Storage

How do I... Build and configure an external hard drive enclosure?

Do you have an old hard drive, which still works, lying around and gathering dust that you’d like to put to good use? If you answered yes, then chances are good that you’ve thought about using your old drive as an external hard drive. Fortunately, building an external hard drive is an easy task. Since you already have the hard drive, all you need is an enclosure, a screw driver, and less than an hour of your time.

Do you have an old hard drive, which still works, lying around and gathering dust that you'd like to put to good use? If you answered yes, then chances are good that you've thought about using your old drive as an external hard drive. Fortunately, building an external hard drive is an easy task. Since you already have the hard drive, all you need is an enclosure, a screw driver, and less than an hour of your time. Let's take a look.

This blog post is also available in PDF as a TechRepublic download. A more detail visual example of how to build and configure a hard drive enclosure can be seen in this TechRepublic Photo Gallery.

Finding a hard drive enclosure

Hard drive enclosures are a pretty common item these days and chances are good that you can pick one up at your local computer store for under $50. However, before you go shopping, you'll want to figure out what type of enclosure you're going to need.

There are several factors that you'll want to take into consideration when looking for a hard drive enclosure. To begin with, what is the physical size of the hard drive that you are planning on using -- is it a 2.5- or 3.5-inch? What type of interface does your old hard drive have -- is it IDE or SATA? What types of external connectors are available on your computer -- USB, FireWire, or SATA?

With the necessary items decided upon, you may want to consider other things such as whether you want to have an enclosure with an internal fan, a fancy case design, or colorful lights. Of course, these items will jack up the price a bit.

For my example external hard drive, I dug up a 3.5-inch 20GB Western Digital IDE hard drive that I removed from an old Dell Dimension computer several years ago. Since my current computer has several available USB 2.0 ports, that's the type of connection I decided upon. I also decided that I really didn't want any of the fancy features.

As such, I went shopping for a 3.5-inch IDE to USB 2.0 hard disk enclosure. This is the most typical configuration, and so makes a perfect example for this How do I.

I then took a trip over to my local Radio Shack where I spotted the enclosure package shown in Figure A.

Figure A

The I/OMagic hard drive enclosure fit my needs perfectly
Made by I/OMagic, a reputable company that specializes in a variety of peripheral computer products, this USB 2.0 hard drive enclosure was on sale for $19.97 -- a deal that I just couldn't pass up. As you can see in Figure B, this is a very basic hard drive enclosure with a compact, yet very sturdy, aluminum case which acts as a heat sink -- there's no fan and no fancy lights either. The kit comes with the enclosure, a vertical stand, a power supply, a USB cable, small package of screws, and a quick installation guide.

Figure B

The kit included all the necessary components

Configuring the hard drive

One of the biggest problems people encounter when building an external hard drive using an IDE drive has to do with the jumper setting configuration on the hard drive itself. The correct setting may depend on any one of several factors: the IDE to USB converter circuitry in the enclosure, your computer's BIOS, or the hard disk specifications. Of course, the first place to look for information on the correct settings is in the manual or guide that came with the hard drive enclosure. If the manual doesn't recommend a specific setting or your drive doesn't seem to work with the recommended setting, you'll just have to experiment.

Now, I've built several external hard drives using different hard disk enclosure products and have discovered that many products specifically recommend using the Master jumper setting configuration. However, the user guide for the I/OMagic enclosure did not provide any indication of how the drive should be configured.

As such, I was left to my own to find the correct setting. If you find yourself in the same position, you need to understand how the jumper settings on IDE hard drives work.

How jumper settings work

To begin with you need to understand that in a standard internal configuration of IDE hard drives the jumper settings are used to determine the order in which hard drives and other devices, such as CD/DVD drives, attached to a single interface cable are detected by a computer system. Setting the jumpers correctly on a hard drive requires the placement of a jumper shunt over two pins on the hard drive jumper block. Figure C shows a jumper block on a typical IDE hard drive and a jumper shunt.

Figure C

The jumper shunt fits over a pair of pins on the jumper block

There are four possible jumper settings on most IDE drives:

  • Master
  • Slave
  • CS (Cable Select)
  • Single

The Master and Slave settings work together when there are two drives attached to the same cable. One drive is jumpered as the Master and placed on the end of the cable. The other drive is jumpered as the Slave and placed in the middle of the cable. The Cable Select settings can also be used when there are two drives attached to the same cable. In this type of configuration, each drive is jumpered as Cable Select and the drives actual position on the cable determines whether it is the master or the slave.

