How to Backup Your Computer With an Old Hard Disk

Stefan Neagu 23-09-2009

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.

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


Related topics: Computer Maintenance, Data Backup, Hard Drive.

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  1. 1fastbullet
    November 21, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Go to and buy Item# :N82E16812119244. This USB device interfaces with either/or IDE & SATA drives. It's currently on sale for $35 and ships free.

  2. 1fastbullet
    October 11, 2009 at 7:56 pm

    The biggest problem you would have is your computer seeing the drives as one. The solution might be a Rosewill product, available from Newegg ( that houses multiple drives in an external case.

    One of the negatives of this approach is the price of this type of enclosure. At the moment, it is lslightly under $50, while a complete 1T external hard drive can be had for only a very little more.
    The second negative has been pointed out in previous posts: that of using an old drive to store important data. If the data is important enough to retain, I think I'd buy a new external hard drive and hope it lived long enough to justify the cost.

    Note that while an external hard drive enclosure imay wear a particular brand name, the hard drive itself will most likely be built by one of the major mfgrs.

  3. BlueCat57
    September 29, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Since old hard drives are small maybe you could use an old tower PC case to put several in a rack configuration that would allow you to backup a larger new drive. If you have 4 or 5 older drives you might even be able to set them up in a RAID configuration. Maybe set the system up using Windows Home Server or Windows 7 or some flavor of LINUX.

    Eventhough I have a 320GB drive, I've only got 160GD of data and a lot of that doesn't really need to be backed up.

    Anyone have the technical expertise to comment on this concept?

  4. d+b+t
    September 29, 2009 at 3:12 am

    thanx for the idea... i was wondering what i might be able to do with old desktop HDs besides dissect them for fun.

  5. Erich
    September 26, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Like the article. Good advice about avoiding static. One other thing that can help with that is to work, and preferably stand, on a wooden surface, since it doesn't conduct electricity.

  6. BlueCat57
    September 23, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    By the time you buy a cable or enclosure you can buy a new drive with hundreds of GB of storage. So unless you are storing the old drives in another room or offsite there isn't any benefit. And USB thumb drives are so cheap that if you have less than 64GB to back up those are a pretty good deal. And online back up is $55 a year for unlimited offsite storage.

  7. C.R.
    September 23, 2009 at 11:56 am

    I agree, this isn't a great backup solution. I have several old drives I use to store things I don't want to lose, but don't access very often. And I've got one I keep several virtual machines on, just to save space on my regular drives.

  8. FErArg
    September 23, 2009 at 11:11 am

    I think that use old hard drives to make backups it's the same that put your balls in a hungry dog's mouth



    • benzo
      October 24, 2009 at 12:27 am

      this comment is hilarious and true.

  9. John D
    September 23, 2009 at 10:57 am

    I agree with Martin here. I can't see the point of using an older HDD with a lower capacity, when at the moment I have tons of family photos, music and videos to backup including the OS.

  10. Martin
    September 23, 2009 at 10:02 am

    Nice article and quite informative, however. Perhaps I'm missing something but I just don't see the point in clambering around inside my old PCs and Laptops just to resurrect a 10GB or 40GB HDD. Most "peeps" backups would require a much larger HDD. Do you have some way of chain-linking 4 drives together to make a 100+GB backup system?