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Laptops

Turn a laptop hard drive into a portable drive

If you've upgraded your laptop, don't discard that "naked" drive. You can put it back to work as external storage.

Don't discard your displaced drive.

Western Digital

What's the single best way to upgrade a laptop? Easy: Take out the mechanical hard drive and replace it with a solid-state drive (SSD).

You'll enjoy faster performance, longer battery life, cooler running temperature (which may extend the overall life of the laptop) and even quieter operation: SSDs have no moving parts and therefore run completely silent.

Ah, but what happens to your old drive? After you've made the swap, you'll find yourself staring at a "naked" internal hard drive. What now?

Easy again: Turn that internal drive into an external one.

Why reuse an old drive?

The whole reason you got rid of that drive was because it was a slowpoke, right? Perhaps compared to the SSD that replaced it, but it's still a hard drive, and still useful as secondary storage.

Indeed, you could use it as a backup drive, or perhaps plug it into your router for network-attached storage (NAS) duty. It'll be portable, so you can toss it in your travel bag as needed. If nothing else, you should keep it accessible just in case there's a problem with the new drive and you need to retrieve all your old data.

Alas, it's not like you can just plug the drive into a USB port. Not yet, anyway.

Wrap it up

orico-hard-drive-enclosure.jpg

Hard drive enclosures can be snazzy, like this travel-friendly number from Orico.

Orico

You've seen traditional external hard drives, right? They're little slabs that plug into a USB port. So what's the difference between that and what you've got? One thing: an enclosure, a case that not only protects the drive, but also bridges the gap between its SATA interface (the one used inside your laptop) and USB.

Good news: enclosures are inexpensive and installation is a breeze.

Start by determining what kind of drive you have -- something you may already know if you bought and installed the replacement SSD yourself. (If you had a shop do it, they can probably give you the particulars.) Most likely it's a SATA drive, and because it came out of a laptop, it's very likely a 2.5-inch drive as well.

So now you just need an external enclosure designed for a 2.5-inch SATA drive. That handles the internal aspects; now you need to decide on the externals.

Specifically, USB 3.0 or 3.1? The former guarantees compatibility with older hardware, but there are some enclosures with USB 3.1 (aka Type-C) interfaces. That's an option to consider if you think you'll use this drive with newer computers.

This rugged enclosure runs about $35.

StarTech

If you plan to travel a lot (and bring the drive with you), look for a rugged enclosure, one that can withstand a lot of bumps. There are also transparent enclosures if you want to retain that "naked" look, light-up enclosures if you like glowing LEDs and even multi-bay enclosures if you think you might end up with multiple drives.

One option I can easily recommend is the Orico 25Au3, a compact aluminum enclosure available in red or orange. It's much snazzier than your average black or silver enclosure, and it comes with a protective case for travel. It has a USB 3.0 interface and screw-free design, meaning you don't even need a screwdriver to install your drive. Newegg currently sells the Orico for $16.99.

Post-op

After installing the drive in the enclosure, you should be able to plug it directly into your laptop or any other PC, and it should show up as a regular external drive. If it doesn't, you may have no choice but to reformat it -- which is something you might want to do anyway.

My advice: Consider leaving the drive intact, at least until you've used the new drive for a few weeks and you're comfortable everything is working the way it should.

One thing is certain: Given the low price of drive enclosures and the high utility of hard drives, the only reason to retire an old drive is if it's not working.