Terabyte-o-fauxbia: Fake Phobia, Large Drives, Real Fear

Setting up an eSATA external drive enclosure

posted: 2009-04-12 | updated: 2020-08-24

Thermaltake’s Max 4 external drive enclosure package

Thermaltake’s Max 4 external drive enclosure

Disk drives, like cupboard space, don’t stay empty for long. If you’ve got space, you find ways to fill it up. Do you know anyone who actually has an empty cupboard? I don’t. There was a time, before I actually ventured into the world of large capacity storage, when I thought I was pretty unflappable about the whole subject. Ah, not so. I’ve breached my comfort zone, which, as I discovered after years of analysis, tops out at about 80 gigs. Oh, sure, I’ve worked my way up to 320 gigabyte drives, but those I’d installed on other people’s machines—I could install and run, I didn’t have to live with them afterwards (the drives, not the people). I’m feeling a bit like one of those flying dinosaurs: outdated and all in a flap (a tera-dactyl?).

My disk drives, unlike Old Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, are crammed full, and mainly with photos (a curse on those who invented the digital camera, do they all have shares in Fujitsu, Western Digital, Samsung, and Hitachi?). Facing my fear has become a necessity: go big, or go home (or somewhere else because I’m already at home). Fear may as well have a name. I’ll call it, terabyte-o-fauxbia: “terabyte” because this is all about big storage, and “faux-bia” because it is not recognized as legitimate disorder yet (give it time and capacity). Some say it’s all in my head. I contend that’s a good place for a phobia to be. My fear, however, is not entirely unjustified, more later.

Seagate Barracuda 1.5 TB disk drive

Seagate Barracuda 1.5 TB drive


There’s no sense in edging slowly into cold water, it won’t get any warmer and only prolongs the misery. So, I jumped in over my head and purchased a SATA 1.5 terabyte drive. Since I’m going to be using it as an external backup drive for several computers, I also purchased an external drive enclosure that supports both USB and eSATA interfaces. Universal Serial Bus (USB) is the fallback for computers (like mine) that don’t support the much faster eSATA interface. While USB will work with almost any computer, it may as well stand for “Universal Slow Bus.” For more lively paced data transfer, eSATA is the E ticket. It could stand for “External Smokin’ ATA,” but doesn’t. eSATA is an acronym for External Serial Advanced Technology Attachment, a variant of the SATA interface that’s been tweaked for those of you who wish to store outside the box. SATA itself is a variant of ATA, retroactively dubbed PATA (Parallel ATA), which evolved from… Oh heck, just plug in the little connector thingy and store a bunch of crap on your big new drive.

Max 4 drive enclosure

the Max 4 by day


Now I could have purchased an external drive all ready to go, something like the LaCie d2 Quadra Hard Disk which supports eSATA, USB, and FireWire 400 & 800 interfaces, but what fun would that be? Besides, the 1.5 TB model retails for $359.99 CAD. Ouch. I like to tinker, so I bought a bare drive, a Seagate Barracuda 7200.11, model # ST31500341AS ($175.99 CAD), and an external drive enclosure, Thermaltake’s Max 4 Active Cooling eSATA & USB Combo, part # N0012USU ($45.99 CAD). I guess the ad execs thought “active cooling” sounded ever so much more techie than “comes with a fan.” I’m not fooled. I’ve used fanless enclosures before, such as Vantec’s NexStar 3, which sports neither cooling fan, nor vents. The drives get hot (and bothered, depending on what kind of pictures you’re storing), and after an hour or so, the enclosure becomes very warm to the touch. Though it will keep your coffee mug warm long into the wee-wee hours of the night, I’m not sure it’s good for the hard drive. And now for some stunning photos, and equally stunned narrative:

Installing the drive in the enclosure:

  1. This is a straight forward procedure, remove the half of the enclosure cover opposite the fan side (four screws)

    Max 4 with drive enclosure with top removed

    Max 4 with top removed

  2. Remove the two plastic drive retaining clips (one screw each)

    drive enclosure plastic drive support brackets

    plastic drive support brackets (the upper one is in place)

  3. Place a retaining clip on each side of the drive (plastic pins go into the screw holes normally used to mount the drive in a computer case)

    sliding drive towards enclosure’s connector

    sliding drive towards enclosure’s connector

  4. Place the drive into the enclosure and gently slide it forward, snuggling it into the connectors on the enclosure’s circuit board

    disk drive nestled into enclosure connector

    drive nestled into enclosure connector

  5. replace the screws that hold the drive retaining clips and gently tighten
  6. replace the enclosure cover and screws

With the new drive nestled into the enclosure, it’s time to partition the drive so you can finally backup all your important files, and sleep better for it. To do this you’ll need to connect the external drive enclosure to your computer with either the USB, or eSATA cable.

