How to take an internal hard drive and make it external
August 28, 2007 9:07 PM   Subscribe

What do I need to know about hard drive enclosures? My computer (PC) died this morning and I want to pull out the 2 hard drives and use them as external drives for my new Mac. I don't know if they're FAT32 or NTFS. I don't know if they're IDE or SATA. How do I find out? Do I need to? A little background on my old PC. It was one of the first P4 3.0 PCs with hyperthreading technology. I've had it for ~4 years
posted by smithmac_99 to Technology (13 answers total)
IDE connectors, SATA connectors. (the second sata image also has IDE connectors). IDE connectors are fat and wide, and have two rows of 20 pins each. SATA connectors are small, smaller then a regular hard drive power connector.

As far as fat32 or NTFS, it shouldn't matter too much since I think it doesn't matter as far as the enclosure is concerned. I could be wrong though.
posted by delmoi at 9:31 PM on August 28, 2007

If you don't know the filesystem, it's most probably NTFS.

It won't bother the enclosure at all, but if you want to get your data off, you'll have problems with NTFS and a mac. You may need to borrow someone's PC to transfer the data. Connect up your drives, plug them into the mac, and if it mounts them, you're on FAT32.
posted by pompomtom at 9:38 PM on August 28, 2007

Delmoi: They're IDE. Thanks for the info!

pompomtom: I think they're NTFS. A Mac won't read them if they are huh? Could I copy drive A to drive B, then format Drive A on the mac. Copy the data back to drive A and format drive B on the mac? Then have two drives that will work on the Mac? I have access to a PC laptop to do this with.
posted by smithmac_99 at 9:56 PM on August 28, 2007

The problem with that plan is that you'll then need to use the mac-formatted (HFS) drive on a PC, which also won't work, or use FAT32, which sort of sucks.

I'd copy everything from drive A to drive B with the PC, then partition and format drive A on the mac, network the two machines, copy everything from B to A over the network, and then partition and format B on the mac.
posted by pompomtom at 10:06 PM on August 28, 2007

Modern Macs will read NTFS disks just fine. I'm not sure if they'll write to it, but they'll read it since at least OS X 10.4.

If you want to use them for reading and writing on the Mac, then yes, you'll probably have to copy all the data off the external drive and onto a folder on your Mac, reformat the external drive, and then copy the data back onto it.
posted by CrayDrygu at 10:08 PM on August 28, 2007

If the drives are NTFS, you can indeed mount them in Mac OS X 10.4 or later, unfortunately you'll only be able to mount them read-only.

Could I copy drive A to drive B, then format Drive A on the mac. Copy the data back to drive A and format drive B on the mac? Then have two drives that will work on the Mac? I have access to a PC laptop to do this with.

Consider doing the following:
  1. On the PC laptop, copy the contents of drive A to drive B, resulting in the contents of both A and B residing on B, an NTFS drive.
  2. Connect both drives, A and B, to the Mac.
  3. Make sure you can read the contents of drive B, despite it being an NTFS drive.
  4. Reformat Drive A as a single "Mac OS Extended (Journaled)" volume using Apple's Disk Utility.
  5. Copy the contents of drive B to Drive A.
  6. Reformat Drive B as a single "Mac OS Extended (Journaled)" volume using Apple's Disk Utility.
That way you'll end up with your content in the file system that is most efficient on your Mac. If you format them on the PC, you'll have to use FAT32 (unless you have some 3rd party software).
posted by RichardP at 10:12 PM on August 28, 2007

Could I just network the two machines and copy the data from both drives to the Mac, then partition and format them on the Mac?
posted by smithmac_99 at 10:16 PM on August 28, 2007

"If you format them on the PC, you'll have to use FAT32..."

Likewise, if you think you might ever want to use those disks in Windows instead of OS X, you'll want to format them as FAT32, and not as "Mac OS Extended (Journaled)".
posted by CrayDrygu at 10:17 PM on August 28, 2007

Network copy is an option as well, but:

1) It's more complicated. Macs and PCs will talk to each other, but it's not always perfect, and good luck troubleshooting if it doesn't work right the first time.

2) It might be slower than just plugging the drives directly into the Mac. In fact, there's a good chance it will be, from the extra overhead introduced by the network sharing.

So yeah, you can do it, but it won't be better/easier, and might be worse. I say just plug the drives right into the Mac.
posted by CrayDrygu at 10:21 PM on August 28, 2007

I agree that if you ever want to use the drives on a PC, you should format as FAT32... Since there external and you can't predict the future, I'd say go for FAT32... It might be slightly slower on MacOS, but not really so much that you'd notice...

Also, if you format FAT32, it makes the tranfer process easier.. Just copy drive A to drive B, format drive A as FAT32, copy it all from B back to A and format A as FAT32 (all on the PC, no Mac needed)
posted by ranglin at 4:21 AM on August 29, 2007

Be aware that FAT32 has file size restrictions. FAT32 itself can't hold files bigger than 4GB, and some non-Microsoft FAT32 access software imposes a 2GB limit. If you have big backup files or videos on your drive, these limits may bite you.
posted by flabdablet at 4:38 AM on August 29, 2007

You can mount an NTFS drive read/write. It's just a pain in the ass, is all. MacFUSE + the open-source 3G NTFS drivers will do it for you if you don't mind screwing with the command line. There's a better package floating around but the author won't release it now due to issues with his employer. Links to mirrored copies are in the thread though.

If you're going to use the drives as backup for your Mac only, and you have the HDD space on the laptop to do so, well, copy everything from drive to Mac, reformat drive, copy data back to newly-formatted HFS drive.

If you have two drives, and want one for use with Mac + Windows, format one as FAT32 and the other as HFS.

Finally, hope that Leopard will get NTFS read/write built in, as it's a huge pain to deal with and probably one of the biggest problems with OSX cross-platform sharing.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:59 AM on August 29, 2007

I did this for my friend, copying to an external drive with fat32. With FAT32 you have to beware, in addition to the file size limitations mentioned above, the path length limitation. Was a problem for my friend, but he had some ridiculously long file names.

Big help for copying on the PC: Microsoft's SyncToy. It'll copy everything, then tell you which files were skipped or had errors, instead of canceling the entire operation.
posted by alexei at 10:37 PM on September 26, 2007

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