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Old Jan 29, 2012, 2:46 PM   #1
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Recently I read discussion about external hard drive docking devices and a similar functioning but cheaper thing called a USB to IDE & SATA cable. Some sellers call it a 'dongle'.

I have several spare old hard drives so (mostly out of curiosity) I bought one of these dongles.

The dongle itself is quite small - the biggest item in the box was the plug-in power adapter.

The dongle plugs into the old hard drive and plugs via a cable into a USB port on my computer. Then the old, spare, hard drive shows up on my screen as an extra drive.

After trying it out I'm going to stop using both CDs & DVDs to store files. The dongle makes it very easy to move files onto the old hard drive - and to arrange and edit the stored files too - something that can't be done with a CD or DVD unless they're re-writable & even then it's a bit awkward and they may not always be readable by other computers; and from what I read, both R and RW CDs and DVDs are less reliable than hard drive disks.

Now I'm curious - is it possible to install a computer's operating system on a hard drive and use it as such when connected via a dongle? My guess is that it may work, but only if the computer is capable of booting via a USB connection?
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Old Jan 30, 2012, 1:13 PM   #2
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Haven't tried it myself, yet, but as I understand, it is possible. Performance is not likely to be very good unless you have USB3, or use something like a portable OS made to be used that way. I have seen a couple Linux distros made for this.
My thought for one of these units is to use it to image my old, rather small hard drive to a newer, larger drive, then swap them, having a nice large drive in the PC and using the old one for storage and backup.

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Old Jan 30, 2012, 2:42 PM   #3
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G'day Herb

The 'dongle' you describe is widely used by IT techos around the world to assist data exchange from an old to new computer - I have 2 of them [slightly different models] and have used them for maybe 5-6 years > great devices for < $50

As I also have had several laptop's die on me [the power-input socket breaks off the motherboard and can't be repaired, so computer is junked], so I also buy small $35 cases for the older laptop HDDs and these connect via USB and become my backup drives

To answer you other Q about OS usage - it's a 'yes' so long as it's not MS Windows
Windows is hard-wired for "C:" drive and C:\ProgramFiles

However I have been told that any of 1/2-dozen alternate and lesser known OS's [incl Linux] could be fired up from an external drive ... the problem is "what's going to fire them up?"

With Micro$oft in bed with motherboard BIOS / CPU processor /etc etc manufacturers from the very beginning, it is becoming virtually impossible to do anything as an alternative these days. As a side issue, are you aware that there are no printer drivers for non-windows OS's ... [i'm told that] all printer drivers these days are written by MS for the printer maker, thus creating a loss of skills outside MS 'as they do it all for you'

Regards, Phil
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Old Feb 1, 2012, 6:57 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Herb View Post
Now I'm curious - is it possible to install a computer's operating system on a hard drive and use it as such when connected via a dongle? My guess is that it may work, but only if the computer is capable of booting via a USB connection?
Yes, you can run an operating system off an external drive. Last time I
checked, MS Windows wouldn't run off a USB drive unless you used a
'hacked' version of Windows. You can certainly run Linux and various versions
of BSD from a USB drive. Some Linux distributions are designed specifically
to run from a USB stick. Most PCs can boot from an external USB drive.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Ozzie_Traveller
However I have been told that any of 1/2-dozen alternate and lesser known OS's [incl Linux] could be fired up from an external drive ... the problem is "what's going to fire them up?"
A bootloader. Every OS has one as standard. I don't think Linux is an alternative OS
these days. It is probably the most widely used OS in the world. Our house has two
Samsung LCD TVs, both running Linux. Two out of our four mobile phones are
running Linux (Android), Our D-Link broadband modem/router runs Linux. We
also have two PCs running Linux.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ozzie_Traveller
As a side issue, are you aware that there are no printer drivers for non-windows OS's ...
Not so. There is a huge range of drivers for both new and old printers.
CUPS supports a large range of printers on Linux, Mac and other *NIX
based systems. I use a HP Photosmart inkjet and a HP laser printer
with my Linux PC. Most of the well known brands like HP, Canon and
Epson are well supported. Even some of the cheaper brands like
Lexmark are providing Linux drivers. In some cases the drivers are
free and open-source. In other cases the drivers are closed and proprietary.
This is bad because it leaves the end user at the mercy of the manufacturer.
When they stop producing new drivers for your old printer, it becomes useless
when you upgrade your OS. Many perfectly good printers and scanners were
scrapped because of the lack of drivers for Vista or Windows 7. Linux is much
better in this regard. Once an open-source driver exists, it can be modified
and recompiled to work with a newer system.

