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.