really dumb computer HDD question

OK, I have an older computer, about 4 years old that was built and does not have SATA hard drives [I remember this odd fact because the roomie that built/owned/abandoned it bought a SATA hdd to add extra space and it wouldnt work with the motherboard or something … so we got gifted a spare hdd for one of our computers…]

I want to get this computer up and running, turning it into a linux box BUT there is studd on the internal HDDs we dont want to lose [pictures, chat logs from in games and the like. Dont ask why it never got backed up before the thing stopped working …]

Now, we are not certain why it stopped working, and want to see if we can get it working by slapping linus in so we dont have to buy a wincrap product when there is perfectly good free stuff out there.

Can we put linux on an external hdd, and somehow make it the main boot up hdd, and then somehow check out the data and salvage it or should we just take the old hdd out, and send them off somewhere and get everything shoved onto dvds and just trash the old computer …OR take a brand new $300 cheapie computer from somewhere like tigerdirect, buy an internal hdd box thingie that makes an internal drive an external drive, and try to suck the data off that way?

Can’t you just slave the HD to another computer temporarily and rescue the files (presuming it works, of course)

There is some risk attached to this but you could:
a) Run Linux as a Live CD and examine your files/burn them to a CD/DVD if they are any good (no risk attached to that part)
b) Install Linux and when it comes to partitioning, tell it to save the windows partitions. It will squish them down quite a bit - you have control over how much, but in doing so may corrupt the data you wish to save unless the drive has been defragmented immediately prior to partitioning.

Wait why would you have to buy a whole new computer just to plug in a drive? Can’t you use the computer you’re posting from now?

If you can find anyone with an IDE connector on their motherboard you can easily plug the old drive into their machine and get the data off (provided the drive’s not dead). Or you can spend $30-40 and get an external enclosure that will plug into anyone’s computer.

Or, if I’m not mistaken, you can run Ubuntu Linux on there from a live CD and see all what’s on the drive, possibly accessing the stuff and burning it from Linux. But I’m not an expert so someone else will have to chime in.

I am using a laptop and i am hesitant to just willy-nilly pop it open and try playing with the motherboard to slap something in to try doing anything …

oops, and the enclosure thing is what i was suggesting as one of my options … in the original post

in the post, i did ask if i could take that hdd and put it in something and suck the info off that way …

Not if your main drive won’t boot, I don’t think. Linux usually needs to have a bootloader installed on the primary hard drive, after which, it doesn’t much care BUT there are problems booting it from an external hard drive.

Simpler to run it from the CD ROM and see if it actually works on that machine, then extract whatever data you need.

You could also buy a cheap enclosure (or even just cables) and hook it to your laptop to extract your files.

Ill go the enclosure route, then … sounds like the least fuss. So, are all enclosures essentially the same or do i need one that is specific for the type of HDD, i know they are NOT SATA drives…

Yes, you will need a 3½" IDE enclosure., Similar to this one from Amazon.

Really, try the LiveCD option first (assuming your computer can boot from a non-HDD; if it can’t, then you can’t make use of an external disk the way you’d like anyway, as it will be connected over USB or somesuch). If you can read the hard disk once the LiveCD OS loads, then you can decide what course of action to take.

Some clarifications:

You can buy an enclosure with one, the other, or both IDE/SATA. My wife’s is IDE only; the one I have came with a short ribbon cable for IDE drives (and I think I have move a jumper), but came pre-configured for SATA. You’d likely do best to get one with both types – then you’re not limited to one or the other.

A boot loader is simply a small area of the primary boot device that “points to” another place in permanent storage (from which it continues the boot process). Usually, that’s a hard disk. Windows has a boot loader; I’ve set up an XP laptop as a dual-boot system using it, giving Ubuntu as the 3rd boot option (the 2nd was the OEM’s Windows-only, hard-wired-connection recovery partition, which is why I didn’t use the grub boot loader in the first place).

You can get a second hard drive, disconnect the first, install the new one (with OS), then go back and connect the first. Or, if your BIOS is capable, you may not have to disconnect the first drive at all. Note that a machine with IDE drives likely supports up to 4 HDDs (2 per channel), although smaller/cheaper models may only support 2.

Any other questions?

Don’t get a whole enclosure, just use something like this:
(from ebay)

I recently went through pretty much the same thing. I bought this Hard Drive Enclosure (note that it can use either USB or eSATA so it will be useful in the future) and booted from a Ubuntu Cd. Worked for me; got all my stuff … and yesterday I used it to rescue my sister’s data from her crashed computer.

Just ordered me one =) waiting with baited breath [eating sushi so the spelling is correct :D] until it arrives

/me squeees like a little girl

I find mine to be extremely useful - I use it all the time to pull data off of flaky drives. Good luck with your drive.