Last edited by corkpix; Feb 1, 2012 at 10:21 AM. Reason: correction
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Old Feb 1, 2012, 8:35 AM   #5
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I've got one of those I bought some years back at newegg.com. This one:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16812186036

I paid $12.99 for it at the time from what I can see of my order history there, and it's gone up now. It's feedback leaves something to be desired though (I see users complaining about the power adapter failing). But, it worked OK when I bought it.

I haven't used it in a long time though. Instead, I just use a USB docking station (I've got a Themaltake BlacX Docking station I use).

I like using my docking station since I buy bare SATA drives for backup purposes, and that lets me easily swap drives (just press a button to help remove one, and plug a different drive into it).

If buying a new one, I'd probably go USB 3.0 and get one that supports more than one drive at the same time. For example, Microcenter has a pretty good price on a Dual Bay SIIG USB 3.0 docking station that supports more than one drive at a time:

http://www.microcenter.com/search/se...x=0&submit.y=0

You can find them using USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and/or eSATA (and there are even some that support Firewire, too). One advantage of going USB 3.0 is that it's backwards compatible with USB 2.0 ports. So, you can use a USB 3.0 docking station with PCs and laptops having either USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 ports (but, you only get USB 2.0 speed if it's plugged into a slower USB 2.0 port).

But, these docking stations are designed to support SATA versus IDE/PATA drives (and most support both 2.5" laptop and 3.5" desktop drives). If you have older IDE drive models, then a USB to IDE adapter like the one you mentioned can come in handy to transfer data from it. But, I rarely need to get anything from older non SATA drives. So, I haven't used my adapter like that in a long time.

You can also find a USB 3.0 PCIe card to add USB 3.0 for under $20 now. Here's an example of one:

http://www.monoprice.com/products/pr...seq=1&format=2

The vast majority of those use NEC Chipsets (as do motherboards with USB 3.0 ports). The main difference is that some of them have a 4 Pin Molex Power connector to help provide more power to portable hard drives (without their own A/C Adapter), and some just use PCIe bus power for that purpose. I'd go with one with the extra power connector for best flexibility.

Now, some of the newer cards are using VIA chipsets. But, I'd stick to one using an NEC chipset instead (and most do), as the drivers are far more mature (NEC was the only "kid on the block" for a long time making a USB 3.0 chipset). Most of the cards with an NEC chipset can use drivers from another brand, too (all of them I've seen just use generic NEC USB 3.0 drivers). So, when you see complaints about problems with one card versus another, it's probably just the driver version being used. You can usually look at the photos of an adapter card and see NEC on the larger chip in the center if you're not certain. But, any card that's been out for a long time will probably be using an NEC chipset.
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Old Feb 1, 2012, 2:08 PM   #6
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G'day all

Okay - good news - things have changed since I last looked into things...

quote> Even some of the cheaper brands like Lexmark are providing Linux drivers. In some cases the drivers are free and open-source. In other cases the drivers are closed and proprietary. This is bad because it leaves the end user at the mercy of the manufacturer. When they stop producing new drivers for your old printer, it becomes useless when you upgrade your OS. Many perfectly good printers and scanners were scrapped because of the lack of drivers for Vista or Windows 7. enquote

I have certainly had to junk perfectly good kit simply because I could not get drivers etc and it annoyed the hell out of me

Thx for the info & update
Regards, Phil
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Old Feb 1, 2012, 2:31 PM   #7
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I use Linux > 90% of the time. Actually, I probably use Linux closer to 99.9% of the time. But, I'm being nice towards Windows. ;-)

On my machines, I usually only boot into Win 7 every couple of weeks, just to get any Windows updates, program updates, updates to malware definitions, etc. Then, I just boot back into Linux again. From time to time, I do boot into Windows to check out new software (latest versions of Lightroom, camera manufacturers software, etc.).

But, that doesn't occur very often. For example, I downloaded the latest public beta of Lightroom 4 several weeks ago. But, I haven't taken the time to boot into Win 7 and install it yet to get a feel for the improvements. It's just not an urgent thing, since I wouldn't buy or use it anyway (I use software with Linux versions available instead). :-)

On my wife's machines, which used to be setup in dual boot configs with both Windows and Linux, I've removed Windows entirely now, since it was just wasting space (she had no need for anything Windows provided). I did that the last time I upgraded her machines to newer versions of Linux (I've got Mepis 11 installed on them now). I just backed up her data, reformatted her drives to get rid of windows entirely, installed new versions of Mepis and restored her data files.

Linux has apps for everything she needs. For example, Firefox, Chrome, Opera and more for Web browsing; Mozilla Thunderbird for E-Mail; digiKam, Gwenview, ShowFoto and more for image management/viewing/editing; VLC for media playback; neat card games like KPatience since she loves Solitaire; LibreOffice for docs and spreadsheets; Amarok for music, and even Bibletime for Bible Study (with multiple versions of Bibles, lots of books, reference material, etc.) and much, much, more. There are many thousands applications available for Linux anymore, and you can install most of them with a mouse click or two. She's not the most computer literate person in the world either, and I've had far less problems maintaining her machines after switching her to Linux a few years back. Windows was relatively "high maintenance" in comparison, where she would have frequent issues requiring my help.

