How to Spot Fake External Hard Disk Drives without Taking Them Apart

One of my friends came running to me yesterday and showed me three brand new Western Digital 2TB portable external hard disk drives that he had bought very cheap from a door-to-door salesperson. The salesperson had told him that they are cheap because they are straight from the Western Digital factory and any commission taken up the dealer and distributor is not to be paid. At first I was also thrilled and wanted to buy some of these drives, but soon I became suspicious. We copied over 1 GB of music files on one of these drives, but when tried to play them back, there was no file to be seen. We talked to the customer support but the serial number on the portable drive turned out to be from a different region (South America). So when we finally opened it up, we found nothing but a USB flash memory drive, a chip that bypasses file writing errors and two sets of heavy nuts and bolts to increase the weight (so that it feels like having appropriate weight when you hold in your hands).

Spot Fake External Hard Drive

After meddling with these fake portable external hard disk drives for a few hours, I have figured some of the ways using which you can tell if the portable drive is fake or not without having to take it apart. These methods can work if someone is trying to sell you fake portable drives.

1. Feel the Spinning Vibration
The portable hard disk drives have a real 2.5 inch IDE/SATA hard disk drive inside them. There is also circuit board that acts as a USB to IDE interface controller. When you connect an original portable disk drive to your computer or a USB power source, it will start to spin and you can feel the vibration of spinning by placing your hand over the disk drive. If you are not in a crowded or noisy showroom, then you can even hear the spinning of the drive if you bring your ears close to the drive. Since in a fake drive there is no mechanical moving parts, you won’t hear any spinning or feel any vibration.

2. Check the Device Manager
If you connect a portable hard drive to your Windows PC, then you can open the device manager (Win+R, type devmgmt.msc, press Enter) and check for the device name. The device name should match the portable drive brand that you bought. In case of the fake drives you would see something else. In the case of the fake drives I encountered, the device manager was not showing any brand name while it should have shown Western Digital.

Spot Fake External Hard Drive

3. Format the Portable Drive
The forgers modify the file table of the fake portable drives to make it look like a large size disk like 2 TB while it is only a few megabytes flash disk. To reveal the real size of the drive, you can format the disk drive in Windows using the FAT32 file system and it will reset the file table to reveal the true disk size of the portable drive. In my case, the 2 TB drive turned into a 128 MB drive.

These are some of the ways that may help you spot a fake portable external hard drive. You can also protect yourself from such forged fake products by shopping only from reputed showrooms and online shopping websites.