How to Make an Internal Hard Drive External

Extend your storage with an external hard drive

Because of availability and a lack of general consumer knowledge, internal hard drives can be somewhat cheaper than standalone external hard drives. You can take advantage of this by plugging a new or extra internal drive into a hard drive enclosure. Then, connect it to your PC using a standard USB connection.

How to Connect an Internal Hard Drive Externally

Follow these steps to use an internal hard drive externally.

  1. Choose an internal hard drive. You can mix and match almost any hard drive and enclosure, but check the manufacturers' websites to make sure the drive and enclosure are compatible, just in case.

    A 3.5 and a 2.5 inch internal hard drive.
  2. Mount the drive into the enclosure. Inside the enclosure, there may be a place to mount the internal hard drive into the enclosure, either by screws or fasteners (some slot into the connector).​ If you're installing older drives such as EIDE or IDE, you may see several wires to connect the hard drive. For SATA or mSATA drives, you should see a single SATA connection like those inside the PC.

    Components of an external hard drive enclosure.
  3. Plug in the connections. The connections you need to make differ depending on the type of hard drive connector you have. For most modern drives that use SATA or mSATA, there is a single 7-pin connector that is the interface connection and provides power. For PATA drives (EIDE or IDE), there's a 40-pin connector and a 4-pin power connector.

    Both types of connectors are keyed to be plugged in one way only.

    Inserting a hard drive into the external interface.
  4. Insert the hard drive. Depending on the style of enclosure, you may have to slide in the drive or internally mount it.

    An internal hard drive being inserted into an enclosure.
  5. Seal the hard drive enclosure. After it's connected, seal the enclosure tight once again, with the internal hard drive inside. Most hard drive enclosures have screws or simple fasteners that you can use to seal up the drive. You now have an internal hard drive acting as a portable external storage device. All that remains is to connect the enclosure to the PC.

    An external hard drive with a screwdriver.
  6. Connect the enclosure. The enclosure comes with whatever cords are necessary to connect it to a PC. Usually, it's a USB cable, which provides both connectivity and power to the drive.

    An external hard drive with a USB cable.
  7. Connect the enclosure to the PC. Connect the USB cable to the PC, and allow the drive to come on. If it has a power switch, turn it on.

    An external hard drive connected to a laptop.
  8. Plug and play the hard drive. Once you plug it in and turn it on, your Windows machine should recognize that you added new hardware and let you "plug and play" it. You can browse to the drive, open it, drag files and folders into it, or set it up for receiving security backups and recovery files.

    Windows 10 dialog on how to handle a new hard drive.

If your PC does not recognize the drive, there may be a formatting problem. You'll need to format the drive properly to suit your computer. Learning how to format a hard drive is easy.