Storage

The USB drive adapter: No tool kit should be without one

Few tools are worth an entire blog post. This is one exception. If you have never used a USB drive adapter, you need one. You will wonder how you ever got by without it.

Few tools are worth an entire blog post. This is one exception. If you have never used a USB drive adapter, you need one. You will wonder how you ever got by without it.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I hate working with hard drives. Whenever I’m servicing a machine and there is a problem with the disk or file system, I get a nervous quiver in the pit of my stomach. I mean, the hard drive is where the computer keeps the data!

There’s only so much any tech can do to service hard disks. They are black boxes, magic black boxes that should be opened only if you have access to a sterile clean room. There are some hard drive problems that cannot be fixed, no matter what. As someone whose professional career is grounded in a belief that he can solve problems, I find that finality very disquieting.

I wish we’d over-engineer our data storage. If only drives would last a thousand years, I’d never have reason to touch one. Since I can’t have that wish, my second wish is to never be without my USB drive adapter. When it comes to servicing data storage devices, there’s no tool I rely on more.

For those of you who may not have seen one, a USB drive adapter can be used to connect bare hard disks to another computer using USB. Here’s a picture of the model I use, BYTECC’s BT-300:

USB adapter for IDE and SATA devices (photo copyright BYTECC)

I picked mine up at MicroCenter, but lots of retailers carry similar products, and they aren’t expensive. I like the one I’ve got because it supports both 3.5- and 2.5-inch IDE and SATA drives. You should make sure to get an adapter kit that provides a power source. Mine came with a power brick that steps down standard wall current to power the disks. It’s worth noting that a USB bridge will support any device that uses IDE or SATA, so if you need to connect a bare DVD drive to a netbook (for instance), you use the adapter for that, too.

I can’t get away from having to handle hard disks, but having a USB adapter makes working with them much easier. I use mine all the time for migrating data between systems and for running recovery and repair routines on disks that won't boot. If you don’t already have a USB drive adapter in your tool kit, get one. I guarantee you’ll wonder how you got along without it.

97 comments
uric_vitus
uric_vitus

does this device support vista OS

avasile
avasile

It is kind of useless without proper cables. The hole purpose of this device it should be to let you access a HD without pulling it out of the computer - the way it is now it will not always fit inside of a computer and it will force you to remove the HD out and once you get it out might as well use an external enclosure. What I did was to purchase IDE and SATA (male to female) and the run those cables with this device. This way, all I have to is plug in the cables into the HD - no removal, nothing and it works. But the cables costs $10.00 so..... you do the math

derek
derek

Cables to go has a usb to sata to ide adapter kit and power supply that I have found to be quite useful as well.

john3347
john3347

Fantastic tool for the professional and home tinkerer, too. I have had mine for a bit over a year and I have dug up all my old 6 and 10 GB harddrives to use with the adapter as external storage devices. Works identical to a "toaster" but costs half as much.

mdhealy
mdhealy

Yes, these little dongles are extremely useful. Mine supports just about any common hard disk (IDE/SATA, desktop or laptop) and has been a real lifesaver. Turns any generic drive into a backup device, allows rescuing data from a computer that won't boot, etc. It can even be used as an emergency boot device when a computer won't start, because most computers nowadays have support in the BIOS for booting from an external USB device. Use drive imaging software to make a copy of the boot drive while each of your computers is working, and then should it go down that becomes an emergency boot disk.

chris.matthews
chris.matthews

I've used USB Drive Adapters for several years, and they've usually been worth their weight in gold to me. HOWEVER, in a scenario involving one PC with one copy of Windows installed on it, one USB drive adapter and MORE THAN ONE hard drive attached to that adapter, Windows (2000 for sure, I think XP as well) fails to recognise the USB Drive Adapter when you use it with a second or subsequent hard drive. Did I do something stupid here? It wouldn't be the first time! Or is this a well-known Windows 'feature'?

cjc82s
cjc82s

i bought one that does all those and CF drives too. i bought it because i needed it for a drive upgrade, but have used it many times since then. it's more useful than a dedicated external hard drive, and as my clients slowly move to SATA i'll soon not need to use the supplied brick either. possibly the most useful tool in any kit

NCWeber
NCWeber

I know I have mine. :) CyberGuys.com has tons of different models to choose from.

support
support

I have to get one. My girlfriend uses a very old lap top with only one USB port, so she finds that her USB adapter is essential. Tom Troughton www.startablogwebsite.com?ck

Jacky Howe
Jacky Howe

on my second one. I made the mistake of leaving the Power adaptor plugged in and turned on. I wouldn't be without one now that I've used them. For the Aussies do a Google for USB 2.0 to IDE / SATA Adapter Cable 80cm (Supports 2.5" & 3.5" IDE) I find that I need to use a Notebook IDE Hard Drive Adaptor for the larger 2.5" drives that require power to spin them up.

