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Quick Guide to installing a Hard Drive

Updated on March 6, 2013
Installing your own hard drive is easy if you follow these basic instructions!
Installing your own hard drive is easy if you follow these basic instructions!

Thanks to the explosion in the popularity of torrent downloads, many computer users find themselves perennially running out of hard drive space. With new, larger hard drives selling for as little as 15 cents per GB it makes sense to just add new hard drives onto your current system, rather than replacing your current C: drive with a larger one. You will save yourself hours of reinstalling the Operating System, your applications, and the rest of all your settings (I know that there is plenty of software that is supposed to do it all for you automatically and I've never ever been able to make it work correctly).

The number of hard drives that can be supported by your system exceeds the number of drives you would ever want to buy, so you don't have to worry too much about having too many hard drives. Believe it or not, you can mix up the older IDE (PATA) and new SATA drives. Many motherboards will provide two IDE and two SATA ports. Each IDE port can handle a master and a slave drive, and each SATA port can handle one drive, as SATA does not have the concept of master and slave in its specifications. So if you really wanted to, you could have four IDE and two SATA drives for a total of six. Just make sure that you have a quality power supply with lots of wattage in reserve and start piling on those drives! If you really want to get silly you can drop about $100 on two SATA port multipliers and fit five SATA drives on each port for a total of ten. That would give you a total of fourteen drives which likely wouldn't even fit in the tallest full tower case! However, that's pretty crazy and pointless. Keep in mind that past a couple of internal drives, the preferred solution is to use a RAID controller and external boxes.

Installing a new hard drive is fairly easy if you follow these simple instructions.

1. Turn off the PC and unplug it. Wait for a couple of minutes.

2. Attach a static wrist strap and ground it. Skip this step at your peril!

3. Remove the side cover, it is usually the one on the left hand side of the PC if you're looking at the front bezel. If your case doesn't have snap-in or removable drive bays, you'll want to remove the other side cover at this time too.

4. In case you're removing an existing drive, carefully remove the power and data cables. Remove the screws on both sides and pull it out. Place it safely in a static bag and seal it.

5. Pick a bay that you want to place your new drive in. Almost all hard drives will fit into the 3.5" wide bays. The 5.25" wide bays are just for optical drives. And the floppy bay is just stupidity itself in this day and age, so ignore it.

6. Mount the hard drive into the bay. Depending on whether it's a screw in, snap in or other attachment mechanism you need to follow the right procedure. Did I really have to tell you that?

7. Find a free power connector from a wire leading from the Power Supply Unit (PSU) and plug it in. If you have a Paleolithic PSU and are trying to fit a SATA drive, you'll need to attach an IDE-to-SATA power dongle to it first.

8. Do the whole master and slave thing with the jumpers if you're installing IDE drives. Check your user manual as it's too convoluted and effectively irrelevant to get into here as most people will be fitting SATAs.

9. Plug the data cable into the back of the drive and the appropriate port on the motherboard.

10. Seal up the PC and boot to the BIOS Settings.

11. Go to the page that lists the IDE and SATA Channels.

12. Choose the appropriate channel for your new hard drive. This step may not be necessary on some Auto-Detect BIOSes.

13. Select Auto-Detect and press Enter.

14. If the BIOS is having problems recognizing the drive, go back to step one and retrace your steps to make sure you did everything right. When you finally have everything working, you can save your BIOS settings and boot to the OS.

15. Use the manufacturer's appropriate and only the manufacturer's appropriate Drive Installation software to partition and run the drive. Don't use third party software as it generally screws everything up.

Formatting and partitioning is a critical part of using your new drive. There are two levels of formatting that are implemented by the installation utility. The first is a low level format which creates the various tracks and sectors on your new drive, and a high level format which writes the disk's file structure and determines where the boot files go. A new drive usually requires formatting as most are left blank at the factory on purpose. You might also want to format your existing drive if a virus has corrupted the data on it, giving you a fresh start. Remember that a formatted drive will have absolutely no data on it so make sure you don't have your only copies of your digital wedding photos on it before you format.

When it comes to choosing between NTFS, FAT16 and FAT32 in your Windows setup, there is no choice. Go with NTFS and don't worry about the other ones.

Once formatted, you must now partition the drive. Partitions appear to the Operating System as completely separate drives, and it is generally a good idea to have several partitions on larger drives. To keep from wasting valuable hard drive space, I try to keep my partitions no larger than about 200 GB, but you'll find all sorts of different opinions on this from "only one partition is fine even on a 1TB drive" to "keep your partitions to less than 64GB". When your partitioning is complete, that's it! Now you have lots of fresh new hard drive space and you can go back to downloading the entire Star Trek catalog! Remember to: 1) Skip the Final Frontier, Insurrection and Nemesis movies as well as the first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise (they stink); and 2) Don't let Paramount find out!


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