Super UserWhat to do with old hard drives?
[+58] [41] caliban
[2009-09-05 18:31:26]
[ hard-drive ]

I have over 100+ old hard drives, ranging from 100MB Quantums to 200GB WDs, most of them PATA, some SATA. Most still working.

The squirrel mentality runs in my family - hoard everything, discard nothing. Thus, and this is a relevant question - any suggestions on how to put these drives to use (anything) instead of them just being deadweights and space takers around the office?

Hopeful objectives and suggestions to keep in mind when you post an answer :

  1. Should showcase your geekiness, or plain fun, or serve a social purpose, or benefit the community.
  2. You do not need to limit your answer to only one hard drive - if your project needs all 100++, bring it on!
  3. Your answer need not be limited to one project per hard drive - if one hard drive can be used for multiple projects, bring it on!
  4. If additional accessories need be purchased, make sure they are common. Don't tell me to get a moon rock or something.
  5. The projects you suggested should serve a utility, and not just for decoration purposes.
Kudos for offering such a big bounty. I too was more interested in the kind of useful application for all that old storage that must be cluttering up desk drawers and cupboards all over the developed world. - Lunatik
@Lunatik - well it looks like there not so much "useful application" as there are "wanton destruction". ;P Humans only get truly creative when it comes to destroying stuff. - caliban
It is a funny thing with The answers I'm most proud of and think are good get very few votes, but the simple ones like this go nuts. - hanleyp
[+66] [2009-09-08 00:18:25] AnonJr

There's always making a clock [1].

Hard drive clock


Added the image for you - Jared Harley
(3) You could make a slew of these and sell them on ebay or give them as gifts :) - warren
Make a clock was also listed on my one below :( - William Hilsum
Sorry, all I saw was the rather cool Christmas tree - AnonJr
No problem, just annoying that this one is rated much higher than mine!! - William Hilsum
+1 i'll have to try that, it's nearly as shiny as the christmas tree - kez
[+59] [2009-09-05 18:34:32] hanleyp [ACCEPTED]

Hard drives have absolutely great magnets inside. Anything a regular refrigerator magnet can do, a hard drive magnet can do better.

Picture of two hard drive magnets stuck together with two hands in between

(1) Which parts are the magnets? For sure it's not the platters... - caliban
(3) The part that looks like a metal boomerang. - hanleyp
(4) My IT guy sticks these to his clipboard, then keeps his screwdriver stuck to it. It keeps his tools with him, and it magnetizes it so it can pick up dropped screws. - Stephen Jennings
(14) You should be very careful with them though. They can crush your fingers (depending on what your body is like) and scrape paint of surfaces (because they often have to be slid off, not pulled off) - joshhunt
(15) Regarding joshhunt's comment: Wrap the magnets in a layer or two of duct tape before sticking them on any kind of painted metal (especially the fridge). Works like a charm. - Kevin L.
The magnets inside hard drives, although powerful, aren't big enough to cause bodily harm. It's those giant ones from certain mail order outfits that you have to be careful of. - Barry Brown
(19) I really don't get why this idea is so popular. I mean, magnets, yeah, but besides being fridge magnets there's nothing else this answer really suggests... 550 rep pts for suggesting FRIDGE MAGNETS??? - caliban
You get to decide the answer, it's not decided by community vote until the bounty is up :) - Phoshi
@joshhunt - they can't really crush your fingers, unless you have very, and I do mean very, delicate fingers. - ldigas
@scoopdreams - I still think it's better then the next one - shooting them (?!?). - ldigas
always wanted to try this, but have never managed to actually get the harddrive disassembled. They all have incredibly tiny screws, and even when I do find a philips head that about the right size all I end up doing is stripping the screw cause its in so tight. - Matt
@matt you can get a special screw driver for this task - take a look a couple of answers down to mine and it will explain! - William Hilsum
Maybe not crush your fingers, but if they get close to each other, you can get seriously pinched. - gbarry
(2) @Stephen Jennings, does it concern you that your IT guy is poking around in your computer with a magnetized screwdriver? - Kevin
(3) I heard the following from a nurse: if you swallow two magnetic pieces, they can attract each other when they're in different parts of your small intestine. Which is bad. - Andrew Grimm
(1) @Matt if you're not concerned about reassembling the harddrive (which I assume you're not), you can defeat the screws by drilling away the screw heads - dbr
[+40] [2009-09-08 05:46:59] nevster

