Turn hard drive into USB jump drive

Q: I need to replace the hard drive in my computer. Is there any way to recover the information off the old hard drive without transferring the error that caused it to go bad? Or should I buy a new CPU with Vista, because Windows XP will not be supported by Microsoft next year? -- Everett B.


A: I can't recommend buying a new computer if you were happy with your old setup. Chances are, with a new $50 hard drive, you'll be perfectly happy for another year or two.

A few years ago, I wrote a column on how to piggyback, or "daisy-chain," hard drives. At the time, integrated drive electronics drives were the industry standard. The method I described was to put an operating system on a new hard drive and use that to boot up your computer.

Next, connect the old drive as a "slave" drive. This is the same as having an external hard drive or even a USB jump drive. Your computer just sees the second drive as additional storage. If the operating system on the old drive is corrupt, it's not a problem.

The beauty of a file system is if files in one folder are corrupt, you can still access the files in another folder.

But technology has improved. We have more-efficient hard drives, cables and better toys. Lucky you, because if you have a serial advanced technology attachment hard drive, you can't daisy-chain drives together any more.

To figure out what type of hard drive you have, look at the cable that connects the hard drive to the mother board.

Integrated drive electronics cables have long connectors with exact slots where the pins fit securely. IDE, now also called "parallel ATA," cables and hard drives have been replaced by the popular SATA standard. SATA drives/cables are faster than their predecessor, and the pins don't bend as easily. The connector is shorter and the pins don't fit into individual slots.

If your drive is SATA, usually you can find more ports right on your mother board. I've seen a number of machines without additional ports, in which case there's a pretty inexpensive solution.

It's called a SATA to USB adapter and should cost about $20. This cable will go from your SATA hard drive to the USB port on your computer, and it will be exactly like one of those USB jump drives I mentioned earlier.

Most of these adapters will come with a plug for the old IDE drives, too.

Any longtime readers can forget all that information about cable select/master/slave hard drive setups. Get a converter, plug the newly external (formerly internal) drive into the USB port and call it a day. After the drive is recognized, it'll show up in "My Computer."

If the problem is not related to the operating system problem but is a physical drive deformity-- or maybe you got too close to a big magnet -- then this might not work. In that case, there's little you can do other than send it to a high-priced recovery shop.

Reach Heather Hamilton at primadata@morris.com