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install sata hard driveHard drives with a Serial ATA (SATA) connector were introduced to replace IDE and Enhanced IDE (Parallel ATA) drives. SATA removes the master-slave relationship between hard drives (parallel), as each drive connects directly to a SATA host adapter or port (serial). Data transfer speeds range from 150MB/sec (SATA) and up to 300 MB/sec (SATA II). The SATA interface cable can be up to 1m long, which is an advantage in a large computer case.

Ready to upgrade your hard drive? Before you install a SATA hard drive, however, there are several things to consider. I have summarized the most important points in this article.

1. Safety Guidelines

Installing new hardware isn’t rocket science. However, it can be dangerous for you and your computer, unless you follow a few simple guidelines:

Ground Yourself

To avoid hardware damage from an electrostatic discharge you have to ground yourself, i.e. discharge your body’s static electricity before you open the computer case. If you don’t own an anti-static wristband (see image below), you can ground yourself by touching a solid and grounded piece of metal, for example the leg of a table or the metal case of your computer.

Power Off

After grounding yourself and before you open the case of your computer, make sure the computer is turned off. Shut down Windows and turn off the power supply through the rocker switch on the back of the computer. Alternatively, you can unplug the power cord.

install sata hard drive

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2. Connector on Motherboard

If your computer is not the latest model and initially came with an IDE hard drive, the motherboard might not provide a SATA connector. To find out, have a quick look into your case to check your hardware setup.

First check what type of interface cable your current hard drive has. The image below shows what SATA (red, left) and IDE (grey, right) cables look like.

how to install a hard drive

If your old hard drive is IDE, look for the SATA connector on your motherboard. If it’s a SATA drive, double-check whether another SATA connector is available on the motherboard, given you want to keep the old hard drive installed. The next image shows part of a motherboard with two SATA connectors (purple).

install new hard drive

Should you find that you don’t have a Serial ATA connector (available), you can upgrade your motherboard with a SATA PCI card. Make sure you have a PCI slot available on your motherboard (image below).

install new hard drive

Let’s summarize:

  • Identify available SATA connectors on the motherboard.
  • If necessary install a SATA PCI card.

3. Cables

In case your hard drive didn’t come with a complete set (they usually do not), make sure you have all the required cables. What you need is the SATA interface cable (red cable in image above) and either a 4-pin Molex power connector or a SATA power cable. The former is the same cable that IDE drives require. The SATA power connector is depicted in the following image.

install new hard drive

SATA drives typically come with both types of power connectors (numbers 1 and 3 in image below), so you can use either the Molex or the SATA power connector. Do not use both at once!

install sata hard drive

Taken together, you need to consider the following:

  • You need one SATA interface cable for each SATA hard drive.
  • To power the drive, you need either a 4pin Molex or a SATA power connector.
  • Never connect both power connectors at the same time or you could damage your drive!

4. Installation Procedure

Apart from the hardware requirements, installing a SATA hard drive is no different than installing an IDE drive. The following YouTube video demonstrates the installation procedure.

For more practical installation tips, check out the following articles:

5. Configuring the BIOS

You might not have to make any changes to the BIOS. However, if your computer doesn’t detect the new hard drive by default, you may be able to fix this in the BIOS. Since BIOS options are not standardized, I can only give you a vague guideline here.

To launch the BIOS, you have to press a special key before the computer boots into Windows. This could be the DEL, ESC, or F1 key. The exact key is usually indicated while you’re booting, the text on your screen could be ‘Hit DEL to enter Setup‘ or similar.

Once you’re in the BIOS, see if you can find an option to auto-detect new hardware. You should also find a list of identified hardware and how they are connected. If you’re using a SATA host adapter / PCI card, your hard drive may be classified as a SCSI device. This is normal and won’t affect the performance or capacity of the hard drive. Before you exit the BIOS again, be sure to save your changes.

As I said, it’s not rocket science. Did you expect tougher challenges when you install a SATA hard drive?

Image credits: Sergii Korolko, David Brimm, Alberto Pérez Veiga, Pavel Matras, Karkas, Renewer, Dino O

  1. Harold
    April 23, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    I had opened an application which is the Microsoft Access using my external hard drive, suddenly the app stopped and was not responding. There was a pop up box saying to close the program or restart the program, however, I clicked on the close the program. After that my external hard drive cannot be used anymore and it seems like it is dead. Can anyone help me?

  2. Calvin
    December 31, 2015 at 6:48 am

    Not sure why my motherboard doesn't recognize the sata ports for these 2 hard drives I'm installing. It sees my SSD's just fine, but acts like nothing else is plugged in. I don't see an option for autodetecting hardware in my BIOS, by MSI. This sucks.

    • Darz
      March 19, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      Did you sort out your problem?

      • Calvin
        March 24, 2016 at 2:08 am

        Nope. I'm just gonna say that they are older hard drives 8-10 years, and can't detect them.

        • Vignesh
          May 28, 2016 at 6:29 am

          Connect the old hard drives in other computers. Lets see what will happens. If other computer also can't detect that drive, its time to replace.

  3. Steve
    December 19, 2014 at 9:26 am

    Great! responsibility helpful!! Simply solves for newbies :) but my problem is the 4 pin molex power cable doesn't fit to my hdd :

  4. jeanjean
    March 20, 2011 at 10:35 am

    what about sata drivers for via sata based motherboard, windows won't see the hard drive and don't install on this type of motherboard, you need a floppy disk with sata drivers in this case !! pfff!

    • Tina
      March 20, 2011 at 6:13 pm

      Thanks for the input Jean.

  5. Wingo
    March 11, 2011 at 5:31 am

    Sorry to be negative but you should have left the video out. You can't see what is being described because of the poor light and no information is given to show the source of the data and power cables they are magically there.

    • Tina
      March 11, 2011 at 5:47 am

      Wingo, thanks for your feedback.

      I thought the video nicely complements the information and images provided in the article as it shows how it all fits together and how simple it really is. Some people have never seen the inside of a computer, but I think with the information and visual cues from the article and the video, it's possible to find everything and put it together the right way, even if the video doesn't show where the cables are connected on the motherboard.

      In addition, I linked to two articles right below the video that describe hard drive installation more in depth for anyone who needs it.

  6. Tina
    March 11, 2011 at 6:47 am

    Wingo, thanks for your feedback.

    I thought the video nicely complements the information and images provided in the article as it shows how it all fits together and how simple it really is. Some people have never seen the inside of a computer, but I think with the information and visual cues from the article and the video, it's possible to find everything and put it together the right way, even if the video doesn't show where the cables are connected on the motherboard.

    In addition, I linked to two articles right below the video that describe hard drive installation more in depth for anyone who needs it.

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