Unlimited SD Card Backup in the Field - Hard Drive Hack





Introduction: Unlimited SD Card Backup in the Field - Hard Drive Hack

About: I want computers to be wilder. https://www.instagram.com/hikinghack/ https://twitter.com/HikingHack https://www.youtube.com/user/blorgggggg https://github.com/quitmeyer

This instructable shows you how to (relatively easily) convert a Western Digital Wireless hard drive into the ultimate tool for backing up SD card data in the field. I built this device for a month-long expedition into the middle of nowhere in Madagascar (https://openexplorer.com/expedition/disseminationlabmadagascar) and it worked great! So nice doing work knowing you had extra copies of the data!

It's a good solution for situations with

  • low-power (don't have to waste laptop power) (can swap out LiPo batteries)
  • lots of data (Can carry around larger or multiple hard drives)
  • intense jostling (can pop SSD hard drives in for SUPER DURABILITY)


If you shoot enough video and photographs for important and rare events, you quickly learn to become super paranoid about backing up data. It's something you REALLY NEED TO DO.

For important data (once in a lifetime interviews with jungle explorers, rare photographs of strange animals),the best rule of thumb I I have come across is:

  • 2 Copies is the absolute Minimum
  • 3 Copies is the only way to be safe

If you are going on a good enough adventure, you can rest assured that at least one copy of your data IS GOING TO BE DESTROYED. Whether this is because of adventure-y things (SD card falls into raging rapids on river crossing), or banal things (SD card just becomes corrupted for no good reason), YOU ARE GOING TO LOSE DATA.

What I do is this: 1) Never erase an SD CARD in the field, 2) Backup all SD cards on 2 separate Hard drives, 3) Keep the SD cards and Hard drives in different people's backpacks. It doesn't help if you have 3 backups if the one backpack holding them all goes over a cliff ;)

Before in the Panama Hiking Hack (http://andy.dorkfort.com/andy/digitalnatural/2014/06/05/transcontinental-hikinghack/), we had to copy all the data onto an external hard drive with a laptop. Not only was this cumbersome (had to have laptop open, and copying), it also used about 80 percent of all the power we dedicated to charging the laptop. This solution was much better!

OTHER SOLUTIONS (are pricey)

Everything else I could find was SUPER EXPENSIVE. These types of devices exist: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/887222-REG/S... but are usually SUPER EXPENSIVE and are limited to a certain amount of data. With the solution here, you can just carry around as many extra hard drives as your heart desires! and it's way cheaper!

Step 1: Materials

Step 2: Tear It Apart

Before you yank apart some commercial product, it can be super useful to see if someone out there already has pulled it apart for you.

Often the FCC will have teardown photos for you already! This can be really useful for things like just knowing if things are connected by just latches or hidden screws. (This thing is mostly just latches). This review includes the FCC teardown pics: http://www.anandtech.com/show/8763/western-digital...

First, use the spudger (or credit card, or flat head screwdriver) to just go around the edges and pop the top off the Hard drive.

Next pull the Lipo battery out. (you don't actually have to disconnect it from the electronics, just get it out of the way).

Now is the only tricky part. The HD is held in place with rubber grippy knobs which are sorta-spring-pressured into place. If you just take your Spudger, and slide them towards the center, the HD can just pop out.

Unscrew these knobs from your hard-drive, we are going to make it hot-swappable!

That's the bulk of the tearing apart you have to do!

Step 3: Cut Hard Drive Swap-Slot

Line up your hard drive with the bottom of the EMPTY case. (don't dremel with all the electronics inside! Duhh!). Trace the area with a marker. Now just cut out a slot with a dremel (it's a REALLY HARD PLASTIC, you pretty much need the dremel).

The connection to the SATA and the friction from the lipo and other electronics holds the hard drive in really securely. We had no problems with the Hard drive coming detached at all during the whole expedition.

Some people might be uncomfortable with adding a hole on the bottom of the Hard Drive enclosure. For me this was much more ideal than taking apart the device all the time in the field and exposing all the differnt parts (and risking breaking them by moving them too much).

Making a hard drive swap-slot lets you just pop different hard drives in and out easy and fast (and has a great, Nintendo-cartridge style, feel). I put everything in 2 ziploc bags with a desiccant packet, and it held up totally fine in the middle of Madagascar.

Step 4: Add Pull-Tabs to Hard Drives

Add a piece of packing tape to the side of the hard drive with printing on it. then fold over the sticky-side on itself to give it a "tail."

This lets you easily and safely remove a hard drive from your solid enclosure.

I tried all different types of Hard drives. Bigger, smaller, different brands. Even SSD hard drives! They all worked easily with the Western digital main firmware.

Step 5: Get Safe With Your Data!

First setup your hard drive to to "Automatic SD card copying"

Turn on your drive. Wait for the lights to stop blinking. And then pop in your SD card. It will start blinking white, and then stop when it has finished copying over.

I noticed some weird slowness when trying to copy over exfat formatted SD cards, but otherwise seemed to go fine! It also remembers your SD cards uniquely and will just copy over new files, so you can keep backing up and not wasting tons of time with the same SD card! How nice!


