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An external drive is helpful for making backups of files, or using as a working drive. By assembling your own drive, you can choose the speed, storage capacity, and durability of the drive.

Here’s a very short synopsis of what is explained below. Purchase a 120GB PNY solid state drive for $22 [View] and a clear drive enclosure for about $12. [View] For about $35 you will have a fast upgradeable external drive with standardized parts. More details about other options and considerations are below.

Ease of Repair and Data Recovery

Building your own external drive makes repair, upgrades, and data recovery more possible. If the USB interface electronics fail, you can get another enclosure for $12.

If you purchase a sealed retail drive in a small enclosure, it can’t be opened. That means if some of the electronics fail, data recovery will be more difficult. If the cable gets bent and damages the USB plug on the drive, the drive will be useless and your data will be lost.

In this regard, having a DIY drive is a better option.

Parts Needed

You will want to have an external drive enclosure (about $30) and a solid state drive (about $20 to $30) for this simple project. This document provides guidance into what enclosure and drive to purchase.

USB Flash Drive Drawbacks

People will typically choose an inexpensive USB flash drive for storing files. However, a USB flash drive does not have the speed and reliability of a standard 2.5-inch SSD. They are small, making them easier to misplace. They are typically fragile and susceptible to breaking. Building your own drive can give you an economical and reliable solution. Having more storage capacity than you need would result in an underutilized and more expensive device.

Choosing the Right Capacity Drive

Some people need only 120GB or less of storage. This is determined based on your current and expected storage use for data files. If you have mostly documents, and your storage needs remain relatively constant, growing slowly from one year to the next, then a drive with 40GB to 100GB beyond what you are currently using should be sufficient.

If you are regularly adding photos, videos, and music files that require a lot of storage, then you may need significantly more storage, and probably could benefit from having a larger drive, and additional archive drives for storing older files.

Usefulness and Longevity

Using a standard 2.5-inch solid state drive will be an investment in a device that can be used as an external or internal drive in most computers. An inexpensive universal drive enclosure can accommodate a different drive in the future with more storage capacity or better speed.

About Solid State and Mechanical Drives

Mechanical hard drives have moving parts. They can be slow and susceptible to failure. Solid state drives are fast and less susceptible to failure. If used intensively, with much writing and erasing of files, solid state drives can wear out after many years. For light use, they will last much longer.

Choosing a Suitable 2.5-Inch Drive

When choosing a suitable 2.5-inch drive, you will want to consider the storage capacity of the drive. Avoid unfamiliar brands. They may be cheaper, but could be unreliable. Reputable brands would be Crucial, Kingston, and PNY.

Best Buy has a good selection of drives. [View Models] Notice that a 250GB WD drive might be about $50 to $60. [View] A drive with 500GB might cost about the same. [View] In general, Best Buy has a selection of commonly requested drive sizes.

Amazon will have a slightly wider selection of drives, including some smaller capacity drives for less money. [View Models] Here are some models from various manufacturers to consider. These are listed alphabetically by manufacturer.

  • 240GB HP for $28 [View]
  • 120GB Kingston for $25 to $30 [View]
  • 128GB Lexar for about $20 [View]
  • 120GB OWC for $30 [View]
  • 120GB PNY for $22 [View]

Choosing a Drive Enclosure

Best Buy has some enclosures for 2.5 inch drives. You would want to select a model with 2.5-inch Serial ATA compatibility. [View Models] A good choice would be the Insignia model for about $30. [View]

Amazon also has drive enclosures. [View Models] A clear enclosure has the added advantage of being able to see the drive inside the case. [View Clear Enclosures]

Excellent Repurposing Examples

The smaller capacity 2.5-inch drives, such as 120GB to 240GB sizes, are excellent for refurbishing older laptop computers. It’s enough space to install Window 10 and some common programs like Microsoft Office. A laptop with this configuration makes a good travel computer that would be inexpensive to purchase, and replace if it were ever damaged, broken, lost, or stolen — common occurrences for travel computers.

Because 2.5-inch used solid state drives have usefulness in other applications, they can be resold later as a way to recover some of the original purchase cost.

Alternative M.2 Drive Options

Instead of using a 2.5-inch solid state drive, you could choose an M.2 storage device. It is a small fast memory stick. A wide variety of storage options are available. [View Examples] The cost per GB is relatively low, and these storage drives are becoming more common in laptop and desktop computers as the new standard for storage.

A metal M.2 enclosure would be about $30. [View Examples] A good choice would be the ANKER model. [View]

An M.2 drive might be more fragile to work with, and would only be useful for repurposing in a newer device. If you have a new computer that can utilize an M.2 drive, that computer probably already has sufficient storage. For this reason, having a 2.5-inch drive can be more useful for repurposing later.

Ruggedized and Secure Drives

Some external USB drives are ruggedized to handle a fall or exposure to water. Drives with biometric fingerprint reader access are also available. These drives are generally more expensive, but necessary if you anticipate adverse conditions or need added security. Here are some examples:

  • Lexar 512GB SSD for about $50 on sale [Amazon]
  • Pioneer 240GB SSD for about $43 [Amazon]
  • Samsung 1TB SSD T7 model for about $115 on sale [Amazon | Best Buy]
  • Samsung 1TB SSD T7 Touch model with fingerprint biometric security for about $150 on sale [Amazon | Best Buy]
  • SanDisk 1TB SSD for about $130 on sale [Amazon | Best Buy]