What to do with old hard drives?

I go through hard drives the way most people go through bags of potato chips. Currently, the smallest hard drive installed in any desktop computer in my lab here is 160GB, and now that 500GB drives are down below $120 in price that’s my default size for any future upgrades.

Meanwhile, that means I have a box of old drives here that have no home. The seven orphaned drives that I just finished securely wiping this morning range in size from 40 to 80GB (all IDE/ATA models).

I don’t want to trash them, but I also know they’re essentially worthless on Ebay (or more accurately the time it would take to sell each one wouldn’t even begin to cover the return).

So what would you do with a box full of old, small, but still usable hard drives?

21 thoughts on “What to do with old hard drives?

  1. I give them away. Usually I have friends who are running 4-5 year old PCs for whom any 2nd hard drive is worth it.

  2. Save them and then add them to a Windows Home Server once you have one!

  3. Freecycle and Craigslist both sound like good ideas.

    The trouble with using in external cases with WHS is that those external cases cost money, in some cases as much as the drive is worth. For the cost of five cases I could get a single 500GB drive and just install it in an internal drive bay.

    Also, these drives make noise, use power, and generate heat. If someone can use it in a low-resource system, great, but it just seems wrong to power up five drives to get 200-300GB of storage.

  4. I’ve got boxes and boxes of stuff I’d like to get rid of too. Since the drives are relatively small and cheap to ship, why not put them in a box and send them to Free Geek in Portland?

  5. I use hard drives until they make funny noises and stop saving data reliably, so I don’t have this problem.

    (I think we are seeing why you think Vista isn’t slower than XP – if you are upgrading your hardware more often than I am, of course it seems like it is faster… — I just upgraded my company’s current device to Vista – it takes forever to load, or right-click, etc. We will be forced to upgrade to Vista shortly, but we will have to greatly increase the processor/RAM/graphics card in order to support it — Hopefully, Microsoft will postpone its decision to force OEMs to upgrade. We have no reason to do so other than MS is forcing us to.

    Our customers will have less battery life, due to the increased processor power, graphics and RAM required. Our devices will run hotter, and some people already think they are too hot.

    On the up-side, our device and drivers almost entirely worked under Vista, without any changes! woohoo.

  6. Take out the magnets from them and throw the rest away. with a box fool of hdd drives that could be enough magnets to make say a hand crank generator so that you can make some of your own electricity.

  7. Jon, if Vista “takes forever to load, or right-click, etc” you have a performance problem, caused by a driver or device or something. I’ve run Vista on hardware from 2002, including the 40GB devices I;’m getting rid of here, and it performs these activities just fine. A contact at Microsoft says what you’re experiencing sounds like an “interrupt storm” from a device driver. Hard to debug, I know, and no consolation if you’re experiencing it.

  8. Give them to a charitable organization – you might even get a tax receipt for a few dollars. I’m just about to do that with my wifes 4 yr old pc.

  9. Ed, about the “interrupt storm” thing — I’ll probably have a separate post of my own on this subject, but it seems to mesh with some things I have observed on my own. Curiously, NICs seem to be among the worst offenders in this regard.

  10. I find they make useful storage drives. You can get portable power and data cables for loose hard drives and make them into hot swappable USB drives. Then you can store the stuff you rarely access or back up stuff to them.

    Another good use for the totally useless drives is to open them up and use the discs as drink coasters.

    Their mirror finish makes them handy mirrors too.

    And extremely strong magnets found inside are useful.

    Cheers Ed,


  11. It sounds good to give them to a charitable organization BUT… they would have the same problems and less money to solve them with. A very good, not too old computer or hard drive, or whatever is a great gift to some ngo’s but as one who has had to deal with really outdated, just get it out of our way hardware, I can tell you there is no charity involved, just makes the giver feel good and some volunteer is going to have to use days of work to get them usable for the group who may or may not be able to use them. In the early days of PC’s and MACs it might have been a good thing, but old stuff can be very frustrating and not helpful at all!

  12. I use them to store music ‘groups’. Some music just isn’t usually on my mind but occasionally, like ice cream, I get a ‘craving’ for the stuff I liked in high school, or college, or etc., and I drop the proper one in the external HD adapter.

  13. I was always taught to, after my harvest, “leave some in the field for the poor to glean” so I donate things like this to: Thrift Centers for: Humane Treatment for Animals, Council on Ageing, Habitat for Humanity, etc.; or directly to non-profit agencies that need them: ASPCA, local animal shelters, (city) Missions, etc.

    You can also take tax deductions when you do this.

  14. Many people and charitable orgs have very old computers and would welcome a 40GB harddrive.

  15. I have the same problem! But I have a ton of smaller drives like 500mb-10GB drives.

    I was thinking of stiping all of them down to the aluminum blocks and recycle them. But its a big hassle.

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