Upgrade Your Computer’s Hard Drive
It’ll happen sooner or later. Your computer’s hard drive will fill up, especially if you have an older system that came with relatively small storage capacity compared to more recent iterations. It doesn’t cost a lot of money to buy and install a hard drive with much larger capacity, and it’s a pretty easy job as long as you’re not fearful of doing it. If you’re afraid to even open up your computer, then you shouldn’t try this at home. Find a professional to do it. Otherwise, read on.
Computers typically have a Master hard drive and sometimes one or more Slave drives. The Master drive is the one from which the system boots and the one that contains the operating system and all the drivers. The drivers are unique to your system and the specific hardware it contains, and they tell the operating system how to interact with the hardware.
Larger desktop systems usually have an empty bay or two for adding hard drives; if yours does, then adding a second drive is a piece of cake. Usually all you have to do is set a jumper on the second drive to the Slave position, forcing the drive to take a back seat to the Master drive.
Depending on the style of your desktop system, removing either the top panel or one of the side panels will grant access to the innards. Usually you have to remove a couple of screws and the panel will slide off. Once you get the system open, you can tell what kind of hard drive it has, and therefore, what kind you have to add.
Desktop systems usually use 3.5-inch hard drives, but compact systems might contain smaller 2.5-inch notebook hard drives. If you’re not sure what size your drive is you can measure it. Hard drives have a rectangular shape, and the shorter of the two sides is the one you should measure.
Next you have to determine what kind of drive you have. Older computers contain PATA, or IDE hard drives, and newer ones contain SATA hard drives. The connectors on PATA hard drives consist of double rows of metal pins, while the connectors on SATA hard drives consist of two flat tabs. Also, PATA drives use flat, wide ribbon cables that are usually gray in color, while SATA drives use thicker, narrower cables that are usually red. Also, SATA drives use two similar-looking cables, while PATA drives use one ribbon cable and a separate four-pin power connector.
|PATA Cable||SATA Cable|
It goes without saying that if you’re doing anything inside a computer, the power should be off. If you’re installing a second hard drive in a desktop system that has an empty drive bay, there should be unused connectors. Just set the jumper on the drive to Slave, attach all the cables and power up. If all goes well you’ll have a new drive in your system with tons of free space to use. You might need to run a disk management utility to set up new partitions on the drive and format them accordingly, but that’s about it.
Upgrading a desktop is usually not an issue, but if you have a small-form-factor desktop computer with no room inside for a second hard drive, or if you’re upgrading a notebook computer, you will have to swap the single hard drive for a larger one. This is where things get a little more complicated.
As mentioned before, the Master drive is the one from which the system boots and the one that contains the operating system and all the drivers. It also contains all your apps if it’s the only drive in the system. If you pull the Master drive and replace it with a blank drive the system will no longer boot. Even if you reinstall the operating system the computer still won’t run properly unless you reinstall all the drivers, and you’ll have no apps unless you reinstall those as well. It’s much easier to simply clone your original hard drive on a much larger, new drive.
When you clone a hard drive you need a way to read the old drive and write to the new drive. The easiest way to read the old drive is while it’s still in your computer. But because there would be no way to write to the new drive once you pull the old drive, you have to read the old drive and write to the new drive while the computer is still functioning.
B&H carries a handful of hardware devices that can be used to clone a hard drive. The least expensive unit, the Aluratek SuperSpeed USB 3.0, is simply a cradle for 2.5- and 3.5-inch SATA hard drives. It connects to a computer via USB (USB 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0!) and lets you read and write to bare hard drives, effectively using them as external units. The only catch is that you still need disk-cloning software to read your old disk and properly format the new disk; you can’t just copy everything manually and expect it to work.
B&H sells solid-state-drive upgrade kits that come with EZ Gig disk cloning software but doesn’t sell the software by itself; you can, however, find it on the Web. You can use these kits to upgrade your old drive to a solid-state unit, but this is a relatively expensive way to go. You can also find the EZ Gig software on the Web in a bundle that includes a case that converts a bare hard drive into an external unit. The idea is to put a new hard drive in the external case, run the EZ Gig software, which clones your old hard drive to the new drive, and then swap the new drive for your old one. Your system should just boot right up, with much additional storage space.
B&H also sells hardware-only solutions for cloning hard drives. There’s one made by Aluratek (the External SATA Hard Drive Duplicator) and two made by Aleratec (the 1:1 Hard Disk Drive Copy Cruiser Mini and the 1:1 Hard Disk Drive PortaCruiser). All three units accommodate both 2.5- and 3.5-inch hard drives, and they all work without a computer. To use them you have to first remove your old hard drive from your computer and then insert your old hard drive and a new one into the duplicator. At the touch of a button these devices will then clone your old hard drive.
Prior to cloning a hard drive is a good time to uninstall any programs you don’t use, delete unnecessary files and defragment the drive, as there’s no sense in duplicating flaws and wasted space on the new drive, no matter how big it is.
As for size, the best rule of thumb is to simply buy the drive with the most storage space you can afford, within reason. For example, if you’ve never quite filled up a drive that’s less than 100 GB, you’ll probably never even come close to filling up a 1TB drive. But if you already have a 1TB drive that’s almost full, then you should skip a 2TB drive and just upgrade to 3TB; there’s only a slight difference in price.
When it comes time to remove your notebook’s hard drive, either consult your owner’s manual to learn how it’s done, or just wing it if you have to. If you have to wing it, look for a panel on the underside that’s roughly the size of the drive. The bare drive might be installed in a cradle that has to be transferred to the new drive in order for it to be installed. It goes without saying that the power should be turned off before tampering with the hard drive.
B&H sells all kinds of hard drives, although PATA drives are becoming scarce; fortunately they are still available. You still have the choice of 3.5-inch PATA, 3.5-inch SATA, 2.5-inch PATA and 2.5-inch SATA hard drives.
Once you’ve cloned your hard drive and installed the new drive in your computer, just close it up and restart. If it doesn’t just power right up you can always put the old drive back until you figure out what went wrong.
If you have any suggestions or questions about upgrading a hard drive, or would like to share your experiences with such endeavors, we’d love to read them in the Comments section below.