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:
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.