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Geek Candy
Give Your Old Hard Drive New Life
by rob

With hard drives so inexpensive and with more and more data to store on your computer (for me it's digital images), there's never been a better time to get a new, huge hard drive. But your existing hard drive is a terrible thing to waste, especially when it can be put to new use so easily. And what's the best way to transfer files from an old hard drive to the new, roomier one? Today we'll look at options for giving any internal hard drive a second life as an external drive.

HD Interfaces
Hard drive interfaces
2.5" IDE notebook drive (top)
3.5" IDE desktop drive (middle)
3.5" SATA desktop drive (bottom)

The most obvious way to use an internal drive externally is to encase it in an external hard drive enclosure. These come in a variety of colors and styles. The most important things to look for in a drive enclosure are size and interface. The size of a desktop hard drive is 3.5" while notebook drives are smaller at 2.5". Also match up the interface of your internal drive with the internal connectors of the enclosure. Older drives use IDE (two rows of pins - 40 total) while newer drives use SATA (a smaller, one row connector). Next, consider what kind of external ports you have on your computer. Most enclosures connect via USB and some come with the option of Firewire and/or eSATA.

Installation of a drive into an enclosure is pretty easy:

  1. Set the drive to the Master setting (or Master/No Slave if one exists). This is done with jumper clips at the back of the drive (a white jumper clip can be seen on the 3.5" IDE drive above). There should be a label on the drive telling you which pins to connect the small clip to. If you've pulled this drive from your computer, it should already have this setting.
  2. Connect the molex (4-pin) power (if using a 3.5" drive) and the data cable.
  3. Mount the drive in the case, following the included directions.
  4. Close the case and connect the external data and power cables.
  5. Power on your computer (if it's not on already. USB and Firewire are Plug-and-Play so you can connect your external drive at any time).
  6. The external drive should mount as a new drive letter.
Hard Drive Dock
This hard drive dock from ThermalTake includes a 4-port USB hub

If you do a lot of system building or repair, a more flexible option is hard drive docks. These docks are like external enclosures except they have a slot for plugging in a hard drive on demand (almost like plugging in game cartridges or putting a slice of bread into a toaster). And like enclosures, they connect via USB, Firewire and/or eSATA. Many will even allow you to use either a 3.5" or 2.5" drive.

A more portable version of these docks is an external hard drive adapter. These are simply cables with both IDE and SATA connectors on one end and USB on the other.

Now that you've got an external hard drive, there are lots of uses:

  • Install a 1TB drive in your computer and use one of the above solutions to mount your old drive to transfer your data to the new drive.
  • When you purchase a new computer, use Norton Ghost to create a disk image of the inital setup on the external drive. Then you can burn the image to CD for later use.
  • Rescue files from an old hard drive (that's been sitting on the shelf for months) before formatting it and using it to build a friend's computer.

Bonus note: There are also 5.25" drive enclosures for using old internal optical drives externally.

Shop:
Internal Hard Drives
Drive Enclosures
Hard Drive Docks & External Hard Drive Adapters
Norton Ghost

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