I have several old IDE hard drives and I would like to find a simple way to read what is on them using some sort of adapter that would allow me to pretty much plug-and-play on a newer computer that does not have IDE support. I would prefer not to have to be concerned with drive recognition and jumper settings. An external option would be great.
I agree with both the options suggested - an external enclosure specifically for IDE (i.e., NOT SATA) drives, or a "universal" adapter to connect HDD's to your computer via USB. (My son recently bought something similar, a multi-type HDD dock that connects via USB.)
You should be aware, though, that you WILL have to pay attention to jumper settings. No matter what device you get, at the end of the cable it is an IDE port. ALL IDE ports are designed to support up to 2 devices, and REQUIRE that each device attached be identified. They also require that there be at least a MASTER device attached. Now, in cases of these adapters or enclosures, normally there actually is only space and connectors for ONE drive, but the IDE port still needs that device to be set as the Master (unless specifically noted otherwise in the adapter's documentation). So use the diagram on each drive (one drive's jumper position may not be the same as another's) to set it to Master when using it this way.