Connect an IDE Drive to your Mac

In case you want a video version of it

Yes it’s 2021, and IDE, or PATA, drives are an old format that haven’t been widely used since the early 2000’s. But some of those hard drives may still be kicking around, such as in a computer that you or your parents once used. And if you need to get data off of one, I’m going to guide you through how to do it with your Mac. This came up after a family member of mine had an old desktop PC that they wanted to get some old family photos off of and then wipe before getting rid of it.

The Tool You’ll Need

First you’re going to need some hardware. I’m using the StarTech IDE and SATA to USB Converter Cable. I’ve used StarTech before and they make some decent stuff. I chose this adapter for a few different reasons. The main reason is because it will work on IDE and SATA drives, both 2.5-inch and 3.5 inch drives, and it includes a power adapter for those larger drives where USB won’t provide enough power. Also it comes with 4 different outlet plugs for getting power, the Type A, C, G, and I outlet plugs, giving you great coverage for most of North America, Europe, and Asia.

There are 2 caveats on this adapter. The first is that it is only USB 2.0, so it won’t be the fastest. But since this is an IDE drive we’re talking about, we’re not going to be losing that much in speed. The other caveat, as you might have guessed, is using the traditional USB port, USB type A. So if you’re using a modern Mac with only USB-C ports, you’ll also need a USB-A to USB-C adapter like one from Apple or Anker.

A Note About 3.5-inch/Desktop-class IDE Drives

In my case I am connecting a 3.5-inch IDE drive, I.E. one that comes in a desktop. If you’re in the same boat, you’ll want to make sure you connect this in a particular order: data connections first before power. The reason for this is that IDE drives don’t always connect properly to the host machine if they get connected to the data ports after they already have power. If you’re using a 2.5-inch, laptop class one, then the USB typically provides enough power that you don’t have to worry about this.

Connecting the Drive to Your Mac

1: Start by lining up the IDE portion of the adapter with the hard drive, which is the portion of the drive with multiple pins. To line it up properly, use the space where the empty pin is on both the hard drive and the adapter. If you’re using a desktop class IDE drive, you’ll want to use the larger 44-pin side of the adapter up to the drive.

The 44-pin port of the IDE adapter, with a pointer to the "missing pin".
Note the covered pin on the adapter, this is where the “Missing” pin on the hard drive will go.

2: Carefully slide the adapter into the hard drive slot. It doesn’t take much pressure or distance to get the two connected.

The IDE adapter being connected to the IDE drive
Connect the Adapter to the Drive

3: Plug in the USB cable on the adapter into your Mac.

4: Now this is the point where we’ll connect the power adapter, which is the part of the connector with the 4 holes, to its corresponding 4-pin part on the hard drive.

The IDE drive with a pointer to the 4 large pins that make up the power port.
These 4 pins are the IDE power port.

5: Connect the power adapter up to the little power port on the other end of the adapter, then plug the power brick into the wall.

The end of the power adapter being connected to the power cable.
This is the end of the power adapter on the drive, and where you’ll connect the included power cable.

6: With that, your hard drive should start getting power, which on a spinning drive you’ll definitely hear. After a few more seconds, the drive should become visible on your computer.


If for some reason the hard drive isn’t visible on your machine, here are some troubleshooting tips.

First, give the drive up to 2 minutes to connect to your computer. Most drives should connect much faster than that, but if the drive is in bad shape, you may want to give it a little longer.

First Aid in the Disk Utility App

If it still doesn’t connect, check whether the drive and partition are visible in Disk Utility. If you don’t see the disk, disconnect the drive from power, unplug all the cables and adapter, and plug them back in, in the order I above. If you’ve done all that and there is still nothing, or the Mac says it can’t read the drive, then you may have either a drive that is in a format the Mac can’t read OR is a dead or dying drive. You can try running the First Aid function in Disk Utility on the drive to see if it can tell you anything. If you can, also try connecting the drive to another Mac or PC. If the drive is dead or dying, then you may want to look at a data recovery service or consider it lost.

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