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How to Update Your Computer’s Hard Drive

Upgrading a hard drive isn’t as difficult as it sounds. First, you discover what type of hard drive you need by peeking inside your computer. Armed with that knowledge, you decide how much you want to spend. Faster drives that hold oodles of information, for example, cost much more than slower drives with less capacity.

1

Remove your computer’s case.

Or if you have a laptop or netbook, turn it upside down and open the panel covering its hard drive. (You may have to check your laptop or notebook’s manual to find the panel’s location.)

2

Examine the data cables that move from your computer’s motherboard (the large, flat circuit board filled with chips and cables) to your hard drive or drives.

If the drive’s cable is small (left), then your computer uses SATA drives. (The SATA connector is often labeled “SATA,” as well.) If you see a wide, flat ribbon cable (right), then your computer uses IDE drives. It’s that simple.

3

Examine the power cables that move from your computer’s power supply — that massive box in the corner that sprouts all the wires — to your drive.

Your drive uses either a SATA power cable (left) or a Molex power cable (right). SATA power connectors are almost always black; Molex connectors are almost always white.

4

Decide what hard drive features are worth your money.

The higher the capacity, the more information a drive can store, which also raises the price. Access or seek time measures the amount of time the drive takes to locate stored files, measured in milliseconds (ms). DTR (data transfer rate) measures how quickly your computer can transfer the files after it finds them. Also, your drive stashes recently accessed information in a special, extra-speedy spot called a cache, where it can dish it out quickly if you need it again.

5

Before settling on a particular make and model of drive, read that drive’s customer reviews on sites like Amazon and NewEgg.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to trade some speed or capacity for reliability.

6

Remove the screws and/or trays holding the old drive, saving the screws, then slide the new drive in the old one’s place and screw it back into place.

Installing an old IDE/ATA drive? Then set the new drive’s master/slave jumper to Master.

7

Plug in the new drive’s data cable and its power cable.

The cables from the old drive fit into their new drive’s connectors only one way on both ATA/IDE (right) and SATA drives (left).

8

Screw the drive back into place inside your computer’s case, and replace the plastic cover if you’re performing surgery on a laptop.

Just install Windows on your new hard drive or reinstall if from a system image you made of your old hard drive.

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