How can I save the data from old broken computers?
Question by Greg B /

How do I get all the information off of old hard drives? I have the whole family’s old drives and can’t access any of them because the motherboard or something else in that computer is shot out. Is there a way to hook them to a USB hub or something?

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Answers (5)
  • Larry_m7

    Everything here, above and what I am about to write,  assumes that you are using Windows computers. If you are using Apples then you better say so as the advice would be different. 

    You didn’t mention what your new computer is. If it is a notebook, then you need to find an enclosure for an external drive as there isn’t any room to play inside the computer.
    If the new one is a desk top and you own a screwdriver, you have several options. If you are not comfortable identifying the stuff inside, especially the cables and connectors, skim through the MUO guides “Your PC Inside and Out” Parts I and II.

    I’m not going to tell you want to do but what I did a while back, which was essentially as Jeff suggested.

    I got my previous computer around year 2000; it died two years ago. I got my new, custom built, computer from a local computer shop that I often deal with and they installed an IDE cable since the connector was in a weird place and had to snake through a tight spot (let them have the aggravation rather than me.) The new computer came with a SATA drive.

    After getting it home and playing with it for a while I turned it off, including the power switch on the back but left it plugged in to keep the ground connection. Before touching anything sensitive, I touched the metal frame to drain any static electricity. I took the covers off and wrestled the old drive into an empty bay, put in the mounting screws, plugged in the IDE cable and a power connector (lots of spare ones hanging around).

    I then turned the power back on and booted the computer. The BIOS picked the right drive to boot from without any intervention from me (which pleasantly surprised me, especially since the IDE drive came up as Drive 0 and the SATA drive as Drive 1). I could then copy whatever I wanted from the old drive to the new one at my leisure.
    And I now have an empty 100GB drive to play with.

    I had an even older computer that no longer worked and had a small (40 MB I think) disk that I wanted to get stuff off of. I unplugged the disk I had installed and plugged in this disk. No need to mount it in a bay as it was not going to stay.

    The BIOS did not recognize this disk even after I tried adjusting whatever settings the BIOS allowed me to.

    I took this disk to work where we have some older equipment, including an NT4 box that we recently took out of service. This box had a CD reader but not a burner. But it did have a network connection so I plugged it back into the network, installed the disk as a second drive (again, no need to mount it in a bay) and powered the computer up. My disk was recognized so I copied everything to another. more modern, computer and burned it to a DVD. which I took home and copied to my new computer.

    Still to come is to rescue a bunch of 5.25″ floppies. I kept the floppy drive from that old computer as well as the 3.5″ drive from the newer computer. The new BIOS only recognizes one floppy drive at a time and I haven’t yet switched the connectors.

    That is my experience and I hope it gives you some hop and ideas of what can be done.

  • Sonny Bass

    There are docks and other adapters available to plug drives into a usb  


    Hello, there are several ways of doing what you want.  The first way would to move the drives you want recovered to a working computer that has the same cabling as your old ones.  Once the drives are installed, turn your computer on and you can retrieve the information to a portable harddrive or to a partition/folder in the working computer with enough space.

    The second way would be by getting an usb enclosure.  Just make sure that the enclosure has the same port as your hardrive/harddrives.  For example, if your drives are IDE, make sure to get an enclosure that can use IDE.  Also, if your drives use sata, make sure your enclosure can use sata.  Most recent enclosures can be used with IDE/sata and newer ones can even use e-sata/firewire.

    The other way, would be to get ide/sata to usb cable.  This are not too expensive and most of them have their own power supply.

    Now, to retrieve the information, you can connect the drive to any of the choices mentioned above and see if the disk is recognized by your operating computer.  If it is not, you can use a live linux cd/dvd to move the data from the old drives to cd/dvd, usb drive or any other storage option you have.

  • Stivinn Aura

    Hi Greg!

    It would’ve been REALLY helpful if you told us about the interface-type that your old hard drive uses.
    Nevertheless, there are 2 feasible ways to go about your problem.

    The *FIRST* (quicker) approach would be as mentioned in Jeffery’s answer (above). To elaborate, you will need to find out the type of your old hard drive’s interface and ensure that the same interface type is also found on your newer computer’s motherboard. I’m guessing it must be IDE (the type used in present-day CD & DVD drives). If it is IDE, your solution got a lot easier (Why? Read the next paragraph)! But you need to be sure about the interface. You may recognize the interface by looking at it, or you can find it out by going through the motherboard’s manual or searching Google for your motherboard’s/hard drive’s model number and going through its specifications.

    If the interface is IDE, you will have to simply power off the newer computer, unscrew its case, take out the IDE and the power adapters from the CD/DVD drive, plug it in the old hard drive and boot up the computer. Before booting into the OS, head into the BIOS and ensure that the newer hard disk has a higher boot priority than the older one. If it isn’t, simply change the boot priority such that you boot from the NEWER drive.

    The *SECOND* (simpler, also the costlier but with added benefits) approach would be to get hold of something like this:

    or one of these:

    You can simply plug in your old hard-drive to the new computer and use it to read/write data.
    Ask your friends if they already have (your old hard drive’s interface type)-to-USB adapter, or hard drive enclosure for your old-hard-drive’s interface. If you can buy latter, you may be able to MakeUseOf the old drive as an external/portable drive! (For as long as it lasts!)

  • Jeff Fabish

    If they are internal hard drives, they will have to be connected with a SATA/ATA/IDE cable to your motherboard. Read the article “How to Add an Extra Hard Drive” to learn how to connect an extra internal hard drive.

    Once you get the hard drive connected, just boot up the computer and transfer the data to your main hard drive, either manually or with backup utility. Tell me if it doesn’t help.

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