It’s quite common to have an old computer die on you and not have it repaired, especially if it’s more than a few years old. But what can you do with the old carcass?
If a computer dies for any reason other than a dead hard drive, you can always convert the old drive into an external unit, and grab important files off the drive in the process. The same thing can be done if you install a larger hard drive in your computer and don’t know what to do with the old one.
The first thing you should do before investing any time and money in an old hard drive is to try to determine if it’s ok. If your old computer was working fine and then died all of a sudden, the hard drive is most likely fine. Motherboards, power supplies, microprocessors and memory can fail in the blink of an eye, but hard drives usually become flaky, make strange sounds or exhibit other errors before they die. If your hard drive seemed fine before the system died then it’s probably OK.
Likewise, if your system was working fine and you simply swapped the old hard drive for a bigger one, then the old one should still be just fine. We won’t get into the details of upgrading a hard drive because it’s a very complicated process. But the easiest way to upgrade is to use hard drive cloning software or hardware that lets you duplicate your original hard drive on a much bigger, blank hard drive. Once duplicated, you simply swap out the old drive for the new one. Otherwise, you can simply install a new hard drive in your computer and format it from scratch. Of course, you’ll need the discs for the operating system, all the drivers and utilities and all of your applications, along with the corresponding serial numbers where required.
Getting back to creating an external hard drive, the next thing you need to make certain of is the size and type of drive you have. Notebook computers typically use 2.5-inch hard drives, simply because they’re smaller and use less power than 3.5-inch desktop hard drives. If you’re not sure what size your drive is you can measure it. Hard drives have a rectangular shape, and the smaller of the two sides is where the size is measured.
Next, you have to determine what kind of drive you have because you need an enclosure that’s compatible with your drive. Older computers contain PATA, or IDE hard drives, and newer ones contain SATA hard drives. The connectors on PATA hard drives consist of a double row of metal pins, while the connectors on SATA hard drives consist of two flat tabs.
You need to buy a hard-drive enclosure that matches the size of the drive you have; a 2.5-inch enclosure for a 2.5-inch drive and a 3.5-inch enclosure for a 3.5-inch drive. Keep in mind that 2.5-inch enclosures are usually bus powered, meaning that they pull power from the port they’re plugged into and they don’t come with a power adapter; this makes them completely portable. On the other hand, 3.5-inch hard drives need more power than can be pulled from a computer port, so the 3.5-inch enclosures usually come with an AC power adapter and they are not portable—meaning that they won’t work if there’s no AC outlet available.
Now you have to decide what kind of interface you want on your hard-drive enclosure. Most drive enclosures feature USB or FireWire interfaces because they’re the most popular ones in use, and some feature a combination of both to make them more versatile. Most USB enclosures are USB 2.0, which is compatible with any USB port out there. But only USB 3.0 peripherals will deliver USB 3.0 performance, and that’s only when connected to a USB 3.0 port. More and more new computers feature USB 3.0 ports, so you might want to go with a USB 3.0 enclosure.
Installing a hard drive in an external enclosure is very easy; usually all you need is a screwdriver. In the worst case, you might have to move or remove a jumper that sets the drive to be a master or slave, but the odds are you won’t have to touch anything but your screwdriver.
Once your external drive is working, you can connect it to a computer and pull any files you want from it. Then you can format the drive and start with a clean slate. If you are uncertain and feel as though you might need the assistance of professionals, contact the B&H computer service center.