Go and help out the people with dead hard drives here :

They're generally looking for a specific model to try and do a logic board swap. And they're mighty grateful when they can get back the wedding photos they never backed up!

Bask in the glow of having helped out your fellow man!

Cool - which means I got to store those frakkin' Quantums until someone with 100MB worth of wedding photos show up. - caliban
+1 for constructive use, especially since professional data recovery can cost $2000+. - hyperslug
And there are people with years worth of their kid's photos potentially lost. A bad bad place to be in. And boy are they grateful when they get them back. - nevster
[+32] [2009-09-05 23:49:12] Tom

In my area, we have a computer recycling place called Free Geek [1] that does a lot of good for the community in terms of making hardware and computers available cheap to people who need them but can't afford new stuff. For the good drives, I'd suggest donating to something like this. Save the dead drives for yourself though. Taking a hammer to them is a great way to let off some steam after a bad day at work, and you don't have to worry about people reading them when you throw them away.


(4) I have reservations about donating hard drives for charity re-use - because as techs we know how easily they fail. What if one of the receivers of my hard drives loses precious memories because my old hard drive failed?? - caliban
Always a risk, true. - Tom
(1) @scoopdreams - that's the risk one has to be aware of. It's the same as with buying a used car. One pays some risk for the "price discount", so I don't see why it should worry you. - ldigas
(1) @scoopdreams - if you don't want the hard drives to be used.. well, as hard drives, then you are going to have to use them as magnets or metal for some project.. usually it will involve destruction in some way. - jamuraa
There's also the risk of people recovering data from your drives. When I heard how amazing some of the recovery technology out there is, I stopped passing my drives on. - salmonmoose
There's also utilities that minimize what can be recovered. I don't have any information with me on what they are (since my bookmarks are at home and I'm at work), but there's stuff that can even give the government headaches. - Tom
[+28] [2009-09-05 18:33:56] William Hilsum

To do anything (cool), the first thing you need is a torx screwdriver.

enter image description here

I remember seeing on the Internet that someone made a Christmas tree [1]... You could always try that (I don't have the patience!). This was done from 70 drives, so you could do it and have some left over!

enter image description here

One thing I have done in the past is open it up and basically just hang them on the wall, with the top cover off, hard drives look nice!

The other thing is to remove the motor in the middle and make a clock out of the middle, it looks like a very nice, thick and heavy cd rom!


How do you make a clock out of it??? I think I saw it on Lifehacker once, you got the link? - caliban
(2) You just get a clock mechanism (small black box) from an electronics shop, or another cheaper clock, and glue / mount it to the behind - this is one I used - Just Googled, and many people have done the same! -… - William Hilsum
Great! X'Mas is just round the corner... - caliban
+1 for the photo, it's soooo shiny! - kez
(1) He already has plenty of Torx screws. He needs a Torx screw*driver*. - tsilb
[+21] [2009-09-08 06:32:24] gbarry

If you are a hardware hacker, you can cut a slot in the disc, put a light behind it, and make an electronic clock:

enter image description here enter image description here

One example on YouTube [1] -- there are others.


+1 Now... that's a clock! I could probably give it to clients and department heads as a gift. - caliban
That's one of the coolest clocks I've ever seen! - alex
[+15] [2009-09-05 18:36:25] nik

I recently landed up at a blog post of someone who is interested in guns, flying and computers. He has a collection of blog posts showing hard-disks shot with different caliber guns.

