I test a lot of different products here, and over the years I have developed a simple collection of keeping a stack of different hard drives to plug into various test PCs. Sometimes I need to quickly check something on one of them, and an easy way is to use a hard drive external connector product to hook it up to a USB port and grab the files that way.
These connectors are also useful in computer forensics since you don’t have to boot or otherwise touch the hard drive to view the files on it. If you are trying to bring back a PC from the dead this is also a useful tool to have around.
For the past year or so I have been using the Newer Technology USB 2.0 Universal Drive Adapter, a collection of cables and connectors for $35 that can connect any SATA or IDE drive to your PC. It works on both Windows and Macs, has connectors for both regular 40-pin ATA drives and the 44-pin mini notebook drives.
I also took a look at the Cirago Hard Drive Docking Station USB 3.0. For $50, you get a dock that you can insert your SATA drive in, no messing with cables. I couldn’t get it to recognize a 64-bit Windows drive, and it took a while for Windows to recognize the mass storage media before it would be accessible in Windows Explorer. And if you have a USB 3 port, it will run closer to the drive speeds too. It also looks pretty cool.