  • More elegant way of making hard-drive slot
  • disable wireless when just copying
  • Make Lipo-batteries more easily swappable

Step 6:



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    37 Discussions

    I just bought the PCB of a MPW drive for 15 usd.
    I wonder if I can use any drive with it?
    I will make a custom case and whatever battery I can.
    I will not be limited to 7mm drives, so I could add even a 4TB drive that is 15mm tall.
    Do I have to do any special thing with the new hdd/ssd if I want to use ALL the original functions of the MPW?
    Many complains the new drive is not recognized after swapped....
    I want to use it with both PC and iOS devices and probably more.

    Coming a bit late to the party here and cudos for the idea and tech savvy for trying this but . . . Is there not possibly an easier approach to achieve this without voiding warranties and creating a device which when out on the trail (or anywhere is now LESS robust than the original?

    Here's my idea (though I don't own one to try it)

    Step 1 : Buy TWO of the WD passport wireless drives label them A and B

    Step 2 : Put your SD card into drive A (with auto copy turned on) and wait for it to copy.

    Step 3 : Plug drive A into the INPUT USB port of drive B. Drive A should (as I understand it from the specs) now function as a standard USB drive in which case drive B should now perform a differential copy which will in effect copy the contents of the SD card that you already copied!!!!

    You now have THREE copies of the original files and also (for not that much more money) you have a backup wireless drive and an extra 64000mah battery source.

    I'm not sure if this was available when the hack was written. But for
    about $40, the RAVPower Filehub Plus (RP-WD03) allows you to transfer
    between SD cards and USB devices. Plus it's a wifi bridge, battery pack
    and media streamer.

    Hi. This Western Digital Passport Wiresless work without pc or wifi and phone? Can i copy data from sd card to hdd directly without phone or pc? i have this https://www.asus.com/Optical-Drives-Storage/Travelair-N-WHD-A2/ and doesn't work without pc or phone and wifi disconnect every time :/ crap.

    I wonder if anyone has built something like this with a raspberry pi? I found this drive and the newer version by looking for a pi project that did this exact thing. I'm going on a bicycle tour in Latin America and want to backup all my data.

    After some hours I finally got My Passport Wireless to work with SSD instead of HD. The key was to downgrade firmware version 1.02.17

    I hope it helps to anyone trying to use SSD instead of mechanical disk.

    I've have the same problem as Pedro. None of my other drives seem to work. I've managed one time to fool the software by 'live' replacing the drive. But after the next boot it didn't reconized the drive anymore. Mine has firmware 1.05.01, maybe they put in some kind of drive-recognition.

    Any ideas?

    Ok, party is over :)

    I just went a bit further and tried almost everything. Unfortunately with no results.

    There is just no way to get the thing working with another disk. There seems to be some kind of identifier or "bit locker".

    All of those things do not help:

    - restore factory settings

    - downgrade to 1.03.13

    - unplug the battery

    - install another WD disk

    - hotswap disks

    So, don't open your device. You risk to damage it and for sure your warray is gone ;)


    No chance to get it working with a Samsung EVO SSD.

    The SSD works fine on any other device. Wonder if it might be firmware related?

    Can you tell with wich fw version you've been working with?

    1.04.06 and 1.05.01 not working for me


    Dude it is just a BadA** hack.. super cool!!!.. will must have thing in my bag.. Even WD must try this concept . Big Thumbs Up!!!

    How long does it take to download full SD card in exFAT format? I plan to download cards while filming and use 2 pcs of 128GB alternately, so if it takes longer than 40 minutes (128GB in RAW), then it would be too long. Anyway, great lifehack!

    I need some help formatting the SSD drive. I tried this and formatted my spare drive with a single exFAT partition (that is what the original WD drive had) and my SSD drive was not recognized by the enclosure (the drive does not show up). The original drive still works fine. Would you please provide details on preparing the SSD drive so that it works properly with the WD enclosure. I'm using a Mac. Thanks!

    Really nice idea, hopefully WD takes inspiration and makes a MK II of this thing, as a photographer I've been loving mine too. Did you do this with a 2TB model? Because thats what I own and I want to make sure this mod will work for me :)

    5 replies

    I'm a little skeptical that this mod will work with the 2TB version. I don't have the wireless drive, but I opened up my 2TB wired WD portable HDD and it has a WD-proprietary drive inside. No place for a standard 2.5" drive to plug in (no SATA connector). Granted, this is an assumption, but I would bet the 2TB wireless version has the same WD-proprietary drive inside.

    All wireless drives have a standard SATA port but the USB ones are proprietary, I opened my wireless 2TB drive and its removable with a SATA plug, just that the drive is thicker than most ones due to the extra platters

    Thanks! I had the 1 TB version, but I put 2TB drives in and they worked fine. I bet it will be fine!

    Its more about how the 2TB model has a thicker than normal 2.5" drive, meaning if I cut a slot for a standard drive, the original wont fit back in.

    Most HDD have an exposed PCB on the back. Sliding them in and out, many times, you could damage the HDD. You could also damage them with an electro static discharge, just handling the HDD. You can solve these problems by applying Mylar tape to cover it up. Most SDD are fully encased so this isn't a problem for them. Also, you can use a rigid plastic sheet on the back side, as the ejector. I re-purpose the plastic from packaging containers; these containers provide protection from ESDs.

    1 reply

    In 20 years of working with computers I have never seen a damaged component by electrostatic electricity, and I have handled perhaps hundreds of components.

    Yes, the risk exists, but I think it is overblown.