The idea [1] (while this is not from the same place).

enter image description here

I found the post -- Neural Misfires Data Integrity [2]. Have fun.

From the post,

  1. Shooting is fun.
  2. Hard drives die.
  3. Shooting dead hard drives is fun.
  4. Dead hard drives with bullet holes tell no tales.

enter image description here

Label intact, but I'd say that the warranty is probably voided anyway.


Guns are not allowed where I stay in... hmm maybe a hammer and some wild time at a beach. Hee I like your idea!! - caliban
(2) I saw in the comments, something about "... a lot of good plans for wind turbines that use the head positioning magnets from dead HDDs." Any idea? Wind turbines sounds great - i could probably rig it to a usb hub for a charging station (my area's pretty windy). - caliban
(3) This is great! I love it. Just borrow a gun from someone (learn how to use it if you don't know already) and go out somewhere and have fun shooting holes in hard drives! - ephilip
(1) +1 for "Label intact, but I'd say that the warranty is probably voided anyway." - Hello71
[+14] [2009-09-05 19:08:39] Josh

Here's a project to remove iron from iron fortified breakfast cereal using hard drive magnets: How to Extract Iron From Your Breakfast Cereal [1]


I don't feel like eating cereal anymore after watching that video... - caliban
(2) why not? You need iron in your diet, and you need it to be both biologically available and stable. - Stefano Borini
[+14] [2009-09-07 20:57:43] Ciaran

Start out with hard drive dominos [1] - then, and only then, do something else :)


Woaaah... that's some serious toppling action! And it was loud enough to probably get him assaulted later by zombies from the nearby cemetery. - caliban
+1 That's not a bad idea :) - alex
[+13] [2009-09-08 15:48:47] seneyr

Personally I would scrub them with DBAN and hand them off to the local Goodwill or public school system. That many drives seems impractical for a sufficient RAID array due to power consumption, plus there's the problem of reliability due to their ages.

(2) +1 for understanding why suggestions asking me to re-use them as storage is entirely non-feasible. - caliban
[+11] [2009-09-07 22:04:09] Synetech

Put an ad in Kijiji [1]. I’m sure that there are poor people in your city who would be happy to get some of the ones that work so that they can upgrade their 50MB drives. I’m sure that you will even find people (eg amateur electrical engineers, computer scientists, etc.) who would like to get a broken one or two to experiment and learn with.

You may even be able to make some money (you’ll get a lot of response if you offer them for cheap or free). Although anyone who has >100 unneeded drives probably doesn’t need a few bucks here and there.

Whatever you have left, you can just bring the working ones to the local good-will store (ie Amway, Salvation Army, Goodwill, United Way, etc.)

Whatever you have left at this point could be used for some of the experiments others have listed here.

I just noticed your addendum. I too dislike the destructive nature of people. I used to like MythBusters, but the show has devolved into nothing more than finding ways to blow crap up. Woo, hoo amusing… :roll: It really pisses me off when people smash up stuff that they don’t have a use for, especially if it still works. I once saw a video on YouTube of some pricks smashing a working GameCube simply because they had just bought a Wii. I wonder if they even considered giving it to some poor kid who has never even had a video game.


[+8] [2009-09-08 16:01:21] The Green Frog

Go ultra geek. With this and your WiFi detecting shirt, you should be ready to go. Get the WiFi detecting shirt at:

Ultra geek belt

Wifi T-shirt

Make a PC case out of the hard drives:

PC case

Smash it to smithereens with a hammer. Take out your violence on the hard drives. This is really fun. I know this from personal experience.

