10 Drive Docks Help You Re-Use Old Hard Drives

As we replace and/or upgrade older computers, many of us tend to save the hard drives, until we've amassed quite a collection. For example, I've collected quite a few 2.5-in. and 3.5-in. SATA hard drives as I've upgraded my desktop and laptop equipment over the years.

This can present a problem. I don't want to throw the hard drives away or sell them because I really don't remember what's on them, and even a thorough reformatting won't necessarily erase their contents in today's tech-spy vs. tech-spy world. Besides, why waste good hard drive space? But I don't want to just install them internally into today's computers because they're slower than current technology.

So what do you do with those used but still useable hard drives? Well, one thing you can do is get a drive dock.

Sittin' on the dock of the bay

Drive docks are like carports for a hard drive. They offer a no-fuss, no-muss, screwdriver-free solution to adding storage to your desktop or laptop PC.

When you want to install a drive in one, you just drop it in. That's it. And if you want to change drives, you just eject the current device (the way you would a flash drive) and pop in the new one. They give you the convenience of treating a hard drive like a rectangular DVD disc -- with immensely more storage capacity.

And no matter how slow these drives might be compared to new internal hard drives, they're still fast enough to be an external drive. Why? Because with USB 3.0 you get the fastest external interface for even the slowest hard disk you might own.

Using USB 3.0

While USB 2.0 gave rise to a plethora of toy missile launchers, tiny refrigerators and a horde of flash drives that vaguely resemble Star Wars characters, USB 3.0 re-envisions the technology of the external hard drive.

SuperSpeed USB (a.k.a. USB 3.0) is touted as having a 5Gbps signaling rate, making it 10 times as fast as USB 2.0. In the real world, that often dwindles down to an honest three to five times -- but who wouldn't prefer to use even a 3x-faster interface to transfer music, video or images?

What follows are my takes on 10 USB 3.0 drive docks for your consideration. While they vary in terms of cost, capacity (one of them will hold as many as four drives) and form factor, they do have a lot in common.

For example, they all handle either 2.5-in. or 3.5-in. drives. They all require AC power connections if you're going to use them with 3.5-in. drives (which have a higher power requirement than their smaller cousins). They all come with USB cables included, and they're all covered by one-year warranties.

Whether you purchase a unit that accommodates one, two or more drives depends on your needs. If you only want to be able to read a single drive at a time, or copy it to your computer's drive, a single-bay dock will be enough. However, a two-bay (or four-bay) dock gives you the ability to copy data from one drive to another, something that a single-bay dock (even if it will accommodate both 3.5- and 2.5-inch drives individually) does not.

Incidentally, Apple has begun shipping systems equipped with USB 3.0, usually in tandem with its own Thunderbolt external I/O port technology. If you have a Mac with a USB 3.0 port, any of these docks should work in plug-and-play fashion, just as they do in Windows. (Some vendors may offer installation software for their products, but in most cases it's unnecessary.)

Depending on your needs, at least one of these should enable you to lengthen the lifespan of that internal hard drive you've been saving.

Don't have USB 3.0?

If you want to jump on the USB 3.0 bus but your computer lacks a USB 3.0 port, you may not be out of luck -- if your desktop computer has an x1 PCIe slot or your laptop has an ExpressCard slot. Both of these interfaces provide sufficient bandwidth for USB 3.0.

For your desktop, companies such as StarTech, Buffalo, Rosewill and others can provide a reasonably priced x1 PCI card that will have you up and running in the time it takes to open the case, install the card, close the case and load the drivers. StarTech's two-port USB 3.0 card (model PEXUSB3S2) starts as low as $30. Others are priced up or down within that range.

If you have an ExpressCard slot in your laptop, four-port SuperSpeed USB 3.0 Front Panel Hub that fits into a 3.5-inch bay and can be found online for as low as $35. Other manufacturers have both internal and external hubs at similar prices.

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