Connecting with USB

With the enclosure’s power switch in the OFF position, connect the DC power cable to the enclosure (6 pin mini-DIN) and AC plug into a surge protector. You do use a quality surge protector, don’t you? Next, connect the external drive enclosure to the computer with the supplied USB cable. With your computer fired up, turn the enclosure’s power switch to the ON position. Exciting, huh?

Connecting with eSATA

If only things were simple… There are two procedures for connecting with eSATA: hot plugging and cold plugging. Hot plugging is just like connecting with a USB interface, except, of course, an eSATA cable is used instead of a USB cable. With hot plugging, the external drive can be connected to the computer while the computer is running, no need for a reboot. Disconnecting a hot pluggable drive requires us to “safely remove hardware” before disconnecting the cable, or turning off power to the drive. This prevents data loss and/or corruption. There are three requirements for eSATA hot plugging:

  1. The correct operating system drivers must be loaded
  2. The Advanced Host Controller Interface (AHCI) must be enabled in the BIOS
  3. The disk drive must support hot plugging

This assumes that your computer supports SATA and that you have an eSATA connector on your computer. If your desktop computer supports SATA, but doesn’t have an eSATA connector, you can install the supplied eSATA bracket. If your Desktop computer doesn’t support SATA at all, there’s still hope—an eSATA PCI add-in card will do the trick. Sadly, not all notebook computers come with an eSATA connector, not even new ones; however, there are both CardBus and ExpressCard eSATA adapters available.

If your computer (or disk drive) does not support, or is not setup for hot plugging, cold plugging is in order. With your computer off, connect the power cable to the external drive, then connect the drive to the computer with the eSATA cable. Turn on the external drive first, then turn on the computer. You’ll have to leave the external drive powered up and connected while the computer is on. At the end of the day, shut down your computer first, then turn off the external drive. For more information on hot plugging eSATA drives, visit: wikipedia.org/wiki/AHCI.

Partitioning and Other Woes

New drives need to be partitioned before you can use them. If all has gone well, the drive will show up in Disk Manager (Windows) as unallocated, which means you can go ahead and partition the drive. In my case, although the drive enclosure was recognized (woo-hoo!), Disk 2, the new disk, was ominously reported as having “no media.” Windows was not seeing the disk drive (boo-hoo!). Reseating the drive in the enclosure, and firing things up in various orders did not help. Windows would not recognize the drive for love, nor money, and I’d just forked over $248.62 (including taxes) of my well-loved money for 1.5 terabytes of storage that wasn’t. I told you my fear was not entirely unjustified. Admittedly, my computer is nigh on seven years old and methinks the USB implementation is suspect. Using a newer notebook computer to create the first partition solved the problem, after which I was able to create three more partitions using the old war horse.


The Max 4 external enclosure comes complete with everything you need: USB and eSATA cables, a stand for the enclosure, even an eSATA bracket is included, which is a nice touch. Assembly is quick and easy, and the blue light from the drive activity and fan LEDs is the envy of alien spacecraft jockeys everywhere.

Max 4’s blue LEDs by night

Max 4 by night—the envy of alien spacecraft jockeys everywhere

While the Max 4 enclosure is always recognized by my computer, the same can’t be said for the drive within. If I power up the drive, sans USB cable, wait a minute or two, then connect the USB cable and wait a few more minutes, the drive is recognized most of the time. Another problem is that both the Max 4’s USB and power cable connectors are a loose fit. Cables are easily dislodged from the enclosure—don’t move or bump the enclosure while transferring files or partitioning the disk (oops). As if that weren’t enough, it was impossible to burn a DVD using the external drive as the source. My Windows system log is littered with the following event IDs:

50 – Delayed Write Failed…
51 – An error was detected on device \Device\Harddisk2\D during a paging operation.
57 – The system failed to flush data to the transaction log. Corruption may occur.

These “events,” as they are so nicely referred to, may have been caused by the USB cable parting ways with the enclosure while creating a new partition. Deleting the partition and then making it anew didn’t help. Running fdisk /f on each partition seems to have solved the problem… we’ll see. Need some good news? I’ve since managed to burn two DVDs and transfer files back and forth without incident. I’m looking forward to trying out the eSATA interface when I finally get a new computer.

Update: 2020-08-24

Looking way back to 2009, a 1.5 terabyte drive seemed quite large. Today it looks rather ordinary. In its day the Thermaltake Max 4 was ahead of the game, sporting both eSATA connectivity and a cooling fan, features that are not common even now. Over 10 years later, I’m still using two Max 4 enclosures (with the original drives) for backup duties

While I like the speedy eSATA connection, Windows is not fond of recognizing or ejecting a drive (a USB connection is remarkably trouble free). Upgrading to Windows 10 made no difference. After scouring the Internet I finally came across a work-around to the pernickety eSATA connection. Assuming you can coax an eSATA connection into existence at least once, you can use the Windows Disk Management system utility to take the drive off-line if ejecting the drive doesn’t work. To reconnect the drive, connect the eSATA cable, power up the drive and use Disk Management to put the drive back online. This has worked fairly well for me.

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