Here is a list from

1) Maglev (take off heads, use one of the actuator magnets)

2) Hard drive speakers (see Afrotech's site for this one)

3) Novelty paperweight (take off lid, fill with casting resin)

4) Novelty keyring (old Microdrives work well for this)

5) Exhibit in computer museum

6) Drive failure mode analysis

7) Send back to manufacturer and get new drive under warranty

8) Strip down for useful connectors and SMD tantalums

9) Bulk sell the PCB's on Ebay for data recovery purposes

10) Sell them on Ebay for £0.99 each as "Faulty" :)

11) Fix them with Spinrite 6.0 and sell as refurbished drives

12) Stress relief (spin up to insane RPM and hit with hammer)

13) Novelty doorbell (put button in centre of platter)

14) Doorstop

15) Pack with Thermite and light it to see how much is left of drive

16) Maglev train (same principle as *1 but a row of them)

17) Miniature centrifuge (take off platters, add tube carrier unit)

18) Time capsule (write data, seal in durable case then bury in concrete)

19) Laser scanner (glue mirrors to the spindle motor/actuator arm)

20) Tesla Turbine (nice flat platters- might work!)

21) Spin-coating machines

22) Gyroscopes for small satellites

23) Ultra-high RPM sanding machines

24) CD Destroyer (fix CD clamp to spindle motor and pin to head arm)

25) Strip spindle motors out, and use for small R/C helicopters

26) High efficiency motors for solar water pumps

27) Attach propellors and use as wind turbines

Now... this is more like it. Can elaborate on point 27 (wind turbines + propellors)? Very interested in that. - caliban
P.S Awesome belt by the way. ;) - caliban
Noticed your profile said you are 12 years of age. if that is really true I would like to upvote you x100 more times for giving a better answer than most adults here. - caliban
+1 for the time capsule...awesome!!! - clabacchio
[+6] [2009-09-05 20:05:55] pelms

This [1] looks like fun.

The video shows a large industrial shredder consuming various office objects.


Cute, I almost thought that last box was gonna make it ;-) - ldigas
(5) Please put some sort of description in your answer. - Dennis Williamson
@Dennis ...and spoil the surprise? - pelms
For those with Youtube blocked at work, it's a large industrial shredder consuming various office objects: hard drive?, phone, entire computer case. - hyperslug
That's just plain awesome. - gbarry
I want one for my office. :-) - hanleyp
[+6] [2009-09-07 19:57:03] alex

Why not make a JBOD [1]? Here's what it says on Wikipedia:

Concatenation is sometimes used to turn several odd-sized drives into one larger useful drive, which cannot be done with RAID 0. For example, JBOD ("just a bunch of disks") could combine 3 GB, 15 GB, 5.5 GB, and 12 GB drives into a logical drive at 35.5 GB, which is often more useful than the individual drives separately.

I'm not sure how easy it is to do, but you might end up with a huge mega-hard drive.


(2) Okay, maybe if I add all 100+ drives up, I might get... frowns and do some mental estimation ... 6 or 7 TB? I'd have to rig up ALOT of PSUs for this project if I ever want to do it... - caliban
(2) Yeah, but then you could yell at the hard drives and see their latency increase. Check out this link: - alex
(15) running a 100 MB disk for a prolonged time nowadays constitutes an environmental crime. - Henk
(1) opensolaris and zfs, or, for bleeding edge fun, linux at btrfs. - Ronald Pottol
[+6] [2009-09-07 20:48:14] Joshua Nurczyk

For any that are larger than 100 GB, I can take them off your hands and make use of them. The others I would personally donate. If any have had massive wear and tear where you really don't want to let someone else use them, even temporarily, then, I would use one of the amusing destruction methods above. Or you could disassemble them one-by-one and set them aside to recycle.

[+6] [2009-09-11 17:06:35] rob

Donate them to the Cristina Foundation [1]. They'll help you find a charity that would very much appreciate your old hardware.


