How I imaged a stack of old IDE / PATA hard drives quickly, and planning out retrocomputing storage

The Retro Lab needs a lot of storage for a lot of computers. Luckily, I have a cache of IDE drives that have been pulled from various systems over the years. However, I’ve never taken backups or images of any of them.

When I was acquiring parts for my Talos build, I ended up finding a combination PATA and SATA USB enclosure at Wholesale Computer Supply for a low price. I never ended up using it, until this weekend!

iMicro 3.5" USB HDD Enclosure

Inside the box, we find cabling that lets you choose which type of disk to connect.

PATA cabling attached to the inside of the enclosure.

I went ahead and skipped putting the cover back on the enclosure since it was safe on my desk. I connected the enclosure to my Talos. For each disk to image, I attached it, turned the enclosure on, and then imaged using the dd command. Once it was done, turn off the enclosure, disconnect, and repeat for the next.

Five of the disks I imaged, next to the (empty) enclosure.

Only one disk out of eight is exhibiting any sign of degradation; one of the Seagate Barracuda 20 GB disks is throwing I/O errors when reading the last few sectors. I recall that in September 2001, I had an identical model drive do the same thing. The 2001 drive lasted long enough to back up most of the data but within 3 days it was dead. I will not be using the disk I just imaged in the Retro Lab for fear it will do the same.

I found some interesting Power Mac data on one of the drives, and a nearly fresh copy of Windows 98 with a few personal files from 2000-2001 on another. It was pretty interesting to see that some of these drives haven’t even been powered up since the Bush administration yet they seem to work just fine.

To be safe, I will be implementing a sort of backup system for the Retro Lab. I’m going to have a network share on a Windows NT Server to save copies of important data, and then mirror the share to “modern” storage on a weekly basis. It will actually be pretty interesting to see what sort of backup solutions I can find to set this up for NT 4.

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