Data Recovery from IDE (PATA) Drive

I am not one to turn up my nose to old technology and I typically am excited about anything a little bit older or vintage to explore. In fact, I am generally excited to take a screwdriver to just about any piece of technology out there. I will say, there has been a recent exception.

I was brought a computer to extract some pictures and such off of it to put on a flash drive. It is a Pentium 4 Compaq which means it is a 32 bit machine. I am sure hasn’t been turned on in a long time. I am guessing 6 years or greater. I do remember setting this computer up years ago with openSUSE Linux but I didn’t have the root password for it. Since there was some sort of file system error that fsck wouldn’t correct and I didn’t have root access either, so that made it problematic as well. If you are thinking it was a BTRFS problem, you are thinking wrong. It was XFS that had an issue as this was before openSUSE started using BTRFS on root.

I took the side panel off of the machine to get the drive out, but try as I might, I was not able to remove the drive from the inside. There are fasteners in the side of the drive that are not accessible but in a kind of track.

So, I decided, I would take it out of the front of the machine. after some prodding and probing, I was able to get the face of this derelict machine off and finally be able to remove the thing. The 3.5″ PATA (IDE) drive sits right below the 3.5″ floppy drive. Removal of the drive was now trivial. The plastic retainers just had to be pressed on the side of the drive enclosure and the drive slid neatly out of the front of the machine.

I had to dig into my storage bin of hard drive related components and I pulled out an IDE to USB adapter. The first one didn’t work, nor did the second, the last one I pulled out was able to actually read the IDE drive and I don’t have any idea why this was a problem. I have used the adapters for years recovering data from these old drives, however, the last time I did such a thing was 2012.

Pulling the contents of the data from the drive took an incredibly long time, much longer than I expected. Transferring 74.1 GiB of data over a PATA interface with a maximum theoretical speed of 133 MB/s really demonstrated how spoiled I have become with SATA drives and SSDs. I walked away and worked on other things due to my lack of patience so the actual time it took is unknown to me. I suppose I could do the calculations…

Using this site here,, it tells me that it could have taken no less than 70.8 minutes. That is probably about right.

After I transferred all the data locally, I exported the pictures and such to three USB flash drives to be used on whatever computer they wish. The question remains, what do I do with this machine? I could put something 32-bit on there just to see how it would work but the question is, which one? The top contenders for me are openSUSE, MX Linux, BunsenLabs and PuppyLinux (some variant). Maybe I’ll let one of my kids do it as a learning exercise.

Final Thoughts

I can seldom resist the urge to play with technology, it is a weakness. Basically, as long as the request isn’t, “can you install a non-Linux operating system on it” I am all about it. Recovering data can be a fun project, although, admittedly, this was less fun than other machines due to the obstacles in removing the hard drive

I find it remarkable how fast the years of tech seems to be flying by. It seems like only yesterday that PATA (IDE) was the standard on everything and I didn’t have any complaints about disk speed when it was the standard. Now, using that fifteen or more year old drive, just for the process of removing the data, was so much slower than what I remember, or maybe I am becoming less tolerant of waiting for my technology. Either way, as much as I like vintage tech, I do appreciate many of the new standards, like SATA, because not only is it faster but has a more robust connector… and the more I look at it, I see how it resembles the edge connectors of old.

It is also worth noting that the transfer speeds of PATA drives theoretical maximums is slower than what many have as an internet connection speed. Something to think about.


3 thoughts on “Data Recovery from IDE (PATA) Drive

  1. Some remarks : the speed was limited not by the 133 MB/s of IDE and not even the lower physical speed of the drive, but the USB 2.0 interface that peaks at 20 MB/s.

    The 2 broken adapters might be because they contain firmware on flash memory and specs for flash say that they may lose data after 6-36 months of no power.
    Something to keep in mind with unused devices.

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