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How can I archive old hard disks?

We have several old computers (10 years old & newer) in our office which
the boss doesn’t want to throw out just in case he might need one file
from one down the track sometime. I have nowhere to put my feet as the
computer graveyard is under my desk. What would be the best way to save
information from the computers which we can then later retrieve if
needed so we can then wipe them and donate them to charity?

I have a similar graveyard, of sorts, and I know of many
organizations facing similar issues. Consider yourself lucky that
it’s just under your desk, these organizations are littering the
hallways of their buildings with old and outdated equipment.

There are actually several options, depending on how much effort and
perhaps money you want to put into this project.

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By far that the simplest solution for what you describe is simply to remove and keep only the hard
disk drives. Label them all appropriately so you know what machine they
came from, but the drives themselves are significantly smaller than the
machine they came in. This also solves a data security issue: if you
keep the drive you don’t need to wipe it.

“By far the simplest solution for what you describe is simply to remove and keep only the hard
disk drives.”

I might suggest keeping or having available a machine that would act
as a place to install a drive if you decide you need some data off of
it. And that, ultimately, is the inconvenience of this approach: if you decide you
need something off of that drive, you’ll need to install it into a
machine in order to be read.

If these are truly older drives, say of the under 4 GB variety,
then perhaps the next most simple solution might be to write the
entire contents of the drive to a DVD ROM. The DVDs can then be filed for easy
access and read on almost any modern computer. (Depending on the potential
sensitivity of the data, I’d write two copies of each in case one is damaged or lost.)

If the drives are larger than 4 GB but still a reasonable size say
under 20 GB, then another option is to purchase a new
external hard drive of 500 GB or larger and simply copy the entire
contents of all the original drives to the new larger one. I know it sounds kind
of silly but with today’s larger disks you can collect together a tremendous
amount of information and have it in one central repository. One
caveat: I strongly suggest that if you do this you actually get two
larger drives and back one up to the other on a regular basis. If a
larger drive fails a larger amount of data can quickly be lost. Maintaining
a second copy is relatively inexpensive protection.

For completeness, I have to mention backing up the contents of your
hard drive to tape. It’s considered an industrial-strength backup
solution. Tapes can contain a tremendous amount of information in a
reasonable amount of space. The downside is that you then need special
equipment, namely the tape drives, to read or write tapes. Since it’s a
common backup solution for larger installations, you might check with
your IT department to see if perhaps you already have this
equipment.

For what it’s worth my solution to a similar problem is simply a
pair of large external hard drives to which I’m slowly copying my
collection of old data CDs.

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2 comments on “How can I archive old hard disks?”

  1. I would back up any important information onto DVDs or CDs, then remove the hard drives, buy a USB to SATA/IDE Hard Drive cable, and pack all the drives into a box and forget about it. Remember to handle the bare hard drives very delicately as they’re extremely fragile.

    Reply
  2. Buy an external harddrive enclosure for about $30. Insert the old internal harddrive in 2 minutes, plug in the usb cable to any computer and access the old internal harddrive.

    Reply

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