Tech Bench

External USB 2 and FireWire drives are great for backup and portability. But why pay several hundred dollars when you can get a hard drive on sale (just make sure it’s compatible with your OS), an inexpensive USB 2 and/or FireWire hard drive enclosure, and put your own drive together in minutes? It’s really quite simple.

1. Gather your hard drive, enclosure, and a Phillips head screwdriver (Figure 1).

2. Open up the enclosure, and identify the connectors. The power connector has four pins and is white, while the IDE connector is black and has lots of pins (Figure 2). Keep the hard drive in its protective bag until the last minute.

3. Check the drive jumper configuration printed on the outside of the drive, and set the jumper to Master. Figure 3 shows the pin legend on the back of a typical drive, while the insert shows the jumper in the Master setting.

4. Patch the connectors to the matching drive connectors, then place the drive in its enclosure.

5. Don’t forget the four screws that secure the drive to the drive tray.


Connect power to the drive, patch a USB cable between the drive and your computer, and power everything up. With a Mac, when an alert tells you the disk isn’t recognized, select “Initialize.” This takes you to Disk Utilities. As I wanted the drive to work with Mac or Windows, I clicked on “Erase” and under Volume Format, chose “MS-DOS File System” (Figure 6). If you’re Mac-only, partition and format as you would a standard Mac disk.

Windows will recognize the disk; when the new hardware wizard appears, choose “Install the Software Automatically” and Windows will install a driver. However, the disk still needs to be formatted. Go Start > Settings > Control Panel. Open “Administrative Tools” and select “Computer Management.” Under “Storage,” click on “Disk Management.” Locate the disk in the lower right, right-click on the name of the new disk, and select “Properties.”

Under “Policies,” you can optimize the disk for quick removal (you don’t need to use the taskbar’s “Safely Remove Hardware” button) or better performance. Choose “Performance;” click on OK.

Right-click on the disk again, but this time, choose “Initialize.” After a few seconds, the disk shows “Online.” Right-click in the shaded space and select “New Partition” (Figure 7), then select “Primary Partition.” I create one large partition, but do whatever you want.

With Windows XP you have to format with the NTFS file system, so if you want to use the drive with a Mac, you’d better make sure your Mac OS can read NTFS (if not, there are third party utilities that can do this). Close out the wizard, and formatting begins.

Now that your disk is formatted, it’s ready to use . . . and you saved some bucks in the process!