It happens to almost everyone, even nongeeks who don't like to muck with the insides of a desktop computer: We end up with old hard drives sitting around. Maybe they're pulled from old computers, which is a good idea for protecting data when you send a PC off for recycling. Or maybe they're left from a hard-drive upgrade. And we keep them because we're not quite sure they're safe to pitch.
It's easy to check by converting them to temporary USB drives, using a gadget like the Newer Technology USB 2.0 Universal Drive Adapter ($25). The kit includes a data cable and a power cable for connecting a hard drive to a USB port. It's a simple way to recover data that might be on the old drive or to take one last look before bashing the drive to finally kill whatever personal information remains.
The old drives also can become temporary USB drives for transferring data from one computer to another. They're hardly thumb size, like the tiny USB drives that fit on a key chain, but they're free and can be convenient. Or, if you want to tackle a hard-drive upgrade yourself, first attach the new drive externally for transferring data.
The cable attaches to just about any drive you might throw at it, even a DVD or CD writer. It can handle ATA drives from desktops or notebooks, or the newer and speedier SATA drives. It's a versatile, easy-to-use tool that can come in handy, even for the technically challenged.