Introduction: Changing a Hard Drive

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In this guide, we will go over the basic steps to change out a hard drive in a computer tower. There are many reasons you might want to change out a drive. Maybe you want to upgrade to a faster or larger drive. Maybe you just want to take everything apart for a thorough cleaning. Whatever your reason this is a very quick and simple upgrade you can perform on your own!

For this process you will need the following materials:

  • Your computer tower
  • New drive if you want to replace a current drive
  • Phillips Head Screwdriver
  • 15-30 minutes of time

Once you are ready to go proceed to step 1.

Step 1: Step 1: Power Down and Unplug

Our first step to to power off our workstation and unplug the computer so we can work on it safely. Make sure to save any work you have open and make backups of any important documents of files. Once the computer is powered down you can unplug power supply. The cable for the power supply can be found on the back of the tower. For added convenience you may also wish to unplug any additional cables plugged into your workstation such as network and monitor cables or USB devices like keyboards or mice. If you are not as familiar with how these cables need to be arranged, take few quick pictures with your smartphone to help you remember. This can be useful when we start putting everything back together after changing out the drive.

Step 2: Step 2: Opening the Case

Now that we have our workstation powered off and unplugged we are ready to open it up. The specific instructions for this step will vary as each manufacturer may have implemented a slightly different mechanism for their tower. Despite these differences, the principle will be generally the same.

With the tower standing upright most will open on the left or right side. Look on the side or back of the tower for latch or handle. Pulling this should release a latch on the inside of the tower and allow the side panel to be removed. If you cannot find a handle or latch look you can look for thumbscrews on the back. Unscrewing these should also allow the side panel to slide off. Keep track of these screws in a tray or bowl so they do not get lost. If you have trouble opening your tower please refer to your manufacture's website for further instructions.

Once the case is open set the side panel aside and continue to the next step.

Step 3: Step 3: Change Out the Drive

Now that we have the tower open we are ready to remove the old drive and replace it with the new one. Please note that if you have multiple hard drives please make sure you are removing the correct hard drive.

Locate the hard drive you wish to remove. There should be two cables plugged into it. One provides power and the the other provides a data connection so your computer can interface with the drive. Disconnect both cables.

Depending on your workstation there may be screws you will need to remove so the drive can be removed. As with the previous screws for the panel set these screws aside in a tray or bowl so they don't get lost. Some towers have different tray or clip mechanisms that can keep the drive secure without screws. Should you encounter issues look for instruction stickers, many towers have these stickers near the drive bays to help walk you through the process of removing or inserting the drive. If all else fails please refer to the manufacture's website.

You now should have the old drive removed and ready to be moved to another machine or responsibly recycled. A quick Google search can show places near you that accept electronic components for recycling. If you plan on keeping the drive for future projects make sure to store it in a warm, dry place.

Once the old drive is removed you are ready to move on.

Step 4: Step 4: Installation

Insert your new (in my case original) drive into an empty drive bay. Depending on the type and size of your new drive this may or may not be the same bay the original drive was removed from. Insert the drive into the bay and secure it with the screws or brackets used by your tower.

With the drive properly secured, plug in the two drive cables into each port. The connections for SATA drives are in an 'L' shape. Take care to properly line up these connections when plugging in your drive. If the plug does not slide on naturally please confirm the orientation of the plug and try again. Repeat this process for the second cable.

When the drive is plugged in you are ready to proceed.

Step 5: Step 5: Reassembly

With the drive installed we can now reassemble our tower. Retrieve your side panel and slide it back into place. Pay attention to any guiding tabs that need to be slid into place. If your tower uses a mechanical lever or latch you should hear it click into place when the panel is secure. If your tower uses screws, insert the side panel so it sits flush with the case and put the screws back in.

Step 6: Step 6: Plug and Play

Now that the case has been put back together, you are ready to reinsert the USB, display, and power cables. If you took any pictures in Step 2, now would be the time to reference them.

Once all your cables are inserted, you can press the power button to boot up the computer. If you replaced your primary drive you are now ready to install your operating system (ie Windows, Mac OS, etc) using the methods and instructions provided by your particular vendor.

If you replaced or added a secondary drive, your new drive should be detected by your operating system. You can confirm that the drive is connected by opening your systems file explorer (ie. Windows Explorer for Windows systems or Finder for Mac OS)

Please note that you may need to format the drive for it to be usable on your system. If this is necessary, most operating systems notify you and walk your through the necessary steps.

Enjoy your new drive!