As for printers, I stick to HP. They're a strong supporter of Open Source, and have tools and drivers supporting their printers via the HPLIP project. See more about it here:

http://hplipopensource.com/hplip-web/about.html

That way, I can scan, print, check ink levels, align heads, etc., using tools that are similar to the ones they provide for Windows.

But, you can find printer drivers for a number of other brands, too. Here's one site that tracks a lot of them:

http://www.openprinting.org/printers
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Old Feb 2, 2012, 7:01 PM   #8
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Thanks to everybody - your comments have been very useful. My main computer is running Windows 7 and the stand-by one is running Windows XP Home Edition - and one thing I've discovered - it was a mistake to take up the Windows 7 offer to format the old hard drive that was running via the Dongle - because I allowed W7 to format it to exFAT. Big mistake. When I connected it to the older Windows XP machine it was unable to read that format.

So I got rid of exFAT and substituted Fat32. That operation couldn't be performed through the Dongle either, so I had to temporarily connect the HD to the inside of one of the computers....

On the topic of printer drivers, I've found that my old Raven RP2405 dot matrix B & W printer runs fine using Panasonic (KX-P1080 and KX-P1090) ribbons and that the Panasonic KXP2023 driver that is included in Windows is just fine for it too - for text that is.
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Old Feb 2, 2012, 7:35 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Herb View Post
Thanks to everybody - your comments have been very useful. My main computer is running Windows 7 and the stand-by one is running Windows XP Home Edition - and one thing I've discovered - it was a mistake to take up the Windows 7 offer to format the old hard drive that was running via the Dongle - because I allowed W7 to format it to exFAT. Big mistake. When I connected it to the older Windows XP machine it was unable to read that format.

So I got rid of exFAT and substituted Fat32. That operation couldn't be performed through the Dongle either, so I had to temporarily connect the HD to the inside of one of the computers....
Yea... you gotta watch the drop down file system type menu when formatting a drive. ;-)

For hard drives, I'd stick to NTFS for the most part. It gets around a lot of the limitations inherent to FAT32. For example, FAT32 is really unsuitable for disk image backup purposes (since the largest file size is limited to 4GB). So, I avoid it for any hard drive use, especially external drives used for backups. FAT32 is also not a journaling file system (making FAT32 less reliable compared to NTFS).

exFAT is nice for flash media in that it gets rid of some of the FAT32 limitations (allowing greater than 32GB partition sizes, larger than 4GB file sizes, more entries in the root directory, etc.), and is designed to reduce excess writes to increase drive flash media life (at the expense of the reliability you get via journaling from file systems like NTFS; since exFAT does not have any journaling features).

But, exFAT is yet another proprietary file system, and Microsoft is no doubt going to charge vendors licensing fees to use it (as they've done with FAT32), and that's probably going to create issues with non Microsoft Operating Systems, too (Linux, etc.). See some of the problems like that mentioned here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ExFAT#Disadvantages

Now, Tuxera (the developer of NTFS-3G drivers for Linux) has licensed the exFAT technology from Microsoft and will be offering products for use in embedded Linux platforms. See this press release about their license agreement with Microsoft here:

http://www.tuxera.com/products/tuxera-exfat-embedded/

But, it's my understanding that they will not be offering a free version of the code to access exFAT, and because of patent restrictions, that may create an issue for Linux users wanting to access media using that file system. Now, I've got an experimental driver for Linux for exFAT. But, it probably won't make it into mainstream linux distros due to patent concerns. Grrrrrr

Just to make thinks more interesting, Microsoft will be introducing yet another new file system with Windows 8 called ReFS (for "Redundant File System). Here's an article about it:

http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?pag...tem&px=MTA0NDA

That's yet another new proprietary file system that's probably going to create similar patent and licensing issues.

It's too bad that Microsoft couldn't have gone with one of the mainstream open source file systems like ZFS or Btrfs (which have more features compared to the new ReFS anyway). But, my guess is that Microsoft wants to keep it proprietary so they can use patents to prevent competing operating systems from using it and/or extract license fees for it's use. Grrrr

In any event, I'd stick to NTFS for an external hard drive for use with Windows (not FAT32, which has too many limitations, or exFAT which is going to be less reliable).

But, if you do ever need access to exFAT formatted media from XP (and newer SDXC cards used by some cameras use exFAT), you can install a driver for it. See this page:

http://www.microsoft.com/download/en...ng=en&id=19364
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