Ask LH: What Can I Do With My Spare Hard Drives?

Ask LH: What Can I Do With My Spare Hard Drives?

Hi Lifehacker, I have over 10 external hard drives I’ve collected over the years which are currently lying around collecting dust. Do you guys have any ideas how I could take advantage of these extra hard drives? Thanks, Driven

Dear Driven,

As a Lifehacker reader, we’re going to assume that you already have a comprehensive backup solution in place. On the off chance that you don’t (for shame!) this is definitely the best way to make use of your spare hard drives. Some good, free options include Windows 7 Backup, Windows 8’s File History and Mac OS X’s Time Machine. You can also back up to an external drive with Crashplan.

Data backups are well and good, but they don’t always preserve your installed applications, settings or preferences. For this, you’ll need to make a complete image of your system on an external drive. Windows users can image their hard drives with DriveImage XML; a free tool that’s compatible with Windows XP through to 8. Another free tool, SuperDuper, makes it easy, if not exactly quick, to mirror your entire Mac onto an external drive.

Another popular option is to build your own XBMC media centre or portable PC. These obviously require additional hardware, but the total cost is usually quite affordable. You can check out some DIY guides here, here and here.

Alternatively, you could use your old drives as dedicated storage for specific types of media — label one for photos/home videos, one for movie downloads, one for games, etc. This is a great way to free up space on your PC and also gives you a good excuse to tidy up your files and get everything in order. To maintain quick access to your media, simply buy a USB NAS adapter and connect the relevant drives.

If you regularly edit video, another option is to use your spare drive as a scratch disk. This significantly reduces the read/write load on your computer’s internal hard drive which can really speed up the rendering and exporting of cached files. As an added bonus, this also prevents your internal HDD from filling up with HD video.

Prefer Nintendo to PC gaming? Apparently, it’s entirely possible to back up and play Wii games from your external hard drives with a little DIY tinkering. To pull this off, you’ll need an SD memory card, an external USB hard drive and a Wii console with the Homebrew channel installed. Click here to read our step-by-step guide.

Whatever you decide to do with your old hard drives, it’s important to remember that they won’t last forever. Sooner or later, those suckers are going to fail and there’s really nothing you can do about it. As a general rule of thumb, you should treat external hard drives that are over four years old with extreme caution. In other words, avoid storing important data on them and don’t be surprised if they go kaput without warning.

We feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface here. If any readers have additional suggestions of their own, feel free to share in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • One time I dissected an external desktop HDD as my internal one was starting to die. Wasn’t easy! Some external cases have no give but it was worth doing to avoid spending another $100

    Otherwise I generally sell my external portable HDDs, usually because I have no use for them, it lacks USB 3.0 or their capacity isn’t big enough anymore. Then I use that money to buy a much better external (SSD for Virtual Machines) or something else!

    • Yeah i’m very against selling my external hard drives because i’ve purchased ones from cash converters and second hand pc’s and i’ve always found files when I run recuva, a lot of risque images and videos lol

  • Thanks for answering my question guys. the USB NAS adapter is an awesome idea that I didn’t realise was possible. Thanks for all the ideas!

  • Buy an 8 bay (or bigger) NAS and put them in configured as JBOD (just a bunch of disks). That way, they are all usable.

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