What to Know Before You Upgrade PC Storage

Internally, you can add two types of drives to a computer console: a hard drive, also known as a disk drive, and an optical drive, also known as a CD or DVD drive. For the purposes of installing and upgrading, consider an solid state drive (SSD) to be the same as a hard drive.

The number of drives, and the type of drives, you add depend on how many disk drive expansion slots are in your PC.

Disk drives go into the drive bay. The bay must have room for whatever drive you plan to add to your PC. No room, no internal expansion. When you have one of those small-footprint PCs, or a laptop, the console probably lacks internal expansion luxury.

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Beyond the issue of where it parks, the disk drive connects to the rest of the computer system with two cables. The first is a power cable. The console is probably bristling with extra power cables, enough to fully populate as much storage hardware as it can carry.

The second cable is the data cable. It’s one of two types: ATA or SATA.

ATA: The daddy of all hard drive and optical drive connectors is the ATA, which stands for AT Attachment. The AT came from the IBM PC AT computer, introduced in the 1980s. Yes, it’s an old standard. It uses a flat ribbon cable and a boxy 50-pin connector.

SATA: The current and best standard for connecting disk drives inside the console is the SATA, or Serial ATA. It fixes some annoying issues that are present with the ATA data cable.

As with many hardware upgrades, which standard you use depends on what’s inside your computer. But unlike with other internal upgrades, you can determine from the outside what’s on the inside: Open the Device Manager. Open the item titled IDE ATA/ATAPI Controllers. That section lists for you the types of data cables available in the console: IDE or SATA or another variation.

Even though the Device Manager may cough up information about the drive interface, you may want to take a peek inside the console to confirm which type is available. When both types are available, use SATA.

  • Other names for the ATA data cable include ATAPI, IDE, PATA, and UDMA.

  • Variations on SATA are eSATA, the external version of SATA, and Ultra ATA, which is an older version of the standard.

  • Some computers may still use the SCSI interface. You can confirm this by viewing the Device Manager and looking under the Storage Controller category. If anything there says SCSI, your PC has the SCSI interface and can expand with those devices as well. SCSI stands for Small Computer Serial Interface, and it’s bemusedly pronounced “skuzzy.”

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