How to shuck the Seagate Expansion 4TB portable (STEA4000400), and why…

The computer serving as a NAS was in need of another hard drive. While my previous “Backup Plus” Seagate 4TB variant had proven shuckable in the past, I wasn’t positive if the “Expansion Portable” variant that happened to be on sale (the Seagate STEA4000400) could be shucked or not. Turns out it is!

Before going further, since “shucking” isn’t an overly popular term, it essentially means “de-shelling”. In our case, “de-casing” the portable hard drive so we can use the internal 2.5″ drive as a standard hard drive. Now before someone starts buying up portable external drives like a madman, I should warn you that:

  • Not all drives are shuckable. Some (Western Digital especially) don’t have an SATA connector on the internal drive.
  • This tends to void warranties. At the very least it’ll be a bit harder to claim a warranty when the thing’s clearly been disassembled.
  • These 4TB drives are 15mm in height. So they won’t fit in a laptop or other standard sized 2.5″ bays. May not fit in game consoles.

 

Let’s continue – disassembly

Pictures first – click for a larger image.

Seagate STEA4000400 Seagate STEA4000400 - Unit Seagate STEA4000400 - Opening Seagate STEA4000400 - Opening (2) Seagate STEA4000400 - Cover off Seagate STEA4000400 - Cover off (2) Seagate STEA4000400 - Removal Seagate STEA4000400 - Removal (2) Seagate STEA4000400 - Removal (3) Seagate STEA4000400 - Removal (4) Seagate STEA4000400 - Installed

Disassembly is fairly straightforward, though less easy than on the Backup Plus. The Backup Plus can be done with fingernails – for the Expansion Portable you’ll need a knife and another tool of sorts for prying.

Removing case top: There’s a seam along the top lid of the case – I found it easiest to get a knife inside the seam on the connector-side of the unit. I expanded the lid enough to get a flat-sharp chisel in and used that for the bulk of the prying. Note that most of the permanent locking tabs were broken in the process (pic #5). So far as I can tell, the only way not to break them would be to slide a thin knife into the lip then down the side and pry, which might not work so well and is more likely to damage the drive and muck up the case around the seam anyway. Using my method (just letting the tabs break), while there might be enough left to snap it back together somewhat, this is something of a 1-way street.

Popping the drive out: Picture #8 shows the drive out. I essentially tipped the drive upside down (with my hand below it to catch it), and gave it a light shake/tap – the drive pivoted out from the case shell. From there I could just slide it out by hand. Note that there are 4 rubberish mounts (1 per screw) that you may want to hang on to if you plan to re-use the case.

Removing the SATA-to-USB circuit board: You can see the circuit board still attached in Picture #9. Do not pull on the board to separate it – it will flex and possibly snap. Instead, use the sharp knife right at the SATA connectors to pry the circuit board off on either side of the plastic SATA connector plug (rotate between sides – mine was kinda tight). Picture #10 shows the circuit board removed, but assuming you’ve looked at another SATA hard drive, you should be able to figure it out. I haven’t tested to see if it’ll work on other non-seagate drives, but it could be worth keeping around anyway.

Installation into the computer: Just like any other 2.5″ drive. I needed a 2.5-to-3.5″ adapter to fit the drive bay here. Be picky about adapters, as some can get in the way of the SATA data and power connectors.

 

What internal drive is inside the STEA4000400?

As seen in Picture #10 it’s the Seagate ST4000LM024. Note that there’s no guarantee Seagate won’t use different internal drives at some point.

Okay, so why bother shucking a drive?

Low power consumption: These 2.5″ portable drives tend to consume only 1-2W of power. Compare this to 3.5″ drives which tend to consume 3-10W of power. Not only is there a power savings once you start adding up a bunch of drives, but it lets you get away with a lower-rated PSU and results in less heat being emitted from the case.

Availability: When looking for 2.5″ drives, the external portables are much easier to find than internal variants. Few retailer stock a variety of internal 2.5″ drives, particularly when looking for higher capacity (4TB+).

