I’ve been buying off-the-shelf External Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) for the past seven years.  All have functioned perfectly and I’ve never had any issues (or data loss) — until I purchased three Seagate Free Agent Desk 1.5TB External HDDs last year – all from Costco’s.  Two of the three failed (after loading up with files, of course), so I put them back in their original packaging (after wiping them clean) & took them all back to Costco’s this past December & received a full refund.  (Thank You Costco for your fantastic return policy!)

I was thinking of making this post a slam against Seagate concerning their faulty Free Agent Desk Ext HDDs, but instead decided to encourage people to just build their own external HDDs.  It’s easy and doesn’t cost that much more than the retail products.  But in my opinion, you have a superior product and much greater flexibility.  Besides, it’s what I’m doing now & I thank Seagate for encouraging this behavior.

The discussion that follows only addresses 3.5″ hard drives.  You can build your own 2.5″ external HDD for even less, but you cannot yet get the higher capacity (i.e, 1TB) in 2.5″ HDDs yet.

You only need two things to build your own External Hard Drive:

  1. An enclosure (w/power supply & cables)
  2. A 3.5″ Hard Drive

I purchase all my computer hardware from Newegg.com, and they sell 3.5″ HDD external enclosures for as cheap as $17.  To replace my three Seagate 1.5TB Ext HDDs, I chose the Rosewill R2-JBOD Aluminum 3.5″ USB 2.0 Dual-Bay External Enclosure, on sale for $39.99 (currently out of stock until 2/16/10).  It’s main selling points for me were the all aluminum case; cooling fan; removable metal tray for two 3.5″ SATA HDDs; on/off power switch; separate fan on/off switch.  This case houses two HDDs and it’s almost the same size as the Western Digital MyBook enclosure (which only houses 1 HDD).

For the hard drives, I chose two Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EADS 1TB SATA 3.5″ internal hard drives.   They’re currently $84.99 each @ Newegg (currently out of stock).  I’ve always gone with Western Digital (for over 15 years) as I’ve never had one fail.  I’ve had four of these WD Green Caviar 1TB drives installed in two of my desktops for the past year & they’ve performed flawlessly.  (By the way, don’t confuse this HDD with Western Digital’s latest WD10EARS, which uses a new Advanced Format – 4K Sector Transition.  It will require special procedures you need to follow if using on Windows XP (or earlier) Microsoft OS’s.)

Once you have your enclosure & HDDs, you need to install the HDD(s) in the enclosure.  I’ve always found this easy to do, and it was especially so with the Rosewill dual-bay enclosure.  You slide each drive in & ensure the SATA connector is seated, then secure each HDD with the included 4 screws.  Once both HDDs are installed, you slide the tray back into the enclosure, secure with four screws, and your ready to go!  (By the way, you don’t have to install two HDDs in the Rosewill dual-bay enclosure.  You can install just one, and install an additional HDD later).

So… now you have your newly assembled External HDD.  What next?  If you installed a previously used HDD in your enclosure (i.e., it’s partitioned, formatted, & may or may not have data on it), just plug the puppy in – connect to your USB port – and your ready to go.  If you installed a brand new HDD in your enclosure, then you need to go through a few steps before Windows (any version) will see it.  Go ahead & plug in your ext HDD, connect to USB port, and power it up.

To use your new HDD, you’ll need to bring up the Windows Disk Management interface (unless you get a pop-up Wizard offering to guide you through the necessary steps).  For XP, right-click on “My Computer”; click on “Manage”; then click on “Disk Management” under Storage in the Computer Management window that pops up.  You can also access Disk Management via “Start ==> Run” & type “diskmgmt.msc” in the run window & click OK.

Once you’re in Disk Management, you need to do the following THREE things:

  1. Initialize the disk (only takes a few seconds)
  2. Partition the disk (one or more partitions, very quick)
  3. Format the disk (NTFS or FAT32; recommend NTFS; recommend Full Format & it will take a while.  1TB HDD takes a couple hours)

If you’re lucky, when you enter Disk Management you may be presented with a pop-up that the system has discovered a new disk, and it will walk you through the necessary steps.  If you do not get a pop-up, go back to Disk Management & scroll through the listed disks.  At the bottom you should see your newly attached external HDD.  With the Rosewill Dual-Bay Ext HDD, Disk Mgmt on my system showed two new HDDs.  If your new Ext HDD doesn’t show up, try clicking on the “Action” menu  (in Disk Mgmt) & select “Rescan Disks.”  As I mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph, on most XP systems I’ve always gotten a pop-up Wizard that steps you through initialization, partitioning & formatting of the new disk(s).  If you don’t get this wizard, just right-click on the new drive in Disk Mgmt & select initialize; right-click & select partition (I use just one partition for the entire drive, but to each their own).  Lastly, right-click on disk & select Format.  If you created multiple partitions on the ext HDD, you’ll need to format each one of them.  I always format my disks with NTFS, especially the large 1TB or greater HDDs.  Unless you have a need for FAT32, I’d use NTFS.

Once you’ve initialized, partitioned & formatted your new ext HDD, it should appear in Windows Explorer & you should be able to start using it.

If you run into problems (it happens), don’t forget to “Google” for help & by all means post a comment here & I’ll try to help.  I’ve attached the Rosewill Enclosure user manual (Rosewill R2-JBOD User Manual), as it shows in more detail the steps you take to initialize, partition & format new HDDs.

Good Luck!