Adding a power switch to an external drive

I bought my 80GB Maxtor Personal Storage 1394 drive with a plan for it to act as an offline file server and backup depository.

To my surprise, there was no power switch on the unit. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that any product that isn’t required to be on all the time should provide some method for the user to turn it or and off. Maxtor’s design decision didn’t make sen se to me, so it was time to take matters into my own hands.

Since I only use the drive periodically, it doesn’t need to be on all the time. The hack was conceived and completed in 30 minutes and finally gives me peace and quiet when I’m not using the drive.

This hack demonstrates some key basic elements of hardware hacking and serves an immediate, practical purpose. Add an easily accessible power switch to the front of the external drive to enable and disable the drive without having to struggle with disconnecting the main power supply and risk dropping the power supply cable behind your desk.

The only components we’ll need for this hack


1. Unplug the daughterboard from the main circuit board.

are four lengths of 20- or 22-gauge wire and a DPST (double pole, single throw) rocker, toggle, or slide switch. You could use a DPDT (double pole, double throw) switch if you happen to have one of those lying around instead (you just won’t use all of the connections on the switch).

You’ll also want to have handy a Phillips screwdriver, wire clippers, soldering iron and solder, and a Dremel tool, drill, or hobby knife.

As always, be sure to take proper safety and anti-static precautions, as the drive’s control circuitry is sensitive to static electricity and you wouldn’t want to damage anything.

Begin the hack by removing the plastic side rails that hold the two main pieces of the drive’s housing together. These rails are attached to the drive with plastic clips and come off relatively easily.

With the side rails removed, you can open up the drive by pulling apart the two halves of the plastic housing. The main circuitry where the power connector is located is underneath the metal shielding. Remove the two screws that hold the top of the shielding in place.

The control circuitry for this Maxtor drive is made up of a main circuit board, containing most of the power connections, and a daughterboard, containing the interface circuitry. Remove the daughterboard by gently pulling it straight up and off of the main circuit board. You can leave the two wire harnesses connected to the daughterboard and just set the whole board aside.

Looking closely at the main circuit board, it becomes immediately obvious that the Maxtor drive was designed to contain a power switch, but wasn’t included in the final production unit!

In place of the power switch are two wires shorted between the connections, essentially simulating a switch permanently in the “on” position. This makes our hack especially easy, as the connections we need are made available for us in those four easy-to-access locations. Clip the two wires on the board, leaving just the solder connections.

Next, strip and tin the four lengths of wire. These will be used to connect the switch to the pads on the circuit board. The length of the wire will vary depending on where you decide to mount the switch, but around 15 inches each should be good. It is helpful to use two red and two black pieces of wire in order to keep track of the connections on the circuit board. Solder the two red wires to the top two pads on the circuit board and solder the two black wires to the bottom two pads.

N ow, modify the top housing to fit your particular switch. Prepare to get covered in plastic filings as you drill, Dremel, or cut your way into the case. Once you’ve hacked your case to fit the switch, put the switch into place and solder the four wires to it. With the switch held horizontally, the two red wires should be soldered to the top two leads of the switch and the two black wires should be soldered to the bottom two leads of the switch.

When the switch is in the “on” position, the two red wires should short together and the two black wires should short together. When the switch is in the “off” position, none of the wires should be connected to each other. Double check your connections and verify the functionality of the switch before applying power to the drive, because if the wires are not soldered to the right locations on the switch, you could damage the drive’s power supply circuitry (and possibly much more). A red wire should never come in electrical contact with a black wire.

At this point, the actual “hacking” part of the hack is complete and you should have something similar to the following photo. Remember to reattach the daughterboard to the main circuit board before testing your creation.

Front plastic housing with a switch successfully added.

Once you’re sure that your new power switch actually turns the drive on and off, you can screw the metal shield back into place, close up. Successful hack ready to be buttoned up.

the housing, and reattach the plastic side rails. Make sure that the sides of the housing aren’t pinching the wires. And there you have it: some peace and quiet with the flip of a switch.

I was making a video about panoramic photography, and in the scenes where I spoke directly into the camera, I looked like a crosseyed newscaster. I probably spent three hours cutting and building.

Once it was done, I set my PowerBook on it and put a mouse with an extension cord on my knee to click when I wanted to change pages. White letters on a black background worked best, and I had to output the pages as mirror images using a page layout application.

With my home-built teleprompter, the recording of the narration went smoothly.

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