How to pick the right TiVo DVR hard drive?

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While hacking your TiVo DVR, you should never use the original drive that came in your unit. Depending on the method that you employ while expanding the capacity, you might need to use the image on your original drive at a future date. The first thing you should do is remove the original TiVo DVR and store in a safe place.

Next, to determine which hard drive would be best suited for your TiVo DVR, you need to know what kind of TiVo DVR you have. For instance, do you have a TiVo Series 1, 2 or 3 and is it a standalone or integrated TiVo DVR (DirecTV TiVo DVR for example)? Next you need to determine if you want to add a drive, replace the current drive or replace with two new drives. Since we recommend not reusing the original TiVo DVR hard drive, you should really determine if you want to simply replace the drive or do you want to replace the drive with two new drives. Finally, you need to choose the right size and brand. We provide some hints below.

Basics of TiVo DVR hard drives

TiVo Series 1 and 2 use ATA, UATA and PATA drives while the new TiVo Series 3 and the new, TiVo HD (check out DVRupgrade's current deal on the TiVo HD, also known as the Series 3 "Lite") both use SATA. Most drives provide for a 2MB, 8MB or 16MB cache (pronounced "cash") which buffers information for quicker access. Drives that run at 5400RPM or 7200RPM will work on TiVo DVRs. Anything slower than 5400RPM (3600RPM for example) will be unusable as a lot of data needs to be written and read from the disc. Faster drives (running at 10000RPM and faster) are a waste of money as the interface connecting to the drives simply cannot provide access at those speeds.

More cache provides faster performance but you probably will not even notice the difference. Higher RPM will give you faster performance but will run at a higher temperature. If your system already runs hot or runs in a cabinet, you might want to stick with a slower drive for fear of the drive dying prematurely.

Series 1 TiVo DVR:

Currently, all Series 1 TiVo DVRs can only utilize 137GB of the hard drive space. If you have dual hard drives, you can double the space to 274GB max. To expand beyond that limit, you need to hack your TiVo DVR and upgrade the Linux Kernel with one that supports hard drives greater than 137GB. However, you have to be aware that once the TiVo DVR software gets updated via the phone line, you will lose the extra capacity greater than 137GB. In order to gain it back, you must rehack your TiVo DVR immediately. Another reason this must be done immediately is to stop the new TiVo DVR software from "fixing" the TiVo file system called MFS which corrupts the file system. The only way to fix your TiVo DVR at that point is by putting a fresh software image on your hard drive (from either the original TiVo DVR hard drive we told you to save or using an InstantCake image. Due to the price of a 160GB drive, most people simply throw away the 23GB of wasted space and purchase 160GB drives to add to their Series 1 TiVo DVRs.

Series 2 TiVo DVR:

Most older standalone Series 2 TiVo DVRs require software 7.1 or newer to use hard drives greater than 137GB. On newer standalone Series 2 TiVo DVRs, software 5.1 or greater supports hard drives greater than 137GB. All DirecTV Series 2 TiVo DVRs with software 6.1 or higher supports hard drives greater than 137GB. Directv HD TiVo DVR (HR10-250) has built in support for hard drives greater than 137GB with the software version 3.1 or higher.

Series 3 TiVo DVR:

The latest and greatest TiVo with dual high definition recording capability is called the Series 3. It comes with a special Serial ATA (SATA) interface called SecureConnect so the Western Digital 250GB SATA or larger drives work best. You can purchase other brands but you might have issues with the SATA connector securely fitting. This TiVo comes with an external SATA port which is disabled currently in software. Once enabled you should be able to plug in an eSATA drive to expand the capability.

For the fun of it, we've posted a "how to" on expanding your Series 3 TiVo DVR to 1TB providing 130 hours of high definition TV or 52 days of standard definition!

The DirecTV HR15 and HR20 are non-TiVo DVRs are cannot currently be expanded. The HR15 has a Seagate 160GB hard drive and the HR20 has a 250GB hard drive. If you need to replace the hard drives in these models (due to failure), simply swap out the current hard drive with a new hard drive and initialize the drive.

In July of 2007, TiVo rolled out a slimmed down version of the Series 3, called TiVo HD. Essentially, this unit is almost everything the Series 3 model is, but without some of the glitz. It's missing the OLED display, has a smaller hard drive that is easily upgraded, and it comes with the standard remote control. It's also several hundred dollars less than the standard Series 3. Plus, it sports a better, faster processor. Check out DVRupgrade for a great deal on this unit and save yourself some money.

Replacement Drive:

A replacement drive is the best way to upgrade your recording capacity. You can start fresh and transfer the software from your original drive yourself or purchase a plug in play drive that is prepared already or Instantcake. You can transfer your settings, season passes, recorded shows to a new replacement drive using the freeware software called mfstools yourself. You will need a computer, a linux boot disc and know how to install hard drives in a computer.

