Upgrading a Hard Drive Made Easy

Upgrading a Hard Drive Made Easy

Upgrading a hard drive is the easiest and most cost-effective way to get more room for the stuff you store on your computer. Think of the hard drive in your computer as the closet in your bedroom. When you’ve bought too many clothes to fit in your current closet, you don’t go out and buy a new house, you either wade through the closet and get rid of what you don’t want or you remodel the closet so it’ll fit more. Upgrading a hard drive is like remodeling the closet to get more storage space by making it bigger.

Decisions to Make When Upgrading a Hard Drive

The most important question to ask yourself is: Do you want to completely replace the original hard drive, or do you want to install a second drive? The answer to this question will lead you to exactly what steps will be followed during the upgrade process.

  • If you’re going to replace the original drive, you need to perform a backup first, remove the old drive, then configure and install the new drive, finishing up by partitioning and formatting it and restoring your computer.
  • If you’re just going to add a second drive, you need to configure it, install it, then partition and format it.

Decide What Hard Drive to Buy

No matter what decision you make above, I recommend buying a new hard drive of at least one terabyte in size. This way you’ll have a long wait until you need to replace or add to it. You’ll need to decide three main things when choosing a new hard drive: interface type, rotational speed, and brand. There are two main interface types in use today: SATA, which is more common in newer computers, and IDE, which is common in older computer, but still used in newer ones.

Seagate Hard Drive, Upgrading a Hard Drive
The business end of a Seagate ST157N hard drive. Photo Credit: Splorp

Open your computer and take a look at the hard drive. If the cable going to it is relatively small and has a dark orange or red connector, that’s SATA. However, a wide flat cable with a black or blue 40-pin connector and a red stripe on the side is IDE. Rotational speed will determine how fast the computer is able to find the data you’re looking for and there are two options here: 7,200 RPM and 10,000 RPM. The 10,000 RPM drives will have faster seek times, meaning your data will be found quicker.

Years ago, when I first started working on computers, one could count the number of hard-drive makers on one hand. Now you need two hands — and sometimes a foot. But, the older names are still the most reliable:

  • Seagate
  • Western Digital
  • Fujitsu

Seagate is my overall favorite, due to their excellent customer service, great prices, and overall (in my opinion) better quality. Western Digital is my second choice because they also have great service, an excellent set of diagnostic and repair tools available to those that know how to use them and their prices are still pretty competitive. Fujistu is another good choice, but third on my list because they also have good quality ratings and great prices, but I’ve had one fail before. Of course, it was stress-tested quite strenuously.

Perform System Backup and Configure the New Drive

Ok, you’ve got your shiny new hard drive in your hands, so now it’s time to install it. Since we don’t want to have to go through the whole production of installing your operating system and applications again, plus losing your movies, music, and photos, you need to perform a backup. I’m going to go on the premise that you have a DVD burner, if not you need get one and install it first. Skip to the bottom of this article for those steps.

You’ll need good backup software. Paragon Backup and Recovery is my favorite backup software. Use it to create your backup and make it bootable. The backup will require a fair number of blank discs, so stock up. If the new drive is an IDE, you need to configure it. Look at the back. You should see some pins with labels like the image above. Move the black jumper so it covers the two pins under the Master label. If it’s a SATA drive, the cable being used makes this determination.

Out With the Old and In With the New

Upgrading a Hard Drive, inside the PC
While things look chaotic inside a computer, most of them have the same parts and wiring, but they just look different. Photo Credit: Flickr

Once the backup completes, shut the computer down. Disconnect all the cables and move it to a table or workbench. Open it to expose the insides. It’ll look similar to the picture above. Locate the hard drive at the bottom, remove the cables, and remove the drive. All cases are different, so I won’t be able to help here. Look for screws or clips holding the drive in. Install the new drive, reversing the removal procedure. Reconnect the cables and close up the case. Hook up the power cable, monitor, and everything else.

Restore Your Computer

Insert backup disc No. 1 into the DVD/CD drive and turn the computer on. Shortly you should be presented with the option to boot from the DVD/CD. Choose it. Follow the onscreen prompts to partition your hard drive (create usable space) and format (ready it for it data). Once the format completes, start the restore.

Don’t Have a DVD Burner? Install One with the Hard Drive

If your computer doesn’t have a DVD burner, now is the time to get one. If it’s an IDE (40-pin connector), set it to Master. Open the case and slide it into the upper drive bay. Connect power and data to IDE/SATA Channel 2/3 on the main board. Yes, it’s that easy. OK, if there’s already a ROM there, you’ll have to remove it first. Or, set the new drive as slave (or put it on SATA channel 4) and slide it in the bay below the existing drive.

Upgrading a hard drive doesn’t have to be as difficult as it sounds. They should call it “upgrading an easy drive.”