"Repurposing" external hard drives

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"Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Tue Jan 21, 2014 10:00 pm

I have a diskless NAS on order (LaCie 5Big Pro) and I need to put some drives in it.

At first, I thought I figured that I would have to buy some new ones, but then I realized that I have 4 3tb drives already. They just happen to be in USB 3 enclosures. Has anyone cracked open these external drives, taken it out, and used it as an internal drive? I don't think there would be any real problem with this since they are just standard drives. The NAS will work with mixed SATA drives. Assuming these drives are on the compatibility chart, does anyone see a problem with this?

I'd like to avoid spending a boatload on drives and if I can just open these things and use them, that would be a lot better.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Tue Jan 21, 2014 10:09 pm

I've done it on eSATA enclosures, but not USB. I imagine the drives are pretty bog standard.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Tue Jan 21, 2014 10:23 pm

I've done this with several off-brand external drives (most ended up having Samsung internals), a few WDs, and a few Seagates. Just be careful popping the case open (many of them have fragile clips holding them together), and they're standard SATA drives inside.

Just be aware that most warranties only cover the entire, intact external drive. When I put in a few serial numbers from my repurposed drives to test, none of them had proper warranty info on the Samsung/WD/Seagate/etc sites.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Wed Jan 22, 2014 9:07 am

tu2thepoo put it well, especially about the warranty. It's very straightforward.

I've cracked open several drives so far. Check reviews on Amazon for individual drives since some manufacturers (I think just Seagate? Or was it Western Digital?) are trying to combat this by using proprietary connectors instead of a SATA to USB enclosure. Most enclosures are just plastic clips now so it's very easy to get them open with a flathead screwdriver, and maybe a credit card or similar. If you're still unsure you can often find a tutorial on each drive series on YouTube (ex: search for "open WD Elements" and you'll find a bunch of detailed videos).

As a sidenote, if you're trying for a 2.5" drive, some of them might be 12mm instead of 9.5mm, so make sure you know what your laptop can support before you start cracking things open.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Wed Jan 22, 2014 9:30 am

tu2thepoo wrote:I've done this with several off-brand external drives (most ended up having Samsung internals), a few WDs, and a few Seagates. Just be careful popping the case open (many of them have fragile clips holding them together), and they're standard SATA drives inside.

Just be aware that most warranties only cover the entire, intact external drive. When I put in a few serial numbers from my repurposed drives to test, none of them had proper warranty info on the Samsung/WD/Seagate/etc sites.

I had this with a Samsung Story Drive as well. It even had "warranty void" stickers on the inside of the enclosure such that I couldn't remove the drive without voiding the warranty. Of course, I did it anyway - the enclosure aggressively spun down and if the computer went to sleep, the drive would disappear on waking up, so it was the only way to make the dern thing useful to me, but warranty is a big reason to not do this.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Wed Jan 22, 2014 10:40 am

This is basically what BackBlaze, the cloud storage provider, does.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Fri Jan 24, 2014 12:22 pm

People have been taking disks out of external USB enclosures for many years, it's a common practice. Especially when the HDD inside tends to outlast the cheap little connector board attached to it that does the USB to SATA conversion.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Sat Jan 25, 2014 1:42 pm

I saw a 4-drive diskless NAS at my local Tigerdirect about a week ago. Looked interesting, but I was already dropping $500 on a 960 GB SSD and so there was no way I had the budget for a NAS too. But like you, I can probably scrounge up 4 or 5 homogenous drives from the old spare parts bin.

By the way, it's tough to beat a reusable USB 3.0 external hard drive enclosure, especially if purchased by itself and it allows reasonably fast exchanges. But enclosures that you've cannibalized from can be useful too.

I have been making heavy use of my Vantec NexStar external 2-drive bay, which seems to work better on USB 3.0 than on eSATA. It's nice to be able to slide old drives in and out to be able to quickly look for files or install directories on systems that I used to run on different hardware, or to retrieve old product keys/serial numbers that might be stored there.

Going forward, as I build new systems, I will try to buy cases that already have hot-swap capability or to add that capability, either by front-panel drive bays or by external devices such as these.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Sat Jan 25, 2014 1:49 pm

Duct Tape Dude wrote:Check reviews on Amazon for individual drives since some manufacturers (I think just Seagate? Or was it Western Digital?) are trying to combat this by using proprietary connectors instead of a SATA to USB enclosure.
Stuff like that is what gets me really irritated with a manufacturer. What does it matter to them? Once you've opened the enclosure, you've voided the warranty, so it's no longer their problem. All this does is make it impossible for people to recover their data if the enclosure fails.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Tue Jan 28, 2014 2:34 pm

I think I have seen 2.5inch external drives listed for less than their internal brethren. Crazy that they can include an enclosure and still be cheaper. I guess proprietary connectors will stop people snapping these up and re-purposing them as internal drives.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Mon Aug 25, 2014 1:07 am

Thanks folks! This was a super useful discussion. I have an old external hard disk, which is sort of dying. I suspect its the connectors. Now I can think of repurposing them. I hadn't thought of this as a possibility.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Mon Aug 25, 2014 7:52 am

The Egg wrote:Stuff like that is what gets me really irritated with a manufacturer. What does it matter to them? Once you've opened the enclosure, you've voided the warranty, so it's no longer their problem. All this does is make it impossible for people to recover their data if the enclosure fails.

