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How to install a hard drive

In college, as the burgeoning P2P world opened up before me, I spent four years moving, burning, and ultimately sacrificing the free and ambiguously legal media I had been downloading on my 20GB laptop.

Since that time PVR functionality has replaced my P2P addiction (sort of), and my used hard drive space is still bumping up against its limits. Now that I’m out of college and enjoying the luxury of a desktop computer, I need worry no longer about limited storage.

Adding new hard drive devices to your PC is a quick and simple operation. With hard drives available to the discerning buyer for prices as low as $0.25/GB, greatly expanding the storage space inside your computer has never been cheaper.

That’s right, inside. For half the price of an external hard drive and slightly more work, you can add a new hard drive inside your computer with ease.

To those of you afraid of opening up your computer:

Computer hardware isn’t the mysterious bad-boy you always thought. It’s actually more like the mysterious bad-boy who just wants to be loved. Once you show hardware acceptance, it’ll open up and totally love you back.

Please note:

Opening up your computer comes with some risk. Always keep safety in mind when working inside your computer (as you should with any electrical device). That said, getting comfortable with cracking it open and fiddling around opens up a whole new world of options and upgrades to your personal computing experience.

Whether you’re installing an IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics, aka ATA or PATA, common for older hard drives and optical drives) or SATA drive (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment – the newer, faster interface supported by most newer motherboards), the installation process is virtually the same and very easy. It’s up to you to find out what interfaces are supported by your motherboard. As always, be sure to read your manual so that you know the ins and outs of your computer before attempting any installation.

What you’ll need:

  • Hard drive device or optical drive
  • The appropriate interface cords (should be included with your hard drive)
  • Phillips screwdriver
  • Needlenose pliers (IDE only)
  • Your computer

This image was lost some time after publication.

For my sample installation, I’ll be using the IDE hard drive pictured above.

Step 1: Install new drive software

In many cases, the hard drive will come with software to run before installing the drive. To be sure, read the manual accompanying your hard drive. Most of the time hard drive installation can be successfully completed without taking this step, but this included software can be very helpful when it comes time to format and set up the drive.

Step 2: Prepare your computer

This image was lost some time after publication.

To get your computer ready, you need to make it safe. That means turning off the switch on the back of the power supply unit. (If you’re going to be using your PSU as a grounded metal source, you’ll want to keep it plugged in. If you have another ground, it’s best to unplug the computer completely.) After turning off the power supply, wait at least 10 seconds before cracking open your case to allow the motherboard’s capacitors to discharge. Once you’ve done this, you can sigh a deep breath of relief – you’ve circumvented the most dangerous aspect of installing your hard drive – electricity.

Once you’ve rendered your computer powerless, it’s time to open up your case. This process varies from case to case, but it’s relatively simple, especially with newer cases and usually involves the removal of a couple of screws and a side panel. This should give you easy access and plenty of room to install that hard drive.

While working inside your case, be mindful of static electricity. To avoid building up a static charge that could potentially short out a component, some people use an anti-static strap to ground themselves (available from most computer hardware retailers). I prefer not to use the strap. Instead, remember to touch a grounded metal surface from time to time to prevent a static charge from building. Touching your computer’s power supply unit (provided it remains plugged in and turned off) should do the trick.

Step 3: Find an empty space and mount the drive

Generally the hard drive bays are located toward the front of the PC. It should be easy to find an open spot near your existing hard drive.

To keep your hard drives cool, it’s a good practice to keep an open hard drive bay between your installed drives if you’ve got the space.

Mounting the hard drive in your enclosure varies from case to case. On my case, the hard drive mounts to a slide that can easily snap in and out of the hard drive enclosure. Other cases require you to mount directly in the case. Either way, this isn’t difficult. Just line up the screws with the holes in your hard drive and mount away. Some cases require you to mount to the side of the drive, others mount to the bottom.

Step 4: Find and connect the proper cables

From here out, it’s a simple of matter of matching square pegs to square holes. First, find a free power connector and connect it to the hard drive.

Next, connect the interface cable to your hard drive (see below). In my example, the cable is an IDE connector, but it’s the same idea with an SATA drive. If you’re installing an IDE drive, you can often piggy back off an existing drive’s cable (for 2 IDE drives per channel).

Step 4: Set the drive jumper (IDE only) [1]

If you’ve installed your hard drive on the primary IDE channel as a second drive and it’s sharing a cable with the your current drive, you need to designate your new drive as the Slave drive. However, if your new drive is going to be used as your PC’s new boot drive, you want to set the jumper to the Master setting.

Setting the drive jumper is simple. Consult your drive’s documentation to verify the jumper settings (jumper settings are generally printed on the drive). Using a needlenose pliers, move the jumper to the appropriate setting for your installation.

Note: In addition to setting the drive jumper on your new hard drive, check to make sure your original hard drive is set to the appropriate jumper setting as well.

Step 5: Finishing up

It’s all pretty simple from here on out. Replace your computer’s side panel and screw it into place. Plug in your power supply unit (remembering to flip the switch back on) and boot up.

Now you’re back in the realm of software where you’re the undisputed master. Check out your new drive to see that everything’s looking good (and why shouldn’t it be?).

Easy, right? Who knew installing new hardware in your PC didn’t involve soldering guns and blowtorches? Your newfound ability to install hard drives and optical drives should take care of those nagging low disk space warnings, at least for the time being.

And when the low disk warnings do start popping up again and you can’t bear to rid yourself of the hundreds of episodes of The Simpons stored on your new drive, you’ve got the know-how to install another larger drive. Or follow the same instructions to install a DVD-R drive and backup your files that way.

Whatever you choose, you should never have to delete beloved media from your computer again.