I was reading a post of yours on data recovery from dead drives and it
jogged my memory about three of my computers in storage. Long forgotten. These
are my computers from my legislative days in the 1980s. No telling what secrets
are contained on them. Two are 386 boxes, Gateway, both purchased in the
mid-80s and the other is a 486, a Dell from the early 90s that have data on
drives (MFM or RLL) that are 10MB, 20MB, respectively on the 386s and an
unknown capacity on the 486. The first Gateway I purchased I thought would
never fill up a 10 MB drive so about a year later when Gateway came out a
machine with a 20 MB drive, I figured I had to have that one as my older drive
was full. In those days, those were about $3,000 machines. So, suggestions on
trying to recover data from these drives if the machines will not boot? I don’t
believe the USB housing approach would work. Or would there be a way to do so
with modifications? I’m a long-time electronics hobbyist so if there’s a way to
modify it, I still have my welder soldering irons and a functional HeathKit
VTVM. Any issues with LCD monitors on them? Wondering if a low-resolution form
the old video cards will work if I can get the machines to boot?
In this excerpt from
Answercast #63, I look at some easy methods for getting data off old hard
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So let’s address that last one first. The LCD monitors will work just fine.
Things may look kind of fuzzy I suppose, but the display will be just fine. The
LCD monitors these days can still handle the old 640×480 I think it was.
That was the minimum resolution on some of the oldest machines – or actually
the maximum resolution on some of the really old machines.
So, LCDs? Sure, give it a try. You should be just fine.
Connecting to the hard drives
On the hard drives, what’s interesting is that even back then I believe,
the interface that was used for those hard drives to connect them to the
motherboard was still IDE. In fact, that’s when it was still called IDE, instead
of PATA (Parallel ATA) as opposed to SATA (Serial ATA).
So I would start by getting (from your local computer shop or Amazon or
wherever) what is essentially a USB connector without a box. They actually have
them. They’re usually multi-connected at the drive end. I have one in my
What’s interesting about it is: it’s a cable. It looks like a glorified cable with USB at one end and this kind of big black connector thingy at the other. On that connector thingy are IDE connectors and SATA connectors. What that means is that you simply take the drive out of your machine and (without putting that drive into a box of any sort) you connect up this cable and run the drive.
My guess is that if those drives are working, that approach will work just fine. And while you’re at it… that’s kind of a handy cable to have. It’s nice to not have to actually put a drive in a box if all you’re trying to do is recover some data from it.
So, I’ll try to make sure to put a link to an example of one of those
devices for this AnswerCast segment and you’ll be able to see what this really
is. But that’s the approach I would take.
I honestly believe that even those old huge 10MB and 20MB (and by huge, I
mean physically huge; they’re actually significantly thicker, if they’re the
ones I’m thinking of, than our current drives)… I would be really surprised if
those didn’t just plug in and work and allow you to copy off the data that
was stored on them. Or at least, run something like a secure delete; if in fact
you’re trying to delete some of those long forgotten secrets.