How To

Shucking: Finding Useful, Discounted Disks Inside External Drives

I have a secret for you. Come close. Closer. Alright, that’s good. You know those external storage drives, the kind you buy to store your photos and game saves? Inside is a regular ol’ internal hard drive, one that’s more accessible than you might think, and often cheaper than buying a brand-new drive. If you’ve got a desktop, NAS system, or home media server to fix or upgrade, consider trying your hand at the art of shucking. 

Removing an internal drive from an external enclosure

Yes, shucking. Shucking an external drive involves disassembling the external enclosure and harvesting the bare internal hard drive that sits within. From there, you can use it however you see fit, like putting it in your PC, home server, or NAS. The trick is disassembling the enclosure without destroying it. It’s not crucial, but if you ever have a problem with the drive itself and need to send it in for warranty, the manufacturer might wonder where the enclosure is and promptly reject your warranty claim.

Using an iFixit Jimmy tool to pop open the side of an external drive.

The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act of 1975 says that the manufacturer can’t void your warranty just because you disassembled your device. Instead, they have to prove that whatever malfunction occurred was because you disassembled the product. But it’s always better to be safe than sorry. With the right technique, you can convert a defective bare drive back into an external drive at any time and avoid a customer service hassle. It’s pretty easy to disassemble most external hard drives without damaging anything, especially the WD Elements series—we have a step-by-step guide that takes you through the whole process using nothing but a Jimmy and a Phillips screwdriver.

The work can be quite rewarding, too. Take this Western Digital 14TB Ultrastar internal drive on Newegg, for example. It’s the cheapest 14TB Western Digital bare drive Newegg sells, priced at $350 at the time of this writing. Compare that to a recent sale of a 14TB external drive from the same manufacturer, down to a historically low $190. That’s a cool $160 savings over the standalone bare drive, nearly a 50% discount. And even if there wasn’t a sale, the 14TB WD Easystore regularly sells for $260—still a healthy markdown. So it makes a lot of sense to look for deals among external drives, even if you’re really shopping for internal drives.

And these are no second-rate hard drives sitting inside these cheaper externals. They’re the same server-grade hard drives the manufacturer normally sells for dozens of dollars more. So why are external drives—fitted with a case, connectors, and all the assembly labor that entails—cheaper than just the bare drive?

There could be many economic and marketing reasons for it. Perhaps companies just expect technically proficient buyers of single drives can afford to pay more, while they sell a higher volume of plug-and-play external drives to the masses. One big reason, though, is manufacturing tolerances.

When companies manufacture a product at a large scale, there are variances in the quality of the finished product. Some units come out the other end picture-perfect, while others not so much. It’s a bit like baking cookies—same recipe, but some can end up too crispy, or without enough chocolate chips. The lower-quality units aren’t good enough for enterprise server farm customers, but instead of throwing them out, the manufacturer sells them in external drives, with a shorter warranty—but you and I, casually backing up photos and documents, wouldn’t notice these quality differences.

Hand removing the drive from the enclosure of an external drive.

Keep in mind, not all external drives are shuckable. Laptop-size 2.5-inch drives can be a toss up, as some have their USB controller boards soldered directly to the hard drive (which is a repair and data recovery nightmare in and of itself). Western Digital, in particular, has consistently been guilty of this. But for the most part, popular 3.5-inch series like Western Digital’s Easystore and Elements, as well as Seagate’s Expansion and Backup Plus lines are easily shuckable.

Let’s also address the elephant in the room: Shucking external drives creates waste. Once you harvest the bare drive from the enclosure, all that plastic and circuitry is now useless to you. Hopefully you’re taking it to a certified recycler, or giving the components to a fellow data storage buff to reuse. You can also repurpose the power adapter for various projects, like for a Raspberry Pi or LED lights. You can also do a bit of easy circuitry magic to reuse the USB controller on any other hard drive, converting it to an emergency makeshift hard drive dock.

So the next time you need more internal storage in your PC, server, or NAS, don’t count out external drives. Count them in, shuck them, and buy yourself something nice with the savings.