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How to recycle and use your old hard drives with a docking station

Hard drive

Hard Drive (Image credit: Windows Central)

As you upgrade parts in your PC that leaves old components just laying around. But they needn't always be thrown away or left in a box without purpose, especially in the case of hard drives.

Mechanical hard drives aren't the fastest storage solutions around, but they're often fairly capacious. There's no reason to throw them away, so long as they're functional — grab some inexpensive accessories and repurpose them. Use the disk management tool in Windows 10 to wipe them clean and start over.

USB docking station

If you have old hard drives to work with then an external USB dock is a good investment. It's a quick and simple way to interface your drives with a PC over USB, rather than the SATA cables that run within your machine.

It's as simple as it sounds. You slot the drive into the dock and then your PC will recognize it as an external drive for you to move data to and from.

Whether it's a 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch drive shouldn't really matter, but do check before buying that you've got the right size to support your drives. Options like the one linked below support both.

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Make it portable

Hard drive

Hard Drives

A desktop dock is a great option for working with your old drives at home, but there's no reason not to turn one into a portable storage solution to hit the road with you and your laptop.

It's a similar operation to the desktop dock, except it's fully enclosed so you can carry it around and use it over USB. The size of drive will be more important here, as several options are only for 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch. There are choices that support both, however, like the one linked below.

Simply slot the drive inside, fasten it up and away you go. Do bear in mind though, if you're using a 3.5-inch drive then you'll be needing an enclosure with an external power supply. It's not as portable, but if you're happy to carry an adapter with you, it's still more cost effective than buying a new portable hard drive.

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Use with the Xbox One

hard drive

Xbox Controller on Hard Drive (Image credit: Windows Central)

Expanding the Xbox One's internal storage is a breeze with an external hard drive. It'd be awesome if you could just slot another drive inside, but you can't, so there's a little work to do if you're using an old PC drive.

Fortunately, we've got a complete guide on how to achieve just this. You'll need to purchase an enclosure (opens in new tab) such as detailed above, but after that it's pretty easy going.

How to expand your Xbox One storage with an old PC hard drive

These are just a handful of options for using your old drives, but with some inexpensive accessories you need not throw them away. It's straight forward to interface them with a PC, laptop or Xbox One, and there are even more advanced projects you could take on such as building your own NAS.

