Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Retrieving Data From an Old Hard Drive

Last time I described how to retrieve a lost file by using recovery software. Today I would like to show you how you can recover data from an old machine that is no longer working.

Perhaps your old machine has died and you have some old files that you would like to transfer to a new machine. That's easy enough if the old machine is still working, but what do you do if it refuses to boot? You could take it to a computer store and ask them to do it but that can get expensive. Here is a relatively cheap solution that you can use at home and is especially useful if your new machine is a PC and you don’t want to open the case, or if you want to transfer data to a laptop.

**Important** Always make sure to turn off the power and remove the power cable before opening your PC case. If you are removing a hard disk from a laptop, remove the battery first.

The first thing to do is remove your hard drive from the old machine. In a PC this is easy enough and just involves removing the side panel. There is normally at least one screw at the back of the machine that holds the side panel in place. Once the side panel is off, locate the hard disk. If you're not sure, see the image below. Remove any screw holding it in place, remove any cables (power and data), and slide it out of your case.

On a laptop, check the user manual. This will usually show you where the hard disk is situated. It can normally be removed by undoing a couple of screws and sliding it out.
At this point, you could open up your new desktop and connect the old drive of you wanted. For the purposes of this article, we'll assume you don't want to do this, or that you have a laptop.
Hard Drive

**Important** Always treat your hard drives with care. They can be damaged if treated roughly.

Now that you have your hard drive out of the old machine, you need to identify the type. There are three different types of drive:
- SSD (solid state)
IDE Imterface
SATA Interface

These come in two common sizes:- 3.5 inch for desktops
- 2.5 inch for laptops

2.5 inch & 3.5 inch drives

The last (SSD) is still quite rare and quite expensive, so you probably won't need to bother about that type at the moment. For now, we'll assume that you have either an IDE or SATA drive, in one of two sizes (2.5 or 3.5 inches).

Once you have identified your drive, you will need an external USB adapter or drive case. These usually cost about $20 at Amazon. Select the type that suits your drive.

Once you have the drive case, open it up and connect the hard drive. Next, connect it via the supplied USB cable to your new machine and turn it on. The drive should appear as an external storage device on your new machine. You should now be able to access your old files. You can also continue to use the drive as a storage device, for backups for example.

If the external drive is unresponsive, it may be that your old hard drive is broken. This is harder to fix and requires professional help.
Good luck!

Here is an adaptor for sale at Amazon that allows you to connect a 2.5 inch or 3.5 inch SATA or IDE hard drive to another computer via USB. There is no enclosure, so it is more for if you want to transfer the data before discarding the drive :
(there’s also a customer video, which shows how to connect it)

For long-term use, here is an enclosure for 3.5 inch SATA or IDE drives:

And here’s one for 2.5 inch IDE drives:

And for 2.5 inch SATA drives:

If you want to install the hard drive into your new PC, I recommend this guide:


  1. What an informative post! And I happen to have a dead laptop that I might want to do this with. I'm bookmarking this post for future reference.

    Thank you!!!

  2. Hi Judith. You're most welcome! I hope all goes well when/if you decide to salvage your old drive.

  3. Paul, this is handy to know since I have an old laptop I suspect will die soon. Thanks for sharing.