/ frugal

howto: shuck an external hdd

First, for those reading from the near future, here's a quick intro on what hard drives are. magnetic hard drive disks (HDDs) seem like a holdover from the old days of computing, yet they are still widely in use among the modern home and server ecosystems. unlike the much faster "no moving parts" solid-state drives (SSD), magnetic hard drives are spinning magnetic metal discs that resemble cds. In many builds they are the last and only moving part other than the cooling fans. if you took one apart and looked inside it you would recognize that it appears to work like an old vinyl record player. it uses something like a needle to read and write large swaths of 1's and 0's to and from the many platters inside. these 1's and 0's make up the binary information of the files you've stored on them.

modern SATA HDDs come in two sizes: 3.5" is the larger desktop size and 2.5" is the smaller laptop size (also common with SSDs). they also come in variable rotational speeds which affect their read/write performance. the higher the speed at which a HDD spins-the better the performance of the drive. 5400rpm (rotations per minute) is the most common, 7200rpm is considered "good" performance and anything above that is considered "high performance." while slowly being phased out and replaced by SSDs, magnetic hard drives still offer very high value ("bang for your buck") to both companies and individuals because of their low prices per size ($/gb).

if you need to store large amounts of data, magnetic hard drives are really your only serious option. surprisingly, cloud host's amazon have done something unusual by offering an even older technology called magnetic tape storage (think VHS tapes) which they are branding as "glacial storage". it turns out their cloud hosting service AWS has found a way to revive the technology of tape drives which were popular in the 60s and 70s. it appears they've chosen to do this in order to offer a competitive storage service for very, very large amounts of data that don't need to be written or accessed very quickly at any given moment. so it seems no technology ever truly dies, it just transforms into ever increasing niche markets until they are so rare as to become forgotten and nostalgized. for the time being, HDDs aren't quite there yet but they may be someday soon.

so now that we've gone over what hard drives are exactly, let's get in to what this post is about. for people with large amounts of data to store, buying large hard drives can become a yearly or even monthly ordeal, depending on the size of your problem. over at /r/datahoarder they've even come to think of it as a "digital disease" similar to actual compulsive hoarding, albiet much more contained and easier to hide.

one trick very popular among the subreddit is the concept of "shucking". in this context, shucking is the act of taking an external storage drive and converting it into an internal storage drive. essentially, you carefully crack open the external storage device you bought, remove the HDD inside and then transplant it into your desktop or laptop in order to utilize it fully. the amazing part isn't just that it works, it's that it can often save you over $100 compared to buying the actual internal hard drive itself online!

so let's see how it's done! in this guide we will be shucking a western digital 8tb mybook bought from bestbuy using online pricematching for ~$159 on sale.

here's how the drive looks when you get it out of the box:



you can use one of those key chain cards that grocery stores often give out or cut up an old credit card to use as a tool to unlock the plastic pins which keep the drive locked in it's case.




carefully work your way around the edge of the housing with your plastic card in order to unlock each pin by separating it from the enclosure. you will hear and feel a click when you have successfully detached a pin.









you can see that inside this external drive we found a 7200rpm western digital red (costs ~$300 at the time of writing). these are typically sold for use by businesses in Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices and as such there is a considerable price markup. hard drive companies then resell these drives to non-business customers for use as external drives in order to move stock and also maintain the prices of their business-class offerings.







it's a little tricky but if you don't care about the external enclosure after you remove the drive you can take some signifigant liberties when extracting the hard disk. still, i would advise patience! many times you can re-use the external enclosure with a different hard drive in order to get a working portable storage device out of the deal. what i like to do is put whatever extra hard drives i have lying around in it. no compatability problems in my 2+ years since doing this!


there have been reports of some newer models restricting the type of drive you can use with it but there is also a workaround available which can disable this "feature" by removing a few pins on the board. this is done by desoldering, cutting or otherwise breaking pin's #7 and #8 from the "winbond" flash chip on the circut board. if your usb and power ports are facing away from you they are the 2 most top-right pins on the winbond chip, which is often found in the left-center front part of the PCB.

a few other things: this may work on other external drives but it's always good to do your homework (google) before hand and see if anyone has attempted shucking the particular model you are interested in buying. personally, i stick to western digital drives but that is mostly out of force of habit and brand loyalty.


some drives have an extra pin in it's 3.3v power connector which needs to be modified. this can easily fixed by cutting a thin piece of tape and putting it over the 3rd pin. this blocks that pin from receiving a connection and allows you to connect it to your computer without any further complications. the drive i shucked did not have this problem but it's mostly luck which decides which drive you find inside. some people think you can determine what's inside based on the product number but your mileage may vary.

performance of the drive was average for a western digital red of it's class. i shucked the drive about 1.5-2 years ago and have not encountered any errors or defects with the drive since: all systems are a go!

so, in closing i hope you found this guide useful. you can save a boatload of cash if you have to buy multiple drives for storage and even if you are just buying one you can still save over $100 at times if you catch a good sale. today's black friday so get out there and find those deals!



P.S. if you have access to an email address from your school, college or university you can get a 20% off discount code from western digital by visiting their education store. enter your .edu email and then verify it's active by clicking verify in the email they send you and you will be given a 20% discount code to use! happy hunting!


nick giotis

nick giotis

linux sysadmin/devops w/occasional moonlighting into netsec & full stack development 💯✝️🇺🇸🇬🇷🇮🇪🏴

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