[+5] [2009-09-07 00:24:11] humble coffee

The platters inside hard drives make great coasters. Plenty of geek cred too :)

Muy big for coasters isn't it? - caliban
That's a lot of coasters you'd have, my friend :)) - alex
@alex : Your house in need of coasters, mate? Assuming 3 platters for each drive, I'll only have about 300+... I could spare a couple for ya. ;P - caliban
If you can spare one, I wouldn't mind ;) - alex
[+5] [2009-09-07 21:00:07] 0x89

You could always turn them into some crappy, but incredibly nerdish speakers [1].


+1 just because I'd love to see an orchestra of 100 hard-drives doing that! - Vdex
[+5] [2009-09-07 22:15:20] Peltier

The metal disks make great pocket mirrors, my gf loves them!

:P That statement seems to contradict itself somehow... - Jeremy Powell
[+4] [2009-09-08 00:36:38] Journeyman Geek

Aside from taking them apart, blowing them up, selling them or such, what i tended to do with my old/good hard drives (for some reason they outlast the computers they are in) is to use them to build a fileserver or backup. Get an old box, toss on a suitable distro, load up every port you can with drives, and shove it in a closet. I wouldn't put anything critical in them, obviously - i run a fully backed up web/irc server on mine, and use it as a halfway house for files i download since unlike my desktop, the little fileserver no one notices always runs.

Its also good for when you have a test system- you can load up an OS per drive and switch as needed between OSes

[+4] [2009-09-09 18:26:11] user10547

Donate them or sell them on ebay and do something constructive with the cash you get. Like spending all the money you buy on new 1TB Green drives and set up a new storage array. I would be curious how many drives you could buy with your ebay loot.

Destroying working hardware is stupid especially with all the waste we produce already.

It's soo much work putting 100++ drives on eBay (Individual listings for maximum profit, heheh). - caliban
True but destroying them either by force or taking them apart is also a lot of work. Did any mention those hard drive roses people make out of the platters? They come out neat as long as you have metal platters. ;) - user10547
[+4] [2009-09-10 10:27:57] salmonmoose

I like to use the platters as coasters, they're elegant, a little geeky, and the metal disperses the heat :)

(1) +1 for giving a good reason why they make good coasters - it's a good way to cool down a hot drink fast. - caliban
[+3] [2009-09-06 01:25:52] Duey

I love rippin into old Hard Drives!!!

I like what gmgfarrand did over on Instructables [1]. He put a USB Hub and some Flash drives inside a HD Shell. Geekishly decorative yet still practical.

P.S. Don't forget to Boot And Nuke [2] any drives before recycling them for what ever you might deside.


[+2] [2009-09-07 00:41:22] Barry Brown

One word: Thermite [1].


(1) I'd rather take a hammer and whack them - in Singapore we have conscription, and I've seen too many an explosions when I was serving army to be really fascinated by them now. - caliban
People seem to enjoy blowing things up and shooting them... Strange fascination! - alex
Explosions are pretty, geeky explosions are awesome. Not worth wasting 100 still-useful drives over, alas. - Phoshi
[+2] [2009-09-07 20:03:35] mouviciel

Just in case you want to still use them as hard drives, you can take a look at a BackBlaze blog entry [1] about how they build a cheap Linux storage box.


[+2] [2009-09-07 20:54:55] Phoshi

Rig one up in your car and replace your CDs. Most recent car radios have audio input jacks, but you might have to get creative if yours doesn't (Those radio-transmitter dohickeys are legal over here, are they where you live?)

Of course, them being knocked about would be a worry, so you'd have to secure them properly, for example I've seen HDDs suspended on elastic inside a case before - perhaps a similar method could be used?

(1) - Kevin Panko
Yeah, just like that! :D - Phoshi
[+1] [2009-09-08 06:35:28] Dave Rickman
[+1] [2009-09-08 14:24:39] Snark

Get a DroboPro [1], put the 8 biggest harddisks in it and use this as an external storage device.


