If you've upgraded your PC or laptop its old hard drive will likely be going spare. Here's how to turn an old hard drive into a portable USB drive. Plus: how to use an old SSD as a portable USB-C drive.

Hard drive caddies - or enclosures - are inexpensive and let you repurpose an old hard drive instead of it sitting around doing nothing. You'll need to buy the appropriate caddy for your particular drive, but there are two main types: 3.5in and 2.5in. See also: How to upgrade your laptop hard drive to an SSD

3.5in hard drives are mainly used in desktop PCs, while 2.5in disks are used in laptops. Laptop hard drives vary in thickness, so make sure your chosen caddy has enough height inside to accommodate your disk.

We're using a 2.5in Western Digital Scorpio Black here, which has a standard height of 9.5mm, and an Inateck FE2005 caddy, which costs £16.99 from Amazon and will accept both 9.5mm and 7mm drives.

The FE2005 is a USB 3 enclosure, and it's well worth spending a few pounds more over a USB 2 version as they can be up to 10 times faster when connected to a USB 3 port.

Most hard drives use the modern SATA connector, but older hard drives have IDE connectors. Again, make sure you buy an enclosure which is compatible with your drive. (See also: Recover deleted files for free: recover lost data.)

How to use a spare internal hard drive as an external hard drive

Step 1: If you haven't already done so, remove any brackets and screws from the hard drive. It will need to be bare in order to fit in the enclosure.

How to use a spare internal hard drive as an external hard drive

Step 2: Open up the caddy: the Inateck FE2005 is a tool-less model, so it's a simple case of unlocking it with the switch, sliding open the end and inserting in the hard drive. Be careful to slide the hard disk in the right way up - look inside to see the orientation of the SATA port.

How to use a spare internal hard drive as an external hard drive

How to use a spare internal hard drive as an external hard drive

Step 3: Use the included USB cable to attach the enclosure to your PC or laptop.

Step 4: Depending on what's on the disk, it may show up in Windows File Explorer and be ready to use. Because our disk was from a Windows laptop, it was formatted as NTFS and was assigned a drive letter automatically. You can treat it like any hard drive, copying files to it, or formatting it. If you plan only to use it with Windows, you can leave it formatted as NTFS, but it's best to use exFAT if you want to connect it to other devices such as set-top boxes for video playback.

What you might not want is for the drive to show up as two disks, as ours did due to a 100MB system partition which was also on the disk. We'll deal with this in the next step, which also applies if your disk doesn't appear when you connect it.

How to use a spare internal hard drive as an external hard drive

Step 5: If it doesn't show up in Windows Explorer, search the Start menu for Disk Management and then look for a disk with unallocated space, or a disk without a drive letter assigned. You can then right-click on it and format it.

How to use a spare internal hard drive as an external hard drive

If, like us, you need to remove an unwanted 'System Reserved' partition, just right-click on it and choose Delete Volume. It will then be unallocated space, and since it's only 100MB, we will just leave it unused.

How to use a spare internal hard drive as an external hard drive

How to use a spare SSD as a USB-C portable hard drive

Above we showed you how to take an old internal hard drive and give it a new lease of life as a USB hard drive. But things have changed since we wrote this how to back in March 2015, and the faster USB-C protocol is now beginning to appear in more consumer devices, including the new MacBook and Chromebook Pixel.

Inateck also sells a drive caddy that can support a 2.5in HDD or SSD (up to 9.5mm in height), but connects to a PC or laptop over USB-C. It's called the Inateck FE2008C and costs £23.99 from Amazon UK (or $24.99 from Amazon US).

Inateck USB-C enclosure

The Inateck FE2008C is a lightweight (75g), tool-free drive enclosure that combines aluminium with ABS plastic. It looks stylish and should look great alongside your Apple laptop or Chromebook Pixel.

Theoretically the USB-C connection on this caddy can operate at up to 5Gbps or 625MBps, but it will be limited by the hardware with which you use it.

Setup is exactly the same as with the drive enclosure detailed above: you slide off one end of the Inateck and insert the bare hard drive or solid-state drive, then slide it closed. As before you should check that you are inserting it the correct way around - look inside to see the orientation of the SATA connection. You can then use the included USB-C to USB-C cable to attach the portable drive to the USB-C port on your PC. No drivers are needed, so it should be a simple case of plug and play.