If there is only one drive on the cable, it can be "jumpered" in any one of several configurations depending on the hard drive. The most logical is the Single setting, which in most cases means that there are no jumper shunts on the jumper block. The other logical setting is Cable Select. However, in some situations a single internal IDE drive can be configured using the Master setting.

Setting jumpers for external configurations

Now that you understand the jumper settings function, you have a good idea of what you need to try when the manual doesn't recommend a specific setting or your drive doesn't seem to work with the recommended setting. Since the majority of the enclosures that I've worked with recommend the Master jumper setting, that's the one that I experimented with first. However, when I did, the drive simply was not recognized by the operating system.

I then tried the Single setting by removing no jumper shunt from the jumper block, the drive was then recognized by the operating system. Just to be complete, I also tried the Cable Select jumper setting. Again the drive was recognized by the operating system.

Many hard drives have a diagram on the label that shows the various settings; however, others, such as my old Western Digital drive, have labels printed on the circuit board that indicate the various jumper settings, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

This drive has labels printed on the circuit board that indicate the various jumper settings
Using a tweezers, you can remove or reposition the jumper to the pins that correspond to the correct position, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

To work with the I/OMagic enclosure, I decided to use the Cable Select setting

Installing the drive

Opening my example enclosure simply involved removing a couple of screws and then sliding the drive tray out of the enclosure. With the drive tray out of the enclosure, you can then connect the hard drive to the IDE and power connectors, as shown in Figure F. You'll then fasten the drive to the tray using the included screws.

Figure F

With the drive tray out of the enclosure, you can easily connect the IDE and power cables to the drive
With the drive securely anchored, you can slide the tray back into the enclosure, as shown in Figure G. As you do so, you may need to gently tuck the IDE and power cables under the edge of the case. Then, all you need to do is refasten the tray to the enclosure using the screws that you removed earlier.

Figure G

Once everything is connected, you can then slide the tray carefully back into the enclosure

Connecting the drive

Once you've assembled the hard drive enclosure, you can connect it to your computer. To begin, make sure that the enclosure's switch is set to the off position. Next, connect the USB cable to the back of your computer and to the back of the enclosure. Then connect the power cable to the back of enclosure and plug it into an outlet. With all the connections made, as shown in Figure H, all you have to do is flip on the switch.

Figure H

With the enclosure completely assembled, you can just connect the power and USB cables to the back of the unit
As soon as the enclosure powers up the hard drive, Windows will recognize the new USB connection and will begin installing the device drivers. When the drivers are installed, you'll see a pop up balloon that lets you know the operation is complete. Since you're using an old hard disk that has been initialized and formatted, it will immediately show up in My Computer, as shown in Figure I, and you can access it immediately. However, you'll probably want to reformat the drive in order to give yourself a fresh start.

Figure I

Once Windows recognizes the external hard drive and installs the drivers, you can find the drive in My Computer

Building your own

Building an external storage system using an old hard disk and an external enclosure kit is a great way to put your old equipment to good use. Following the steps in this article will allow you to quickly and easily build an external hard disk that you can use for extra data storage or as a new backup destination.

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

204 comments
rketchum
rketchum

A link to Microcenter web site where they have an adapter on sale for $15.99. Small, with power adapter, cables, CD and will connect IDE or SATA, 2.5" or 3.5" to USB. I use it and it sure beats my external enclosure for size and ease of use. (though my other enclosure is USB and 1394, but works intermittently.) The ad runs until 8/12/2012. http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0285941 I didn't read all the posts because of the number of them. Someone else might have made similar a post.

sainic55
sainic55

i have external 160 hdd can i use it's enclosure for internal 320 gb hdd

Support Slug
Support Slug

The title of this article is misleading. It should say "How do I BUY and configure an external hard drive enclosure?"

jflakdj
jflakdj

As soon as I read your articl I ran to the Radio Shack near where I live an picked up 3 of them. On April 8th they had a sale, they were 29.99 each. Still not too bad, I saw the IOMAGIC in Staples selling for $100. I would rather make useful junk usable again. It goes along with the "green" theme everyone seems to be into. Thanks again. Michael Florida

Zenith545
Zenith545

After seeing this in my Inbox in January, I am simply amazed that 4 months later, I again see it in my Inbox. Please stop spamming me, TechRepublic.

