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There are two kinds of external HDD available on the market:

I wonder generally speaking, which kind is better in terms of quality and price, for the current technology, in other words, in which cases to choose which kind? Thanks!

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So, the parameters are Price and Quality.

With those two in mine, defining what better is...

... then neither is actually better. It all would depend on what was on sale and what was available to you.

Why?

If you want to use your Western Digital product as an example, you can purchase the same exact hard drive separately, without an external casing. This means the only thing to consider the price of and quality of is the USB to SATA converter. What about the price of the hard drive? I'll get back to that.

Now... if you purchase the USB to SATA converter as part of an external case, yes... there are some that are better than others... but on the other side of that coin the PRICE of these is not always the best determining factor as to which is better. The oldest USB to SATA converter that I own, is part of a 2.5" external case that I purchased years ago for $5. It is not a recognized brand name. It has outlasted newer ones and ones supplied with WD external enclosures, and has been in regular use. However... unless you purchase the USB enclosure or converter WITH the hard drive, you must now factor in the shipping/driving (gas + time) into the cost of the part. If you are buying online, chances are you are getting both the drive and the enclosure shipped to you. If you buy them separately, then the individual shipping charges on each is most likely going to make the total for the purchase MORE than what it would cost for a pre-assembled external drive.

Now... remember, we started with the premise that the hard drive itself would be the same WD product. I brought up shipping... and once you factor that into the equation, your two parameters of Price and Quality have been addressed to show that you can find a pre-assembled product with a WD drive that will cost you less and provide quality usage for the lifetime you expect from it... and you can buy the parts and assemble one yourself that can cost the same and provide the same. It all depends on where you shop, and what deals you find.

Of course, if you widen the parameters, this changes the equation.

For example. Is dust a factor? Most WD external drives (the 3.5") have vents that allow a large amount of dust inside the unit, where many external enclosures don't have these vents. Are the construction materials a factor? Most pre-assembled external drives are made of plastic, where you can find empty external enclosures made of aluminum. We also cannot forget the Ease of Assembly. It can be a pain in the BUTT to get a pre-assembled external drive enclosure apart, should the USB to SATA converter fail... where a do-it-yourself kit can allow you to use that external enclosure as a drive testing kit (should you ever find yourself having to pull data from a different drive).

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Thanks! By "the USB to SATA converter", do you mean writing from a computer to an external SATA HDD through USB connection between them? –  Tim Aug 11 '12 at 13:30
    
@Tim if you purchase an external hard drive that connects to your computer via a USB cable, there is a 99% chance that the drive within the casing is a standard SATA hard drive. This means that there is a printed circuit board within the external drive casing that has the USB connection at one end, and a SATA connection at the other. This would therefore be a USB to SATA converter. Yes, there are USB to IDE based devices as well (USB to PATA), but this is an older format, and falling out of use. –  Bon Gart Aug 11 '12 at 13:33
    
Thanks! I wonder which one is more portable (i.e. smaller and lighter), external HDD resulting from self assembling separate HDD and enclosure, and external HDD resulting from pre-assembling? –  Tim Aug 12 '12 at 14:58
    
@Tim most of the preassembled ones are slicker-looking, but for the 2.5" laptop drive portables, no real difference in portability –  Bon Gart Aug 12 '12 at 16:39
    
Thanks! For those preassembled, (1) I wonder how possible and difficult it is to "get a pre-assembled external drive enclosure apart"? (2) If it is the HDD or the enclosure that goes wrong, is it possible to find new ones to replace the HDD or the enclosure (not necessarily identical to the original)? –  Tim Aug 13 '12 at 12:33

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