How do I rescue files from an old hard disk?

Rescue files from old hard disks
A trio of hard disks that were previously sitting on my shelf - but have now been plundered for files.

If you’re anything like me, you have hard disks lying about your office, rescued from old desktop computers, dead laptops and external hard drives that no longer work. And if you’re anything like me, you pop them onto a shelf so they can show off their dust-collecting abilities.

This weekend, I finally decided to do something about it. I had a mix of 15-year-old 3.5in EIDE hard disks from long-gone desktop PCs and 2.5in SATA drives plucked from laptops I’ve owned over the past five years.

If I only had SATA drives, I’d have many products to choose from on Amazon, although they boil down to two main options: a hard disk docking station or a hard disk enclosure.

The latter is a tempting proposition, as you can slide your SATA drive inside and your problematic internal hard disk becomes a handy USB external drive. If you only own one old hard disk that you want to grab files from, I recommend buying an enclosure and then using it as a backup drive.

The fact I own two EIDE hard disks, though, causes a problem. This is an interface that’s so old it knew Tony Blair when he was popular, and the number of products supporting it has dwindled faster than Arsenal’s title challenge.

I could have opted for a converter cable such as this one from eBay, but decided that looked like too much hassle. In the end, there was only one product left standing at a price I was willing to pay: the Sisun All-in-1 HDD Docking. A catchy name, I’m sure you’ll agree.

This means I – or you, if you have an old PC with files you wish to grab – can easily rescue long-lost files by loading the drive into the front slot (even my 3.5in EIDE drive fits remarkably well) and pressing the On button. Lo, a new drive appears in Windows Explorer and I can browse to the most likely folders to find old Word docs, photos and videos.

The no-faff way to rescue files from old hard disks
The no-faff way to rescue files from old hard disks – a docking station

It’s almost apologetically easy. You can even use it to clone hard disks, should you wish, with a SATA bay sitting behind the EIDE one. If you also happen to own an ancient camera then take note of the xD-Picture, CompactFlash and Memory Stick slots on the front as well.

In short, what could be a painful task is an easy one. And all for £20 from Amazon.

How to rescue hard disks that won’t load

You’ll have noticed that I’ve assumed here that all your hard disks will simply pop into your drive and read beautifully; no corrupted disk errors, no overwritten files, no “drive not recognised” dialog to deal with.

You may not be so lucky, and if you’re sure that the hard disk contains valuable data that you can’t live without then there are options. For example, Easeus provides a piece of software that will rescue up to 2GB of data for free. Any more than that, and you’re paying $70 for a licence.

Or you can scan it for free using Knoll OnTrack’s software – but if you find something you want to rescue, you’ll have to pay £70.

You may be wiser to head to your local computer shop and see what they can do – and hope they charge less than Knoll OnTrack or Easeus.

Read next: How do I digitise old photos?

About the author

Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro magazine and has written about technology since 1999. He enjoys playing with gadgets, playing with words and playing tennis. Email tim@bigtechquestion.com

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