Price: External portables are in a fairly competitive space (hence the “availability” above), so the prices tend to be a bit lower than equivalent internals.

 

Downsides – why not to shuck?

Performance and warranty.

These high capacity 2.5″ drives have a tendency to be SMR or some other similar variant. The tradeoff for the extra capacity is low read/write speeds once you’ve dumped the buffer, and particularly low for random read/writes. That makes them great for storage servers, or decent if placed in a large RAID0 or RAID5+ array, but bad if you’re planning to use it for a constantly accessed drive that’ll be thrashed with constant reads and writes.

Warranty is also limited to 1 year (in the Americas anyway), and that’s assuming you somehow didn’t mangle the case so badly that they’d resist honouring the warranty anyway. Compare this to the equivalent internal (same model) which is 3 years. That said, it doesn’t mean the internal is necessarily a better quality drive – there’s probably an expectation that the external will be bumped around a lot, plugged into USB ports of varying quality, and subjected to other hazards an internal wouldn’t be which could explain the shorter warranty period.

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  1. Alan in N.Ireland on June 13, 2018 - click here to reply
    Thanks for your honest and unbiased guide Matt.
    I appreciate the inclusion of the photos, good job.

    I was contemplating this very task with the Seagate backup plus myself. I see some decent prices on eBay (UK) for external USB 2.5" drives.

    Cautionary tale:
    I did strip (shuck) a Samsung 4TB 2.5" external USB drive this way, also resulting in broken tabs, though I used a plectrum from a mobile (cell) phone screen repair kit to do the prizing carefully. Still broke several tabs anyway.
    The disappointing result was finding the proprietary SuperSpeed USB connector was hardwired to the drive, no SATA adapter to pull. Gaah.
    I sealed it back up with electrical insulating tape and mounted it behind my TV with velcro then as it didn't look very aesthetically pleasing. Now used as DVR via the USB port on my TV, so not a complete disaster.

    I have maxed out storage in my PC case with 3 x 10TB Seagate Ironwolf 3.5" NAS HDDs in RAID 5 config, my video/photo archive. An NVMe m.2 512GB boot/OS drive, there's space for 3 x 2.5" drives as well, in my case (Corsair 760T), 1st cage is running a 1TB 950 Pro SSD (my OneDrive local backup), 2nd cage has a 2TB Seagate Firecuda 2.5" SSHD with programs and documents etc. This leaves room for a 3rd drive, I can't justify buying a 4TB SSD at those prices so elected to go for a 4TB 2.5" HDD and having had a look at prices see the Seagate Backup plus are competitively priced, as per your article.

    Having looked on YouTube this evening, I found a teardown video which confirms the work you carried out - would yield a good result if I go for the external drive and save some £'s.

    The only thing is, I don't know (yet) what I'll store on it.
    Maybe my MP3 collection...

    I'll have a look around your site now, as I like your commentary style Matt. ??
  2. Alan in N.Ireland on June 13, 2018 - click here to reply
    ...correction.
    my last comment mentioned the Backup Plus, I was of course referring to the portable 2.5" drive.
    Apologies.
  3. Steve C on June 20, 2018 - click here to reply
    I just picked up two of these drives from Amazon after reading that the similar WD drives are no longer shuckable (from your article here and from other sites.) I came back to double-check your instructions, THEN I saw Alan's comment and thought 'Oh no!', Seagate has changed their design as well and are hardwiring the USB interface! I decided to shuck one anyway figuring if I didn't break too many tabs I'd be able to put the case back together. Fortunately it turned out that both drives I received have the removable SATA to USB interface, so I'll be able to use them as internal drives on my new system build. I've never been a big fan of Seagate drives, and WD even less so, which is why I purchased two of them to run in RAID 1 in case one tanks.. I used to use Samsung drives exclusively and had great luck with them, but they sold their HD division to Seagate seven years ago. I'm still running six of their drives that I purchased 8 & 9 years ago (RAID 1 & RAID 5) and they're still working fine! They just don't make drives like that these days unless you spend the money on Enterprise class ones.

