Ways and means of connecting drives to a computer for data recovery
In some circumstances, successful recovery of files from an internal hard disk drive is only possible when it is removed from the computer affected by data loss and connected to another working system. This article provides detailed instructions on how you can extract a hard disk from the device, find out the type of interface it makes use of (newer SATA or older IDE) and offers several methods you may employ to attach properly it to another PC. The same recommendations will also be relevant in the context of data recovery from RAID or NAS.
Warning: If the hard drive shows any signs of hardware defects, please, familiarize yourself with the peculiarities of work with damaged disks.
Note: The instructions given below assume that you have adequate skills in handling hardware. Improper actions may result in physical damage and permanent data loss.
The process of connecting drives includes the following steps:
Step 1: Identification of the drive interface type.
Most modern PCs use the SATA interface for physical connection of hard drives to the computer’s system bus, while the IDE (PATA) standard may be found on older machines. To identify the interface type, you should disassemble the device and examine the drive:
- Open the case to access the hard drive. If the device uses removable hard drives in special bays, simply eject the drive from the bay;
- Examine the holder of the hard drive: if the back panel is covered with an enclosure, remove it and then check the back panel.
The following examples will acquaint you with what different hard drive interfaces look like:
Pic. 1. Back panel of an IDE (PATA) drive.
In this picture:
- IDE data port. Please pay attention to the small hollow in the top center. It is used as an index for correct cable connection. Incorrect cable connection can damage the connector and the drive.
- Power supply port. It also has a "key" form for correct connection of the power cable. Incorrect cable connection can damage the connector and the drive.
- These are used for identification of the order of the drives in a paired IDE cable as well as for additional IDE settings.
Pic. 2. IDE (PATA) data cable.
In this picture, the blue connector is used to connect the cable to the mainboard of the computer/device, while the black one is used to connect the drive. Please pay attention to the "key" on the cable connector that matches the slot of the drive.
IDE cables usually have two drive connectors: a "master" connector (at the end of the cable) and a "slave" connector (in the middle of the cable, closer to the "master" connector).
Pic. 3. Back panel of a SATA drive.
In this picture:
- SATA data port. Please pay attention to the "key" form of the slot.
- SATA power supply port. In contrast to IDE, a SATA power cable is wider than a SATA data cable. It has a "key" form as well.
Pic. 4. SATA data cable connector.
A SATA cable consists of two equal endpoints on a thin data cable. It makes no difference which of the ends will be used to connect the drive. Please pay attention to the form of the connector that matches the "key" form of the SATA drive data slot.
Step 2. Choosing the method of connection to the host computer.
Main connection methods include:
This is the safest but at the same time the most expensive method. You need USB/Firewire adapters for each drive to connect them to the host PC.
* If the host computer provides enough disk space, you can create an image of your disk and avoid using an adapter for this disk.
You can find external adapters for both SATA and IDE hard drives; some of them fit both interfaces:
Pic. 5. USB to IDE hard disk adapter with an external power supply.
Pic. 6. USB to SATA hard disk adapter with an external power supply.
Please note that some USB to SATA adapters have a pair of SATA interfaces, thus, to connect two SATA drives you need only one adapter.
Pay attention to the external power supply: some adapters are powered via USB and don't match 3.5" hard drives used in NAS and desktop computers.
This is the cheapest but not the safest method to connect the drives. Besides, the mainboard is able to place a very limited number of drives.
Before choosing this method, make sure that the computer power supply provides at least 15 Watts of additional power per drive.
Also, see to it that you have a sufficient number of data cables: one cable per two IDE drives and one SATA data cable per one SATA drive.
To check if the method is suitable, examine your motherboard connectors. To do this:
- Remove the screws from the back panel of your computer that hold the Removing two screws that hold the left-side cover is enough (for a tower-type computer);
- Open the left cover panel: pull it a little back and put it aside;
- Examine the expansion slots on the mainboard.
Pic. 7. IDE connectors.
In this picture, you can see two IDE connectors marked as IDE 1 and IDE 2 at the right bottom. As a rule, IDE 1 is colored while IDE 2 is usually black or white. Each IDE connector is capable of hosting two IDE hard drives.
Pic. 8. SATA connectors.
Picture 8 shows SATA connectors. They are usually black, red or orange and are numbered as SATA1, SATA2, etc. Each connector is capable of hosting one SATA drive.
Make sure that the mainboard provides enough free slots. For example, for four disks of your NAS with IDE hard drives you need two free IDE slots on the mainboard: two drives per interface. For four drives with a SATA interface four free SATA slots are needed.
