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External HDD or Internal HDD + enclosure

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April 28, 2008 6:20:28 PM

Hello,
I want to get a new Hard Drive but I'm not sure what setup to use. I was thinking of an internal drive, say 1TB drive and an enclosure as I want it to be somewhat portable and have something close to an external drive. I thought using this method allows me to choose which hard drive I want and it's a bit cheaper per GB. The external drives (with USB and perhaps, eSATA) are limited to a few brands and are more expensive. They're a bit more 'plug 'n play' or convenient but would an internal drive and enclosure do practically the same thing as an external drive?

What interface options are there with an internal drive and enclosure? I know that most external drives offer USB and some also offer firewire and eSATA but what about an internal drive and enclosure? I guess the enclosure has a usb option? I know some enclosure kits have advertisements with usb so I am wondering how it works with a typical SATA internal HDD.

I appreciate all comments, info and recommendations/advice. I'm currently researching this but need to get a drive (setup) soon!
a c 357 G Storage
April 29, 2008 12:33:15 AM

Buying your own separate internal drive and external enclosure is easy, quick, and can save you money - a good idea for anyone with even modest skills at assembly. Here are a few things to check on.

1. Match the HDD unit's interface to the enclosure's system. You can get enclosures for either ATA or SATA interfaces to the HDD unit itself. Personally, given the trends in hardware, I'd choose SATA II - I actually did just that for my system.

2. Match the enclosure's connection scheme with the ports you have (or will have) on your computer. Almost all enclosures will come with USB2 as one option. Many will have two interface systems, the second being either eSATA or IEEE1394a (aka Firewire 400). Some may offer IEEE1394b (aka Firewire 800), or plain SATA. Among these, USB2 is the slowest but is almost universally available on any computer. Plain SATA is not commonly available - you have to use a SATA controller socket on your mobo, and then find a way to route the ribbon cable out to your enclosure. Now, plain SATA does not allow long signal cables, so there's a problem, and that is why it is uncommon. eSATA, on the other hand (assuming it is supported by a real eSATA controller in the mobo) allows a longer cable and includes hot swapping capability. It also is just as fast as the plain SATA connection is to an internal drive, so it's faster than USB2. IEEE1394a (aka Firewire 400) is comparable speed to eSATA, Firewire 800 is the fastest, but few computers have this built in.

3. If you go eSATA interface between computer and enclosure, there are two variations. Some computers have a true eSATA controller built in, or you can buy one to add into a PCI slot. Either way you end up with an eSATA port on the outside of your case at the back. For those who don't have it already and choose not to add a separate controller, many enclosure makers with eSATA interfaces provide an adapter plate/cable system. You mount it in an empty expansion slot hole on the back and it has an eSATA connector on it. Then you take its cable inside the case and plug it into a regular SATA connector on your mobo. Effectively it allows you to hook an eSATA device to a plain SATA port. This does not guarantee that ALL eSATA functions will work perfectly, because a few SATA controlers omit a very few eSATA functions. But most of the time it works OK.

4. Power - I prefer an enclosure that has its own separate power supply (via a "power brick" or "wall wart") and on/off switch, so it does not draw power from the computer interface system.

5. Cooling - some people prefer an enclosure with a cooling fan built in to ensure cool operation of the HDD and longer life. This is especially important if you are mounting a DVD drive in the enclosure, perhaps less important for HDD's. Depends on your preferences and the heat the HDD generates.

In my own case the mobo I bought to build my system had both a SATA controller for internal HDD's and a true eSATA controller with exterior (rear) connector. I bought an AZIO external enclosure with both eSATA and USB2 interfaces to the computer, and internal connections for a SATA II HDD. It has its own power brick and on/off switch, but no cooling fan. In it I mounted a 500GB Seagate SATA II HDD. Works great! It is my backup system. It is hooked up via eSATA, but I can take it anywhere and connect to just about any machine using USB2 if I need to.
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