Mini SATA Power Adapter Does Away With HDD Docking Stations


[Marc] is pretty unsatisfied with hard drive docking stations as a whole. He says they are typically slow and unreliable, causing him all sorts of grief while he is troubleshooting a questionable hard drive. He decided to take some of the mystery out of the troubleshooting equation and built a standalone SATA power module.

Aware that SATA drives require 5v and 12v for operation, he disassembled one of his docking stations to see how it provided both voltages. He discovered that it used a simple PWM buck converter and decided to replicate it in the smallest space possible. His plan was to use a standard 12v wall wart to power the circuit, passing that 12v straight to the drive. A simple voltage step-down circuit would be built to provide the required 5v.

[Marc] reports that the power adapter is performing nicely, and he is quite happy with the size as well. He says that one major benefit of this sort of adapter is that it can be used to power any SATA drive, not just hard drives. He does mention that if he built another one, he might consider regulating the 12v output as well, so that he can power the adapter with a laptop power supply instead of a separate dedicated wall wart.

30 thoughts on “Mini SATA Power Adapter Does Away With HDD Docking Stations

  1. A wall adapter directly to a hard drive’s 12V line? Sounds more unstable than the dock to me – what about noise and is the power supply regulated or switched?

  2. The need for a regulated 12V power supply was implied, then commented on but can not be overstated. (For other’s benefit) Most cheap ACDC transformers only guarantee 12V, but will deliver up to 18V and harm your electronics… unless what it is connected to has a power regulator.

    I think most HAD-ers will know this issue, but a reminder can’t hurt. If you build this as a gift – please pair it with a power supply (and label it!).

    Alternatively – you can add a 12V regulator to your board (about $1-$2 cost) but leave space for a small heatsink. Actually not a bad idea to do anyways… You don’t want uncle bob toasting 5 years worth of unbacked photo memories…

  3. I’m a little put off by one thing in this otherwise simple hack.

    He shuns the commercial products for there ‘brick adapter’ and calls his a small “coin sized” power module, completely ignoring the fact you still need to carry around a large wall-wart to power it.

    I’ll argue that’s one in the same, whether it’s a brick or a wall wart. It’s still a big heavy box you gotta carry around.

    I’m ok with ‘do it yourself and learn’ to avoid COTS products, but this isn’t better then COTS.

  4. WTF, he duplicates the circuitry inside a commercial docking station, and you tards call it a hack?

    FURTHERMORE, why the hell would you do this? If you are running a SATA cable out of your case, then why not run a power connector out as well?

    …Seriously? Did you not think of this? Why would you need a commercial product for this?

    This site never ceases to amaze me, and not in a good way.

  5. Ekaj, ever heard of eSATA?

    What if, and stop me if this is too far over your head, he had a laptop with eSATA? Holy crap, can you imagine?

    He could power the hard drive externally AND have reasonable speeds since he would not be stuck using USB. That is, unless you are fond of somehow jiggering your laptop to have SATA cables dangling from it all day. I for one would rather carry around a tiny wall wart, this thing, and an eSATA cable instead of a HDD dock when I go on site to do troubleshooting.

    Simple hacks that work are sometimes the best ones out there. If you are so underwhelmed, go troll somewhere else.

  6. I’m hesitant to use chips that have errors in their datasheet. Page 6, “switching frequency” claims that the switcher switches at 240-260 Hz. That probably should be kHz as around 300kHz switching is quite common.

  7. @Ekaj

    Down boy, down!

    This guy made a nice little voltage converter which fits his needs. He already said that he would build a better one. The reason why he doesn’t just pull a power connecter out of his case is because he probably doesn’t run a sata cable out of it either. Modern motherboards have got these nice eSATA ports, which is SATA, only external, hence the name. The stability and speed limitations he talks about are in regard to the bridge logic in the docking station, not the power adapter or the eSATA bridge on his motherboard.

    The annoying whiny little commentators on this site never cease to amaze me, and not in a good way. If you don’t like a hack, just ignore it and move on. Or provide some useful criticism and help the hacker improve his/her work.

  8. @third agreed +1 ..

    anyways sorry Mark, didn’t read that you just copied the board layout. That should (hopefully) be okay then. If you would ever want to, a new modified model would be very nice with a switching 12V regulator – because if the lines are too long from the power adapter, they could increase the noise on the 12V line also. Maybe your hard drive runs nicely, but in 6 months it might be clicking and saying funny noises :-)

    If you are building a 12V regulator/filter, be comprehensive to choose the right components – you might not be able to use a 12V wall adapter as it would just regulate it to ~11V :-)

  9. Bill: both my power module and a docking station need a wall wart. This not where I claim to save space.

    I claim to save space by having replaced a brick-sized docking station with a coin-sized module.

  10. He still made something, and it worked for him. Not every hack is going to please you or be as complex as you want it to be. It was still a modification although small it worked.

    There’s no need to cry about it in the comments, don’t like it move on. Welcome to life.

    What is this I don’t even.

  11. @mrb:

    “I would be very happy to see a commercial product like mine. I found only one on Newegg but it is still too bulky and clumsy to my taste (separate thick IEC power cord, brick adapter, 4-pin molex power cable, 4-pin molex to SATA power adapter).”

    your hack and a wall wart or the the product you linked with a brick are both a heavy mess of wires in your bag. Though it’s harder to find a place on a power strip for your wall wart.

    And why in the heck were you carrying around a whole docking station to begin with? I have had one of these for years:

    and covers all types of hard drive interfaces.

