How-To Transfer Data From Old Laptops

To be clear, this is really just a brief overview of how to take out a typical laptop HDD (hard disk drive) and then plug it into a desktop system in order to retrieve the contents. This happens frequently. Old laptops give out in one way or another, sometimes it’s the display, the PSU (power supply unit) or the motherboard. Whatever it is, after a certain number of years it typically costs less than the cost of a new computer altogether. Unfortunate and wasteful, yes, but that’s the reality.

When the laptop “dies” or doesn’t boot up, if you’re lucky, the HDD has suffered no mechanical failure and is just fine, even if somehow Windows won’t load (like an NTLDR missing error, for example). Chances are, your data will be just fine and the fastest possible way to get the data off is to simply take the drive out and deal with it at the source.

In the laptop depicted in the video below, the power supply was shot and the system had 256MB of RAM running a very hot P4. A project for later, but the data needed to be taken off immediately.

(YouTube, Google Video, MetaCafe, Veoh, MSN Video,, DailyMotion)

In this video, I walk you through the typical steps necessary to take data off a working laptop HDD from an old system. Note, that this video does not cover data recovery techniques in the event of a mechanically damaged HDD.

Taking the HDD out of a laptop is sometimes easy, sometimes very tricky. In this particular laptop, it wasn’t that tricky. In my experience, the HDD is usually accessible from under the keyboard in older laptops, so I checked there first. Obviously it wasn’t accessible from there, so I tried another opening which turned out to be much easier.

After the HDD is taken out, it is usually outfitted in a caddy of some sort to prevent shock & align it with whatever proprietary connector may or may not exist. In this case, there was a proprietary connector which comes off relatively easily.

For my purposes, I used a SATA/IDE to USB converter to transfer the data over quickly and easily, but I would have just as readily used an external 2.5″ HDD enclosure if I had one laying around. These can be had on eBay and elsewhere for as little as $10. (Search for “SATA IDE USB” and that should deliver a lot of results. I suggest a brand like Vantec. It’s important to note that products like these are usually made by brands that are uncommon like Bytecc, iStarUSA, etc. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad, but I can’t really guide you here — it varies tremendously. The good news is that these particular products don’t cost all that much in the first place. Remember that a laptop hard drive is 2.5″ and a desktop hard drive is 3.5″)

As a cautionary note: when handling electronics, it is advised to ground yourself using an anti-static wrist wrap. The only reason why I was not using one for the video is because it was not mission-critical. Static electricity can devastate electronics! Be careful.

Comment (1)

  1. […] on the disc even further. So I did it the old fashioned way, as I mentioned in my post entitled, How to Recover Data From Old Laptops, I took the drive out using my toolkit and plugged it directly into my spare laptop. #gallery-1 { […]

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