JonathanPDX
JonathanPDX

For taking the time to write and illustrate (with photos) this How-To Guide. For the many beginners out there who are looking for this kind of guide, it is really appreciated. Also, thanks for letting us see who amongst us more experienced users have nothing better to do than criticize your effort and failure to provide them with something to do other than gripe. There's nothing like know-it-alls displaying their pomposity. Kudos to you , Greg! Keep up the good work. Your efforts really are appreciated!

dijcks
dijcks

I think if a hard drive ends up on the scrap table in the first place, its likely life would be called into question. He remarks about putting old drives to use, and how cool to spend 20-40 dollars on an "enclosure. May as well spill for another 20 or so, and get a brand new WD 80 gig usb drive, fresh out of the box and designed to take the abuse an external drive has to take. To clarify, I just feel that putting valuable data on an "old" drive and covering it up with an "enclosure" is Not my idea of having a secure and safe place for my files. JMHO

lazarus0
lazarus0

I'm confused here. The title of your article is "How do I... Build and configure an external hard drive enclosure?" Yet, you did not tell me how to actually BUILD a hard drive enclosure. Instead, you told me how to go and BUY a hard drive enclosure and put the hard drive into it. THAT I already know how to do. So how do we actually build one - that's what I'd like to learn? It looks like someone needs to proofread the titles of these articles. Perhaps it was meant to read "How do I... Build and configure an external hard drive STORAGE SYSTEM?" instead?

aenguillo
aenguillo

i thought i'd be learning how to really build (create) an enclosure to make an external hard drive. i'm kinda disappointed. got excited when i read the article title. TR should checkout articles before posting them.

tedoc
tedoc

Thanks for the tip about the Single jumper setting. I have 2 Maxtor drives at home that I just cannot read in a similar enclosure to yours. I will try the single jumper setting, hopefully with success. The info was excellent, very well done.

Master G
Master G

I'm trying to make something like Venus T4U from scratch - not buy enclousure. Check out the Multi bay one - I got 4 250G HDD IDE need to put some use to them!

darren
darren

I took this a step further for my home... I built a tiny circuit which connects to my parallel port and used it to control the on/off switch of the external drive. The drive is turned on before backups, backups are done, then the drive is turned off. No more power surges taking out my backups! Been working for over a year now. Essentially a do-it-yourself offline backup.

doug
doug

I can buy a 500 gb external drive for about what a backup tape costs. The problem is that to be effective as a backup I have to take it offsite. There are a lot of very tough notebook hard drives out there. And some enclosures are obviously better than others. It would be nice to see an article on building an external USB hard drive with these points in mind.

chaneys
chaneys

PLEASE!!! This "article" is over 2 months old and doesn't show you how to "build" anything!!!

john
john

Radio Shack didn't have this unit, so I picked up the Mad Dog 3.5 and slapped a 40 gig IDE in it and was making backups to my Laptop in 30 minutes. The Mad Dog was on sale for $29.99. Great idea and article.

tssmerb
tssmerb

hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.. great

hugh
hugh

I have been using four computers for around 5 years with the cover off the side so I can swop the second drive with another,I generally have four drives for each computer.I don,t bother with case fans but I do of course have CPU and PSU fans,they are all you need...so I have a different distro on each drive,I like little drives even as small as 8GB because you can get an OS easily on one and you can zero them out quick.The first drive is usually the big one so I partition it and have multiple operating systems,on this computer I have... XP Mepis and desktop BSD.

capnralls
capnralls

After reading you article ??? How do I ???.. Build and configure an external hard drive enclosure???? and several of the comments,I tried to install the external hard drive. Let me explain the specs I have. The computer is a Lenovo Think Centre M57 ??? 6075 with a processor of Intel Pentium Dual CPU E2160 @ 1.8 GHz 2.40 GHz, memory of 1GB running Vista Business. The enclosure is an A-Power with a Seagate 500 GB 3 ?? inch IDE drive. The current jumper setting on the drive is at Master (I also tried no jumper and Cable Select). After installing drivers installed I went to Control Panel ??? System ??? Device Manger ??? Disk Drives ??? ST350083 0A USB Device ??? Properties ??? ???Device is working properly???. The problem is that this drive doesn???t show up when I go to My Computer nor when I go to the Explore Tree on right click at Start button. Where did I go wrong? My use for the external drive is for generally backing up. Please advise. Paul Newton

varun
varun

Can i install another OS in the drive so tht wenever i connect i would be able to select multiple OS... ur tip was useful... plz reply.. thank u

24ggirl
24ggirl

Does your old hard drive have to still be working in order to do this? IE: What if it went out in your computer that is?

gedsdead
gedsdead

Wait, this has NOTHING to do with building an enclosure, like the title suggests..."How do I... Build and configure an external hard drive enclosure?" Step one, is to BUY an enclosure, not BUILD... how terribly misleading..

macka43
macka43

I have similar cases to the one shown (but with Sata connections). 1...Occasionally, for no apparent reason whilst in XP Pro, the connection to the device is lost - mostly after prolonged inactivity. 2...If I shut down the computer without first deactivating the device, it won't boot up unless the device is connected and turned on (XP pro on partition 2). 3... XP keeps adding the drives to System Restore monitoring. 4...I prefer to lay them flat for stability reasons.

solarjeep
solarjeep

Excellent article! Very well put together and even the newest of noobs would be succesful following this guide. I agree that it is good to have articles that address a wide range of skill levels. One thing I find distasteful is snobbery of any kind but "geek snobbery" has to be the worst - on SO MANY levels! Thanks Mark!

