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What is a Hard Drive Enclosure?

An external hard drive.
Inside of a hard drive enclosure, the drive itself looks much like a traditional internal hard drive.
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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2014
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A hard drive enclosure is used to house a hard disk externally, adding storage and flexibility to any system. The enclosure connects to the computer through a universal serial bus (USB) or Firewire port, making it a plug-and-play device. This means it can be turned off and on while the system is up and running. A hard drive enclosure can be used for many purposes and provides portability between desktop and laptop, or home and office.

Security: One of the main advantages to using an external hard drive enclosure is security. Many people are concerned about online threats including viruses, Trojan horses, spyware, hacking, poorly written software and malicious scripts. Some threats can expose data to outside sources, while others corrupt it.

Installing financial data or sensitive programs on an external hard drive is one way to help ensure they stay safe. The enclosure can be left off when the user isn’t accessing the programs or data, and when online. If several family members share the computer, an external drive is one way to keep key information or software private. Simply remove the enclosure and lock it in a drawer or safe when not in use.

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Back Up: An external hard drive is perfect for storing system back ups or “ghost” images of the main hard disk. If the main drives fails, the ghost image on the external drive can re-create the main disk in mere minutes. Alternately, popular software like Acronis True Image will make a bootable carbon copy of the main disk on the external disk. In this case, the external disk can be removed from the enclosure and installed into the system for an instant fix. It is also possible to boot directly from the hard drive enclosure by using settings in the motherboard’s Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) menu.

Archiving and Libraries: People today are rapidly amassing memory-intensive libraries of music, movie, and graphic files. Storage of these libraries using an external hard drive enclosure frees up on-board system resources for ripping, burning and downloading, while protecting libraries from online threats. Moving these libraries to an external drive also greatly reduces maintenance time for system tasks like file defragmentation, spyware sweeping and virus-checking.

A hard drive enclosure also allows people to reuse “smaller” hard disks that have been replaced by newer, larger capacity drives. For example, as prices have dropped many people have replaced 30, 40 and 60-gigabyte (GB) drives with 250 GB drives or better. Installed in an external hard drive enclosure, older drives become quite useful for archiving.

Portability: It’s simple to transport huge amounts of data between computers using an external hard drive enclosure. Any system equipped with a USB port or Firewire will be able to instantly read the drive and transfer files quickly and easily. An external drive is the next best thing to a massive memory stick.

Alternate Operating Systems (OSs): True geeks might like to use an external hard disk to load a bootable, alternate OS, such as an upcoming Windows OS or Linux. Having a fully functional secondary operating system allows for experimentation without unduly risking the main system, its setup or configuration. One can also try out critical programs for compatibility issues. Installing the OS on an external drive avoids the hassle of creating a dual boot system as is necessary when loading two operating systems on internal disks. Motherboard BIOS settings allow one to easily boot from the external storage device or the internal hard disk.

In considering which enclosure to purchase, keep in mind that the enclosure must be made for the type of hard drive it will contain. Older drives are IDE, which stands for Integrated Drive Electronics. Newer drives are Serial-ATA or SATA drives. The relevant difference is in the imbedded connector and controller. Noise is also a consideration. Some enclosures have a built-in power supply and fan. Fan design determines whether the fan will be quiet or noisy. If you plan to leave the enclosure on most of the time, you may want to consider a quieter model. Vendors like NewEgg.com provide customer reviews that can be a great asset in making the right decision.

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Discuss this Article

anon224827
Post 18

I hope to boot to my old laptop hard drive which I've mounted externally. I went to the boot menu on my PC and selected the drive but it would not boot up. I can access the files on the drive. Is there any file (old boot record, etc.) that I would need to delete from the old hard drive?

anon163760
Post 17

Is there a risk of transferring a virus from the old computer when you connect the hard drive to a different computer? I have a computer that is not able to start or to fix itself. I don't know if it was caused by a virus or what, but I really want the pictures that are on the hard drive.

anon126344
Post 16

Consider a Sata/Ide to USB Adapter. That is the cheapest way to connect legacy drives of most any description. I've had mine since 2004 (then I paid $20) it might be cheaper now. Good tip. pass it along.

anon111561
Post 15

I have an old laptop with many programs that I still would like to use. The drive still works, but the screen crapped out. Can I take the old hard drive and use it as an external drive with a new computer and access the programs?

anon76213
Post 14

Can I format a new hard drive through another computer using an enclosure (get a new op system running).

