Need some information of an old hard disk drive? Unfortunately, it’s not easy to connect a drive to your PC. So, what can you do when you need to retrieve those old spreadsheets, or forgotten digital photos?
Here are some useful and practical ways you can connect your hard drive to your current computer and recover data from it.
How to Get Data Off a Hard Drive
Getting your data off an old hard disk drive is easier than you think. If the device has been disconnected from its original PC and kept free from knocks, the data should be retrieved with relative ease.
You have five options to connect an old HDD to your computer:
- Connect it using a special USB adapter cable
- Hack an external HDD
- Build your own external HDD
- Use a USB docking station for disk drives
- Install the disk in your PC
Some of these methods are simpler than others. Let’s look at each of them in turn.
1. Connect via Special USB Cable Adapter
The simplest option you have is to connect your old HDD to your computer via USB. These typically come with connections for SATA and IDE/PATA drives.
HDDs currently have a SATA connection, which is a small “L” shaped connector and a thin, flat cable. These drives are powered using a slightly wider connector, or a Molex four-pin connector.
IDE/PATA drives, meanwhile, rely on a much wider ribbon cable connector, along with a Molex connector.
Employing a USB cable adapter for your HDD means identifying the correct connection type and plugging the HDD. So, if I had an old IDE/PATA disk drive, I would connect the IDE/PATA adapter port to the drive, then the Molex plug to the mains adapter. I could then connect the adapter to the PC via USB and switch it on.
As a USB device, the drive would then be detected in the operating system, ready to browse.
2. Hack an External HDD
Perhaps you have an external HDD with a USB connection. This basically contains the same functionality as a SATA-to-USB cable adapter and can be hacked to accept a different SATA HDD.
Before doing this, note that opening the drive up could invalidate the device’s warranty.
External hard disk drives basically comprise of a small circuit board with SATA connectors to dock the drive, and an enclosure. By opening the enclosure and removing securing screws the existing drive, you can easily swap it with your old HDD.
With everything connected and secure, connect the drive to your PC, power it up, and start retrieving data. Don’t forget to replace the original HDD into the external drive housing when you’re done!
3. Mount the HDD Into an External Enclosure
Planning on accessing this hard disk drive regularly? If so, it makes sense to buy an external HDD enclosure, and install your disk drive in this.
This is really a similar step to hacking your existing external HDD. The only difference is that the enclosure should ship with some instructions on how to install the drive.
Once you’ve installed the HDD in the new enclosure, simply connect it to your PC via USB, power it up, and start retrieving your data.
The benefit of this option is that once you’ve found recovered the missing data, you can use the disk as an external HDD. Connect a reformatted drive to any computer or media device as external storage.
4. Browse for Data Using a USB Docking Station
A quick an easy option for connecting old hard disk drives to your PC is a docking station that connects over USB.
Docking stations are basically the same as the USB adapter cable, but with the connectors mounted within a box so the drives can be simply plugged in.
Different types of USB docking stations for disk drives are available. Most provide SATA-only connections for 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch disk drives. However, some drives also include IDE/PATA connectors, although the position of the power connector on these older drives can cause problems.
All in all, this is probably the most comfortable option. Drives simply plug into the docking station, and some devices even provide space for multiple HDDs.
5. Install the HDD to Your PC
If all else, fails, it’s worth connecting the disk drive directly to your PC motherboard.
How you do this will again depend upon the HDD connector type. Connect SATA drives to the motherboard using the SATA cable. IDE drives use the IDE ribbon cable, so the motherboard will need to have a compatible port. If not, you’ll need to use a compact adapter small enough to fit inside your PC case.
Note that this isn’t a long-term solution. Stop using the adapter once you have recovered your data.
Of course, before installing any device inside your PC, you should be confident that you know what you are doing. Our guide to building a PC will help you here, as installing a HDD is a key aspect of PC building.
With the HDD correctly connected to your PC’s motherboard, it should be safe to power up the computer and browse the device. Note that this solution may not be practical for many laptop computers, which increasingly ship without space for additional disk drives.
However, if your laptop has no expansion port but includes a removable optical drive, you can replace the laptop’s DVD with the HDD.
Hard Drive Data Recovery Options
With your hard disk drive connected to your computer, it should be plain sailing. All you need to do next is copy the data from the HDD to storage on your PC. As long as there is enough storage space, this shouldn’t be a problem.
However, if you’re trying to recover lost or deleted data from the HDD, you’ll need some recovery software.
One option is to look at these recovery tools for Mac and Windows. They’re designed to find “deleted” data on a connected device and restore it, preferably to a different drive. Alternatively, one of these rescue disks can help recover data from a hard drive.