building and formatting a hard drive

In lieu of the article about backing up your data I figured that we would go over how to “build” a hard drive from pieces that one can buy on or any other online/local computer parts retailer. In this article I will cover the following topics:

  1. choosing the parts
  2. assembling the drive
  3. formatting for your usage patter

Choosing the Parts:
There are a huge variety of options and parts that can be used to assemble an at home hard drive. There are a few terms that need to be understood before you can begin shopping and ordering.

The first thing to understand is the drive interfaces. External interfaces are easy to understand. The most common, and the most useful for the broadest range of users is USB. For mac users firewire is awesome, it has a sustained transfer rate instead of fluctuating like USB. The final interface that you will regularly see is eSATA, while eSATA is fast and reliable (think super fast), there are only a handful of devices capable of connecting to it. The majority of drives these days will have USB regardless of the primary interface.

Bottom Line on External Interface: if you have a mac with a firewire port, and money is not a huge issue buy this drive enclosure (it is for 2.5“ drives). If you are a PC user who really doesn’t care about eSATA speed, then buy the cheapest USB enclosure that has good reviews on newegg. If you are reading this thinking that I missed something then you understand more than I will cover here, and should go back to shopping.

Internal interfaces are a little more straight forward. Unless you have a reason not to, buy one that says SATA 3.0 Gb/s. If you have a reason not to then you know more than I will cover here.

Bottom Line on Internal Interface: Buy SATA 3.0 Gb/s.

The biggest factor that causes the majority of stress in choosing is undoubtedly which size of drive to get. I am going to break down pros and cons for each of the popular sizes below.

2.5” drives


  • portable
  • light
  • no power cable (powered by the computer)
  • can be installed in a laptop or desktop


  • limited storage space
  • increased cost / GB
  • slower seek speeds / dollar

3.5“ drives


  • cheaper / GB
  • larger capacity options
  • increased speeds / dollar


  • requires power cord
  • less portable
  • cannot be installed in notebook as a replacement

Assembling the Drive:

[flagallery gid=13 name=”Gallery”]

  1. make sure that your workspace is clean and clear
  2. ensure that you have the correct tools (generally a screwdriver)
  3. carefully insert the drive into the PCB board (most often a tray)
  4. carefully place the screws that mount the drive to the board. This prevents the drive from vibrating making noize and potentially damaging the drive over time.
  5. after the drive has been mounted to the tray, gently slide it into the outer enclosure.
  6. attach the rear plate.
  7. admire your nerdy handy work.

Formatting the Drive:

In OS X.

  1. attach the drive to the computer, and if the drive has a power switch turn it on.
  2. if presented with a prompt to ”initialize“ click initialize now and skip to step 3
  3. locate and launch disk utility (applications -> utilities -> disk utility) or (search in spotlight)
  4. locate the drive on the left column make sure that it is the same size and not one of your other drives.
  5. select the ”Partition“ tab.
  6. under ”Volume Scheme“ choose ”1 Partition“.
  7. select options at the bottom.
    • follow the directions under the options for the one that suits what you will be using the drive for. For most modern mac users GUID will work the best.
  8. under ”Volume Information“ select the file system that best suits what you need. If you are not sure see this article.
  9. name the drive under volume information.
  10. choose apply.
  11. sit back and relax while the partitioning and formatting takes place.


  1. attach the drive to the computer, and if the drive has a power switch turn it on.
  2. right click on the drive that appears under ”Hard Disk Drives“
  3. select ”Format…“
  4. choose a file system
  5. name the drive under volume label
  6. DO NOT choose quick format
  7. click start
  8. kick back and wait

If you have any questions just post up in the comments.

Leave a Comment