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I'm looking at replacing the actual disk in my external hard disk (USB) with one with higher storage capacity. Based on the connectors, it seems to take any 3.5 SATA drive, but I wonder if all disks are equally suitable. I could imagine that some disks might need more cooling than the tight, fanless enclosure provides, or need more power than it gets through the enclosure, etc.

So, my questions is, can I just use any 3.5 SATA drive, or if not what do I need to look out for?

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Generally speaking, any "Green" drive tends to work well in external enclosures. Unless the enclosure has decent ventilation and an active fan (not too loud), I'd go with a 5400 RPM drive rated for better power conservation. In the larger sizes it'll still be faster than a smaller higher RPM drive. A 5400 1.5TB drive will generally be faster than a <500GB 7200RPM drive.

Honestly, the only time I'd consider a higher RPM drive is if I were using a NAS storage device for iSCSI or heavy network traffic (More than say 5 active users). If you have special needs, like video recording then there are drives geared towards that, but it really depends on your enclosure.

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You can in theory use any SATA drive if your enclosure supports changing the drive: Those connectors are standard and identical to those in your PC. That said, if you notice any drive that runs excessively hot (I have a 500GB WD Caviar that does), I would exercise caution.

If it doesn't support changing the drive, I'd just buy a new one to be safe because (a) You will void your warranty, and (b) You don't know what assumptions it's firmware makes.

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Some of the enclosures have advanced features that will only work with hard drives that have the correct firmware. For instance the new MyBooks have a feature where extra programs (to manage encryption, drive use by file type, etc..) are mounted on a virtual CD drive. If you swap the hard drive then this feature breaks and the display on the front of the enclosure gets messed up. The MyBooks also usually use the Green versions of the drives as they don't get as hot. Therefore putting a high RPM, high performance drive in the enclosure might create too much heat where there is insufficient cooling and the drive can die.

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those special MyBook "firmware" features probably use a tiny partition on the drive for storing the "firmware". i'd bet you could copy that over to the new drive and keep those features working. good points about the heat on high-RPM drives. – quack quixote Jan 17 '10 at 23:03
Actually it is indeed a firmware feature and a pain in the ass as you can't access the partition to recover the 600 MB or so of space that it takes up if you don't want to use the tools. I'm a software engineer, I know the difference between a partition and a completely hidden area thats obscured by firmware ;) You can disable the VCD so it doesn't show up in "My Computer" but you cannot reclaim the space. Read more about it here: – Marcin Jan 17 '10 at 23:20
oh, i'm aware of what WD support has to say. doesn't mean they don't implement it using a hidden partition, or some other obfuscation technique. (they are the drive manufacturer, after all.) i haven't had one to play with so i can't tell you how you could copy (or delete) that data, but unless they've tweaked the drive firmware to hide it it can be copied (or, again, deleted). (not that i'd put tweaking the firmware past them -- like i said, they are the drive manufacturer.) – quack quixote Jan 18 '10 at 20:00
I have the drive. GParted doesn't see the partition(it doesn't even detect it as unknown), so the firmware hides it completely. I removed the drive from the enclosure and hooked it up with a SATA cable directly to the motherboard, same story. So it's not just hidden by the USB controller in the enclosure. – Marcin Jan 18 '10 at 23:16

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