So you have an older machine which died. You know you’re not going to have the machine fixed, but there is data you need to save from the now defunct beast. Provided the drive itself is not dead you shouldn’t have a problem getting your old information off. You might need a bit of very inexpensive hardware but it will be a useful addition to any computer tool belt.
Laptop, desktop it really doesn’t matter but a USB Sata / IDE adapter is going to be your best friend. But that is perfectly fine. This one adapter for roughly 20 dollars lets you hook up 95% of the hardrive types that you would find in a personal computer. SATA drives are the newer smaller connectors found on most desktop computers sold within the last 3 years. IDE connectors are the larger connectors favored by laptops and older desktops. Once you hook this adapter up to your computer and to the hardrive the drive appears under My Computer in a PC, or on the Desktop for Macs.
If the drive doesn’t appear in the Finder or in My Computer the drive could be dead or corrupted. If its dead and you don’t have a stockpile of cash you’re pretty much out of luck. Especially if they drive is making rather nasty noises. If you do have a stockpile of money there are data recovery services out there, i wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending any specic one right now, but the price tag can run from 150 dollars quickly up into the thousands depending on how bad the drive is messed up.
If the drive is just corrupted then i am particularly fond of the Get Back Data which is a reasonable investment if you fix machines fairly often. I have yet to find a drive recovery program for free that i like. However many of them will give you a test drive to see how you like it.