Our goal in this article is to show you how to convert a hard drive to a USB. If you are unfamiliar with what a hard drive is, or what a hard drive looks like, then head over to our hard drive article where we provide a reasonably detailed introduction. If you are still confused then take a quick look at Wikipedia’s article on hard drives.
The Hard Drive versus the USB
Before we go too far it is important to understand the similarities as well as the differences between a hard drive and a USB.
Hard drive and USB similarities:
- They are both devices which connect to your computer.
- They both store data (word documents, pictures, movies, software applications).
- They both store data “permanently” – in other words, they don’t forget about your data unless you tell them too. This in contrast to RAM (random access memory) which stores data “temporarily” – until the power is turned off on your computer.
Hard drive and USB differences:
- They connect to your computer in different ways.
- A hard drive connects directly to your computers motherboard via 2 special cables/connectors. One of the cables is for transmitting data while the other cable is for transmitting power.
- A USB key plugs into one of your computer’s USB ports – no special cables/connectors are needed.
- USB keys are designed to be portable (easily moved from one computer to another) while hard drive’s are designed to be stationary.
In summary: Both the hard drive and USB are “permanent” data storage devices. The only real difference between them is how they connect, and communicate, with your computer! A hard drive connects to your motherboard via 2 special cables while a USB simply plugs into a USB port (readily available on modern computers).
Why convert a Hard Drive to a USB?
Generally, there is no need to convert a hard drive to a USB. Hard drive’s are designed to stay inside your computer. If you need a portable storage device then you are best to head down to your local electronics store and buy an actual USB key; these days they are both cheap and large in storage size.
There are a few situations, however, when it is best to take your hard drive out of your computer and turn it into a USB. The primary examples are:
- You need to recover deleted files from the hard drive: One of the best ways to recover deleted files from a hard drive is to: (1) convert the hard drive to a USB, (2) plug it into another computer via a USB port, and then (3) run data recovery software on it. This method prevents new files from permanently overwriting, and destroying. deleted files.
- Viruses have made your computer unusable: If your hard drive has become severely infected with viruses, to the point where you can’t even attempt to remove them, then you may want to: (1) convert your hard drive to a USB, (2) plug it into another computer via a USB port, and then (3) run anti-virus software on it. This method prevents certain nasty viruses from loading up and interfering with the removal process.
- Your computer died and you need to access your data: If you desperately need access to data on a broken computer (which still happens to have a working hard drive) then you can: (1) convert your hard drive to a USB, (2) plug it into another computer via a USB port, and then (3) retrieve the file(s) from it. This method doesn’t fix your computer, but it does give you quick access to your data.
What is needed to convert a Hard Drive to a USB?
The process of converting a hard drive to a USB is not overly complicated; however, in order to do it you are going to need a special device called a hard drive to USB adapter. A hard drive to USB adapter is exactly what you would expect- a device which connects to a hard drive on one end and a USB port on the other.
Now before you go out and purchase a hard drive to USB adapter it is important to realize one thing: there are, generally speaking, 2 kinds of adapters:
- An IDE to USB adapter allows you to connect an IDE hard drive to a USB port.
- A SATA to USB adapter allows you to connect a SATA hard drive to a USB port.
Which type of Adapter do you Need?
There are 2 ways to determine which type of hard drive to USB adapter you need:
- The easier, but slower, way: Take your computer into a computer repair shop and let the computer repair technician know that you wish to convert your hard drive to a USB. Furthermore, explain that you are not sure if you should purchase an IDE to USB adapter or a SATA to USB adapter. The computer technician will likely open up your computer, take a look inside at your hard drive, and tell you which product to buy!
The harder, but faster, way: Open up your computer’s case and take a look at the back of the hard drive (comparing it to the image below).
- If you have a SATA hard drive then you need a SATA to USB adapter.
- If you have an IDE hard drive which is approximately 4 inches (10.2 cm) wide then you need a 3.5 inch IDE to USB adapter.
- If you have an IDE hard drive which is approximately 2.75 inches (7 cm) wide then you need a 2.5 inch IDE to USB adapter.
Once you have purchased the appropriate adapter you are ready to proceed through the appropriate guide!
If you determined you have an IDE hard drive then read the guide: Convert an IDE Hard Drive to USB.
If you determined you have a SATA hard drive then read the guide: Convert a SATA Hard Drive to USB.
This particular guide assumes that you are attempting to convert a SATA hard drive to a USB. It is important to note that you may need to modify this guide a tad bit depending upon the SATA to USB adapter you are using.
1) An appropriate SATA to USB adapter (see the previous section if need be)
2) Access to the computer whose hard drive we do wish to turn into a USB (we will call this PC-USB henceforth)
3) Access to a 2nd working computer (we will call this PC-OTH henceforth)
Table of Contents
1-1) If your SATA to USB adapter has an On/Off switch then set it to the Off position. If you can’t find an On/Off switch then simply head down to the next step!
2-1) Ground yourself by touching something metallic, like a sink or table legs, in order to get rid of any excess static electricity. You can then open up PC-USB’s case. Just as as reminder: PC-USB is the computer whose hard drive we do wish to turn into a USB.
2-2) Remove the SATA hard drive from PC-USB. The steps to do this will depend upon the type of computer you have; however, in general, you will need to:
- Detach the 2 cables/connectors from the back of the hard drive. Simply pull them straight out in a gentle manner!
- Physically remove the hard drive from its case.
- If your computer is old then you will likely need to unscrew a bunch of screws (which hold the hard drive to the computer case).
- If your computer is new then you may need to slide your hard drive out of its bracket.
3-1) Plug the adapters power cord into the power port on the back of the hard drive.
3-2) Plug the adapters data cord into the data port on the back of the hard drive.
3-3) Finish putting the adapter together; you will need to consult your service manual as the steps required depend upon the SATA to USB adapter purchased. In general:
- Make sure that the adapters power cord can be traced to an electrical plug (which plugs into an electrical wall outlet)
- Make sure that the adapters data cord can be traced to a USB plug (which plugs into a USB port).
4-1) Take the adapter’s USB plug and plug it into a USB port on PC-OTH. Just as a remind: PC-OTH is any working computer other than PC-USB.
5-1) Take the adapters electrical plug and plug it into an active electrical wall outlet.
6-1) If your SATA to USB adapter has an On/Off switch then set it to the On position. If you can’t find an On/Off switch then simply head down to the next step!
7-1) Within a few seconds you should see a new device appear on PC-OTH. Congratulations: you have successfully converted your hard drive to a USB.
Converting an IDE hard drive to a USB is very similar to converting a SATA hard drive to a USB; therefore, we aren’t going to create a whole new guide. Instead go and read the guide: Convert a SATA Hard Drive to USB making sure to substitute the word “SATA” with “IDE”.
Before you do, however, notice that the power cord and data cord will look slightly different when dealing with an IDE hard drive as opposed to a SATA hard drive.
Converting a hard drive (whether IDE or SATA) to USB may initially appear daunting; however, hopefully we have shown, it is not! In fact, it really just boils down to 3 steps:
- Purchase an appropriate hard drive to USB adapter.
- Connect this adapter to a hard drive (1 cord to the data port – 1 cord to the power port).
- Connect this adapter to another computer via USB
Despite the simplicity, however, we advise you to do this only when necessary (recovering deleted files, dealing with virus infested machine … etc.) as toying around with your hard drive can potentially lead to trouble.
Finally, if you have any questions feel free to email us here at Seymour Computer Repair