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Reusing Old PC Drives with External Enclosures

2:12 pm Hardware

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Reusing Old PC Drives with External Enclosures

by Bryan Lambert - January 24, 2010

Given the Geek that we’re sure you are, you’re probably on your third or fourth desktop computer already. If this is you, then this Tech Tip is for you!

Before recycling that old machine why not make good use of its parts - specifically the drives. This week we’ll be looking at some cool things that you can do with those old drives.


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

hd3.pngGetting the most out of your old PC means more that just donating it or recycling it when the time comes, but also innovative ways to reuse some of your old computer parts. For example, because your hard drive more than likely holds information you rather not get out (even if you reformat the drive, your information is still there - and easily recoverable), why not reuse it. Or perhaps, you’re getting rid of a PC because it died, but the DVDRW drive is still perfectly good. While you may think of adding your old hard or optical drive into your new PC, why not just install it into an inexpensive external hard drive case instead. Before you do that however, you will need to know what case to get for the drive you have.


The size and the interface

external2.pngWhen you start looking at external drive cases, you’ll notice that they come in three different sizes: 2.5-inch, 3.5-inch and 5.25-inch. This simply refers to the physical “size” of the drive (OK, more specifically, the physical sizes of the discs in the drive, but I digress). Basically, it comes down to if you have a notebook hard drive , then you’ll use a 2.5-inch enclosure ; a desktop hard drive , a 3.5-inch enclosure ; and an optical drive then a 5.25-inch enclosure (or a slim 5.25-inch enclosure for a laptop optical drive). Note that some 5.25-inch enclosures can also accommodate 3.5-inch drives as well. The interface on the drive itself will either be IDE (PATA) or SATA and most drive enclosures will take either one or the other (some can take both) so be sure that you get the correct one for your drive. This is of course the internal interface - the external interface of the enclosure will either be the very popular USB (USB 2.0 most likely since USB 3.0 is taking its sweet time arriving ); eSATA or FireWire (FireWire 400 being the more prevalent flavor). One of the nice things about using 2.5-inch enclosures is that they’ll usually be powered via just the USB port and not need any external power source.


Other cool features

Some of the other cool features to look for on external enclosures are one touch back-up (for easy back-up of your main hard drive); RAID enclosures (which take two drives at a time for larger total capacity); and also “entertainment” enclosures (that can be used as a multimedia server that works not only as an external hard drive but also as a entertainment hub for your television). In addition to those types of enclosures there are also some enclosures that can be installed internally in a desktop computers drive bay and then pulled out and used as an external drive. If you don’t want to go the enclosure route, you can also use cable adapters that are simply a cable that plugs directly into the drive on one end and the PC on the other (for quick and easy access to your drive). Just like enclosures, be sure to get one that “fits” your drives interface. Another innovative item that goes along the non-enclosure route is the hard drive dock . With a hard drive dock you simply “drop” your hard drive into it and can quickly access your information in that fashion.


A couple of pitfalls

external.pngOne of the biggest things to look out for is that enclosures will typically have a limit to the capacity of the hard drive that they can support - so be sure that it can support your drive. Also, because the USB interface is much slower than what the drive can deliver, USB enclosures can be frustratingly slow at times (USB 3.0 promises to be much faster); this is true if using USB for either optical or hard drives. If you are planning on reusing drives from your laptop, these sometimes have caddies around them that need to be removed first (before installing the drive into an enclosure). Also, many optical drives found on laptops have curved bezels and may have problems fitting in some of the slim external enclosures that are made for notebook optical drives.


In conclusion

hdscrw_4.pngReusing old computer drives is an economical way to get more life out of your old PC’s components. Not only can it be a fun learning experience, but it helps reuse drives that may otherwise take up landfill space. So break out a screwdriver, pick up an inexpensive enclosure, put on your Green-Geek hat and Pimp your PC by reusing your old drives!