How to Connect a Hard Drive to Laptop: A Comprehensive Guide

Jordan Noland Updated on March 30, 2020
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It is always a dark day when your desktop computer stops working and you find yourself cut off from all of your precious files and data. 

However, with the help of a cable and a laptop, you can access those files via your desktop’s hard drive. You can connect your internal hard drive to a laptop via a USB connection in order to do this.

There are a couple ways to transfer files from your internal hard drive to your laptop. You can either use a USB to SATA/IDE cable or a USB case to connect to your laptop. Which method you use depends on how often you plan on connecting to your desktop’s hard drive. Do you want to use it as another hard drive for your laptop or do you just want to use it to get your files back and be done with it?

If you’re planning on using that hard drive for the long term, you’ll want to purchase a USB case for your hard drive that has a USB to SATA/IDE cable. If you just want to use the hard drive once to get your files, you can purchase just the SATA/IDE cable

Depending on your needs, there are variations of this product that can help turn your hard drive into a functioning external hard drive with a power brick and extra cables but for this guide you don’t have to have those.

However, before we get to all that, you’ll likely need to disconnect your hard drive from your desktop. If you have already done this, you can skip to Method 1 and begin transferring your data from your hard drive to your laptop.

Remove Hard Drive from Desktop

If you can, it is always advisable to backup your data to an external hard drive. If you can’t, know that you are taking a risk of losing your data if you make a mistake. We’ll give detailed instructions in the hope that that does not happen. 

What you will need

  • Screwdriver
  • An Anti-Static bag
  • (Optional) Your computers’ user manual
  • (Optional) An external hard drive (to backup your data)

Step 1: Backup your data if you can, using an external hard drive or flash drive

Step 2: Turn off the desktop and unplug everything; this means unplugging the monitor and any peripheral devices as well as unplugging it from the wall (you don’t want the computer to electrocute you)

Step 3: Remove the side panel of the tower to open the computer case

  1. If you have the user’s manual for your desktop, it will mention where this panel is and the proper way to remove it

Step 4: Locate the hard drive inside the computer case

  1. The hard drive looks about the size of a small book or passport and is normally located towards the front of the case near the optical drive

Step 5: Remove the hard drive

  1. Note that your hard drive may be located inside a fixed cage and you may need a screwdriver to remove it
  2. Newer models often have levers or buttons that you can push to remove the hard drive
  3. Most hard drives are located on a set of rails so you will need to carefully slide it off of these rails to remove it

Step 6: Remove the cables attached to the hard drive

  1. The broad, ribbon like cable is the IDE cable; you can remove it
  2. The smaller, rectangular, plastic connector is the power cable; you can gently remove it by pinching down the levers on either side of the connector

Step 7: Place the hard drive in an anti-static bag

  1. An anti static bag protects the hard drive from static, dust, and moisture that it is now exposed to after it has been removed

WikiHow has a great tutorial on this, should you need photos to guide you.

Now that your hard drive has been removed from your desktop, you can use the methods below to connect it to your laptop.

Method 1 (Using SATA/IDE Cable Only)

If you are just going to use the hard drive once to get your files, use this method. 

You will need a special USB to SATA/IDE cable to do this. These cables are relatively cheap and it is advisable to have one laying around in case of these devastating emergencies.

Step 1: Plug the SATA/IDE adapter into the appropriate slot on the hard drive

Step 2: Plug the USB adapter into your laptop

Step 3: On your laptop, select the hard drive via File Explorer (it may show up as Local Disk (M*:)) and/or ‘Open folder to view files’ if prompted

Step 4: If prompted with a window stating, ‘You do not have permission to access this folder’ select ‘Continue’

Step 5: Transfer files

*The disc name varies with the hard drive

Method 2 (Using USB Case)

If you plan on connecting your hard drive to your laptop more often, it’s advisable to purchase a USB case for your hard drive. These are also rather inexpensive and the advantage they give you over just the cable is higher connection speeds and protection of your hard drive from dust and static. 

These cases often come with a SATA/IDE to USB cable so you don’t have to worry about purchasing both. Just make sure whatever case you purchase does have the proper cable.

Step 1: Insert your hard drive into the case

Step 2: Connect the SATA/IDE adapter into the proper port

Step 3: Connect the USB adapter to your laptop (when it is properly connected a light will come on on the case)

Step 4: Step 3: On your laptop, select the hard drive via File Explorer (it may show up as Local Disk (M*:)) and/or ‘Open folder to view files’ if prompted

Step 5: If prompted with a window stating, ‘You do not have permission to access this folder’ select ‘Continue’

Step 6: Transfer files

*The disc name varies with the hard drive

Both of these methods work rather seamlessly. As mentioned above, the only difference between them is how quickly you want to access the hard drive.

Potential Problems

Hard Drive Not Recognized

If you find that the disc isn’t spinning once you plug it into your laptop and your laptop is not recognizing the disc, first check to make sure you have it properly plugged in and that the cables are not loose or damaged. If you’re using a USB case, make sure the light has turned on to indicate a connection has been made. 

If the problem continues, it may be that your BIOS has the disc turned off. To fix this:

Step 1: Press the F2 key to bring up system setup

Step 2: Turn on the hard disc

Computer Cannot Access Files

If your computer cannot access the files from the hard drive, it may be because the drive has been corrupted somehow; either by a virus or overwritten data.

To fix this, you will need to access a previous backup point on your hard drive to access the files.

Hopefully, this guide has you connected once again with your precious files. Let us know in the comments if this helped you.

Jordan Noland
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Jordan is a tech wiz with several years of hands on experience researching and testing new products. Whether it’s a killer new gaming rig, a college laptop sure to last you your whole degree, or a sleek new tablet, Jordan has the know-how to get you started on your way to new and exciting tech adventures.

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