5 innovative ways to use old hard drives - Network attached storage

5 innovative ways to use old hard drives

5 innovative ways to use old hard drives

In the digital age, old hard drives, once central to data storage with their spinning platters and moving parts, often find themselves redundant, replaced by solid-state drives boasting faster flash memory and no mechanical components. Yet, these old storage devices, with their substantial storage capacity and intricate components like the motor, head, and printed circuit board, hold potential for innovative reuse, mitigating electronic waste and tapping into the circular economy.

This article explores five creative ways to repurpose old hard drives, transforming them into useful gadgets ranging from external storage devices, home Network Attached Storage (NAS), to digital photo frames or personal cloud storages, thereby extending their lifecycle, ensuring data recovery, and contributing to a sustainable approach towards IT asset disposition. Through these methods, not only can one optimize supply and demand but also navigate the challenges of data security and compatibility issues inherent in repurposing older technology.

Transforming into an External Storage Device

Transforming an old internal hard drive into an external storage device is a straightforward process that breathes new life into outdated technology. Here's how to do it:

1- Selecting the Right Enclosure:

  • Determine the size (2.5-inch for laptops or 3.5-inch for desktops) and type (HDD or SSD) of your old hard drive.
  • Choose an enclosure with a USB 3.0 interface for faster data transfer. Enclosures are available in tool-less designs for easy installation, such as the UGREEN USB 3.0 3.5 inch SATA external hard drive enclosure.

2- Installation Process:

  • For a tool-less enclosure: Slide the hard drive into the SATA and power connectors, and secure it with clips.
  • For enclosures requiring assembly: Mount the drive using screws or fasteners, connect any necessary wires, and seal the enclosure.
  • The enclosure should come with a USB cable and possibly a power adapter, depending on the model.

3- Setup and Usage:

  • Connect the newly assembled external drive to your computer using the USB connection. The computer should recognize it as new hardware, allowing a plug-and-play setup.
  • Format the drive if necessary, to ensure it's ready for use.
  • Enjoy increased storage capacity for backups, archives, or everyday data, making it an ideal solution for extending the utility of old hard drives at a lower cost compared to purchasing new external storage devices.

Setting Up a Home Network Attached Storage (NAS)

Repurposing old hard drives into a Home Network Attached Storage (NAS) system offers a versatile and cost-effective solution for home data storage and management. Here’s a straightforward guide to setting up your own NAS:

Steps to Create a Network Attached Storage (NAS):


1- NAS Adapter Connection:

  • Connect the NAS adapter to your old hard drive's USB port.
  • Use an ethernet cable to link the adapter to your router.

2- Configuration:

  • Set up login credentials and user profiles for secure access.
  • Create a shared network drive accessible by all devices on your Wi-Fi network.

Using an Old Computer for NAS:


  • Choose an old computer with multiple internal hard drives and USB ports. Ensure it has a Linux-based NAS server solution or Windows installed, with Windows Professional recommended for remote administration.

Installation Enhancements:

  • Install a PCIe SATA interface to add more internal hard drives, enhancing reliability over USB connections.
  • Adjust the BIOS settings to "always on" ensuring the system remains operational even after a power outage.

Optimizing Your Home NAS:

  • Storage Expansion: Utilize a NAS enclosure like the QNAP TVS-h1288X, which supports up to 12 hard drives, for extensive storage capacity.
  • Performance Upgrade: Install Western Digital Red Plus drives for efficient caching and reliable performance, ideal for NAS systems.
  • Network Speed: Consider adding a QNAP QXG 10G2T 10GbE dual-port network card and a QSW-M2108-2C switch for faster data transfers and efficient management of large files.

By following these steps, you can transform old hard drives into a powerful home NAS system, offering a sustainable solution for data storage and access while leveraging existing resources.

Creating a DIY Personal Cloud Storage

Transforming an old hard drive into a portable external drive or a personal cloud storage solution is a rewarding project that not only extends the life of the hard drive but also provides additional storage space and a way to easily share data across devices. Here are the steps to repurpose an old hard drive:


1- Determine the Size of Your Hard Drive

  • Before starting, identify whether your hard drive is a 2.5-inch (common in laptops) or a 3.5-inch (desktop) model. This will dictate the type of enclosure you need.

2- Selecting the Right Enclosure:

  • Purchase a SATA HDD Hard Drive Enclosure suitable for the size of your hard drive. These enclosures are designed to convert internal hard drives into external drives, making them portable.
  • Look for enclosures with USB 3.0 or higher connectivity for faster data transfer speeds.

3- Installation Process:

  • Begin by removing all screws and brackets from the hard drive, preparing it for the enclosure.
  • Carefully place the hard drive inside the enclosure, ensuring it securely connects to the SATA interface.
  • Once the hard drive is properly seated, close the enclosure and secure it with the provided screws or clips.

By following these steps, anyone can convert an old hard drive into a valuable resource for storing archives or setting up a NAS device, as highlighted by Dr. Yu-Ju Lin, a professor of computer science. This process not only contributes to sustainable technology use but also enhances one's personal data management capabilities.

Converting into a Digital Photo Frame or Media Server

Transforming an old laptop into a digital photo frame or media server breathes new life into obsolete technology. Here’s how to embark on this creative venture:

Digital Photo Frame Conversion:

  • Prepare the Laptop: Remove unnecessary components and install a USB-powered fan for cooling. Mount the LCD on a custom frame for aesthetic appeal.
  • Software Installation: Install essential software like MythTV, music players (xmms2), and Open SSH Server. For automatic slideshows, use the 'feh' command to pull images from a designated folder.
  • Remote Control: Integrate a multimedia IR PC remote controller for easy navigation and control over the display settings.

Media Server Setup:

  • Choosing Software: Opt for Kodi or Plex to organize and stream content. Both are free, with Plex offering paid tiers for extra features. Kodi allows for extensive customization.
  • Configuration: Ensure the system starts automatically, playing songs or displaying art at set times. For a DIY project like the Dyna frame, connect a Raspberry Pi to a monitor, displaying digital artwork synced across multiple frames.
  • Network Integration: Set up the device to act as a wireless server, syncing files, downloading torrents, or serving e-books. With Wi-Fi capabilities, frames can display photos from social media or cloud services, enhancing the viewing experience.

By following these steps, you not only repurpose old hard drives but also create functional and interactive pieces of technology that add value and charm to any space.


Throughout this article, we've delved into the transformative potential of old hard drives, showcasing how they can be repurposed into valuable assets like external storage devices, home NAS systems, personal cloud storage, digital photo frames, and media servers. These innovative solutions not only extend the lifecycle of outdated technology but also contribute to a sustainable approach toward IT asset disposition, emphasizing the importance of looking beyond the traditional use of technology to find new purposes for old hardware.


The significance of repurposing old hard drives cannot be overstated. It demonstrates a creative and environmentally friendly way to mitigate electronic waste while enhancing our digital lives through improved data management and storage solutions. As we continue to navigate the challenges of technological advancements and their impacts, the explored methods serve as a testament to the potential lying in repurposing and recycling, encouraging further exploration and action in harnessing old technology for new uses.

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