[+1] [2009-09-09 15:33:47] alexus

keep them and later on you'd be able to donate them to museum or something

[+1] [2009-09-09 18:31:37] Will Eddins

Build a ramp and send the platters flying. [1]


O... M... G... I definitely want to try that! +1 - caliban
[+1] [2009-09-11 06:04:24] griegs

Whilst destructing them might be fun, and simply tossing them into the trash is easy, I believe the most conciencious thing to do is to send it to a place that can recycle the silly things.

A lot of the bits can be broken down and reused like the metal casing etc. There are places, in Australia at any rate, that will take your old hardware and recycle the bits out of it.

I don't think adding them to the landfill problem is the right thing to do.

[+1] [2009-11-26 09:23:46] spooky

Maybe I'm not geeky enough for this question, but if they don't work I destroy and discard them. If they work, they have data on them I want so I carefully store them. If you gave me the entire production of a large HDD factory in China, I would not feel like I had enough storage. Ever. My mom never felt she had enough kitchen cupboard space, no matter how many more cabinets my dad put in, and I inherited it, except in data storage. If I had 1,000,000 TB of storage, I'd still worry I wouldn't have room for some stupid thing I want to save, but can't because my 1,000,000 TB's are full.

[+1] [2010-07-01 15:06:18] JohnB

Build your own homemade magnetic stir plate [1]. Great for making homebrew beer!


[+1] [2011-01-17 22:13:07] goblinbox

Install an operating system on some of them and donate to your local shelters:

The homeless often don't want to stay that way, and get very little Internet access. This means that when they're inside for the night, they're online, job hunting. A lot of shelters don't have resident geeks, so when the one or two old machines they do have get messed up with viruses or whatever, there's zero computer access until they can find someone with the appropriate knowledge to come fix the problem.

If you donated, say, five hard drives to a shelter, each with a working operating system installed on it, along with "How to install this" instructions and maybe a nice screwdriver, they would love you FOREVER. (Each time one was pulled, it could be given to some volunteer geek to fix, so they could just rotate through the stack ad infinitum.)

[0] [2009-09-06 03:25:31] redwall_hp

How big are the hard drives? You could create a big RAID array.

Different sizes, different mixes, and I would need an IDE RAID card that supports many disks. Non-feasible. - caliban
[0] [2009-09-06 03:39:47] karatchov

Put them on Ebay

I might have to pay people to take them off my hands - what makes you think Ebay will work? - caliban
(1) People will buy ANYTHING off eBay. - Phoshi
[0] [2009-09-08 05:13:17] alpha1

Personally I like to play frisbee with the disks :D

Polished metal or glass, a few millimeters thick, flung at my face? No thanks. - hyperslug
[0] [2009-09-09 15:19:19] TomB

Since the internal platters are A:Extremely shiny B:Relatively corrosion proof C:Attractive enough

How about using them as 'shake' style shingle for a dog house? Or multiple bird houses? Or anything exposed to elements.(Pump house, covered bird bath, etc...) The reflective nature would assist in keeping the house cooler in summer. Plus they would have a pretty long lifespan. Since they are all the same size approximately a easy overlapping pattern would be quick.

[0] [2009-09-09 18:09:41] jfmessier

I use my old hard disks, or those others that I can find, as an actual backup. I have about a dozen of then, all IDE onces, of at least 80G each. I mount them on an external USB-to-IDE controller, and copy my directories off my Linux server on one of them every month. I then label the disk on the side with the actual backup date, on a rewritable label, and then store the disk at a friend's place, just in case something happens. I always keep the second most recent at home, but the others off-site.

Usually, I try to stick to FAT32 as the file format, so a Windows-only computer can then retrieve the files, if needed. I don't care too much about the actual file permissions, as I can restore them manually if I ever have to restore the files.

As they are older technology drives that suck a lot of power, I try not to leave the disks on for too long, and only one at a time.


[0] [2009-09-17 06:33:35] Konstantin Tenzin

How to destroy hard-drive (youtube video) [1]


[0] [2011-01-17 21:39:17] Roland Taylor

Make a tower out of them and open a theme park :P