclosure came shrink wrapped with a carrying pouch, 4 mounting screws, 6 case screws, a “Y” type USB cable, a jewelry screw driver and a mini-CD with driver software in case you need that.
Coolmax was thoughtful enough to include everything you need with the enclosure you purchase (view large image)
The DIY part
Calling this a DIY project is somewhat stretching the term, it is as simple as can be. Like adding milk to your cereal (only here you close the milk afterwards and plug it into your notebook)
Step 1: Using the jewelry screwdriver, unscrew the 2 enclosure screws in the back panel of the enclosure and remove the back panel.
Step 2: Slide out the PCB (Printed Circuit Board), on which our hard drive will be mounted.
Step 3: Attach the Hard Drive to the 44-pin connector of the PCB.
the HD attached to the connector (view large image)
Step 4: Fix the Hard Drive in place with the 4 mounting screws on the underside.
the mounting screws in place (view large image)
Step 5: Slide the Hard Drive that is now attached to the PCB back into the enclosure and fix the back panel back in place and put the two screws back in tightly.
That’s all there is to it! Any enclosure will provide instructions and may of course differ a bit, but will never be much more complicated than this — and possibly even easier.
Assuming you have Windows XP you don’t need to install any of the drivers that were included on the mini CD. If you want to initialize and partition the a new hard drive, use Windows XP built-in Disk Management. There are a few ways to get to that, the quickest is by typing clicking Start > Run and type in “diskmgmt.msc”. The Windows Disk Management snap-in will open.
the Coolmax with its red and green leds (view large image)
I have two important tips to add to these steps above:
- First make sure you have a clean tidy surface to work on, those screws are awfully small and will go missing in the blink of an eye. The good news is the provided screw driver is magnetic and Coolmax saw fit to include 2 extra screws just in case you lose a couple.
- Second, before you start, discharge any static electricity in your body by touching something made of metal and handle the Hard Drive only from the sides. Avoid touching the bottom exposed circuit of a Hard Drive or the exposed circuits of the enclosure.
The total cost of the parts for this DIY external hard drive was $137 as compared to $219 for the Seagate external drive that was reviewed. Currently Newegg.com lists the 100GB version of the Seagate portable external hard drive for $168, so this 120GB DIY solution is still cheaper than even that.
Power & Performance
Even though this is a 120GB drive it will run just fine on a single USB cable power source, however if more power is needed just plug in the RED plug as well. Other enclosures tested with this drive proved a single cable was just fine in those cases too.
Transfer speeds to the hard drive were very good, averaging 18.8 MB/sec with 18.1 ms seek time, not as fast as the Momentus inside the Seagate but good enough for an external USB enclosure. Real life test of copying a typical 700MB file from the notebook to the hard drive took about 30 seconds.
Heat & Noise
The enclosure never got warmer then the equivalent of the normal human body temperature, so it never felt hot. It was also very, very quiet without any clicking (like many Hitachi drives do) or chippering (like many Toshiba drives do), just a very low humming sound.
All new 2.5″ drives come with at least a 3-year manufacturer’s warranty, while the Ewiz.com product page doesn’t specify this, the NewEgg.com page has it in writing. So if something happens to the hard drive inside your “DIY drive” you will be covered. And if the enclosure breaks? Well, you just throw it away and buy another one for $10!
The right HD for you
When I bought the Samsung Spin Point 120GB HD I was afraid that not all enclosures would support it chipset or power consumption wise. I’m quite happy to say I was wrong, even enclosures that specify they only support up to 80GB worked just fine with this drive.
I think any new generation 2.5″ large capacity drive (> 100GB) would work flawlessly in almost any enclosure since the specifications are similar across all drives. For evidence I can testify I used Hitachi 7K60 7200 RPM 60GB HD in the same enclosure without any problem . The only reason I chose the Samsung brand really was because it was the cheapest and looked to be very quiet if not the quietest.
Choose your enclosure carefully
The Coolmax was not the only enclosure I tested. The enclosure itself is almost as important as the HD inside. It’s interesting to note that many enclosure are just “branded” versions of a generic enclosure made by an ODM (Original Design Manufacturer). It’s quite possible two enclosures you see from different brands were actually made by the same original manufacturer and just re-badged with a brand name. If two enclosured from different brands look exactly the same, chances are that it is the same but by a different name.
(left to right) Coolmax, Hotdrive, Sweex are just brand name versions of ODM enclosures (view large image)
I’d go with an enclosure that has mounting screws that secure the Hard Drive tightly like the Coolmax does, it seems more solid than the suspended by pins only approach of the Bytecc Hotdrive 2.5″ enclosure I tested (cost of $17). Some users might find the lack of mounting screws a plus if they intend to swap the Hard Drive inside the enclosure quite often, in that case the highly respected Thermaltake Silver Muse is good because it opens up like a box with a hinge and has foam padding to hold the HD in place.
The Coolmax (left) holds the HD secure with 4 mounting screws while the Hotdrive uses pins (view large image)
On the down side for the Coolmax enclosure, the enclosure thickness is only half of the Bytecc Hotdrive one. Not that the Coolmax is flimsy or anything, but I would prefer the thicker enclosure for more protection.
The Hotdrive (below) case is thicker than the CoolMax (on top) (view large image)
The carrying case you get with the enclosure is also an important factor to consider, they range from thin pouch that is designed to prevent scratches only to thick book cover like protection. If you think you’ll need a carrying case for your hard drive I recommend choosing an enclosure that comes with a case and one that fits your needs .
Same enclosures as viewed above but inside their provided carrying cases (Coolmax, Hotdrive, Sweex) (view large image)
I also think the looks factor is somewhat important because all enclosures seem to work pretty much the same. I often choose an enclosure at least partly based on style & accessories included, the Sweex enclosure is an example of that, I bought it because it offered a screws implementation for mounting the HD and it had a brushed aluminum case which is very stylish and nice to touch.
The “DIY” option for creating a portable external storage solution is the way to go when in need of an external HD. Also, the next time Toshiba or Dell tries to overcharge you $300 for a HD upgrade when configuring your laptop, just get the cheapest 40GB hard drive they offer. Then use the money you save to buy the hard drive you actually want from a cheaper source (say a 100GB 7200RPM drive from NewEgg.com), then when you get the laptop swap out the 2.5″ 40GB you configured with a fast hard drive you really wanted insde the laptop, then take put the 40GB crappy driveyou were forced to configure in the laptop into a $10 – $30 drive enclosure of your choice. And of course feel free to send me any money you save by taking this DIY route!
Pros (for building your own external hard drive)
- More gigabytes of storage for your dollar
- Better warranty on the hard drive when you buy it without an enclosure, usually at least 3-years
- You can choose the style of the enclosure you want
Cons (for building your own external hard drive)
- Must have opposable thumb and be willing to turn a screwdriver
Some places to shop for Hard Drives and Enclosures are:
and a number of other places, just search the web or ask around in the hardware component upgrade forums!