If you are technically challenged, check out DVRupgrade's Professional Services. They can even copy all your settings, season passes, preferences and recorded content to a new drive kit prior to installing into your DVR.

Adding 2nd Drive or "B" Drive:

Most Series 1 TiVo DVRs have a 2nd drive bay available for adding a 2nd drive to increase capacity above the 137GB limit. Most Series 2 TiVo DVRs do not have 2nd drive bay so you would have to buy a dual mounting bracket. You will also need to buy a dual IDE cable and power splitter. If you have TiVo DVR with DVD burner or player built in, you cannot have a dual drive setup since there is no space in the unit to add a 2nd drive (unless you either leave the cover off or cut some holes in your unit.

Here are some conditions you would have to meet in order to add a 2nd drive:

  • Your current TiVo Hard drive has to be in good working order.
  • If you want to add a hard drive greater than 137GB for Series 2, your current TiVo hard drive has to have software version of 6.1 or higher for DirecTV TiVo, software version of 5.1 or higher for newer Standalone TiVo (TCD540x, T800), and software 7.1 or higher for older standalone Tivo (TCD130, 140x, 230x, 240x)
  • DVD burner is not built in (no room inside as mentioned before)

What are the cons of a dual drive system:

  • If "A" drive failes, you will loose all your recordings on both "A" and "B" drives.
  • Your TiVo's power supply might not supply enough power to two drives.
  • More complex upgrade than replacement drive.

What are the pros of a dual drive system:

  • You can retain current TiVo settings, Season Passes, recorded shows without performing long copying process.
  • Very quick to prepare the drive using single linux command.


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Choosing the Right Size:

The bigger the hard drive the better! The biggest consumer hard drive available currently is 750GB with perpendicular recording and they are known to work well on TiVo DVRs. Any hard drive greater 250GB needs special attention in order to work properly on TiVo DVR, so if you are buying a already prepared drive, buy it from a seller who knows what they are doing. Make sure the drive is the same size or bigger than your current TiVo DVR hard drive.

Choosing the Right Brand:

Hard drive quality has improved greatly so most brands work well. The Maxtor Quickview or Seagate DB35 Series seem to be the quietest, followed by Western Digital, Samsung, Hitache. Seagate non-DB35 Series drives do not have AAM features currently so they are slightly louder during seek time. Seagate recently bought Maxtor and discountined the Quickview drives. They introduced DB35 series drives that are made for DVR market and acoustically tuned to the quietest setting and include a 5 year warranty. Seagate DB35 series are the best drives to get for your TiVo. If you are sensitive to noise and your TiVo DVR is in your bedroom, you should get Maxtor Quickview drives or Seagate DB35 series drives.

The Seagate DB35 drives are a bit more expensive and harder to find than other hard drives, but they are specifically made for DVRs. The drives have on board sensors which monitor temperature and adjust various characteristics depending on the temperature. Seagate implemented acoustic management by specifically tuning the drives to run as quietly as possible. Also, the drives have been optimized for DVR usage by being tuned to provide consistent data to the DVR processor. Standard hard drives sometimes can hang while retrying drive needs while the DB35 series move ahead and provide more data to keep video smooth. Finally these drives are tuned to move past errors faster putting the stream of data as top priority. After all, one block being bad might create a dark spot on one frame for 1/30th of a second! If you're serious about your DVR, you need to get a Seagate DB35 (ebay link, remember to look for new drives!).

Used Hard Drive:

Hard drives are always on sale with or without rebates so there is no reason to purchase a refurbished or used hard drive for your TiVo DVR. You can get 250GB and 320GB hard drives for under $100 (check Bargains for Geeks for sales on hard drives) so don't waste your money on used or refurbished drives!


A blank hard drive won't work in a TiVo DVR. It has to be prepared properly and loaded with the right software. If you choose to "do it yourself" you need to be technically savvy enough to be able to plug in hard drives correctly in the TiVo DVR and your computer and know the difference between primary and secondary IDE channels and perhaps a little Linux.

DVRupgrade and other vendors provide full-service where you send your TiVo DVR away and it comes back all hacked up to your specifications but if you feel you can do-it-yourself but don't have the time to track down all information on how to hack your TiVo DVR you can always purchase your own hard drive and use DIY software from DVRupgrade.

Warranty Info:

Most retail hard drives come with 1 year warranty from the purchased date. If you can't produce proof of the purchased date, factory date is used. Most OEM drives carry 3 years. Most brands have datestamp on the hard drive. Seagate drives come with date code and you can validate the code at Seagate's site.

Retail OEM
Hitache 1 3
Maxtor 1 3
Western Digital 1 3
Samsung 3 3
Seagate 5 5




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