I have a new Win 7 PC and would like to use the HDD from my old XP machine in an enclosure as an external backup drive. I don't need the XP OS but might want some of the files. It's a SATA 500gb. Any tips? Thanks, Greg.
I don't think some of those posts answered your main questions. First, yes, you CAN use that HDD as an external backup drive, and I applaud your recognition of the fact that you ought to be able to disconnect it and remove it to another storage location. For that purpose you need to choose an external enclosure, not a simple adapter plug and cable. In choosing, bear in mind these requirements:
1. The enclosure must accommodate inside it a SATA unit, not IDE. It really does not matter whether that be SATA II (more properly today, SATA 3.0 Gb/s) or SATA 6.0 Gb/s drives because either would accept your unit.
2. The enclosure should accept an HDD of the size you have. I suspect that is the common desktop size called 3½", and not the smaller 2½" used in laptops.
3. The enclosure should have its own power supply, often a "wall wart", or maybe a box in the middle of a wire, or maybe even inside the enclosure. The "Portable" external enclosures used for smaller laptop units draw all their power from a USB port, but those ports cannot supply enough power for a desktop 3½" HDD unit.
4. How it plugs into your computer is important. It depends mainly on what ports your computer has. You might also consider whether that might change in future if your change machines again, or whether you might want to connect it to someone else's computer. The common connection ports available are: USB2, USB3 (new), eSATA, IEEE1394a (Firewire 400), and IEEE1394b (Firewire 800). There differ mainly in speed, and somewhat in availability. USB2 is VERY common, but it is the slowest of the lot. USB3 is very new and not common on older machines, but will become more widespread. It is quite fast, faster even that the speed of the HDD unit itself, so it will never limit the HDD's performance. Both USB port types can supply some power to an attached device if that device does not have its own power, but that power is too limited for use with a 3½" HDD unit. eSATA is faster that USB2 and nearly as fast as an internal SATA port, but it has no power available on the port. (Well, there are non-standard newer eSATA ports that provide some power, but not all do.) IEEE1394a (Firewire 400) is as fast as eSATA, maybe slightly better, but less common. IEEE1394b (Firewire 800) is the fastest of these (probably comparable to USB3) but is rather uncommon on PC-type machines. VERY often you will find that an enclosure comes with two or three of these interfaces, but you only get to use one at a time.
5. You can get enclosures either with or without a cooling fan built in. Some like them because they can keep your HDD cooler and maybe prolong its life. Personally, I worry that a fan will eventually wear out its bearings, and I think a unit used primarily for backups (not for routine everyday use) will not be running the HDD so long it will operate hot for a long time. But to some extent, this point also depends on what HDD unit you are going to use. It happens that the one I have operates relatively coolly with no fan in the enclosure.
My own unit has a Seagate 500 GB SATA 3.0 Gb/s unit in a fanless enclosure with both USB2 and eSATA interfaces. It has a power block in the middle of a set of cords. I use the eSATA port on my computer to connect it, and on occasion have needed to use the USB2 system for connection to a different machine that lacks eSATA.
I strongly suggest you should wipe the old HDD clean and start fresh with it as a data disk. BUT that means you will want to copy off of it all your old stuff you need to keep. So, you would get the enclosure, assemble the HDD into it, then copy all you need off it to the HDD in your new machine. The fact that it happens to have on it already a copy of Win XP will make no difference becasue your new machine will NOT try to boot from this external unit. Then you might want to wait a while to be sure you don't suddenly find you forgot something you needed off it.
When you are ready, there are two ways to clean and prepare for data-only use. My own preference is to do a Zero Fill on that HDD unit. To do this you need a utility package able to do Zero Fills. If your old HDD is from Seagate, download from their website their free diagnostic utility package called Seatools and install it on your C: drive. There are various versions and I like the "for DOS" type, but in your case you might prefer the "for Windows" version that runs under Windows. Similarly, if your old HDD is from WD, get their Data LifeGuard utility. If you have some other HDD, look for a utility package that does Zero Fills.
A Zero Fill just writes zeroes to EVERYWHERE on your HDD - it completely overwrites and destroys everything that was there. So be VERY careful to use in ONLY on the old HDD you are cleaning!! In doing that work, though, it triggers a background activity in the HDD unit itself. This process will read back the recently-written data and assess the signal quality and accuracy. If it finds anything questionable, it replaces that Sector with a known-good "spare" it has hidden on itself, and makes sure that faulty Sector is never used again. It take a long time (many hours) to do this, but when it is done, the HDD appears to be completely flawless and ready for anything. Windows will never know about any "bad sectors" on this unit. It is just like a brand new HDD from the factory with nothing on it. Personally, I think this semi-hidden process internal to the HDD is more thorough than what Windows' Full Format does.
The other option is to skip that Zero Fill operation entirely and let Windows' own utilities do their thing. The difference is in the Format step to come.
Whether you do the Zero Fill or not, you can use Windows' Disk Management for the next steps. First, if you did NOT do the Zero Fill, you should RIGHT-click on any and all Partitions on the old HDD and Delete them all. (This is not necessary if you Zero-Filled because there is no data on it.) Then you RIGHT-click on the Unallocated Space and choose to Initialize the unit or to Create a New Simple Volume. You will have some configuration choices to make. I assume you will want this volume to include ALL the space available on the HDD unit. It does NOT need to be bootable (you won't install an OS on it to boot from). It can be a MBT-type volume, not GPT - GPT is needed for volumes over 2 GB. For File System type, you should choose NTFS. Now for Format type - this is different depending on what you did before. If you did NOT Zero Fill, then choose a Full Format. This process tests all Sectors by writing and reading them. Any Sectors it finds to be "Bad" will be noted in a file that Windows keeps on the HDD, and Windows itself makes sure never to use those Bad Sectors. This is a Windows process, not the same one that the HDD does internally and hidden. But since it writes and reads to every Sector, it also takes several hours. IF, on the other hand, you did a Zero Fill, you could choose to have Windows do a Quick Format. This short process (15 minutes maybe) writes all the necessary info to the HDD to prepare it for use, but it does not do that exhaustive testing for Bad Sectors. Why bother if it was already done by the HDD during the Zero Fill operation?
When all that work is done on the HDD, back out of Disk Management and reboot so that Windows can update its Registry. The external HDD will show up in My Computer empty and ready to use.