Think Out Of The Box

Published Date
01 - Jun - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Jun - 2006
Think Out Of The Box
In this age of upgrades, lets say you have just acquired a 250 GB hard disk and your poor old 20, 40 or 80 GB hard disk is packed and put into your cabinet. It is time now to dig it out and convert it into an external hard drive with minimal investment. You no longer need to convince your friend to open up his cabinet so you can hook up your hard disk to this machine to copy songs-just plug it into the USB port and it will get recognised as a mass storage device!

What you need
  • Your old (a new one is also fine!) hard disk.
  • An IDE to USB converter.
IDE to USB converters are available for the standard 3.5-inch desktop internal drive as well as the 2.5-inch laptop drives. When you are shopping for the converter, be sure to ask for a 3.5-inch form factor converter. The converter has an IDE and molex power cable that connects to the hard disk and a USB cable to connect to the USB port. There is an internal circuitry that converts the IDE interface to the USB interface. The power supply for the hard disk is drawn from a power adaptor bundled with the kit

The insides of an IDE to USB converter
Connect the IDE and power cable of the converter to the hard disk and secure the hard disk on the chassis by mounting it (if it is a case type, rather than open type). Plug in the USB cable to the USB port (USB 2.0 if you want the best read / write speed). Under Windows 2000 or Windows XP, the drive will be recognised as a mass storage device, just like a thumb drive. If in case the drive is not detected, unplug and plug it again. If prompted to, restart the PC.

To prevent chances of data loss, do not disconnect the hard disk while data is being written to it. For greater safety, 'stop' the device from the system tray before unplugging it.

There is more to an IDE to USB converter than making an external hard disk. If your laptop's CD ROM Drive is not working and you need to install a software from a CD urgently, you can plug in a CD-ROM drive just like a hard disk! Windows may need to restart after seeing a 'non hard disk USB device'. The best part of this setup is the price-an IDE to USB converter with casing will cost you just about Rs 500. A worthy investment for the functionality it provides!

If your PC has a USB 1.1 only interface, you can still connect your hard disk to it, but the read / write speed will be very slow.

Hard Disk Maintenance
We have learnt in our Physics classes that anything that moves, causes friction and hence wear and tear. The hard disk is one component that is in constant motion, with its spindle spinning at 7,200 rpm! This is why we keep talking about hard disk maintenance and cooling-here we will summarise the most important steps that you can take to ensure that the old faithful-your hard disk serves you for a long time!

Disk Defragmenter And Error Checking
The most basic of disk maintenance tasks still hold good. Just as a messy room makes it difficult for you to find things when want, the hard disk has to do more work to fetch data if it is scattered all across the disk. This is why you need to keep your disk defragmented. Go to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter; or right click on the partition (or drive) you wish to defragment and click on Properties and then Tools > Defragment.

Scandisk performs a write test on every cluster and reports an error if there is any. One must remember that disk errors cannot be cured by scandisk, but only identified and marked such that the affected areas are not used to store files. If scandisk shows bad sectors, its time to buy a new drive!

Bet You Didn't Know 
If your BIOS supports booting from USB, you can even run an operating system from your just assembled external hard disk. 

Windows XP calls the Scandisk operation 'Error Checking', it can be accessed by right-clicking on the desired drive (or partition), Properties > Tools > Error Checking. Windows 98 users can run scandisk by booting into DOS prompt and typing "scandisk <Drive>:" where
is the drive letter you want to scan. This is more reliable than running scandisk from Windows.
Using S.M.A.R.T.
Some hard disks have a monitoring and error reporting technology called S.M.A.R.T. (Self Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) that issues a warning during boot-up if certain things are found to be 'wrong' in the hard disk. This is not always reliable, but another step in ensuring that you know when things go wrong. This can be enabled in the BIOS in General or Advanced BIOS settings.

Tips For Defragmenting 
Do not open any files when the defragmenter is running, else the process will start all over again!

" Turn off anti-virus programs during defragmenting as background scanning may come in way of the defragmenter.

Defragmenter works best with more free space at hand for temporary storage. If you have less than 15 per cent free space, the Defragmenter will warn you. You can clear temporary internet files or move data temporarily to other partitions to free up some space.

If you are using Windows 98 or 98SE, and find the defragmenter restarting all the time and eventually giving up, you can use the defragmenter from Windows ME. Download it from

Using A Cooling Fan
Heat is the primary cause of electronic component failure. Keeping a device cool goes a long way in extending its life. If your computer is in a hot environment, running applications that use the disk continuously (such as video editing), you can attach a fan to the hard disk. In our test, placing an ordinary case cooling fan such that it blows air onto the hard disk made noticeable difference in the amount of heat that the hard disk reported.

Secure Mounting
If you sense vibrations emanating from the hard disk, just tighten all the screws that are used to fasten it to the chassis (cabinet) in the hard disk bay. Vibrations, though small, can have adverse effects on moving parts through a phenomenon called resonance. Generally two screws on either side are used to hold the hard disk in place. If necessary, use more screws.

Data Recovery 
All of us have, at some time or the other, emptied the Recycle Bin only to realise that some important files got deleted.

There's a way out: you can recover your "deleted" files using data recovery software, provided, of course, that the space the deleted file occupied hasn't been taken over by any other file.

One way to ensure this is to use the data recovery software immediately after you do the deletion.

Drive Rescue is one such software-it's powerful and free. You can download it from:

If you are using two or more hard disks, don't simply pile up one above the other-stack them in alternate bays, leaving space for air flow.

Handle With Care
Internal hard disks are less rugged than their external counterparts and need special care while transporting. Put the hard disk in an anti static cover to prevent static electricity from affecting it. Next, to shock proof it, cover it with bubble wrap (if you don't find bubble wrap, you can use cotton cloth, but not synthetic material). Also, make sure you don't drop it!

When you are attaching an IDE cable, ensure that the connector and pins are well aligned and none of the pins on the hard disk are bent. If you see a bent pin, gently straighten it with the help of a flat screw driver or get someone who knows his stuff to do it. Forcing the connector the wrong way or onto bent pins will only create more problems-if a pin gets broken, you will have to take it to a repair shop to fix the broken pin, if at all it can be done.

The tips we have given you here will reduce the chances of premature failure of your hard disk. However, you cannot neglect the probability of failure due to factors beyond your control. A power surge, for example can destroy the hard disk along with other components. While money can buy you a new hard disk, the same cannot be said about the data that the hard disk contains, especially in a work environment. There is only one definite solution to this risk - backup frequently!  

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