How to Make an Internal Hard Drive External

Home office: High angle view or directly above view of laptop with external hard disk drive and flower vase on white table
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Because of availability and a lack of general consumer knowledge, internal hard drives can be quite a bit cheaper than standalone external hard drives. You can take advantage of this by plugging your new or extra internal drive into a hard drive "enclosure," and then connect it to your PC using a standard USB or FireWire (IEEE 1394) connection.

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Choose an Internal Hard Drive

Internal Hard Drive


For this demonstration, we're using a Western Digital 120 GB internal hard drive and a Cosmos Super Link 2.5-inch USB enclosure. You can mix and match just about any hard drive and enclosure, but check their websites to make sure they’re compatible, just in case.

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Mount the Drive Into the Enclosure

Hard Drive in an Enclosure


Inside the enclosure, there will be a place to mount your internal hard drive into the enclosure, either by screws or fasteners.​

You’ll also notice plenty of wires to connect the hard drive, just like you would inside your actual PC. We’ll talk about those later.

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Plug in the Connections

Hard Drive Connections


There are a few different connections to worry about. The main one for older IDE drives is going to be either an 80-wire or 40-wire IDE/ATA (sometimes called PATA) cable. The one pictured here (it’s large and yellow) is a 40-wire. It will be obvious where it goes in the back of the hard drive. Some drives will have 80-wire connections, others 40-wire connections, and others will have both. Make sure that both your enclosure and your internal drive have a matching connectivity.

There are also a few other scenarios you'll come across. A SATA connection can be used to connect most hard drives to an enclosure, or inside your PC. What connection it uses is irrelevant, however, what remains important is that you know what your hard drive connects with and that you buy an enclosure capable of accommodating that connection.

The other connections are even more straightforward. They each serve their purpose, but the main thing you need to know is that there will only be one place to plug them in. Match them up and slide them in, and you’re all connected.

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Locate the Slots in Your Hard Drive

A 40-pin Connection


Here, you can see the connection slots in the back of the internal hard drive. It isn't difficult to match up the correct slots with the correct plugs available to you.

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Seal the Hard Drive Enclosure

External Drive Enclosure


After you’re all connected, seal the enclosure up tight once again, with your internal hard drive safe and sound inside.

Most hard drive enclosures will have screws or simple fasteners that you can use to easily seal up the drive. Suddenly, ta-da! You now have an internal hard drive acting as a portable external storage device.

Now all that remains is connecting the enclosure to your PC.

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Connect the Enclosure

Enclosure Connections


At this point, you’ll undoubtedly be thinking that this process is a lot easier than you thought it would be. And it only gets better — from here on out, it’s all plug and play.

Your enclosure will have come with whatever cords are necessary to connect it to your PC. Usually, it’s just a USB cable, which will provide both connectivity and power to the drive. In the case of this Super Link, it also has a power cord, running from an included AC adapter.

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Connect the Enclosure to Your PC

PC Connections


Connect the USB or FireWire cable to your PC, and allow the drive to come on. If it has a power switch, now is the time to switch it on.

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Plug and Play Your Hard Drive

Screenshot of an Extra Hard Drive Screen

Once you plug it in and turn it on, your Windows machine should recognize that you’ve added new hardware, and let you "plug and play" it. You’ll be able to browse right to the drive, open it, drag files and folders into it, or set it up for receiving security backups and recovery files.

If your PC does not recognize the drive, you may have a formatting problem on your hands. You’ll need to format the drive properly to suit your computer—but that’s another tutorial altogether.