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If you have an old hard drive from a desktop or laptop computer, it is helpful to have a drive enclosure, dock, or adapter. You can then use a USB cable to connect the drive to a new computer, or a borrowed computer for retrieving files.

Older Drive IDE Compatibility

The devices listed further down on this page assume you are working with newer SATA-style drives. For older drives you will need a special adapter that also has IDE connectors. Some USB drive adapters can accommodate several different drive standards. Here are some examples:

A reason to avoid the second model shown above (that has a backup feature) would be a concern about mistakenly pressing the backup button and having one of your drives mistakenly overwritten by another. This would make the data very difficult or impossible to recover. If you are confident that you need the feature and can be careful to avoid accidental activation, then the backup feature may be helpful.

The rest of this document assumes you will be using newer SATA style drives.

The Importance of Using a Cooling Fan

With any of the above USB drive devices you will want to have a cooling fan to keep the drive from overheating. This is more important for any process where the drive will be continually in sustained use for an extended period of time.

When installed in a computer, hard drives benefit from the computer’s thermal cooling. However, when not installed in a computer, the drive must have supplemental cooling.

Fans that are USB-powered can be a good choice because they are generally small, inexpensive, and low power. [View Samples or Buy]

External Hard Drive Adapter

A drive adapter will generally be designed to work with most modern drives made within the past 5-7 years or perhaps older. The adapter cable has a combined power data plug at one end that fits on the old hard drive, and a fast USB 3 plug on the other end. An advantage of the adapter cable is that it fits on small laptop drives as well as larger desktop drives. [View or Purchase]

External Drive Dock

A drive dock is a helpful device that holds drives temporarily for reading them. These may plug into a wall outlet for external power so as not to place an excessive power drain on the USB port. [View or Purchase]

External Drive Enclosure

A drive enclosure is typically sized to fit either a laptop drive (2.5-inch) or a desktop drive (3.5-inch). If you use an enclosure for light periodic use it should be okay. However, extended erasing processes may require that you not close the cover of the enclosure to avoid overheating. Some drive enclosures have a hinged lid to make it easy for opening and keeping the drive cool. [Laptop Drive Enclosure or Desktop Drive Enclosure] Note that the links here are for searches on Amazon that may include items other than what is desired.