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We aren’t born with computers (although that might be true in the future), but we sure do collect them over the years. Some may opt to sell their antique Apple II’s on eBay. But seriously, we all have those 3 year PCs and laptops sitting in a dark corner in your apartment.  Wouldn’t it be fantastic to put some of that old hardware to use?

The answer, if you’ve read this far, is yes. Yes we can – remove that old hard drive from the laptop or PC. Yes we can – put it in a brand new and extremely cheap dock or simply use a female ATA or SATA connector that plugs in to your regular computer USB port.

I actually know a guy who has a couple of these drives and uses them to back up his computer. Each week he alternates the drive to spread the wear – and because bare drives are quite fragile – he keeps them in those plastic containers used to store food, along with some crumpled sticky notes. They’re actually a great idea because they are airtight, have good thermal and EM(electromagnetic) resistance, while the crumpled sticky notes will absorb a good part of the downward force in the event of an unfortunate drop. Most people would likely just throw away good stuff, but think about it – you’re losing real value as well as stocking the landfills.

how do i backup my computer

First of all, get the hardware in question out of the closet and dust it off with a damp cloth. If it’s a PC, the process is pretty much straightforward. Most PC’s use standard cross-shaped screws to keep the case tight – you don’t need any special tools. Be extra careful about static electricity. I’m not sure of the science behind this – but avoid clothes made out of plastic polymers (such as polyester) as they tend to charge with electrostatic energy. Before handling any internal contents it’s a good idea to touch a bare metal surface.


Once you’re in, unscrew the hard drive from the holder, first on the right and then on the left, while using your other hand to support the weight from underneath. Once it’s free, disconnect the internal connector. Look at it closely in order to see which kind of dock or cable you need to buy.

how do i backup my computer

On laptops, it can be even easier, but usually it’s kind of hard to get to the hard drive (pun intended). The rule of thumb is to search Google for “Laptop Manufacturer” + “Model Number” + “Guide” OR “Manual” OR “Service Manual”. Especially with older models, you might need to painstakingly remove layers of panels and  other components in order to safely remove the hard drive.

Even if you do find the manufacturer’s manual, you should check the MUO guide How To Build Your Own PC [PDF Guide] How To Build Your Own PC [PDF Guide] Read More . Another issue with older drives are the connectors – not all adapters will support those pesky miniaturized ATA or even SATA ports.

how to backup computer to hard drive

Once the patient is safely stored in one of those food containers, it’s time to pull out your credit card and do this search on your favorite tech store: “Connector Type” + “Dock” OR “Adapter” or “Cable” + “USB”. If you live the the US, you’ve got it easy, as Think Geek and Amazon have pretty much got you covered. Less lucky peeps like me would probably opt to order off eBay or annoy the staff at the local computer store.

Once your cable or dock arrives, it’s a simple process of matching the male and female connectors and boom, your old hardware is back to life again. Format it in either NTFS, ext3 or HFS+, depending on your platform of choice and you’re ready to use Time Machine, Back in Time or any other backup solution you might prefer.

Do you recycle your hard drives?   If so, how do you do it?

Photo credits : abdallahh, jeremyfoo, jepoirrier, 少佐

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