Replacing an External Drive

One fact that many consumers aren’t aware of is that external drives can easily be replaced or upgraded. All it takes is a little know-how, total lack of respect for possible warranties and a small eyeglass / electronics screwdriver.

Armed with the following knowledge, you’ll be able to replace or upgrade your drive and use it as an enclosure for other drives.

Drive Sizes and Interfaces:

There’s two main drive sizes and two types of interfaces you’ll need to know about before we get started. The drives themselves are either 3.5″ or 2.5″. A 3.5″ drive is the larger, “Desktop” size and the 2.5″ is the smaller, “Laptop” size.

Desktop vs Laptop drives by Justin Ruckman and Design and Technology Student

If you don’t know what drive-size your external drive is, look at it for a minute. Is it pretty big, or tiny? Most 2.5″ external drives are not in a larger casing and for obvious reasons, a 3.5″ drive won’t fit into a smaller case.

If you still can’t figure it out, look up your drive online. Or, if you’re daring, take it apart and find out.

Drive interfaces are trickier. The two types of interfaces in use are Serial-ATA or SATA and Parallel-ATA or PATA, sometimes referred to as IDE. Looking at the interfaces, is easy to tell them apart.

SATA and IDE interfaces by Brett Neilson and Maticulous

SATA is the newer, current interface type and the older IDE style is commonly found in computers / laptops from about 4 years ago and beyond.

Most external drives out there are SATA.

Now that you’ve figured out what type of drive you have, if you’re looking for a replacement or upgrade, I wholly recommend either Seagate or Western Digital.

A Word about Warranties:

Now for the disclaimer: The minute you violate your external drive’s insides, you may be voiding any sort of warranty the drive has. Usually, if there’s a warranty to void, there’s a sticker or some sort of seal you have to break to open the drive.

The Takeapart:

You’ll need a special electronics screwdriver called a Phillips #0. It’s basically a Phillips screwdriver that’s really small. You may or may not need another special screwdriver called a Torx. Torx screws have a star pattern instead of the usual cross or straight line of a more common screw.

Next, examine the casing. Look for screws that can be taken out to open it up. Some casings are plastic that can be carefully popped open, others slide out. If the drive has a rubber covering, remove it. Just make sure all screws are removed before you try opening the case.

Note: If the casing is plastic, held together by plastic joints, be very careful opening it. If you break or bend the joints, the drive may not go back together again.

Now, once the drive housing (drive and the external interface) are visible, there’s usually four screws underneath the drive that hold it in place. Remove them and the drive should slide right out.

Replace the drive with a new one, replace the screws and carefully put the casing back together.


Once your drive is back together, attach it to your Mac and format it with Disk Utility. Congratulations, you just upgraded your external drive!

3 thoughts on “Replacing an External Drive

  1. Would love to know how to take apart the LaCie brick desktop hard drive that looks like an oversized Lego. I like it too much so I could replace the supplied hard disk, should the need arise. I have done this to the LaCie d2 FireWire but it seems to me the brick design make things is a lot more tricky.

  2. @ Angel – Great question! I found a Flickr photoset with some pictures that might help. It looks like you remove the feet and pry open the casing on the underside. Be careful not to damage anything when opening the case. Here’s the link:

  3. @ David – Amazing find. It will let me to put the “Go as far as you can see, when you get there you’ll see further” saying to the test.

    I thank you, and appreciate the help. 🙂