    Just FYI, the drives I got were the ST4000LM024s and were manufactured in April of this year, so they're pretty new. I'm not certain if it was just the luck of the draw, or if the external drives being sold in in other countries are hardwired now or what. I just know I saved $40 per drive vs. purchasing the internal versions.

    Thanks much for the tips and photos! These drives were much easier to shuck than my ADATA external SSD; that one drew blood, literally...
  4. r-m on January 30, 2019 - click here to reply
    thank you for your FANTASTIC & APROCHABLE article how to remove HD from its case !!!
    pictures are supporting your words very well - fantastic work,

    have some Q to ask ... you did say;
    =====================================
    These high capacity 2.5″ drives have a tendency to be SMR or some other similar variant. The trade-off for the extra capacity is low read/write speeds once you’ve dumped the buffer, and particularly low for random read/writes

    seagate portable expansion 4tb is SMR [ Shingled Magnetic Recording ] product drive, but it will be [ Shingled Magnetic Recording ] product irrespective when external in case or/and internal without original case, therefore what do you mean by above statement ?

    additionally, what do you mean;

    once you’ve dumped the buffer
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    it is my understanding that HD buffer is inside HD, therefore how REMOVAL of HD from original case will *DUMP-HD-BUFFER* ?

    additionally, because HD is SMR [ Shingled Magnetic Recording ] product drive, where is SPECIAL controller to handle complicated SMR write process located ?

    inside HD or on external circuit [ SATA controller ] ?

    when SPECIAL controller to handle complicated SMR write process is INSIDE HD, removal of HD from its original case shall not affect [ shall not SLOW-DOWN ] SMR complicated write process, but when SPECIAL controller is outside HD itself, write speed should be SIGNIFICANTLY reduced, I'm correct here ?
    • Matt Gadient on January 30, 2019 - click here to reply
      Hi r-m,

      You're absolutely correct that SMR and the buffer aren't affected by being shucked. Both are internal to the drive itself and have nothing to do with the enclosure. The point I was trying to convey was that because these drives are SMR, they tend to be slower (once the buffer is full/empty or on a miss) than non-SMR drives. So if for example you were looking to buy a hard drive for a PC or a game system, you'd generally get much better performance from a typical retail internal drive (assuming you don't go with an SMR variant).

      Worth noting that if you've already got one of these external portables, are using USB 2.0, and are looking at it purely from a "will this drive faster or slower if I shuck it" point of view, shucking and hooking it up to the SATA interface will likely result in higher sustained r/w speeds than it had in the enclosure. It may not compete with most retail internals, but if you're not doing heavy I/O or anything else performance sensitive, that might be just fine for your purposes.

      Hope that helps!
  5. John on December 26, 2019 - click here to reply
    Thank you for this article! I dropped my hard drive. The plug was bent, I couldn't plug it in. With your help, I managed to open the case, retrieved the disk, to reuse it from another case! Thank you again for your help!
  6. Alex Franz on January 16, 2020 - click here to reply
    Hi Matt:

    Again, thanks for your review and photos, great help!

    Just to let you know, you helped me deciding NOT to buy this HDD for my Gaming Laptop (ASUS G750JX) due to the 1.5 cm thickness you mentioned; otherwise I would have realised that it won't fit inside my Laptop. Maybe I will chose another HDD model as an external drive for storing my games.

    Thanks from Puebla, Mexico!

    Alex
  7. YC on February 11, 2020 - click here to reply
    Thank you for the informative article!

    I also have a SMR question. I pried open a 2TB Seagate Expansion +, which reveals the ST2000LM007 inside. According to https://www.seagate.com/files/www-content/product-content/seagate-laptop-fam/mobile-hdd/en-us/docs/100850135a.pdf , it uses "Shingled magnetic recording with perpendicular magnetic recording heads/media"

    ...So it's both? I'm confused. Can you make sense of this?

