How to install a hard drive

Pack trillions more bytes into your PC with a storage upgrade

Hard drive

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Adding, upgrading or installing a new hard drive is always about one thing - storage, storage, storage.

For less than £30 you could add a new hard drive to your desktop PC or laptop, not only increasing storage space but also improving performance.

That last bit might sound odd, but adding a new larger drive increases system performance - newer drives store more data in the same space. That increases data throughput, or more simply: stuff loads and saves faster.

Adding a new drive is simplicity itself on a desktop PC. It's a case of locating a free drive bay, along with a free data connection and power connection. Once you have those just add the new drive, plug in the two cables and you're done. But so you know exactly what to look for we've put together this simple step-by-step guide.

As you'll see, physically connecting the hard drive is just half the job. Making sure Windows can read the drive is the last step.

If you're adding a new drive to be be just used for storage, this job is easy. If you want to replace your Windows boot drive then the job is more complex but really just involves an extra piece of software.

1. Which hard drive do you need?

There are two main types of computer hard drive: 3.5-inch and the 2.5-inch. The larger 3.5-inch units are used in desktop PCs and are often called desktop drives. The smaller 2.5-inch are used in laptops but use the same SATA interface. There is a smaller 1.8-inch drives used in mobile devices, such as tablets.

Install a hard drive

2. Hard drive connectors

If you've bought your PC since 2003 it's going to use the data connection called SATA seen here. The older outdated data connection is the 55mm wide PATA version. You may still find connections for these in PCs, but it's much better to use the new SATA models, plus PATA hard drives are much less common.

A hard drive also needs power. The old-style four-pin Molex connection is being phased out, replaced by the newer SATA power connector pictured below. You may find your PC only offers Molex power connections, if so adaptors are available so you can still power newer devices. You may also find your hard drive has both types, if it does, only use one or the other, not both.

Install a hard drive

3. The connectors

Before opening your PC always power it down and disconnect it from the mains power supply and take anti-static precautions. If you open your PC and peer inside you'll need to locate the bank of SATA connectors, similar to that pictured here. You may also see one or two wide PATA connectors, which you should be ignoring as they're really only there for slower optical drives.

Install a hard drive

4. Installing a desktop drive

Once you know which type of drive you can install inside your PC and how it connects, you can buy safe in the knowledge you can connect the drive. The new drive still needs to be physically mounted into a 3.5-inch drive bay. This will usually require four standard case screws. With many cases you slide the drive into place and screw it in, other cases offer 'quick-release' systems but again these usually require sliders or a caddy screwing to the drive before physically installing it. It is possible to mount drives into the larger 5.25-inch bay but you will need to buy an additional bay adaptor.

Install a hard drive

5. Connecting the cables

With the drive securely mounted, you can connect the SATA data cable between the hard drive and the motherboard. As mentioned your PC's power supply may not offer any additional SATA power connectors, in this case you will need a suitable Molex to SATA adaptor. At this point you can start Windows again. If Windows doesn't start it's worth checking you haven't knocked any cables out. If there are still problems, some systems don't like the order the SATA cables are connected, so it's worth swapping these around. Otherwise, you many have to use the BIOS to adjust the boot priority of the drives.

Install a hard drive

6. Partitioning in Windows

Once into Windows, you need to create a storage space on the drive before you can store files onto it. This storage space is called a partition. Open the Start menu, right-click the My Computer entry, select Manage and Disk Management. This lists each physical hard drive in turn and each partition created on it. Windows treats each partition as a separate drive - it's perfectly possible to create multiple partitions on a single hard drive.

Right click the new drive and choose Initialize Disk, often you will have already been prompted to do this. Windows now knows this is a basic hard drive. To create a partition right click with the mouse over the Unallocated drive and choose New Simple Volume... A dialog will appear asking various questions. You can keep all the default settings, unless you want to split the drive into smaller partitions. In this case choose a suitable size in MB after clicking Next - remember 1,000MB is 1GB. After this process your drive is ready for use.

7. Drive imaging

A more complex approach is if you want to replace your old hard drive with the new one, this could be for performance reasons or reliability issues - perhaps you're going to use the old drive elsewhere for whatever reason. You could install Windows from scratch on the new drive but it is possible to duplicate the old Windows drive on the new one using drive cloning software such as the paid-forAcronis True Imageor the free DriveImage XML. You will need to do all of the steps above and then follow the imaging software's instructions, but effectively with both drives connected you want to copy the original Windows partition to the new drive. This process can take a while. Once done power done the PC, disconnect the old drive and hopefully you'll reboot using the fresh-new drive.

How to install a hard drive


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