Joe_R
Joe_R

That's a great tool - I have one myself.

oz_ollie
oz_ollie

I've been using one for a few years, does PATA IDE 3.5"& 2.5" and SATA because it also includes a power connecter. The other item is an Antec power supply tester, tests 20-pin and 24-pin motherboard connectors just by plugging in and turning on the power. Quick, easy visual output with red, amber or green LED for every cable in the plug. It also has a small block of "sockets" that can be used with a power meter to actually check the exact voltages.

howard48906
howard48906

I have found mine very usefull. I have had to use my laptop to recover files from hard drives taken from computers with fried motherboards. However, I have had serious problems getting my computer to recognize another drive. Could someone at TR please write an article detailing how to do this withou destroying data on the drive. The only advice I have found is to enter the BIOS. I could use step-by-step instructions on how to get my computer to recognize a drive connected this way so that I can recover data.

MasterGeek
MasterGeek

Needed one to rewire a drive in a kiosk several years ago and bought a couple while I was at it. Less than $15 each on eBay with shipping. Definitely one of the best tools in my kit! One of my other most often used tools is a set of security screwdriver tips. Even if the screw isn't a "security screw" all the odd sizes and shapes make it fairly easy to match up with whatever is keeping me from opening cases or removing brackets.

lwebb
lwebb

Is this just for data files or will it also handle program files? I have to restore a laptop with a fouled hard drive and it has many many programs added that would be lost by using the restore function. Lew

shasca
shasca

Coworker, Daughter, Itunes, Laptop. Do I need to add any further info :D :D :D

jdula
jdula

I totally agree. Bought one a while back and it has already paid for itself. So far it has gotten me a home cooked meal and a paycheck on another job.

MTColl28734
MTColl28734

When a hard drive is seriously infected, it often helps to remove the drive and insert it into one of these. IT takes Windows out of the process and you can find things you can't find if the drive's running the OS.

blarman
blarman

My father used to be project manager for Hewlett Packard back when they still made hard drives (and when those hard drives had an unheard-of 5-year replacement warranty). He said that hard drives are probably the most sophisticated piece of electromechanical machinery in existence because they have to simultaneously combine 5 discrete bleeding-edge technologies in perfect harmony with nanoscopic precision. Trying to match up the media format density, read/write head size, data throughput, actuation, and spindle speed to the tolerances demanded by such precision equipment is simply amazing. Each and every one of these technologies has to not only function perfectly by itself, but as part of a coordinated effort. Hard drive development means simultaneously researching AND interoperating all of these technologies at the same time. Why do hard drives have such a high failure rate? Now you know. Oh, and the fact that after HP got out of the hard drive business everyone else went back to 1-year warranties.

sfeatherston
sfeatherston

They are absolutly great for servicing hard drives but also for doing piggy back scans for viruses. You can simply take the infected hard drive out and piggy back it to a pc with a good antivirus program and scan the infected hard drive, without ever taking it out of the other computer. I have a harddrive usb adapter that has the longer cables that allow for leaving the hard drive in the machine. All you have to do is open the access panel and thats all there is to it.

kgunnIT
kgunnIT

I have found these handy myself. A few months ago had to put it to use trying to recover data off of a hard drive from a Macbook laptop. I removed the hard drive and inserted into a USB adapter and went to work. Unfortunately, the drive was shot and I could not seem to get to the data, but I made more progress with this little device than I would've without the adapter.

williamjones
williamjones

It takes advantage of the USB Mass Storage drivers that are also present in Vista.

chris.matthews
chris.matthews

Many thanks for your suggestions. I realise now that my first post may have been interpreted as 'MORE THAN ONE hard drive attached to that adapter' [SIMULTANEOUSLY], but that isn't what I meant. Rather, once a PC's Windows install has 'seen' a USB Drive adapter with ONE hard drive, on attempting to use that adapter on this install with ANOTHER hard drive, Windows does not seem to 'see' the USB Hard Drive Adapter. Even after reverting to the FIRST hard drive... I haven't (yet?) experienced any drive-letter issues, but thank you for the 'heads-up' on that one.

williamjones
williamjones

I don't think any of these devices are designed to function as drive "hubs." Pretty sure they support only one drive at a time, even if there are other connectors available on the adapter. If you need to attach a second drive via USB, I think you'll need a second adapter.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

I have had problems with USB drives if the drive letters have been used through "G" or "H". Some computers come with built in card readers and it seems like each reader takes up a drive letter even if there is no card inserted. This fills up the lower drive letter and keeps USB flash drives and hard drives from being usable. So if you already have drives C through G then that may be the problem. It is possible to change the drive letter by using the computer management MMC so that is how I usually fix this problem. Bill

pdr5407
pdr5407

I have a generic USB to SATA/IDE cable that was made in China. Got it at a local computer store and used it once to transfer data between a laptop and desktop. The best thing about these cables is that they reduce the amount of network configuration needed to access files on the drive that is connected.

wooly1
wooly1

Google for "USB 2.0 to IDE/SATA" Try www.tegcom.com.au

dixon
dixon

That tester is a lifesaver.

dixon
dixon

...that's almost always a jumper issue.

dixon
dixon

...I like Acronis TrueImage. Works great, and you end up with a bootable copy with all software intact. And, yes, it works fine with the USB adapter.