    According to Crystal Disk Mark it's slightly faster than a HGST TravelStar 1GB from 2013. Unfortunately its spec sheet I found doesn't specify the recording method.

    The main reason I want to replace the TravelStar with the Seagate is because it's younger (2016), the bigger size is just a bonus. But now I'm not sure if the newer Seagate is actually some sort of crippled drive that will turn out to be slower in real world usage, because it was made to be a portable data dump and not a in-PC drive for constant use. But then again, I don't expect high data turnover on this disk, so maybe the it's not super relevant, after all?

    Best regards,
    YC
    • Matt Gadient on February 12, 2020 - click here to reply
      Hey YC. Not 100% positive here, but I don't think the shingled/perpendicular bit is necessarily contradictory. They seem to be referring to the write heads (not the read heads which would by necessity be smaller than the write heads in an SMR drive).

      As for performance a few people have posted benchmark numbers for the bare drive on Newegg, but Anandtech has also looked at the drive (ST2000LM007 in the screenshot): https://www.anandtech.com/show/14539/seagate-backup-plus-portable-5tb-backup-plus-slim-2tb-review-portable-smr .

      At the end of that article, Anandtech states that: "...the company has been able to tune the firmware of the drives to largely hide the detrimental effects of SMR. It's not perfect, and prolonged use shows more performance degradation compared to traditional CMR drives...". That said, the Anandtech article was from 2019 and the ST2000LM007 has been around for quite a few years. Whether they've made changes since release without changing the model number I don't know.

      With that said, since you've already got the drive out I'd suggest testing it with your typical workload. In certain workloads I won't really notice much difference with an SMR drive. But other workloads can get to the point of being painful (ie copying many GB of small files)
      • YC on February 12, 2020 - click here to reply
        Thanks for taking the time and answer. I have some data to report for anyone else that might want to shuck the Seagate Expansions for internal use. (Since their pricing is really competitive: 5TB for ~110 Euro.)

        So I installed the Seagate internally via SATA after copying everything from the TravelStar. Just to make sure everything is in order, I ran Crystal Disk Mark again. To my surprise, the sequential read/write dropped from ~92MB/s (USB3) to ~72MB/s internal SATA. I ran the test 2 more times after disabling indexing, just to exclude a possible culprit. Same result.

        I took it out and connected it using the original enclosure, and the HDD remained slow. The TravelStar actually tested a bit faster than before (~95 to ~100MB/s), maybe due to the disabled indexing?

        Even though the Seagate was only 16% filled (which shouldn't reveal SMR's shortcoming if I understand correctly), the data set contained many smaller files like MP3s. So I quick-formatted the drive to test this influence. Sure enough, it reaches up to 137MB/s (!) on 0% fill. I guess it's really only good for big backups files, movies and such.

        I'll need to revise my HDD reorganization plans...
  8. Undarated on February 16, 2020 - click here to reply
    I’m looking at purchasing one of these to shuck also. I have a few internal 1tb drives in my pc with media and games on them. Looking to cut it down to just an ssd for boot and this drive for storage. Does that sound like a bad idea?
    • Matt Gadient on February 16, 2020 - click here to reply
      If the performance of the 1TB drives are better than the Seagate SMR, then it seems to me that the tradeoff would be potentially giving up performance (especially in certain write conditions) for an increase in energy efficiency. If that's a preferable trade then the biggest remaining downside I see is the single point of failure - currently if you lose a 1TB drive you only lose 1TB of your data - of course, backups can help to alleviate this.
  9. Lou on May 9, 2020 - click here to reply
    Reason for shuck-ability: If the shell fails it is alot easier to repair. I have a non shuck-able WD drive and I am finding that the USB port is having connection issues. If I didn't back up and the connection dies then it will be a costly fix or data loss.
    • Robert on December 4, 2020 - click here to reply
      Many of the external drives either have encryption through the USB board making it unreadable, or some kind of interface where without the USB SATA bridge the information in unreadable.