If the mainboard doesn't provide a sufficient number of free slots, use external adapters or expansion cards. If you decide to free up some mainboard slots for extra drives, make sure you don't unplug the system boot drive or RAID.
This method of connection is quite efficient, however, is not 100% safe.
Before choosing this method make ensure that the computer power supply is capable of providing at least 15 Watts of additional power per drive plus about 10 Watts for the expansion card. Expansion cards are available for both SATA and IDE drives.
Pic. 9. PCI IDE expansion card with two IDE channels.
Please note that IDE expansion cards have one or more IDE channels. Each channel is capable of hosting two IDE drives. It is recommended to use one card for all the drives.
Pic. 10. PCI SATA expansion card with four SATA channels.
SATA expansion cards have two or more SATA channels. Each channel is capable of hosting one SATA drive. It's recommended to use one card for all the drives. But as multi-port cards are more expensive, you may consider using several cards to save costs. Besides, there are no requirements to expansion cards for hardware RAID, thus, you can choose an inexpensive one.
Expansion cards can be installed to any free PCI (or PCI Express) slots on the mainboard.
Pic. 11. PCI slots on the mainboard.
Please refer to the expansion card installation manual for more details. Make sure that the expansion card kit contains a sufficient number of data cables: one cable per 2 IDE drives and one SATA data cable per one SATA drive. You might need additional cables.
Step 3. Powering the drives.
There are different ways to power the disks for different types of connection:
- For external USB adapters use an external power supply from an external adapter kit;
- For the connection via the mainboard or an expansion card, use computer power supply cables.
The mainboard or an expansion card require that the computer power supply:
- Supports extra 15 Watts per each extra drive;
- Has enough cables to power all the drives.
Pic. 12. SATA (left) and IDE (right) power cables.
If you need more power connectors for an IDE drive, use power splitters:
Pic. 13. IDE power cable splitter.
For extra SATA power connectors it's recommended to use IDE to SATA power adapters/splitters:
Pic. 14. IDE to SATA power cable adapter/splitter.
Step 4. Connecting the drives to the host PC.
Before connecting the drives, make sure they are not damaged. Otherwise, you may face the risk of permanent data damage on the failing drive or cause damage to the hardware interface.
- Connecting the drives to external adapters:
- Connect the data interface of each drive to the data interface of the adapter. Connector "keys" must be matched: key slots must combine with key lugs;
- Connect external power supplies to the drives; pay attention to the "keys";
- Ensure sufficient airflow to cool the drives; it's not recommended to put the drives on each other or use a soft surface with good thermal isolation because this can cause the drives to If the drives get hot, it's recommended to use air coolers;
- Charge external power supplies. The disks must start spinning. Wait until the initialization of the drives is completed (this may take about 5-10 seconds);
- Connect adapter USB cables to the host PC; follow the order of the drives
Hint: The overall process is demonstrated in the video tutorial on connecting SATA disks with the help of an adapter.
- Connecting the drives to the mainboard/expansion card:
- Power off the computer and unplug it from the power source;
- Open the left-side cover of the computer case (for tower-type computers);
- If you use an expansion card, install it to a spare PCI/PCI-Express slot. Read the card installation manual for more details;
- Connect the data cables to mainboard/card IDE/SATA expansion slots. Connect power splitters/adapters if needed;
- For IDE drives: make sure that the drive jumper (Pic.1) is set to the "cable select" (CS) mode. The table of valid jumper positions is available on the drive sticker;
- Connect data cables to the drives. While connecting RAID drives, you should preserve the correct order of the drives. To connect data cables, you must:
- For IDE drives: connect the first drive as the "master" of the first IDE channel, the second drive as the "slave" of the first IDE channel, the third drive as the "master" of the second IDE channel and so on (see description under Pic. 2). The "Cable Select" jumper position ensures correct identification of the drives depending on the position on the cable.
- For SATA drives: connect the first drive to the first free SATA port (for example, SATA3), the second drive – to the next free SATA port and so on.
- Pay attention to connector key elements: key holes must match key lugs.
- Connect power cables to the drives;
- Ensure sufficient airflow to cool the drives; it's not recommended to put the drives on each other or to use a soft surface with good thermal isolation because this can cause the drives to If the drives get hot, it's recommended to use air coolers;
- Plug in and start the computer. Make sure that the operating system is able to boot. Otherwise, revise BIOS configuration for boot device sequence. Read the motherboard BIOS manual for details.
Hint: The general procedure is demonstrated in the video guide on connecting SATA disks to the motherboard of a computer.
After installation of additional drivers for external adapters, expansion cards, hard disk drives, etc., you may proceed to logical data recovery using the instructions that correspond to your particular case.
Last update: August 18, 2022