Zenith545
Zenith545

You know what - I was really disappointed that the Quick Install Guide shown in one picture wasn't read out loud to us. I mean - my gosh - a more detail(sic) visual example ia available, but NO audio available for the reading of the Quick Install Guide???????? How are people really going to know if this is in their sphere of technical expertise? Better yet, maybe the Quick Install Guide should have been read in various languages. On the other hand - nice plugs for Radio Shack and I/O Magic. P.S. There was no mention whether you turn the screws clockwise or counter-clockwise during the different operations.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

The design engineers made the computer a tweakers paradise.No matter what you did you could not wreck the computer.There are even automatic epitomizing selections.Every device should have at least one page in the BIOS for settings.I think that the Intel jpeg is in the Winbond chip.

loss4words
loss4words

why? TR hardly has any new content, heaps of old stuff always gets mailed out because it just hasn't scrolled down through the DB far enough. the only reason i haven't closed my account is the occasional google search that ends in needing a TR account to download some config chunk or some crap

dijcks
dijcks

We all knew what he meant. Not too many folks want to waste time actually MANUFACTURING the enclosure and then design the interface you must be talking about. If this is the case, I am sure you could do it. I have diagnostic interfaces for all types of drives. I am sure you do too. So go cut out some plastic, and build one. Have fun!

jwinget
jwinget

How about an article on how you made that parallel controled drive switch? If I guess properly that would be much more interesting to some of us 'oldtimers'.

shazardy2000
shazardy2000

i used to do this back in the days with linux and windows triple boot system.. used a 3rd party software called acronis i think but you can boot with out the external connected just make sure the default OS is not on the external hdd i think bart covered the other details :)

bart001fr
bart001fr

Actually, yes you can. Though this would be better fro a laptop whose built-in drive is small enough to start with. After installing the drive in the enclosure, You would then boot from the distro disk (CD or DVD) of your secondary OS, biut when it comes to installing to the hard drive, make sure you install this OS to the external hard drive. You would still need to write the MBR to give you the menu choice of which OS to boot on powerup, and of course make sure that the external drive was on at least ten seconds before you turn on the computer.

shazardy2000
shazardy2000

The hard drive must be working in order to put it into an enclosure the enclosure is basically an ide or sata to usb converter

shazardy2000
shazardy2000

wow what a misleading title... (mine of course LOL) yea since this thread is becoming so very monotonous lets see if we can develop a way to make an enclosure for our selves? Any ideas where we should start? This could be an interesting project... not really to save money but to prove to our selves that we can build our own :)

macka43
macka43

In my case, I suspect there are USB 2.0 issues + the electonics within the enclosures give rise to sync errors, however it is random and not everytime, so I get by. I bought another type of enclosure (Nexstar-3), which so far has been better behaved.

Cerybro
Cerybro

i also have problem with enclosure type HDD. i tried to copy 4GB iso or zip or rar or 7z files and i get writing error or something, and the device was unmounted. file was corrupted on that removable drive. and sometimes you need to use chkdsk to fix the problem(because sometimes you cant delete that corrupted file/s). and regarding the 2.5(laptop hdd) make sure you always use power connector and dont rely on usb alone. i hope USB3 would be much better than the USB2.

loss4words
loss4words

Okay, but let's look at this realistically for a second. Look at all the advertising, featured jobs, featured content on the page you're looking at right now. White papers, webcasts, software, downloads. Network Management Systems, Software Engineers, Sysadmins, VoIP Visibility / Management / Control. It's quite fair to say that this site is aimed at IT Professionals, yes? So when someone posts an article on something so basic that the average non-technical person would just do it by reading the instructions that came in the box, but with a technical sounding name, is it not fair to think that maybe we, as a technical readership, might be somewhat disappointed? I agree in having a wide range of skill levels for technical sites as there's nothing worse than finally finding the information you're looking for but it being too high-level to understand. But this is pushing the boundaries of that too far. This is nothing that isn't contained in the quickstart guide. Two great comments on this that I've read in other posts, "but wait, you didn't tell us whether to turn the screws clockwise or counterclockwise!!", and "up next: how to take a hard drive out of a box". This is maybe the kind of article that should feature in, say, a lifestyle magazine, or maybe a nontechnical newspaper. It's fair to say this is a technical site, it's also fair to say this was a nontechnical article. It was never going to fly here solely because of this, and the misleading title just brought that to everyone's attention.

loss4words
loss4words

ahhahaha ahhh, you bring the lulz. nice one.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

piss on my MB while the system is running, or drop a screwdriver while it is on and I cannot harm it? Hmmm, what about a hammer???

varun
varun

Thanks for your response bart!!..

