3 Ways To Breathe New Life Into An Old Hard Drive

Tina Sieber 05-06-2013

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 5 Signs Your Hard Drive Is Failing (And What to Do) Since a majority of people today own laptops and external hard drives, which get dragged around quite a bit, a realistic hard drive lifetime is probably around 3 - 5 years. This is an extremely... Read More 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 What Are the Different Computer Cable Types You Need to Know? Not sure what that cord is for? Here are the most common computer cable types explained, from monitor cables to network cables. Read More 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 5 Things to Consider When You Install a SATA Hard Drive Before you install a SATA hard drive, here are a few things to consider so you don't mess anything up. Read More or for installing an IDE hard drive How to Install a Second IDE Hard Drive on Older PC's Read More 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 Not Sure About Upgrading? Then Why Not Dual Boot Windows 8 With Windows 7? Are you interested in Windows 8, but don’t want to abandon Windows 7 just yet? Well, why not dual-boot Windows 8 and Windows 7, selecting the operating system you want to use each time you... Read More , 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 How to Physically Install a Second Internal Hard Drive When you find yourself running out of hard drive space, you can either delete something or add some more space. Read More 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 How to Install Ubuntu on Windows 10: 3 Simple Methods to Try There are many ways in which you can try Ubuntu. One of them is to install Ubuntu on Windows 10 using one of these methods. Read More on a single hard drive by the way. You just need to create a separate partition How To Shrink & Extend Volumes Or Partitions in Windows 7 In Windows 7 and Windows Vista, resizing your volumes or re-partitioning your hard drive has become a lot easier than in previous Windows versions. However, there are still a few pitfalls that will require you... Read More 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 The Windows Backup and Restore Guide Disasters happen. Unless you're willing to lose your data, you need a good Windows backup routine. We'll show you how to prepare backups and restore them. Read More .

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 How to Use Clonezilla to Clone Your Windows Hard Drive Here's all you need to know about how to use Clonezilla to clone your hard drive in the easiest way. Read More . 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 How To Build a Media Center That Will Play Anything I've been building a media centre recently. Actually, scratch that – I’ve been building two. One is a compact device (my Raspberry Pi) running the RaspBMC distribution of XBMC, while the other is a traditional... Read More . You will need a compatible TV or display and you might have to format your HDD in FAT32 How to Format a USB Drive and Why You Would Need To Formatting a USB drive is easy. Our guide explains the easiest and fastest ways to format a USB drive on a Windows computer. Read More , even if it’s actually too big for FAT32 How to Format a Large Hard Drive With FAT or FAT32 The FAT and FAT32 formats support up to 16TB. Yet Windows sets a 32GB limit for formatting with FAT or FAT32. We'll show you how to format larger drives. Read More , so the TV can recognize it.


The real geek will build a media center using a Raspberry Pi The Hardware You Will Need To Build A Raspberry Pi Media Center With so many ways of using it, you shouldn't be surprised to find that the Raspberry Pi has sold over 1 million units. Although designed for one key purpose (programming) this small credit card-sized computer... Read More . If that sounds like an odd fruit, you might need an introduction to Raspberry Pi What You Need to Know About Getting Started with Raspberry Pi The Raspberry Pi computer is the latest in a line of compact, multi-function devices, shipped as a barebones package so that end users can use the hardware for virtually any computing project that comes to... Read More and idea what a Raspberry Pi can do The Top 5 Amazing Uses For Your Raspberry Pi Computer I’ve recently received my Raspberry Pi after a long wait – and I’ve got quite a few plans for it. The problem is, I’m not totally sure which project I want to attempt first. While... Read More 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 How to Completely Wipe a Hard Drive There are two ways to wire a hard drive. Here's what you need to know to get it done quick and easy. Read More 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?

Related topics: Computer Maintenance, Hard Drive.

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  1. Jer
    November 15, 2016 at 6:11 am

    Dead or dying hard drives can be taken apart and stripped for the powerful neodymium magnets inside.

    • Tina Sieber
      November 15, 2016 at 1:13 pm

      True. Have you done that successfully? Any tips?

  2. Jiranz
    June 6, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    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
      June 8, 2013 at 12:14 pm

      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.

  3. dragonmouth
    June 6, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    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
      June 8, 2013 at 12:13 pm

      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
        June 9, 2013 at 1:24 pm

        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.

  4. Ben W
    June 6, 2013 at 8:48 am

    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
      June 6, 2013 at 9:00 am

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

  5. Keith S
    June 6, 2013 at 7:07 am

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

  6. Phuc Ngoc
    June 6, 2013 at 5:37 am

    How about a near-death hard drive?!

    • Tina Sieber
      June 6, 2013 at 8:59 am

      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.

  7. Zhong J
    June 6, 2013 at 3:35 am

    Think of hard drive as usb except it's more versatile since it can be installed with all sorts of remnants. However if the hard drive is dead, then it's a junk, once SMART detect that the drive failed to start then there's nothing you can do about it except to replace one.

  8. GiddyUpGo
    June 6, 2013 at 1:41 am

    You might consider using trays for hard drives. If you have an extra slot in your case, purchase a tray for each drive you want. You install your HD's in trays and then just swap trays.
    I use one for XP and another for W7. You have total independent operating systems if you use them for boot drives, or you could just use them for extra unlimited hard drives.
    I have used this system for years.
    They come with fans and key locks, etc.