I have an old IDE hard drive from a Windows 98 HP computer. It has some data on it but I do not know how to access it.

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    This is definitely skirting the definition of "retro". Windows 98, though long in the tool, is still a relatively modern OS. And WIndows PC advice site will be able to address this question.
    – user12
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 19:49
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    I probably meant s/tool/tooth/
    – user12
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 20:59
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    On the other hand, corruption of data due to aging hard drives is, I think, pretty relevant to retrocomputing in general. Its a common problem that many in the hobby will encounter at some point, even if this particular example is on the debatable border of what counts as "retro".
    – mnem
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 21:26
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    I think this is better asked on Super User. Unless you want to not differentiate between "retro" and "old". Hard to close though, since what is "on topic" has not been defined (in the help center) yet.
    – user3169
    Commented May 8, 2016 at 2:54
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    Parallel ATA/IDE is obsolete and therefore retro hardware. Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 22:41

2 Answers 2


The easiest way is to get an external USB enclosure or USB-to-IDE adapter. IDE-to-SATA adapters exist, but they require opening up your computer to install.

When selecting hardware, keep in mind that IDE (PATA) hard drives come in two common varieties: "desktop" (usually 3.5" form factor, with a 40-pin data cable and a 4-pin power cable), and "laptop" (usually 2.5" form factor, with a 44-pin combined power and data cable). You'll need to make sure you get one compatible with your drive; "universal" adapters/enclosures are rare.

IDE drives were designed to let two of them be attached to a single data cable, with one in the "master" role and the other in the "slave" role. A jumper near the power and data connections is used to set the role; with just a single drive attached to an adapter, it should be set to "master" or "cable select" (CS).

Software-wise, a hard drive from a Windows 98 will be formatted in the "FAT32" format. This is as close to a universal hard drive format as you can get, so virtually every modern computer can read it, regardless of operating system.

  • If needed, there are also adapters between 44-pin/2.5" and 40-pin/3.5" in both directions (e.g. at Amazon); I use one to access laptop drives from main desktop PC.
    – dirkt
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 8:14
  • It's perfectly possible, though perhaps somewhat less likely, that a Windows 98 era drive would be formatted as FAT16. Of course, anything modern software-wise that can read FAT32 should be able to cope with FAT16 equally well.
    – user
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 21:20
  • There was a technology split at some point with how IDE works, where a simple USB to IDE dongle does not work for really old IDE drives. I have a stack of old 40 - 250 meg IDE drives from Win 3.1 / MSDOS days, which don't work at all with the USB adapters. Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 11:47
  • @DaleMahalko, there wasn't a hard split, but looking at the history, I see two changes that could be causing an incompatibility. The first is CHS versus LBA addressing, and the second is PIO versus DMA transfers. If the adapter only supports the newer modes, and the drive only supports the older ones, things won't work.
    – Mark
    Commented Dec 1, 2016 at 23:17
  • @Mark, It looks like the change was probably when "Enhanced IDE" (EIDE) came out. Commented Dec 3, 2016 at 11:53

I bought a IDE to USB converter from a local store.There were two extra pins on my hard drive so I had to do some fiddling and connect the AC power supply

I connected the adapter to my Linux laptop (also works on Windows) and I could see the files stored on the FAT32 filesystem.

The disk is almost full (The thing is 4GB and has 100MB left , my laptop has 500GB :) has errors , noisy and slow. I copied all the files off the disk including 1GB of music from Napster

I also booted the disk from a virtual machine and it works perfectly (after installing driver and repairing system files).I am considering creating a full disk image using dd but will it fail if I try to copy from it too much?

Also Kaspersky found a virus on it

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    If its just file system errors that could be from when it was last in use and not anything wrong with the drive. Windows 9x tended to crash a lot and leave errors on the disk if it was in the middle of a write. If you skipped the automatic Scandisk eventually those would build up. On the other hand, if there are a lot of bad sectors that would not be a good sign.
    – mnem
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 5:50
  • Not a lot. I can still see most of the photos. About 5 percent of all the photos are corrupt
    – Suici Doga
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 6:34
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    That's a relatively high percentage of corruption. It sounds like the drive is likely on its way out. Your best bet would probably be to try copying off the files you want most. A bulk copy or trying to run scandisk / checkdisk might stress the drive to the point where it fails completely.
    – mnem
    Commented May 7, 2016 at 21:21
  • I have copied most of the music and photos.There are still a few files on it and I also want to create a full disk image so I can run it in a VM
    – Suici Doga
    Commented May 8, 2016 at 0:46
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    If you got the files you most want off it and the drive is still working, go ahead and try to image it and/or use it. Just don't expect it to last. Around that time, sector reallocation was still an operating system / file system responsibility, and if you got a bad sector in a critical file system area, you were generally out a new drive.
    – user
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 21:23

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