Hardware Articles

From hard drive enclosures to mini PCs (Part 1: Why it’s worth the conversion)

Hello again fellow readers and fixers! If ever you needed a large amount of storage for which to back up all of your precious photos, documents and other data, in case your computer (or more specifically the internal hard drive or solid state drive) gives up the ghost, then chances are you have (or should have!) what is known as an external hard drive.

External hard drives come in various shapes and sizes, with the larger drives using 3.5″ hard drives that are commonly found in desktop PCs and digital TV recorders, while the smaller models use 2.5″ hard drives that can be found in laptops. But what if the drive, or the other components inside the external enclosure, go kaput at some point, or if you decide to replace the external drive with a new model? Well, why not try turning the enclosure into your very own fully-fledged ultra small form factor (USFF) computer?

Ultra small form factor PCs are highly compact desktop PCs that are designed to save valuable space in home or work environments, while still being useful for many of the same activities that would be done on standard-sized desktop PCs. To achieve such a small form factor, they tend to use more specialised motherboards, heatsinks and other components, and make use of 2.5″ SATA drives or M.2/NVMe SSDs and laptop RAM modules in order to save space.

Of course, there are various reasons why converting an external hard drive into a compact desktop PC makes sense. Firstly, there is a lot of fun that can be had in challenging oneself to turn a typical hard drive enclosure into a fully functional computer that no-one else has, and that makes good use of the available internal space.

Secondly, they are quite versatile in that they can be repurposed to fulfil various functions. They can make for a nice home theatre PC that can play all the blockbuster movies and shows that you know and love. They can be an awesome retro gaming machine that lets you play all kinds of arcade and home console video games. They can even be a tiny portable PC that you can carry with you and just plug into a TV or monitor while you’re away from home.

Thirdly, repurposing an old hard drive enclosure is a great way to bring back into use, an otherwise tired, disused or unloved item that would have been destined for recycling, or (worse) the landfill site. If the hard drive is still in good working order, then it can still be reused as internal storage for other equipment such as laptops, desktop PCs, digital TV recorders, and security camera systems.

So at this point, you may well be thinking, “What kind of computer will BitFIXit build?” Well next time, we will begin the whole process of converting an old hard drive enclosure into a working computer. For now, let’s just say it involves a credit card sized computer, but probably not the one you’re thinking of! Exactly what it will be – we’ll reveal next time. So in the meantime, as always, stay safe, keep calm and just keep on fixing!

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