I need a fresh copy of XP, the drivers, and I think the utilities needed to run a new system so my computer will and recognise my rom and ram drives (Bios doesn't help and my recovery partition is missing an hal.dll file -- and maybe more?).

anon58114
Post 13

I have a 1.1 USB port and I was planning to buy an enclosure. Is it possible for me to use it? I mean, all of the enclosures now requires a 2.0 or higher port.

anon56856
Post 12

- sqwerty08

( so can i use any hard drive in an enclosure? could i potentially take a hard drive out of a desktop and put it into an enclosure? )

Yes you can use any Hdd in enclosure but you need to get enclosure that will work with the Hdd =

"if its older 3.5" 40 pin connector its Parallel ATA (PATA/IDE)enclosure 40 or 80 wires ribbon cable"

44 conductors for the smaller form-factor version used for 2.5" laptop's hardrive

"after Year 2003 serial ATA (serial advanced technology attachment), or SATA 7-pin connector "

Connectors and cables present the most visible differences between SATA and parallel ATA drives. Unlike PATA, the same connectors are used on 3.5-inch SATA hard disks for desktop and server computers and 2.5-inch disks for portable or small computers; this allows 2.5-inch drives to be used in desktop computers with only a mounting bracket and no wiring adapter. Smaller disks may use the mini-SATA spec, suitable for small-form-factor Serial ATA drives and mini SSDs --Diesel

vncntsbr
Post 11

how do i know what kind or size hard drive enclosure of hard drive i need? i have an old gateway computer(2002) that died.

anon40775
Post 10

I have a desktop that just died (motherboard). Can I take my hard drive out of the computer and put it into an enclosure? If so, will I be able to connect that to my laptop?

anon32314
Post 9

If your old drive (now in the external enclosure) had pictures and documents stored on it, and you can access the drive (which it sounds like you can), then the pics and documents are there. You simply have to navigate to them, by drilling down into whatever folder you stored them in.

Try this: if you know the name of just one picture you saved, use the Search feature in Windows to hunt for the file on the external drive. It should take you o the folder where all your pictures are saved. If you don't know the name of any of the picture files, ask Windows to search the "E" drive (if that is the external enclosure's drive letter) for *.jpg and it will find every picture file in JPEG format... then you can cruise the many results looking for the folder you want.

Same thing for documents. If these were written in Word, use the Search feature to find a document by name (if you know a name) or search the E drive for *.doc to find ALL documents on the E drive...

Hope that helps.

Lee959
Post 8

How can I access the pictures, documents, etc. on the drive enclosure? Thank you

cmh
Post 7

I can see my program file, but not my pictures and documents, which are what I really want to put onto my new computer. The hard drive of my old computer, in an enclosure, was connected by a USB cable to my new computer. Could the connection somehow be done wrong? I can see the enclosure as drive E, and can see and access files--but only programs. The old computer did not crash or have any problems which might have compromised the hard drive. Thanks for any advice.

wahwalker
Post 6

So i can take my old laptop's hardrive out with xp os and view it like i have two computers with two different os in each?

navybluem
Post 4

Am I to understand that if I have an external hard drive enclosure that I can retrieve date from a computer that has died...Also i have 2 dead computers, are all external hard drives compatible with all computers? thanx

Stoex
Post 3

If I follow this correctly, I would be able to use my new computer to see all old data on my old HD which I install into the enclosure??? For example files on the old HD saved like:

Budget.xls or Resume.doc would show up exactly like that without me having to input special commands??

Reason for asking??? I installed my old HD into an enclosure but cannot see my data. Can only see system files etc. When I check the capacity of the HD it show free capacity of about 25%. I know the system files aren't taking up 75% of the HD.

As you can see I am a newbie with all this. HELP?!

Thanks

brownhollow
Post 2

I have cannibalized a old win 2000 computer and removed the 2 27.3 GB hard drives and would like to set them up as a external hard drive but all the enclosures are only for 1 hard drive. This would be OK but not a really large hard drive. Are there enclosures that will take 2 hard drives or do I need 2 enclosures in order to use both hard drives? Also will I be able to get any data (photos, docs, bookmarks) off the old hard drives to use on my new Vista computer?

Thanks, Jim

sqwerty08
Post 1

so can i use any hard drive in an enclosure? could i potentially take a hard drive out of a desktop and put it into an enclosure?

what do i need to check to make sure i get a case that is compatible with my hard drive? or the other way around.

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