Resurrect an External Hard Drive

it may just be playing "possum"

So you dropped some nice coin on a sleek, large capacity external hard drive a while back.  It has worked flawlessly, provided lots of extra storage with fast access, and has an attractive activity indicator and maybe a gauge to show how full it is.

A couple months ago, it began to have just a little lag or stutter before connecting to your computer.  Last week you had to turn it off and on, or replug the USB connector, or click your heels together three times, to get it to work.  Today it won't start at all.

You've done nothing bad to your computer, a virus scan reports it's clean, and everything is plugged in properly.  When you plug the drive into another computer, it still doesn't work.

Even if you kept your warranty and it hasn't conveniently expired a couple days ago, there is the little problem of several gigabytes of important, sensitive, or irreplaceable data on that drive which you now cannot copy or delete before returning the drive for a refund or replacement.

Put your angst aside for a moment and keep reading.  Contrary to appearances, modern hard drives are pretty durable.


Inside that fancy casing is a large rectangular block with a circuit board built into the back side - that's the actual hard drive.  The rest of the stuff in the casing is brackets, shock absorbers, and a bunch of shoddy electronics which communicate between the drive and the computer.  Those electronics usually fail long before the hard drive.

What?  You - an electronics surgeon?  Yes, you!  You will need:

Before buying the last item, make sure its connectors match those on the internal hard drive (inside the casing), and that the unit is designed for the hard drive's physical size, storage capacity, and data transfer speed.

The most prevalent connectors are Serial ATA (SATA), and the older ATA/IDE.  Physical size is listed simply as 2.5-inch (notebook drives) and 3.5-inch (desktop drives).

We recommend a ThermalTake BlackX hard drive docking station, available from Newegg.  Use Newegg's customer ratings to find a good buy.  Visit their Learning Center for pictorial help on drive and connector specifications.

Bear in mind:  if you continue, you may damage the casing or internals and void your warranty.  If it's already expired, or you don't want to lose your data or give away your secrets, who cares?

This procedure is mainly for large external hard drives, such as the Western Digital My BookDon't use it on "micro-drives" - about the size of a small box of wooden matches - they do not contain an internal hard drive which can be removed as a complete unit.


Remove all cables from the drive casing.  If the drive has been spinning, wait at least 10 seconds for it to stop.

Some external hard drive casings are assembled with screws, often hidden under decals or rubber feet; other models are fastened by internal clips, or a combination thereof.  Find any external screws and remove them.  Here's how to deal with the internal clips.

Put on protective eyewear.  Find a spot, anywhere along the joined edges of the casing, where it's easiest to pry them apart enough to carefully slide in the tip of your blade tool about ¼ to ½ inch.  If it goes in too deep, it can damage the drive or its built in circuit board.

Rock the blade up and down, side to side, or in a twisting motion for best effect.  Popping, clicking, or snapping noises mean you are disengaging the internal clips or breaking the casing - it's all good.

As you work your way along, separating the joined edges, attach spring binder clips to exposed edges to prevent them from snapping back together.  After some determined effort, the entire casing will separate.  No further strong force is needed.

By now, the hard drive, with its built in (usually green) circuit board, will be easy to identify.  Carefully remove all of the other parts while protecting the circuit board on the hard drive from any damage.  Do not attempt to remove this board from the drive.

After freeing the drive from the casing and all other parts, remove any tape - usually metallic tape with a really gooey adhesive - from the hard drive, and carefully remove any remaining adhesive from the drive without using solvents.  You don't want this crud gumming up your enclosure or dock.


You are officially done with the hard part.  Now plug the drive into the matching connectors in your external hard drive enclosure or docking station, then power everything up and enjoy!

Tip:  Internal hard drives are cheaper than external ones; so a reliable external hard drive enclosure or docking station quickly pays for itself.  It's also a handy way to rotate large backups or disinfect a system drive.

now reading: Resurrect an External Hard Drive
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