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What is a Hard Drive Enclosure?

A hard drive enclosure is a case used to hold a hard drive (or SSD), providing the power it needs to operate, and an interface to connect the drive to a computer. The big names in hard drives are more focused on the drives themselves than standalone enclosures, so specialized third party accessory makers like Startech, Insignia and Tripp Lite are the primary suppliers of hard drive enclosures.

Hard Drive Enclosure vs. Hard Drive Dock

A hard drive enclosure is a self-contained case that turns a hard drive into an external drive. You supply the drive (it could be an HDD or SSD), install it into the enclosure, and you now have a portable, external drive. Plug it into a PC using a USB cable and the drive powers up.

A hard drive dock turns HDDs into removable media, no screwdriver required. The dock connects to your PC by USB and it has a slot (or slots) that accommodate an HDD. Insert the drive and it mounts on your desktop.

Uses and Benefits

Hard drive enclosures and docking stations are a great way to get additional life out of an older HDD. When you install a new drive in a PC, rather than disposing of the old one, re-use it for backup or removable storage using a hard drive enclosure or hard drive dock. You can also create inexpensive mass storage by buying high capacity hard drives without enclosures, then using your own.

Enclosure Sizes: 2.5inch and 3.5-inch

Hard drives come in two sizes, depending on whether they are intended for use in a laptop (2.5-inch) or a desktop PC (3.5-inch). Hard drive enclosures need to be matched to the appropriate size. Hard drive docks are available in multiple configurations, including ones that can accept multiple drives and dual versions that can accept both 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch drives.

IDE or SATA?

Hard drives communicate with a connected PC using an interface, either IDE or SATA. Most recent drives use the faster SATA interface. When choosing a hard drive enclosure, make sure to match the interface to that of the drive you’ll be installing.

Factors to Consider Before Buying

Before choosing a hard drive enclosure, decide whether you want a single permanent external drive (an enclosure), or if you have multiple spare drives you want to use as removable media without the fuss of installation (a drive dock). Make sure you match interfaces (IDE or SATA), then enjoy the second life of your old hard drive.