    Still doesn’t address your speed concerns, but the one adapter can cover 3 types of HD interfaces. and power without a massive dock.

    I’m not trying to belittle your work, you took something you had, built a little extra to modify it’s purpose and got something more useful for little investment. Great job! That’s what we are here for.

    It’s just not something fantastically better then any COTS products and the way you word it sounds a little deceiving IMHO.

    ‘DIY Coin-sized SATA Power Module’, more like coin sized power ‘adapter’ that still requires a big wall wart to run. That’s all.

  12. @mrb

    That is, arguably but it also does 3 times as much as what your setup can do. I keep it in a pouch and it’s no problem. Only 3 pieces of wire, to your three pieces of wire(adapter, power cord, sata cable).

    However, what you linked in your blog as similar but “too bulky and clumsy” however is identical to what you did. The only addition is the power cord from the brick, which I prefer over wall warts as easier to use and welcome the addition of the 2 feet of cord.

  13. @Bill – I have one of the dock-less connectors. The wires tangle in my backpack.

    Wouldn’t it be nice to forget the AC cable and 5V/12V power supply, and just run this off your existing laptop supply? Provided I only need the SATA drive for a little while, I can run the laptop off it’s battery. Or I could run the SATA drive off the spare laptop battery.

    But that’s just my situation… anyone could adapt this to support whatever power they find to be commonly available (heck, using 9V batteries if you use a 9V to 12V booster).

    It might not seem like much, but anything you can do to reduce laptop bag clutter and weight is a great hack indeed.

  14. @Scott

    I guess it’s all in the cable management skills. I love my adapter, great for portable computer work.

    And again, what I linked is different then what is featured here, as my link provides the data interface for 3 HD types when the hack is only involving power.

    My point is what the blog links to as a COTS comparison is 95% the same as the hack, if not better depending on user preference.

    And I always said this was a good hack, just not better then what’s COTS, which is what the blog post leads you to believe.

  15. @Bill

    I do agree it does 3x more, but it is USB which is a deal-breaker for me (1/3rd
    the throughput of SATA).

    Also, maybe I didn’t take good pictures of my device, but I really want to
    insist that size was one of my primary design factors, and the size of that IEC
    power cord and power brick is twice the volume of my elements (thin 12V cord &
    notice how the wall wart is horizontal on a wall outlet meaning it would not
    obstruct outlets on a power strip). Yes the 12V cord is short but that is what
    I want.

    To each his own. You are happy with yours, I am happy with mine :-)

  16. I don’t get it… Did he not realize that there is such thing as a USB-powered eSATA enclosure? Also, what’s with just copying the circuit and building it on a piece of perf board? Was this supposed to accomplish something in particular? He even used the factory wall wart. I am confused…

  17. @Kyle –

    “Did he not realize that there is such thing as a USB-powered eSATA enclosure?”

    Did you not realize that USB ports will not provide 12V? Try googling for “USB powered SATA adapter and you will see…”

    Perhaps you meant to say there was “no such thing”?

    Even tapping 2 USB ports for power and using a 12V boost circuit, you are not going to have enough 12V power to run SATA drives.

  18. cool, i have a little usb adaptor that does just that
    and it does a rather good job of failing on 90% of the drives i try it on(gives a nice clicking though)
    also, i got 1 of these on sale at microcenter for $10(it sucks, the ide isnt even keyed… i got a much better 1 as well as 1 i ripped out of a dead external cdrom) but the power supply gives 2.5 amps on 12 and 5 fairly relyably(although 1 supply died on me sofar, using a old scsi enclosure in it’s place, if you want relyable power get a old scsi enclosure)
    er what was i saying again?
    something about commercially made products doing probably much better than a wallwart powered minicircuit

    before you jump on me for saying this
    it has one MAJOR use, using a cat battery jump starter(ie, portable 12 volt supply) you can effectivly power any drive you want anywhere you want with a laptop to plug it into

  19. @Cool!
    I don’t think I was specific enough for you – 2.5″ SATA drives don’t require 12 volts, so USB power would be perfect. Full size enclosures come with the necessary adapter, and many are only slightly larger than the drive (for example, a rosewill unit that measures 7.6×4.45×1.22″)


    This “hack”: Requires power adapter + home built power dongle + eSATA->SATA drive cable + hard drive which sits exposed to the world. Lots of wires, exposed circuit board on hard drive, etc.

    Commercially built 3.5″ enclosure: Requires enclosure (many of which are hardly larger than the drive itself) + eower adapter + eSATA cable. Drive is protected from the world.

    As you can see, the commercial solution is the better one. Carrying around a bare drive is not a good idea!!!

  20. Your confusion about the utility of my hack is that you think I aim at solving the need of people who need to permanently carry a drive with them (in that case I do agree the enclosure is superior.) My usage scenario is for the traveller with a laptop who needs to travel very light while always being able to connect a drive to its laptop (in that case I hope you realize carrying an empty enclosure would be a waste of space compared to my hack.)

    PS: there is a better solution for 2.5″ drives than USB: power over eSATA, which allows you to replace a docking station/enclosure/my hack with a simple passive cable. I will post pictures about this tonight.

  21. 1) sata speed > than those usb crap adapters
    2) “commercial” solutions for bays are stupid with their cost, max cost for a 4 drive bay should be $20 out the door, until that happens, bare drives all the way, or in recycled bays from old computers

    use your minds instead of paying too much for crap…quality component arguments are FAIL

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