April 23, 2007
An external hard drive can serve countless uses: moving large files from one PC to another, backing up data, rescuing files from an unbootable drive, and, of course, expanding your available storage space. It can also act as a holding tank for your data while you perform a hard-drive wipe and OS reinstall. Here's how to turn any cast-off internal drive into an external drive with a new lease on life.
Choose an enclosure
Your hard drive needs a new home, a small case that supplies power, protection and a USB or FireWire interface. Prices for these enclosures range from as little as $10 on up to around $100, though I wouldn't pay more than $20-30 for one. (Some of the pricier models can connect directly to TVs for video and audio streaming, and even come with wireless remotes.)
The key consideration is size: If your hard drive came from a notebook, you'll need a 2.5-inch enclosure. Desktop drives require a 3.5-inch enclosure.
Next up, consider your interface options. Most enclosures are designed to work with IDE drives and supply a USB and/or FireWire external interface for connecting to your PC. However, some enclosures support newer SATA drives and include an eSATA interface--though not many PCs or notebooks have that kind of port. Thus, if you're relocating a SATA drive, make sure the enclosure includes a USB interface so you'll have a place to connect it. (Not sure how to tell an IDE drive from a SATA drive? It's all in the interface: an IDE connector measures about two inches wide and has two rows of pins; SATA connectors are much smaller and have only one row.)
That's really all you need to know about choosing an enclosure. If you're into eye candy, look for a see-through chassis or one with LEDs or other decorative elements. As for where to buy, I've found excellent selection and low prices at Newegg.com, though that is by no means the only place to shop. (If you have a favorite store for enclosures and other accessories, talk it up in the comments.)
Pretty cool stuff.
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