      This other case with a few Seagate and WD drives I have personally dealt with, but I am not sure if some external drives still exist where the data is still accessible after removing the drive from the enclosure.
  10. Menner on May 23, 2020 - click here to reply
    Thank you, Matt, for this excellent how-to. It helped me in my purchase decision. And it's still valid exactly in May 2020.
    I shucked a 4GB Seagate expansion portable drive and put it into a Odroid HC1. Fits perfectly. This combination is now a low cost (170 EUR), very compact, silent, energy efficient, flexible (Armbian), high performance 4GB network backup device.
  11. Ian (UK) on June 5, 2020 - click here to reply
    Bought 2no. of these in UK PC World/Currys 4TB. I just shucked the first one and got same HDD inside dated Jan 2020. I got the case open with no broken clips and hardly a scratch along the seam where I pushed my knife into. Hope the second goes so well. So much cheaper as I bought two of these for £170 in June 2020. Good luck to those that follow.
    Thanks for the guide and initial recommendation.
  12. Mariano Sieiro on July 24, 2020 - click here to reply
    hello everyone!, great tutorial, I personally strip a few of these 2tb usb drives back in the early PS4 days, when the consoles came with 500gb hdd. the only thing I came across was that when I tried to use the empty case with a different 2.5 drive the led light in the case didnt work. Is there a workaround for making the led ligh of the case work with a diff drive that the one that came with it?. sorry for my english. and thanks in advance
  13. Neezy (CH) on October 13, 2020 - click here to reply
    Thanks for the Information!
    I had a Backup plus 4TB bought 2017. Used it in a 247/7 Machine. After about a year, the internal USB Controller broke. Didnt want to go trough warranty, so i opened the case and continued to use the included ST4000LM024 in a separately bought USB 3 adapter. I was quite happy with the drive so far so i just bought a 4TB expansion in the nearby shop today to replace my suddenly dying internal 3.5" 2TB Seagate drive. I can confirm, they still use ST4000LM024.
    People considering the negative effects about this drive using SMR: I found its not much a problem. I never evan realized it before anyway and now paid special attention while coping all the data from the dying drive. It was quicker in the beginning, the speed dropped from 120MB/s to around 75MB/s at the end of the 1.5 TB copy. But that is not really a problem for me

    another taught stroke me though, i saw that i bought the 2T Seagate drive for 75CHF in 2013. Now in 2020, 7 years later!! I bought this 4TB drive for 80CHF, savig money by opening the case instead of paying 100 CHF for what a 3.5" 4TB drive would cost now. (the ST4000LM024 would evan go for 125CHF, i actually prefer it because of the low-power consumption. This means the "shuck" saved me 45CHF)
    I cant belive, that evan after 7 years, the price is still almost the same!
  14. Kyle Minnehan on November 26, 2020 - click here to reply
    Once shucked is this drive thin enough to fit inside a PS4? It has to be no thicker than 9.5mm
  15. Rob on March 13, 2021 - click here to reply
    Hello. Really great article! Please help me with this question:

    I hear people saying, once you shuck the drive all the data previously saved will be encrypted. Seams those aholes make the SATA-USB board encrypt the data. First, can anyone please confirm this for the STEA4000400 ? I intended to use one of these both through SATA and USB, and this encryption thing will ruin the plan. I will have to shuck it right away and get a 3rd party adapter or case. It will force me to loose the warranty as soon as I get it and I'll be off an USB enclosure.

    Second, is there any way of decrypting the data without the adapter PCB? Cos otherwise it will definitely go in the garbage. PCB or USB port breaks and you loose all the data? FU Seagate

    Another quick question, can anyone confirm STEA5000402 is shuckable? It's the same model, 2.5" as well, but with 5TB instead.

    Thanks for any help

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