Saturday, December 25, 2010

Rocky Road Ice Cream Won't Let Me Sleep; Laptop Hard Disk Enclosures

Too much caffeine in the chocolate ice cream, I think.

My Christmas gift to my daughter and son-in-law was a combination of cheap parts and a bit of computer expertise.  They had two laptops that both became inoperable because the power jack to internal power supply connection failed.  These are apparently not easy to repair because the required parts are expensive (relative to buying a new computer), and relatively few people are interested in spending the time to repair them.  However: in both cases, they had substantial materials from grad school, as well as many photos and downloaded music on the hard disks--and no backups.  How to get them out?

What I did was to buy two hard disk enclosures: a Sabrent USB 2.0 and a Ultra Aluminus.  The Sabrent is for EIDE/PATA notebook hard drives, and the Ultra is for SATA notebook hard drives.  They were not expensive.  My plan was simple: remove the still functioning notebook hard drives from each computer, install them in the enclosures, and then use the USB cable to move the contents of the drives onto their new desktop computer.  Once they have copied all these files down, they can then reformat the drives, and use them to do daily backups of their notebook computer.  (I ordered these from I had them in about three days, without paying anything for shipping speed--and at Christmas!)

The Sabrent was a bit easier to get operational.  I unscrewed the three screws holding the drive into my daughter's notebook, removed the side rails from the hard drive, removed one press fit pin adapter from the hard drive, and then connected it to the interface in the enclosure.  This was dead simple: in about ten minutes, I had the EIDE drive talking to the desktop computer just fine.

One odd quirk for both of these drives: Windows 7 asked if I wanted to make the drive accessible.  My guess is that permissions are wrong because the drive came out of another computer with different owner names, and Windows 7 had to force ownership to match the account under which I was running on the desktop.

The Ultra was a bit more work, partly because the two ends of the enclosure both can be removed--and I did.  Trying to get it all back together with the SATA drive was a bit more complex than it first appeared--but even here, it only took about fifteen minutes to do the deed.  One interesting feature of the Ultra unit is that it supports not only a USB 2.0 connection, but also an external SATA connection as well.  The Ultra unit includes an interface that goes into the back of the desktop rather like the traditional add-on card.  In this case, it does not plug into one of those PCI or whatever slots.  Instead, there is a connector that plugs into one of the SATA interfaces on the motherboard.  You then plug the external SATA cable from the hard disk enclosure to the socket exposed on the back of the desktop.

I decided to do the extra work of installing the external SATA inteface partly because an external SATA connection is substantially faster than the USB; partly because this desktop was starting to get short on USB ports; and partly because my daughter wanted to know what to do to expand the RAM in the desktop.  To my surprise and pleasure, instead of using two 1 GB DIMMs to fill both available slots (which means that you have to discard both to put in more RAM), there was a 2 GB DIMM in one slot, and another sitting vacant.  Now all she needs is another 2 GB DIMM to double her RAM.

Anyway, these enclosures provide an easy way to deal with the problem of a busted notebook, while also providing backup drive capacity as well.  Both the Sabrent and Ultra are pretty nice looking units, with little black pseudo-leather cases in which to carry them.

Now I have two notebooks that have no hard drives, and which will not reliably power up, but which are otherwise just fine (including a fair amount of RAM for four and two year old notebooks) that need to find a buyer.  One is a Compaq Presario F672US; the other is a Dell PP21L.  Perhaps I can list them for parts on eBay, and get them sold to someone that can use and appreciate them!


  1. One of the best reasons to buy a MacBook is the magnetic power adapter. ALL of my non Apple laptops have croaked (even after repeated repairs with the soldering gun) due to the power connector breaking at the motherboard.