an External Hard Drive


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By Gene Barlow
User Group Relations
Copyrighted November 2004

In my last article I showed you how to do the Perfect Backup Approach (see I told you that the perfect backup media was an external hard drive. These drives have become widely available in the past couple of years and they answer all of the requirements for an excellent backup media.

I suggested that you watch the ads from your local computer store to find a good sale on these external hard drives. Unfortunately, these drives are still not sold in large enough quantities to be placed on sale very often. So, you may need to wait many weeks to find them on sale in your local stores.

While external hard drives seldom are placed on sale, you will find great bargains all of the time on internal hard drives. These are the hard drives that you normally mount inside your computer case. These drives are very much in demand and so your local computer store will run ads on internal hard drives at great prices to attract you into their store. So let me show you how to take advantage of these great prices on internal hard drives and still end up with an external hard drive.

The secret is to buy a large internal hard drive on sale and mount it inside an empty external hard drive case. Now before you try to convince me that you are not mechanical enough to do this, please read the rest of this article. Building an external hard drive is about one of the easiest things you can do with your computer.

The first thing you need to look for is an external hard drive case. You will find these at larger computer stores that offer not only fully assembled computers, but also computer parts. CompUSA carries a line of these empty cases for $39.95. There are several brands of these cases, so look around and you will find them for from $25 to $45. You can get them for either USB2 or Firewire connections and some offer the option of both.

 I recently bought a USB2 External Hard Drive case from ADS Tech (, model number USBX-835 for $25 on sale. It came with the empty case, a power cord, a USB2 cable, and a CD with drivers for Win98. I thought the quality of construction of this case was excellent, but I’m sure you will find other equally good cases available to you.

Here are a couple of things to watch out for when buying the case. You will pay more for a case that supports both USB2 and Firewire. So, figure out ahead of time which connection you will use on your computer and get a case that only fits that connection. Also, if the case can be used for external hard drives, CD burners and other devices, you will pay more. So, look for a case that will only handle standard 3.5 inch internal hard drives and not everything else.

Having found an external hard drive case, start looking for a great deal on a standard 3.5 inch ATA 100 internal hard drive. Get a 7200 RPM drive and not one of the older 5400 RPM drives. Also, don’t waste your money on one of the new serial hard drives (SATA) as these will probably not be compatible with your case. Almost every store that sells computer products will have an internal hard drive on sale each week. Larger stores may have several models to choose from, all at great prices.

 The larger the drive, the better, so look for at least an 80GB internal hard drive, but get a 120GB internal drive if you can afford it. I recently got a 200GB Seagate internal hard drive for $59. I have it mounted inside my ADS case that I purchased for $25. So, I ended up with a 200GB external USB2 hard drive for under $85. Now that is a deal!

Mounting the internal hard drive inside the case was extremely simple to do and took me just a few minutes of time. The first task was to make sure the internal hard drive was jumpered as a Master and not a Slave or Cable Select. The instruction booklet that comes with the internal hard drive will help you determine this. My drive already was setup as a Master, so I had nothing to do but check it out.

Next, I opened the empty case and connected the internal hard drive to two cables that were inside the empty case. One cable was the power cable and it had a small inch wide white plastic connector with 3 or 4 wires holding it to the case. It would only fit in one slot on the internal hard drive and would only insert one way, so you can’t go wrong with this cable. The other cable is a flat ribbon cable with a black plastic connector on it with 20-30 openings for pins on the hard drive. The connector is 2-3 inches wide and only fits in one place on the internal hard drive. It also can only be inserted one way, so you won’t go wrong with this cable either.

Having connected the two cables to the hard drive, all that was left to do was to attach a few screws to hold the drive in the case and the case closed. I placed the internal hard drive with the cables connected on a metal frame that was inside the case. The kit came with four screws to anchor the hard drive to this frame. The four holes on the frame should match up with four holes in the bottom of the hard drive. The two cables come from one end of the frame, so getting the hard drive installed the right direction was a piece of cake.

The final task was to fit the hard drive attached to the metal frame inside the case and close up the case. The case I had fit well around the hard drive and frame. I did have to loosen the screws on the frame to move the hard drive a bit closer to one end, but that just took me an extra minute to accomplish. I attached the remaining four screws to hold the two halves of the case together. So, the total assembly amounted to attaching two cables and then attaching 8 screws to hold the case shut. It couldn’t be simpler. In ten minutes I was done.

Next, I simply connected the power to the external hard drive, connected the USB2 cable between the external hard drive and my computer, and powered on the external hard drive with its separate power switch. In 10 seconds my WinXP system recognized the drive and installed in on my system automatically. If I were still using Win98, I would need to follow the instructions to load the drivers from the CD that came with the case. I’m sure this was very straight forward and simple to do.

Finally, most internal hard drives do not come with partitions on the drive, so you will need to create one large partition on the external hard drive and format that drive so that it can be used. I used Acronis Disk Director Suite to do this, but you can also do it with Windows. Here’s how.

On WinXP I did the following:

  1. Click on Start
  2. Right Click on My Computer
  3. Click on Manage
  4. Click on Computer Management (local)
  5. Click on Storage
  6. Click on Disk Management

This will bring up a block representation of your hard drives, including the new external hard drive. Right click on the Unallocated block on your external hard drive and you will see an option to create a partition on the drive. I recommend that you create a logical partition and not a primary partition on the drive. Once the partition is created, you will need to format this partition before it can be used.

Other Windows operating systems will be slightly different than the steps I have indicated here. If you will open up your Control Panel and then click on the Help menu item, it will take you to the Windows help screens. In the index enter the word Partition and then look for Creating under that. This should tell you how to create partitions on your system. It’s really much easier to do with Acronis Disk Director Suite, but you do not need to buy this product to only do this one function.

Now that you have your external hard drive built, you are ready to start backing up your system with Acronis True Image utility. I will cover the steps to using this excellent backup utility in my next article, so watch for it soon. If you have questions about how to do any of the steps in this article, please send me an email note to and I will try to assist you with your situation. 

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