The don't care about warranty claims, they care about people doing what BackBlaze does and and tearing drives out of agressively-priced external enclosures and using them as internal drives.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Mon Aug 25, 2014 8:49 am

One of my externals had a WD Black.
I found that out via doing firmware updates (circa the era of Seagates bricking regularly)
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Mon Aug 25, 2014 9:08 am

SuperSpy wrote:
The Egg wrote:Stuff like that is what gets me really irritated with a manufacturer. What does it matter to them? Once you've opened the enclosure, you've voided the warranty, so it's no longer their problem. All this does is make it impossible for people to recover their data if the enclosure fails.

The don't care about warranty claims, they care about people doing what BackBlaze does and and tearing drives out of agressively-priced external enclosures and using them as internal drives.

Explain to me how removing a drive from an enclosure hurts the manufacturer. They've still sold their product. What do the details of how it's used matter once it's off the shelf and sold? If anything, removing the drive is beneficial to the manufacturer, because they no longer have to provide a warranty.

SuperSpy wrote:The don't care about warranty claims...

Really? You're right, I'm sure Western Digital's yearly cost for warranty replacement services/support is negligible. It's of least concern to them.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Mon Aug 25, 2014 9:37 am

The Egg wrote:
SuperSpy wrote:The don't care about warranty claims...

Really? You're right, I'm sure Western Digital's yearly cost for warranty replacement services/support is negligible. It's of least concern to them.

Obviously he meant they shouldn't care if you *void* the warranty, since that actually works in their favor. He didn't mean they don't care about warranties at all.

We don't know what their internal cost structure is. But I've seen externals priced lower than the equivalent internals, and under those circumstances I could easily see the manufacturer not wanting people to buy externals and remove the drives since it would cut into their sales of internal drives. Voiding the warranty is one (easy) way they can discourage this practice.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Mon Aug 25, 2014 10:12 am

just brew it! wrote:Obviously he meant they shouldn't care if you *void* the warranty, since that actually works in their favor. He didn't mean they don't care about warranties at all.

We don't know what their internal cost structure is. But I've seen externals priced lower than the equivalent internals, and under those circumstances I could easily see the manufacturer not wanting people to buy externals and remove the drives since it would cut into their sales of internal drives. Voiding the warranty is one (easy) way they can discourage this practice.

I still fail to see how removing a drive from an enclosure is detrimental to the manufactuer. They've still sold their product, and at the pricepoint they chose. If the price is too low, then they should raise it. What the customer wants to do with their property after voiding the warranty is of no concern to them. You could throw it out the car window or use it to hammer nails.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Mon Aug 25, 2014 10:20 am

I recently repurposed a 3tb seagate drive from a USB3.0 enclosure into my FreeNAS setup. I even went as far as dropping a WD Green 1.5tb drive with an expired warranty into the old enclosure. It works just fine this way for occasional backups, but I don't think I'll be using this external drive for any regularly scheduled backups since I'm not sure how the seagate enclosure will handle the WD Green's spindown cycles.

Also, just FYI, the seagate drive wasn't under warranty outside of the case but the warranty was still active within the case. The HDD was removed in a non-destructive way to the enclosure so that if I ever wish to stick it back in, I can.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Mon Aug 25, 2014 10:31 am

The Egg wrote:I still fail to see how removing a drive from an enclosure is detrimental to the manufactuer. They've still sold their product, and at the pricepoint they chose. If the price is too low, then they should raise it. What the customer wants to do with their property after voiding the warranty is of no concern to them. You could throw it out the car window or use it to hammer nails.

The external drive market is likely more competitive, so margins are slimmer. Think of how many brick and mortar stores sell external drives vs those that sell internal ones. The BackBlaze people (I think that's the link, if not it's one of their blog posts[EDIT: correct link at the bottom :oops:]) have been using this method to shave money off their massive drive purchasing expenses, sending employees into stores like Office Depot armed with company credit cards and clearing the shelves of certain models of external drives, only to break them open and extract the drive.

EDIT: A quick search through Newegg seems to agree:

Bare 4TB Drive $149 USD: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6822178338

4TB in enclosure $139 USD: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6822178354

No idea if these drives are even remotely comparable, but just a quick example.

EDIT2: This is the correct blog link.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Mon Aug 25, 2014 10:40 am

The Egg wrote:I still fail to see how removing a drive from an enclosure is detrimental to the manufactuer. They've still sold their product, and at the pricepoint they chose. If the price is too low, then they should raise it. What the customer wants to do with their property after voiding the warranty is of no concern to them. You could throw it out the car window or use it to hammer nails.

