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This topic is related to a recently closed question for a recommendation for an external hard drive enclosure. I goal here isn't to debate that single question, but instead debate whether or not an external hard drive enclosure is on topic.


From What is Hardware?, our definition of "hardware" is:

Hardware is any primarily electronic item that can perform more than one task, designed to interface with, connect to, or be, a primary computing platform in day-to-day operation.

I've argued previously (in a larger argument about "cases" in general) that a hard drive enclosure does fall in our scope:

[...] [A] hard drive sits in an enclosure which then has to interface via "something" (usually USB) to the computer itself. It fits the second portion of the above definition: "designed to interface with..."

I still support that argument. Such an enclosure needs to perform the following:

  • Interface with another device (computer, router, etc)
  • Send/receive data
  • Store the data long term

The biggest difference between "hard drive" and "external hard drive" is that these devices sit outside of the computer. Otherwise, it is performing the same tasks as a regular hard drive.


I think an external hard drive enclosure is a piece of hardware that should be on topic here.

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  • I would like to mention that multi-bay enclosures frequently have RAID hardware built into them. – NZKshatriya Oct 24 '16 at 17:56
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    I think they should be on topic as well, because depending on what kind of drive enclosure you are getting you will also be getting some additional functionality. Either a raid controller, or a Network interface. Yes, some enclosures are extremely simple devices that only do data pass through, but I would say this is more of an exception to the rule. – BigElittles Oct 26 '16 at 19:53
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Software Engineering (formerly Programmers.SE) suffered through a long bout of "byzantine scope rules." It was a bad experience for everyone visiting the site for the first time; nobody could figure out what the site was supposed to be about. We finally got religion and threw out whole categories of questions that touched on scope rules that we came up with in good faith, but which nobody could understand. There are now new SE sites like Open Source, Law and Freelancing that serve those questions much better than we ever could, and our site scope is vastly easier to understand.

To a new user, it feels like hard drive enclosures ought to fall within the scope of Hardware Recommendations, regardless of whatever rules you've come up with to parse the categories of hardware that you have an interest in. This is how newcomers to your site will see it: "You mean I can ask about computer systems but not the things I connect to them? What kind of weirdness is this?"

Don't expect newcomers to understand your site's scope history or intricate rules about what the term "hardware" means in this site's context before asking their first question here. Most meta sites are havens for regular participants, not new users, and the articles they so contain cannot be relied upon to educate new people because they're a mishmash of thoughts over time, not a coherent, readable site policy.

Ultimately, your best bet for building a healthy community of participants is to simplify the scope rules, not make them increasingly elaborate and beat people senseless with them. Find a simple way to explain the kinds of questions that you really do not want on the site, and focus on controlling those, rather than constantly tweaking the rules to shape the kinds of questions that are asked to your liking.

Finally, many poor questions can be closed for other reasons. The question you cited seems off-topic to me, not because it's doesn't fit your definition of hardware, but because it doesn't contain sufficient criteria for making a decision. "What is the best" questions frequently fail for this very reason: we don't know what your specific criteria for "best" is.

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I agree with Robert that excessive scope-carving isn't a great idea. That said, I do still believe that the scope we (seem to have) decided on with a year ago in the what-is-hardware discussion is a great guideline.

I'd vote that we keep those guidelines, but interpret them generously. I don't think we're at a point where that will hurt us, and we can always reign ourselves in if we feel we've become too permissive. I'd vote to make (keep?) enclosures on-topic.

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Making enclosures off-topic would be like making "skin" off-topic at biology or health.

I may not be a regular user of this site and may not have a horse in this race, but this is how I think about hardware that is on the fringe of being on-topic. If I need a screwdriver or other tool to separate a component from something such as a hard drive that is clearly on-topic, then that other component should be on-topic.

Clearly office furniture is off-topic by that interpretation, but any type of computer case (including hard drive enclosure or NAS) should be on-topic.


Note: just because you decided to anchor your server to the concrete slab of your house does not make concrete or masonry on-topic. Be reasonable.

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    crud, and I was gonna ask about carved stone drive cages. – NZKshatriya Nov 7 '16 at 8:13
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    @NZKshatriya I believe you are looking for retrocomputing, Flintstones-style. – user546 Nov 7 '16 at 14:22

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