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

If someone builds an external hard drive enclosure from scratch and takes pictures of the process as you do it, I will pay you $100 for it and publish it on TechRepublic. Get "building".

shazardy2000
shazardy2000

You guys seem to have some sort of military hardened computers lol. I wonder if i walk around on carpet whole day and come and touch your mobo what will be your reaction ... or better yet your computer's reaction :) Since we are on this topic... is it possible to totally protect your computer from static?

shazardy2000
shazardy2000

how do we start? any electrical engineers here who can help out with the parts we should use or the parts that we need?

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

far-fetched? Ok, if you are precautous then it is a low danger, I can see that. But to the average person or a tech, static is a real problem, not just an over-eggageration. Some precautions greatly reduce the chances of static damage, but it is not a non-issue. But I do apologise, in doing some looking up (this time) you are right. I got you confused with some other character from the static thread. The other character was trying to convince people that static damage was all a hoax. For this mistake, I do apologise. As for "Do you work for a company that pays you to make stupid posts with far-fetched propositions? " How did you guess. My job description is to find poor posts and then post back with even poorer content. I was low on my quota and my boss was on my a$$ all day when I ran across your post...... LOL :^0

loss4words
loss4words

..no. Keep telling people? I believe I posted once with my opinion on the matter. You're severely straw-manning my post. I get that this is possible, but this marks the 15th year since I started taking PCs apart and I've never killed anything with static. I don't know. Maybe I touched the case every single time before touching components. Maybe I put things in antistatic bags. I don't use wristbands and I never have. Do you work for a company that pays you to make stupid posts with far-fetched propositions?

loss4words
loss4words

No, it makes you smooth ^_^ I don't know, is it luck? Maybe I just happened to touch the case first before touching components every single time I opened a PC in the last 15 years. Or maybe not. I don't know! I generally try to store things in antistatic bags but I don't wear a wristband or anything like that.

shazardy2000
shazardy2000

Well it wasn't static, because each time i touched it, it zapped me :( In that case i had some thing like a defective PSU? Shouldn't the system itself be grounded via the electrical cable (the third pin is the ground no?) I got shocked allot of times in my life. None have been fatal as you can see :)

alex850
alex850

If it zapped you briefly the first time you touched the case, but did not zap you if you touched it again, that would be the discharge of a static charge you had acquired beforehand. But if it shocked you continuously when you touched the case, that means that the PSU was putting more than 30 volts on the case AND you were providing a path to ground. If that was the case (no pun intended), I'm pleased to be commenting on your post because all it takes is 50 milliamps to put your ticker out of business, and you wouldn't be here to place your post.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

to be a static free environment, and were prepared to take extra precautions before working on anything, or touching anything, and everybody had to follow procedures before walking into said room, AND the system was removed from power during storms/etc.. Yes, it can be in a static free environment and be safe. However, this is unrealistic setup for the average person, and most companies as well.

shazardy2000
shazardy2000

wow, you are a very lucky person. Personally i fried a couple ram chips a video card and a hard drive. I was to lazy to use the grounded wrist bands or to use the anti static baggies . Allot of people i know fried allot of their hard ware already with static. Well it's either you are very lucky, or you play it safe when it comes to your hard ware. Most of the components i fried i took it back to the store and had it replaced any how. I just told them it never worked :| Does that make me a bad guy? :(

shazardy2000
shazardy2000

it's possible to totally protect your computer from static ? Even if someone willfully walks around on carpet and touches you components? What checklist exactly are you talking about btw? I remembered one of my older pc's from about 6 years ago. For some reason the case used to give me a zap every time i touched it so i assumed it wasn't static. Could it be that the psu some how grounded on the case or something?

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

all it takes sometimes is handing someone a piece of HW (too lazy to bag it) and viola, see and/or hear an arc and a memory chip or video card is toast (or other items). Do you work for a company that makes these components? Is that why you keep telling people it isnt a problem? Or do you beleive that if it is damaged when new, that it must have been the manufacturers fault?

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

however do you want a checklist before powering it on???

loss4words
loss4words

static is an overexaggerated danger