3 Ways To Breathe New Life Into An Old Hard Drive

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restore old hard driveIt’s in the human nature to collect stuff and in the digital age we mostly collect data. For a long time, the storage capacities of hard drives seemed to increase too slow to match user demands. We have now reached a turning point. With the aid of generous free Cloud storage and streaming services, it seems like local data storage needs are peaking and will eventually level off. It’s not that we collect less, but the way in which we collect data appears to be going through a major revolution.

If you have been an active participant of the digital age over the past decade or more, chances are you have gone through your fair share of hard drives. Are you wondering what to do with old hard drives that still work? Let’s see whether any of the following ideas will work for you.


This article is valid regardless of what type of hard drive you have. You might have a SATA or IDE hard drive, maybe it’s a 3.5″ drive form a desktop PC or it’s an old 2.5″ laptop HDD. It could also be an external hard drive that never lived inside a computer. In case you don’t know already, find out what you have, then figure out whether you will need any adapters to do what I suggest.

restore old hard drive

You might need these tips for installing a SATA hard drive or for installing an IDE hard drive along the way.

Install a RAID System

Rumor has it that the desktop PC is dying out. But in case you’re still running one, consider setting up a RAID system. RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks and you should click the link to find out what that really means. There are at least three different RAID setups. You could best use a spare hard drive to mirror your data from another drive (aka software RAID or RAID 1). What you would thus need is a drive of equal size as the drive (or the amount of data) you want to mirror.

reuse old hard drive

Unfortunately, we haven’t yet written a guide on how to set up a RAID on your home computer, but HowToGeek has a post on how to create a software RAID 1 in Windows 7, you will find an article on setting up a RAID on your PC on PCWorld, and finally, below is a video on how to set up a software RAID 1 (mirrored) in Windows 7.

Play With a New Operating System

Ever wanted to set up a dual boot, i.e. installing two operating systems side by side on one computer? That’s geeky and sounds complicated; maybe too complicated if you just want to try a new operating system for fun and without any risk. If you have a spare hard drive, you can experiment and avoid all risk.

You have two options. If you have a free slot on your desktop PC, you can attach your spare hard drive and install the new operating system on it; for example you could install and dual boot Ubuntu next to Windows 7. The far less attractive option is to unplug your current system hard drive and temporarily attach the spare hard drive in its place. Either way, you can install an operating system of your choice on the spare drive, have fun with it, and if the project fails or if you’re tired of it, remove the test drive and re-plug the original hard drive.

reuse old hard drive

You can also dual boot two operating systems on a single hard drive by the way. You just need to create a separate partition for the second operating system on your one hard drive.

Create An External Hard Drive With Benefits

You can get an enclosure that will turn your spare internal hard drive into an external USB hard drive. Cases are available for IDE and SATA connectors, as well as for 2.5″ and 3.5″ HDDs. Once you have a spare external drive, there is lots you can do with it…

Store Backups

Keep in mind that hard drives are more likely to fail and break the older they get. Hence, you should never store anything important on an old hard drive. However, you can dump a third copy of important data on a spare drive, just to be sure. To further decrease the risk of losing important data, you could keep one of two backups in a separate location, ideally the more reliable of the two.

reuse old hard drive

To learn more about data safety, consult our Backup & Restore Guide.

Create a System Image

Instead of using the spare drive to back up your data, you could create a system image or clone your system hard drive. If anything happened to your installation, you could swap in the spare hard drive and continue as if nothing had happened, while you repair or restore the failed installation.

Turn It Into a Media Center

A spare hard drive with sufficient space for your music or video collection can become your own little media center. You will need a compatible TV or display and you might have to format your HDD in FAT32, even if it’s actually too big for FAT32, so the TV can recognize it.

The real geek will build a media center using a Raspberry Pi. If that sounds like an odd fruit, you might need an introduction to Raspberry Pi and idea what a Raspberry Pi can do first. And then you’re all set.

restore old hard drive


A spare hard drive can be used for many cool and practical projects. In case you don’t see the benefit, the fun, or the point, make sure you completely erase your data before you donate the old hard drive to someone who can make good use of it. It’s not right to let its potential go to waste.

Do you have any other ideas for what could be done to re-use an old hard drive?

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Comments (12)
  • Jiranz

    How about an article on how to use multiple old hdd? I have about 6 old 120GB drives and some others misc about 500GB all IDE. Seems a waste to just dump them. Can they all be stacked in one box with a USB connection so they appear as a single large hdd?

    • Tina Sieber

      You could set up a type of RAID. It’s an article we yet have to write, but others have written those articles. There are some links in my section about installing a RAID system.

  • dragonmouth

    Multi-booting is one option.
    Another option is to put each O/S on its own HD and use swappable trays.
    Still another option is to put each partition (root, swap, home, var) on its own HD. Not only does this use up old drives, it also speeds up access somewhat.

    • Tina Sieber

      That’s essentially what I suggested. Instead of dual booting (multiple OSes on one HDD) install a different OS on a different HDD and swap them. Guess I didn’t word it very well.

    • dragonmouth

      I guess I did not word my last suggestion very well, either. :-)
      As far as Windows is concerned, one would put system folders (Program Files, etc.) on one HD and data (Documents folder) on another one. To increase the throughput somewhat, one HD can be on the Primary channel and the other HD on the Secondary one.

      In Linux and BSD, “/”, “/home”, “/var”. “/swap” partitions can each be assigned to a separate HD. With motherboards that have both SATA and PATA interfaces, one can use up to 8 HDs.

  • Ben W

    I’ve always found uses for old HDD’s. I had about 200 GB worth of IDE HDD’s laying aroud, and my dad needed a simple computer – just one to check his email and such.

    So, I took an old computer, put a fresh OS install on it for him, and BitTorrent Sync for myself, so now any time both computers are turned on, it’s backing everything up off my desktop. It’s not like he’s using any of that HDD space, and it’s not like anyone else was going to use those old HDD’s.

    • Tina Sieber

      Thanks for sharing, Ben! This sounds like a great solution.

  • Keith S

    I got them! Thanks for the WAYS to put them to use!

  • Phuc Ngoc

    How about a near-death hard drive?!

    • Tina Sieber

      A hard drive that is about to die should obviously not be used to back up data and you should also not invest any money in it. If the hard drive has failing sectors or is making funny noises, it’s better to just wipe all data and return it to an electronics store or other facility for recycling.

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.