Dear Lifehacker, I have a dead hard drive that is out of warranty. Is there anything I can do besides recycle it? Signed, All My Drives are Down 'n Dead
Photo by ArtMast
Dear Down 'n Dead,
You're in luck. While your hard drive may be dead to its original function you can harvest parts from it for all sorts of fun and interesting DIY projects.
Before we delve into gutting your hard drive and repurposing its guts, let's talk data security. While you didn't specify what "dead hard drive" means, we'll assume this means the disk is inoperable and any means of recovering the disk for use using software have failed. If the disk has truly sensitive data on it—data worth enough that someone would invest significant time and energy in recovering it—the only safe thing to do is to reference the Symphony of Destruction portion of our guide to properly erasing your physical media. If, on the other hand, the disk was mostly populated with your bootleg Bon Jovi concert rips, it's ripe for all manner of DIY projects.
We've roughly ordered the following projects by the amount of effort and technical knowledge required to carry them out. At the start of the list you'll need little more than basic tools and some patience. By the end of the list you'll need to be comfortable with a soldering iron and working with electronics.
Harvest Its Parts
One of the simplest things you can do with an old hard drive is harvest its magnets. Hard drives sport some super-powerful magnets that you can use for all sorts of things. The photo above shows a magnetic knife block made by carving recesses in a piece of wood for the hard drive magnets. Around the office we tend to just yank the magnets out of our old hard drives and use them for ultra-strong refrigerator magnets and to temporarily magnetise our tools when working with small parts.
While you're gutting the hard drive, the platters are extremely polished and make pretty cool mirrors. Combine a platter with a hard drive magnet and you've got yourself a pretty awesome and geeky mini-mirror for your fridge, or your locker at the office or gym.
If you're not interested in delving further into recycling the electronics inside, you could always turn the empty hard drive case into a hidden safe. Not many thieves would care to root around in a bin of old electronics crap in your garage and even fewer would want to steal an old banged up hard drive.
Get More Creative
On the simple side of things you can turn a stack of old platters into a steampunk clock with just a few additions from the local hobby shop. If that's not enough tinkering for you, we think you'd be hard pressed to find a cooler hard drive mod than this persistence-of-vision hard drive clock hack:
For another interesting, but not quite so knowledge and labour intensive project, check out how to turn your old hard drive into laser light show projector.
You may have noticed, during the deconstruction phase, how insanely smooth-spinning the bearings in the hard drive are. You can take advantage of this and turn the old hard drive spindle and platters into an ultra-sensitive input device. You can check out the specs on a hard-drive-turned-DJ-turntable here to give you an idea where that kind of project can go.
These are just a few of the fun and useful things you can do with old hard drives. If you like to tinker with electronics and take things apart, old hard drives are a treasure trove of little bits and pieces to play with.
As always, no matter what project you decide to repurpose your hard drive for, we'd love to hear all about it. Whether you end up making a paper tray or a laser turret, send us pictures when you're done!