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

32 Comments
  • I have a laptop that won't turn on. Often considered trying to get the drive out to get my pics and music off. Not even considered using the drive afterwards. May have to have a go.
  • I'm definitely going to try this. Thank you for the great ideas!! =-)
  • Great ideea, does anyone know if there are hard drive cases that will fit into a NAS drive?
  • NASs should accept 3.5 or 2.5in drives, if I am interpreting your question correctly
  • I wish they had a docking station for SCSI.
  • You can buy hot dock cages for SCSI drives, I have a few kicking about from years ago when I had them daisy chained on a Opteron rig I used for editing. Also the same for SAS drives as they're intercompatible to a degree with SATA. The SCSI ones I have are RJ45 or FireWire 800 as optional ports to the external SCSI port. Not sure if they're still sold, but you might be able to find some on eBay.
  • "Expanding the Xbox One's internal storage is a breeze with an external hard drive. It'd be awesome if you could just slot another drive inside, but you can't, so there's a little work to do if you're using an old PC drive."  So, question:  If you don't care about the warranty, is it possible to actually change the factory drive with, say, an SSD?  I'm assuming you guys just don't recommend it, because of the warranty being voided.  I mean, I certainly wouldn't want to accidentally brick my machine, but I'm sure there are people willing to risk that.
  • It's technically possible, but I dont' know how cloning/migrating the OS goes on the XB1. It might be a lot more work than with the PS4. However, the quality of the XB1 parts doesn't allow a SSD to be properly utilized. The PS4 reflects this, as multiple testers have tested different drives, and the SSD gains were very small, versus a SSHD (or even a 7200 RPM HDD). External is probably better because of the faster USB 3 transer speeds, versus the SATA II for the internal drive (I tihnk Sony went to SATA III for the PS4P, but not sure the XB1S got the same treatment).
  • ah, ok, thanks for the info!  Sad that an external drive can be faster..
  • This is what you need. Won't void the warranty: https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00ZZIF0VG/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=148...
  • You can find decent 2.5" enclosures for $10 or less, no external power supply required. Unfortunately, using spinning drives this way is very unreliable (at best) on my crappy laptop, though no problem whatsoever with SSDs. I'm guessing weak power is the reason.
  • I've been meaning to get an adapter (rather than a dock, so I can easily swap it with something like an optical drive for my mITX build, if needed), but haven't yet. They're super handy for backup up dying drives (or omes from computers about to be sent to their death).
  • I've got a e-SATA/USB 3 dock and use it to back up the NAS with internal drives. Works out cheaper than external HDDs. Also have used them as a scratch disk in a pinch for editing.
  • Which 3 bay dock did you purchase? Does it have a power supply?
  • It's a USB 3 dock, not a 3 bay cage. I got the Startech Dock which is a pretty solid bit of gear, the one I have is no longer made but this is similar:   https://www.startech.com/uk/HDD/Docking/usb-3-esata-docking-station~SDOC... Here;s all their options: https://www.startech.com/uk/HDD/Docking/ If you want cages then IcyDock is probably your best bet in my experience: http://www.icydock.com/category.php?id=126  
  • Adaptor cables cost about 8 dollars. Much better option
  • If I understand what you're saying, I agree. I have a SATA to USB adapter cable, which isn't a dock or enclosure. It's small and convenient to port around.
  • Good article; in addition to having a USB Dock and USB enclosure, I also like my SATA to USB adapter (very portable), and an enclosure in my desktop that can easily open and close, to insert and remove drives. 
  • What is the make/model of the enclosure, in your desktop, that allows you to easily open and close, to insert and remove drives?
  • Hi Kevin, I have used different models over the years.  I currently have an Icy Dock enclosure, an older model to item B0099P9NNC on Amazon.
  • Question to all about the docking station. I had an old W8.1 machine I had built, and I had a storage space set up in it with two, 2 TB harddrives. The computer recently stopped working, so I popped the hard drives out and put them in a docking station attached to a W10 machine. One hard drive is reconized no problem, and Windows recognizes it as a storage space. The other hard drive is not recoginized. Can I safely assume the second drive is kaput, or is there any reason that it might not be recognized (such as storage spaces setting a primary/secondary drive, where it will only reconize the primary drive in some cases)? Maybe not the best place to ask this question, but the article made me think of it. Thanks!
  • Try running DiskPart (Windows tool) on it to see what partitions are on it, and then run TestDisk (free util I think v7 is the latest version) to see if there's any data to recover.
  • The thing about it is Windows doesn't even recognize the one disk when I put it in the dock. Is there still a way to run a test on it? Also, with storage spaces, I noticed that all of my files are still on the one good disk, which makes me think that if the second one is bad, and I get a new one, that it'll just write the data over to the new one.
  • Try TestDisk on it, unless it's a mechanical failure then it should be able to read something from it.
  • Alright, I'll give it a shot. If it can't see the disk, though, can I assume it's bad and I need to replace it? Thanks so much for the responses, btw!
  • Using a mechanical hard drive in a vertical position as shown in the photos wouldn't damage it?
  • No, an HDD can be used in any position with no issues it's just that horizontal is more common. 
  • I've got a whole bunch of  1 TB PATA drives lying around. Wonder if it's worth it to reuse those?
  • I've been doing this for a long while now.
  • I'd go with the portable enclosure. It needs a case.
  • I have 9 or 10 old hard disk drives that I would like to inventory the contents of before reformatting them. These are from office computers that have died over the years. We want to know if any valuable files are on any of them. Any suggestions for a software to catalog the files and related information into a database so they can be searched more easily?
    .
    I know this is off topic, but talking about reusing old hard drives reminded me of this problem.
    .
    Any thoughts would be appreciated.
    Best Wishes
  • PowerShell to enumerate the directories and files to a CSV (or other file format). Job done, you can import the CSV into a database, or you can plug straight into the database and update that way through a PowerShell module.