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Can I make a laptop ( or any computer, really) hard drive out of several linked thumb drives? Answered

I saw this in Make a while ago, I believe it was in the steampunk issue. It was a bunch of thumb drives linked by a usb hub into one, and then packed into a traditional hard drive case to make one big usb thumb drive that looked like a traditional hard drive. I was wondering if this was possible to do seriously, as the internal hard drive of a computer or laptop, because it is rugged and resistent to shock, etc. ( perfect for a laptop). I would get several large- capacity ( 16-32 GB and larger) thumb drives and link them together. My main problem is how to connect this to a traditional hard drive cable. Answers are appreciated. Thanks!


Going from a USB device to an IDE cable... I doubt it. There's no sensible reason to do it, when computers support booting from USB drives directly, so it's unlikely that anyone makes an adapter. Compactflash is a more practical option, since the CF interface can behave exactly like IDE. Check ebay and you'll find CF to IDE adapters for a few bucks, if you can't get them locally. CF isn't as dirt cheap as thumb drives, though. As for mounting a thumb drive internally, it should work, IF you can locate an internal USB port. Maybe there's some internal peripheral that's attached by USB that you can disconnect and free up a connection. This does carry some risk of destroying the laptop, so it could be wiser to just spend $100 on a 32 gig CF drive. Some of the CF to IDE adapters support two CF cards, so you could add a second drive as flash prices drop (or a smaller one for backup of crucial data).

You can find SSD and CF to IDE adapters on Ebay. I am running a 4Gig SSD on an old laptop now. Works great low heat lower noise. I am planing on a 2 drive version so I can lock the OS drive and see how that works against malware

I have found degradation performance of flash drives used in this manner. Nothing measured, yet. Just noticed.

Thanks for your answers! I've learned a lot. However, there are a few things I want to clear up: The purpose of doing this would be to make a cheap, simple, durable flash hard drive. At a store nearby, i can get 2 GB thumb drives for about US $7 each, and somewhat more for larger drives. My thinking is that a drive made out of thumb drives would be very durable: I have seen a small thmb drive thrown repeatedly over 10 meters and allowed to hit the ground, with no loss of data. Also, as for write cycles: It seems to me that it would be pretty easy to replace thumb drives when they stop working from too many write cycles, and transfer their data to a new one. Thanks for your help, and feel free to answer on my comments here.

I have run thumb drive through the wash and dry and still use them

That actually just happened to me today. No loss of data. Why haven't we replaced "Best thing since sliced bread" with "Best thing since thumb drives?"

You may be able to do software RAID using multiple USB thumb drives. There may even be an off-the-shelf USB RAID controller already.

Here's where someone tried doing thumbdrive RAID using a hub:

The trick is knowing before they have failed before they trash your data. Can you do that ?

steveastrouk: Good point. Any ideas on how to do that are helpful.

Then by sound of things what you want is just something to store documents/music on? Why do you need to house them in something and connect them together? I'd say a 16gb one would cost you about £20 and hold loads of content. It'd also be more portable than putting it in a harddrive enclosure as the MAKE guys did. As to durability, if it's dropping it you're worried about, I've had mine a year and drop it weekly from about chest height. It's got a few scratches but other than that it's fine and it's not advertised as a particuarly hardcore one.

james.f.williamson: I want to make an actual hard drive, not an external storage device. Basically i want to build an SSD, but without the cost and with the ability to replace the individual thumb drives as they got old. I could even use external flash drives ( the big ones) together, or maybe just one large one ( like one of the 200-300 GB external usb storage devices). However, my real question is how to convert traditional hard drive cables to usb, if it's even possible. Thanks!

I assume you have a 2.5" drivebay so you would need something that would fit in that, disemboweling the old HDD wouldn't give you a lot of space to work with. Rarther than connecting it to the old IDE connection you could use an internal USB socket and boot from there. The only dificulty would be in setting up the RAID as I don't think you could do it in the BIOS. (Correct me if I'm wrong) The CF idea is probably the easiest out of the sollutions if you don't want to just buy an SSD.

you could just buy a WD external 500gb mypasport hard drive for $75.00.

Also: Instead of converting traditional hard drive cables, could I just use a regular, large usb flash drive and simply mount it inside the laptop, connect it to a usb port internally, and have the computer use it as a hard drive? Thanks!

Interesting, but no cigar ;-) it mentions future use of SSD, but not a current implementation. AFAIK, aren't consumer USB sticks rated for far fewer write cycles than we are prepared to accept from our hard disks ?

That was 2006. The project is ongoing here at SLAC with rackmount boxes and filesystems etc. "Research" generally means something different than "marketing."

What you might be after is a solid state hard drive. It uses the same nand flash memory that your USB thumb drives do. You can get 32GB ones starting from about £74. I saw the MAKE article you're referring to. You could also do it like that and attach it to a USB hub, though I'm not sure you'd be able to make it appear as one hard drive and still be able to plug it into different computers/laptops and it certainly wouldn't be able to fit into your laptop. If you wanted to make the multiple drives appear to be one drive, google "software raid" I think the MAKE article was just using the flash drives as additional storage. This would certainly be possible and easy for you to do. You'd need to set up your laptop to boot from external usb device.