MasterGeek
MasterGeek

These adapters allow you to connect a drive, but to copy the programs and operating system you will have to make a "ghost" or true copy of the drive you have onto a new drive. You have to use drive cloning software that recognizes both drives and operates independent of the operating system on your current drive. The software also has to be able to copy the hidden and system files to the new drive. You always run the risk that whatever is causing you problems on your current drive will prevent you from copying it or if it is a virus will just transfer the problem onto the new drive. The easy way out is to buy a new "upgrade" drive at a local shop and have the tech do the transfer, around here that usually costs less than a hundred bucks since it's an "upgrade" not a "repair" Of course you should strive towards having "bare metal" restore backups for all your important systems. Check with your ISP about online backup, and compare with major services such as mozy and carbonite.

The DOBC
The DOBC

Another great tool is a Windows bootable recovery disk like the one you can make using the great project at www.ubcd4win.com. Highly recommended!

williamjones
williamjones

When you think about everything that has work together correctly, it's amazing technology works at all.

dixon
dixon

I do that all the time. I've got an old box I call the 'sacrificial lamb' that I use just for scanning infected drives and other hazardous duty. I don't care how infected it gets, or how often I have to reformat. Other fun things to do with that adapter are replacing a destroyed registry or missing/damaged OS files. I've never found an easier method for those jobs.

lelizondo
lelizondo

I have been using these USB adapters for 2 years and have purchased many brands. Many of these cheaper known adapters were not designed to be used as frequently as a PC tech would. After breaking another adapter, I decided to spend a little more money on a better quality unit from Black Box. The adapter I purchased was Black Box USB 2.0 to SATA/IDE P/N:IC661A. This unit has by far lasted the longest. I should have purchased this one from the beginning. NOTE: I do not work/represent Black Box in any capacity.

williamjones
williamjones

...I wasn't intending to send you to MicroCenter specifically. Try another brand. These devices aren't complicated, but it's possible a company with less than capable manufacturing might make a lemon.

yahbblack
yahbblack

I have successfully used a USB Adapter to recover data from a drive that had appeared to have crashed..As long as XP Disk Manager could see the drive, I was able to recover 99% of the data from it.Sometimes the files come back in text format but it does work and can make you proud of what we do! If you don't have one GET ONE!

tjohnston
tjohnston

Do these kind of devices also supply power to the drives? I'd assume they cover that somehow or this article would have mentioned it.

BGunnells
BGunnells

I've been using USBDLM (http://www.uwe-sieber.de/usbdlm_e.html) for a long time now. It tells the PC what drive letter(s) to use when a USB storage device is attached. I have mine configured to use "B" as the first drive letter, since machines don't come with two floppies anymore (at least not for the last 10 or 15 years!). It's a simple and elegant solution to a common problem... :-) -=B

Jacky Howe
Jacky Howe

on getting easier as they invent these new gadgets. I wouldn't be without one these days. ;) It sure beats a null modem. ;)

williamjones
williamjones

dixon is right. To get a drive to work with these USB adapters, often the instructions will suggest making sure that the drive is jumpered to "single" or "master" mode. In my experience it's not always necessary, depending on the drive make and model, but if you're having problems getting the drive recognized, start by rejumpering the drive. Drives that are too severely damaged may not mount, either.

wimpee
wimpee

I agree with you 100% on UBCD and the drive adapers. I too have used both for a couple years and both have come to use both almost weekly.

williamjones
williamjones

If mine ever gives out, I'll look at that one. It's a little more expensive, but not much. Small price to pay for those who have been disappointed by the reliability of the cheaper models.

garymander
garymander

Yes, they do normally come with a separate power supply, but sometimes I find it easier to leave the drive I'm working on in-situ attache the IDE or SATA connector and then just power the PC on to supply power to the drive. You don't need to remove the drive from the PC, and you don't need to crawl around under desks swapping mains plugs around. Generally though, I couldn't live without these! I have two - one in my tool kit and one I leave on my bench, so that I never forget to take it out with me! I find them particularly useful when doing a new installation and transferring data - rather than moving data to an external drive then moving it again to the new machine, just take it straight from the old drive, and leave it copying the data while I do all the other bits like setting up the email etc.

dcarr@winning.com
dcarr@winning.com

Great for imaging new Hard Drives for Laptops. Upgraded many Laptops from 4200 to 5400 or 7200 RPM Drives I have used one for years. Both for 3.5" and as mentioned above 2.5" IDE Drives. Got a new one recently that handles both IDE and SATA drives. These are truly indispensable devices. Same with Flash/Thumb Drives: don't leave home without them.

bill
bill

They usually come with a supply that plugs into the AC line. What we use to call a "wall wart".

dixon
dixon

...I should have been more thorough.

Editor's Picks