If for some reason your notebook fails to boot and you need to access data on the hard drive (I assume there is nothing wrong with the hard drive itself), you can use an external USB enclosure. This method is very simple and could be very useful when you need an emergency access to your data on the hard drive.
First of all you’ll have to buy an external USB enclosure for notebook hard drives. These enclosures are inexpensive and usually you can buy them in any local computer store. You also can find a wide variety of external enclosures on the Internet. Make sure to buy a correct one, enclosures for ATA and SATA hard drives are different (the connector inside the case will be different). Usually the enclosure includes the case and the USB cables.

External USB enclosure

Now remove the hard drive from the laptop. For this example I’m using an ATA hard drive.

Notebook hard drive

Open up the enclosure case and connect the hard drive to the connector inside. After that insert the hard drive into the case.

Assemble enclosure

After everything is assembled, you are ready to connect this device to any working computer (notebook or PC). The enclosure cable usually has two USB connectors on one end, make sure both of them are connected to the computer. You don’t need any external power supply for the enclosure because the hard drive gets power through USB ports. If the computer you are connecting the enclosure to runs Windows 2000 or higher, you will not need any device drivers. As soon as you connect the enclosure to the computer, the external hard drive should be detected and recognized automatically. After that the external hard drive will appear in My Computer and you can access it as any other hard drive in the computer.

Connect enclosure to computer

If you are getting “Access denied” message when you are trying to access your files on the hard drive, you’ll have to take ownership of a file or folder

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My previous post explains how to connect a notebook hard drive to a desktop PC via IDE hard drive adapter.

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148 Comments

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  1. 8
    ST Says:

    This guide was great. I followed all the steps, but here’s my problem:

    Now that I’ve got it connected, Windows (vista) insists that “the disk in drive H must be formatted before use”

    Formatting, obviously, would defeat the purpose here. Is there anything I can do? The notebook HD was from an XP computer, and I *think* I used NTFS formatting, though I don’t know if that makes a difference.

  2. 7
    Meg Says:

    I have the opposite issue — I want to take (recent) data from the hard drive I removed from the dead desktop and transfer the files to my working laptop. Is there a simple IDE to USB sort of contraption that would ease the pain of this? Or will I be able to use a Data Transfer Kit to recover the files when the new desktop arrives? What worries me about THAT is the new desktop is an all-in-one system with the screen and PC workings combined. Help. Please. Please. — Thank you!

  3. 6
    me Says:

    IDE=ATA=PATA=same format and connector

  4. 5
    Atreu Cell Says:

    Thanks for the article, very helpful!!! :) One tiny question though, my notebook HDD is a ATA drive (the drive from my now dead VAIO PCG F809K) and I’m finding it hard to locate a external enclosure for this format. Instead, all the enclosures available to buy (AKA in stock) seem to be SATA or IDE format. Would IDE format work with ATA as I think?

  5. 4
    Jacob Says:

    OK so i did this and im having a small problem.. when i go to access the different parts of the hard drive only the guest and defult profiles from the old OS will open. the place where all of my files were will not open.. i have a feeling it is because it had a password. is there some program i could download or buy to allow me to type in my password and access it? i know it is not corroupted because it works when the laptop has power.. please help!

  6. 3
    MJ Says:

    I’m so glad you posted pics with this post! :D I was having trouble extracting data from a (cannot boot into Windows) notebook and was suggested to attach hdd to USB casing.

  7. 2
    Koen Says:

    I was wondering if I will still be able to put the harddrive back into my laptop after I have transferred all my files to another PC using an USB enclosure, because I’m having trouble booting and I have no clue how to access my files otherwise. My laptop is a Acer Aspire 5002WLMi.

  8. 1
    Gary Says:

    To take that concept one step further, you might consider a Data Transfer kit that is capable of doing a full identical copy. CMS offers a kit that can mirror from an existing drive to a new larger drive. This saves a lot of time re-loading the operating system and apps and gets you onto a larger hard drive in less time. You can use the transfer encloser to access files from the old drive if need be.

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