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How to Create a Portable Hard Drive from a Computer’s Old Hard Drive

You can remove your old computer’s hard drive, slip it into a small case, and turn it into a portable hard drive, all for the cost of the case (usually under $30). Your new portable hard drive will work with any type of computer, be it a netbook, laptop, or desktop. (It will even work with an Apple computer, if you’ve walked down that path.)

1

Remove your old desktop computer’s case.

Or if you have a laptop or netbook, turn it upside down and open the panel covering its hard drive. (You may have to check your laptop or notebook’s manual to find the panel’s location.)

2

Examine the data cables that move from your computer’s motherboard (the large, flat circuit board filled with chips and cables) to your hard drive or drives.

If the drive’s cable is small (left), then your computer uses SATA drives. (The SATA connector is often labeled “SATA,” as well.) If you see a wide, flat ribbon cable (right), then your computer uses IDE drives.

3

Buy either a SATA or an IDE portable hard drive enclosure that fits the size of your drive, either desktop or laptop.

If you’re using a laptop’s drive, buy a case meant for the smaller 2-1/2-inch drives; desktop drives need cases for the standard 3-1/2-inch drives. (They’re always a bit larger than that, so don’t fret if yours aren’t exactly 2 1/2 or 3 1/2 inches.) More expensive enclosures come with more padding, saving them from the hard knocks of travel. Cooling fans add to the cost, as well, but help the drive last longer, especially if it’s meant to run constantly.

4

Remove your old computer’s hard drive.

It’s held in place by two cables and either two or four screws.

5

Take apart the portable hard drive enclosure.

The enclosure consists of two main parts: A long rectangular box and a detachable connector on one end. It will also come with a power supply and a USB cable that plugs between the box and your computer’s USB port. Plus, you’ll find a few screws for holding the drive in place and putting the enclosure together.

6

Connect your old drive to the enclosure’s connectors, fastening both its power cable and its data cable.

The two cables fit into their proper spots only, and they fit only one way.

7

Screw the drive into place on the connector’s rails, slide the drive into the large enclosure, and screw the enclosure together with the bundled screws.

Make sure everything is positioned correctly — it all fits together in only one way.

8

Plug your new portable hard drive’s adapter into the wall, plug the power adapter cable into the portable drive box, plug the portable drive’s USB cable into your computer’s USB port, and (finally) turn your drive on with the enclosure’s On switch.

The drive will soon appear as a new letter and drive icon in your Start menu’s Computer window. Double-click it to see inside.

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