As I already said, we don't know their cost structure. Maybe they're temporarily selling the externals below cost because they're sitting on a warehouse full of unsold inventory, or because there's a price war going on between manufacturers fighting for market share. In either of these situations, I could see them wanting to discourage people from re-purposing the drives.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Mon Aug 25, 2014 11:36 am

SuperSpy wrote:The BackBlaze people have been using this method to shave money off their massive drive purchasing expenses, sending employees into stores like Office Depot armed with company credit cards and clearing the shelves of certain models of external drives, only to break them open and extract the drive.

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but again, how does that hurt the drive manufacturer? Mass quantities of their products are being bought off the shelves at retail price. If it's detrimental for a company to sell mass quantities of their product (in ANY part of their lineup) then they're doing something seriously wrong. If anything, even at a slightly reduced price the manufacturer still comes out on top, because they don't have to provide a warranty for large amounts of product. I'm sure there's a cost associated with warranty coverage factored into the price of each drive we buy.

I guess my underlying point is that spending money to create proprietary connectors is misdirected and asinine. If customers paying full retail price and doing what they please with the product is causing them a problem, then the problem isn't with the customer.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Mon Aug 25, 2014 11:54 am

They did use the method during the drive shortage because they could not get internal drives without paying exorbitant prices. At that time the external drives were still available at reasonable prices so they went that route. That was all during 2012. I see no reason to believe they are still doing that when the cost differential is only a few dollars and every external drive requires someone to remove the drive from the case before they can use it. It makes sense when the cost differential between external/internal is >$50 (or internal drives aren't available) but not when the cost differential is $10 or less.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Mon Aug 25, 2014 12:14 pm

The Egg wrote:I don't want to sound like a broken record, but again, how does that hurt the drive manufacturer?


Assuming the following (which are both reasonable assumptions):

1) If the manufacturer makes more money from the sale of an internal drive versus an external drive
2) If the consumer who is unable to cannibalize an external drive would therefore buy an internal one instead

The answer is obvious: They make more money.

The Egg wrote:Mass quantities of their products are being bought off the shelves at retail price.


Which is good, but a higher profit margin is clearly better.

Some Money < More Money.

The Egg wrote: If it's detrimental for a company to sell mass quantities of their product (in ANY part of their lineup) then they're doing something seriously wrong.


You've got it backwards, the point is that they can conceivably make more money.

The Egg wrote:If anything, even at a slightly reduced price the manufacturer still comes out on top, because they don't have to provide a warranty for large amounts of product.


Without knowing the specific details regarding the profit margins and so forth, we're unable to actually ascertain whether or not they "come out on top." They may indeed be acting foolishly, but since they're the ones who live and die based on such decisions and we're just ignorantly speculating, we have to defer to their judgment as sounder than ours. Especially since, ballparking it, it doesn't look like they're even close to being wrong

Consider: If the price differential is the on the order of ~10 dollars and the product sells for on the order of ~100 dollars, they break even around an RMA rate of ~10%. This of course assumes the price differential is entirely profit margin, but given that external drives presumably cost more to produce from the added enclosure/electronics, I think that's a fair assumption. I doubt the RMA rate is that high. Hence, your conclusion is likely unwarranted.

The Egg wrote:I guess my underlying point is that spending money to create proprietary connectors is misdirected and asinine. If customers paying full retail price and doing what they please with the product is causing them a problem, then the problem isn't with the customer.


Yeah, but with a sizable economy of sale that additional cost for going proprietary really isn't all that significant. In fact, if you make enough of them, they might even be cheaper because a fully integrated proprietary design without any frills could conceivably cost less.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Mon Aug 25, 2014 12:46 pm

Or take an analogy from CPUs.

Why would a CPU manufacturer lock the multiplier well below the clock speed a chip is capable of running at, and sell the CPU at a lower price? Obviously it is because there's a segment of the market they want to compete in, without cannibalizing the sales of their other chips. They're still making money on those cheaper chips (or at least gaining some other perceived benefit like grabbing market share from a competitor), otherwise they'd just be tossing them in the trash. If all they cared about was selling as many chips as possible, they wouldn't artificially segment the product line.

Internal vs. external hard drives is just another form of product line segmentation.
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Re: "Repurposing" external hard drives

Postposted on Mon Aug 25, 2014 8:05 pm

I think a better analogy would be something like Pioneer/Sony/JVC/etc getting mad because people are buying certain home-theater-in-a-box setups just to use the Receiver, rather than buying the same standalone Receiver at a slightly higher price. It's equal to them then throwing a hissy fit, and modifying the home-theater-in-a-box receivers so that they can only work with the included speakers. (Note: They may already do this, I'm just using it as an example)

The drive makers are selling their product at the pricepoint THEY chose, and then getting mad because people are buying it. Either the price of one product is too high, or the other is too low. Either way, it's not the consumer's fault for seeing it for what it is. A manufacturer going out of their way to spend R&D money + extra production money + needlessly complicating their lineup to make a proprietary part (rather than mildly adjust their prices) is in fact, pigheadedly asinine. Even moreso when you consider that it will certainly (not probably) cause some number of people to lose their data when a percentage of the enclosures inevitably fail.
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