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Today, in 2012, most external drives are created using SATA interfaces. But ultimately, there isn't a good way to know which you have, other than opening up the box.

How can someone determine whether an external drive is using an internal IDE or SATA drive without opening the device? Disk management will show the connection is USB but not the internal drive of the external device.

In this excerpt from Answercast #65, I look at USB external drives and determining what might be inside!

What's inside?

Unfortunately, there really is no way (across all USB devices) to understand physically what's inside the box.

One of the things that the USB interface in front of the hard drive does is it kind of obscures what's inside the box. It kind of "genericizes" what's in the box - because ultimately, the operating system simply doesn't need to know. There's no reason to know whether that's an IDE or a SATA drive inside of your external box.

All that the operating system needs to know is that it is a USB interface and it accesses it using USB interface commands.

Look for the model number

Sometimes, you could look at "extended properties" of the drive (as I believe you've done) and on some drives from some manufacturers, it may give you a model number for the drive that's inside the box. Unfortunately, that's not guaranteed. The best you can do in a case like that is, of course, to look up the model number: either on the internet or on the manufacturer's website.

Similarly, if you actually look up the model number of a specific external hard drive, you may be able to get a clue as well. There may be information about it out on the internet or at the manufacturer's websites.

One of the problems, of course, is that the manufacturer (because it's a black box - not just to you and me, but also to the operating system)... the manufacturer is free to change the drive on the inside. They can change from manufacturer to manufacturer; they can even go so far to change from one interface to another.

Today, these days, in 2012, most of the drives are being created using SATA interfaces. So if you had to guess based on the age of the drive (if it's just a year or two old), my guess is it's probably SATA. But ultimately, there really isn't a good way to know other than opening up the box.

Article C5966 - October 28, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

1 Comment
October 31, 2012 4:10 AM

These cases will open easily enough if you know how.
Some have catches/screws that are not often obvious.
Go to manufacturers web site or Google for info.
A thin cable connected to the hard drive is sata, a wide ribbon cable is IDE.

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