(This post was imported from an earlier blog. It was first published in 2009. Some products mentioned below may no longer be available.)
Since then I’ve acquired a second SA8300HD, learned of one additional option, and helped two others expand their PVR storage. While I’m sorry it’s taken two years to finally post this, at least I’m very confident this works. :-)
There are two basic options to expand the storage for the SA8300HD. The first and easiest option is to add an external hard drive using what is known as the eSATA expansion port at the back of the unit. The second and more difficult option (and only if you own your unit and don’t care about your warranty!) is to replace the internal hard drive with a larger one — for which you’ll need special tools and software.
I’ll provide pointers and tips for each option, but please read this disclaimer first:
I don’t guarantee anything I write here will necessarily work for you. Notably, if your local cable company is not Rogers, your PVR may have different firmware or different settings which could disallow these expansion options. Cable companies can control whether the unit’s external expansion feature is enabled, and firmware editions for the SA8300HD also vary. Please do your own due diligence to ensure your unit will support expansion.
On to the two options:
Option 1: Easy: Connect an external hard drive to the SA8300HD’s eSATA port
You can buy a pre-built external hard drive (an eSATA enclosure with SATA hard drive inside), such as the Western Digital My DVR Expander, eSATA Edition. I didn’t go that route. You might get better bang-for-the-buck and improved components by building one yourself — it’s easy enough. When I built mine, the pre-built units with SA8300HD compatibility weren’t easy to find and were expensive compared to the DIY option.
I found out how to assemble my own external unit by reading the message thread 8300HD and External SATA - It Works!! at AV Science Forum. It’s a long thread now, but you don’t need to read all of it. The long and short is that the external expansion works, provided your cable company is on compatible firmware and didn’t disable the feature, and provided that you purchase compatible hardware.
The primary resource you’ll want to consult if you’re not going to buy the same hardware I did is the Scientific Atlanta 8300HD SARA eSATA Database, where you’ll find information and results on what enclosures and hard drives others have tried. Not all combinations of enclosures and drives work well. Sort by “Provider” (cable company), and pay attention to the “Pass” column. Enclosures and drives that pass often are better candidates.
What I’ve been happy with is the following combination:
- 1 Vantec NexStar 3 3.5” SATA to USB 2.0 & eSATA External Hard Drive Enclosure. Model: NST-360SU-BK. I purchased my enclosure at NCIX.com. Here’s a link to the product at NCIX (SKU 17167).
I like the Vantec enclosure because it’s quiet. If you sometimes like watching TV in a quiet environment, go for a quiet enclosure. Although the Vantec lacks a fan (which is why it is quiet) it’s made of metal that contacts the drive, so it acts like a heat sink and dissipates drive heat better than a plastic enclosure would. Tip: The Vantec has an annoying bright blue LED light on the front, but you can easily leave it disconnected.
- 1 Western Digital Caviar Green SATA 1TB, 32MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s Hard Drive. Model: WD10EADS. Note: I originally started with a different 500GB drive, but later switched to this drive for even more storage. I also purchased my hard drive at NCIX.com. Here’s a link to the product at NCIX (SKU 35676).
I’ve used Western Digital drives for a long time in home computers and generally find them reliable. The one time I’ve had a unit fail, WD replaced it under warranty with no hassle. Furthermore, the Caviar Green drive is specifically touted as using less power and running cooler, which are good features to have for a hard drive you plan to keep on all the time. Last, I didn’t want to use a drive larger than 1GB since I couldn’t find evidence in the database that such would work.
After I installed the hard drive into the enclosure, I unplugged the SA8300HD’s power, then used the eSATA cable (included with the Vantec) to connect the units. Then, I plugged in the SA8300HD’s power again. After booting, it started formatting the hard drive. There was no notice of progress or completion. I gave it a few hours, and then cycled the SA8300HD power again. After booting up the second time, a note popped up that the drive was recognized. The “List” Preferences screen confirmed the additional storage. That was it!
Option 2: Harder: Replace the SA8300HD’s internal hard drive with a larger one
I have a second 8300HD that I acquired from a family member who moved out of the Rogers service area. I placed that second unit in a bedroom, and I didn’t want to use external expansion in order to keep cabling and power consumption to a minimum. So, I went looking to see if it were possible to replace the internal hard drive instead.
I found the helpful message thread for this type of upgrade at Digital Home. See SA8000/8300HD - Internal Hard Disk Upgrade Works (Cloning too). The key takeaways were: You need a security Torx bit set to open the SA8300HD, and it is possible to clone the contents of the original drive to the new drive. I won’t re-hash here what you can read there. If you want to do this kind of upgrade, do more homework :-)
Note that the internal hard drive in the SA8300HD is a plain IDE/PATA drive, not a SATA drive. In mine was a 160GB Western Digital WD1600BB. This was surprising — I assumed the internal drive would be SATA as well. The SA8300HD actually uses PATA-to-SATA adapter logic to enable the external eSATA expansion port, and internally it talks PATA.
Since the internal drive was PATA, options were more limited. They don’t make very large PATA drives, and based on the Digital Forum message thread I wasn’t convinced the SA8300HD would support a very large internal drive. I decided I would try a Western Digital Caviar Blue PATA 500GB, 16MB Cache, 7200 RPM hard drive (Model: WD5000AAKB). I also purchased that hard drive at NCIX.com. Here’s a link to the product at NCIX (SKU 28927).
After removing the WD1600BB from the SA8300HD, I cloned its contents to the new WD5000AAKB using PC-based software as described in the Digital Home thread. After re-assembling the unit and powering it on, everything worked as expected: I had more storage.
Having done that for my newer SA8300HD, I decided to upgrade my original SA8300HD’s internal drive too, for a total of 1.5TB storage (500GB internal + 1TB external), or equivalent to 9-10 times what the SA8300HD had come with originally (160GB.)
Having expanded the SA8300HD storage both ways, I would recommend to most people that external expansion is the way to go. Buy a pre-built unit if you’re not comfortable putting it together yourself, or go the DIY route if you want to get specific components and perhaps save a few bucks.
Internal expansion is recommended only if you are technically competent and you own your unit and don’t care about its warranty. :-)
Finally: don’t expect your free space to last too long! Even though I have 1.5 terabytes on one SA8300HD now, it has already reached 97% capacity. We need to be more selective of what we record — but at least there’s always something to watch :-)