Those old hard drives you have stuffed away might not be as useless as you think. Here are some ideas for recycling or reusing them.

 

Whether the drive is from an office computer, a file server, or even your PC, everyone has to deal with disposing of their storage hardware at one time or another. That doesn't have to mean "trash," though. Here are a few of the most common options for dealing with retired drives:

 

Give it away. If you're done using a drive, your friends and family might benefit from its storage capacity. It's usually simple to connect internally mounted drives to an existing PC via USB, FireWire, or eSATA. Just keep in mind that old drives can be bulky and inconvenient to store, so you might want to wait until someone asks for one before digging it out of your closet. If you have a smaller external drive connected via USB or FireWire.

 

If you're done using a drive, your friends and family might benefit from its storage capacity. It's usually simple to connect internally mounted drives to an existing PC via USB, FireWire, or eSATA. Just keep in mind that old drives can be bulky and inconvenient to store, so you might want to wait until someone asks for one before digging it out of your closet.

Reutilize Old Hard Drives for

Data Storage

If you don't need the drive to be portable, simply install it in an available 3.5" or 5.25" PC bay and use it like you would any other internal storage device. If your computer doesn't currently have a hard drive installed, this will allow you to add one easily and cheaply; even bare drives are fairly inexpensive these days, and they're often free if you purchase one with a compatible (and empty) enclosure at the same time.

Convert old hard disks into external USB storage devices

Modern PCs usually ship with enough USB ports for all of your peripherals so there's no reason why even older computers should lack them. If your case lacks bays for multiple internal drives–a fairly common issue with small form factor PCs–you can install old drives in an external enclosure. These devices are readily available and can be purchased for $15-20 or less.

Disassemble the drive to recover data

If you're looking for a quick way to create an image of your drive's contents, your best bet is probably opening up the case and removing the platters altogether. That gives you access to all of your files, but it means that you won't be able to use the drive again without expensive repairs (read: buying a new hard disk). This isn't recommended unless you've tried other methods first. Searching online reveals tutorials that detail how this process takes place in different types of drives. Be sure you know what you are doing before attempting this method of data retrieval.

 

Hard drives can also be stored for archival purposes, though the cumbersome size of the storage medium makes it inferior to tape backup systems (which can store multiple terabytes on a single cartridge) or optical media (CDs and DVDs).

 

Convert old hard disks into external USB storage devices

 

Conclusion

 

Even if they're no longer suitable for their original purpose, most hard drives are still intact and functional–this is especially true for standard 3.5" desktop drives, which can often be had for a couple of bucks at a garage sale or flea market. If you have a drive with important files on it but don't know how to read the data from it, look online for tutorial videos that detail the process of extracting data from your specific model of drive. Bear in mind that some manufacturers encrypt their data to prevent piracy, making it difficult to access without having the right software installed. In these cases, selling old disks for scrap might be your easiest option if data recovery services prove too expensive.