5 Things to Consider When You Install a SATA Hard Drive
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Updated by Gavin Phillips on 10/28/2017

Hard 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 parallel hard drives, with each driving connecting to the motherboard using its own SATA adapter.

As well as a specific port, SATA offers substantial improvements in data transfer rates. The original SATA specification transfers data at speeds up to 150MB/s. The latest revision, SATA 3.2 transfers data at speeds up to 1969MB/s (1.969GB/s). While the latter isn’t in use for consumer drives, the technology does eventually filter into those products.

Solid State Drives sales have rapidly increased throughout the past five years, from around 39 million units in 2012 to an estimated 190 million in 2017. If you’re ready to upgrade your drive to a faster model with larger capacity, there are several things to consider.

1. Safety Guidelines

Installing new hardware isn’t rocket science, but it can feel daunting. However, by taking the following pre-installation steps, you won’t damage your hardware before you even begin.

Ground Yourself

Electrostatic shock can wreck your drive Your Sneakers Can Kill Your Computer: How Static Electricity Works [MakeUseOf Explains] Your Sneakers Can Kill Your Computer: How Static Electricity Works [MakeUseOf Explains] Static electricity is the number one computer hardware killer, and its everywhere! Panic aside, if you do any work with computer components - even as simple as upgrading your memory - you need to know... Read More , even as you take it out of the packaging. An electrostatic shock comes from a static energy build-up. It is transferred to the metallic case of the drive and can fry vital components. Luckily, most new hardware arrives in an anti-static bag and should come with a handling warning too. However, some modern components have integrated anti-shock technology that will 99% stop any hardware damage from an unexpected static shock.

5 Things to Consider When You Install a SATA Hard Drive anti static wrist strap

But just because your drive has shock protection, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be wary of affecting other hardware components. The easiest way to protect your hardware is to ground yourself. Touch a metal table leg or the case of your computer (do this after discharging your motherboard by holding down the power button for a few seconds after you’ve shut down).

Alternatively, buy an anti-static wristband.

Power Off

As just mentioned, after shutting your system down, you need to discharge any remaining charge. Before you open the case and begin fiddling with the hardware, turn off the mains power switch. You’ll find the switch at the back of your case. Once turned off, hold the power button down for a few seconds to discharge any remaining power.

2. Connectors

This article assumes you have a modern motherboard, e.g., no longer has IDE connectors. IDE drives haven’t featured in consumer computers for some time. The overwhelming majority of computers and motherboards sold in recent years will focus solely on SATA drives (with a few exceptions, of course). Let’s familiarize ourselves with the SATA connector and port.

Both HDDs and SSDs use SATA connectors, so there is nothing to distinguish between the two drive inputs. Your SATA cable will have two connectors What Are The Different Computer Cable Types You Should Know As A User? What Are The Different Computer Cable Types You Should Know As A User? Take a look at any piece of equipment related to computer harder and you’ll soon find yourself in a swirling maelstrom of acronyms and foreign jargon. What does it matter if you use IDE or... Read More , like so:

5 Things to Consider When You Install a SATA Hard Drive sata power and data cable
Image Credit: timbrk/Depositphotos

The top connector is for data, while the second powers your drive. It is possible to buy an all-in-one, 22-pin SATA cable that combines both connectors (but is less flexible).

WonderfulDirect 22 Pin SATA ATA Data and Power Combo Cable (SATA22Pin TO data+Power) WonderfulDirect 22 Pin SATA ATA Data and Power Combo Cable (SATA22Pin TO data+Power) Cost-effective solution for powering a SATA drive from an LP4 connection on the computer power supply, which eliminates the cost of a power supply upgrade for compatibility with SATA hard drives Buy Now At Amazon

Your motherboard will have the following ports available:

5 Things to Consider When You Install a SATA Hard Drive SATA04

Should you find that you don’t have a Serial ATA connector available, you can upgrade your motherboard with a SATA PCIe card PCIe vs. SATA: Which Type of SSD Is Best for You? PCIe vs. SATA: Which Type of SSD Is Best for You? When buying a new SSD, you have a choice between SATA and PCIe. But what's the difference? Just because one is "better" doesn't mean it's the right one for you. Read More . Make sure you have a PCIe slot available on your motherboard. A PCIe slot looks like this (this illustrates the x4, x1, and x16 slot variants, as well as a standard PCI slot in gray):

5 Things to Consider When You Install a SATA Hard Drive PCIe slots x16 x4

It isn’t a case of forcing two SATA connectors into one SATA slot via an adapter. It just doesn’t work that way. In those cases, a PCIe adapter is the best option to immediately grant extra SATA slots (following by upgrading your motherboard or PC).

Syba SATA III 4 Port PCI-e x1 Controller Card with Low Profile Brackets Syba SATA III 4 Port PCI-e x1 Controller Card with Low Profile Brackets 4 Internal SATA 6Gb/s Ports Buy Now At Amazon £27.78

3. Cables

Your new HDD or SSD probably arrived with at least its interface cable (the top cable in our example image, above). But your drive also needs power. That power usually comes in the form of a 4-pin Molex power connector with a SATA drive specific connector. The below image is a 4-pin Molex SATA power cable:

5 Things to Consider When You Install a SATA Hard Drive molex to sata power cable

A SATA HDD can arrive with a range of input connectors, allowing you to choose between a SATA power connector or 4-pin Molex connector (number 1 and 3, respectively, in the following image). You can choose either one but not both at the same time!

A reader notes that you should “never use the Molex (4-pin) to SATA power adapter” because “most hard drives and solid state drives require the orange 3.3V wire to supply power for the drive electronics.” This may cause the drives to fail at spinning up or registering in the computer’s BIOS, Device Manager, or Disk Management. Thank you for the heads-up, Doc!

Consequently, some modern HDDs have done away with 4-pin Molex power inputs and now offer just a SATA power input.

5 Things to Consider When You Install a SATA Hard Drive SATA07

A SATA SSD will arrive with only a SATA power connector and a data transmission cable, respectively 1. and 2. in the following image:

5 Things to Consider When You Install a SATA Hard Drive plugged in ssd connectors

4. Installation Procedure

Installing a SATA drive is an easy procedure The Complete Guide On Installing A Solid State Hard Drive In Your PC The Complete Guide On Installing A Solid State Hard Drive In Your PC A solid state hard drive is one of the best upgrades available for a modern computer. It increases the load times of programs dramatically, which in turn makes a PC feel snappier. Results can be... Read More . The following video details the installation process for a desktop PC.

https://youtu.be/-6eTFXMfc0o

Changing the drive on your laptop is also an easy process. As there are numerous laptop makes and models, I would suggest heading to YouTube and searching for “[your laptop make and model] drive install.”

5. Configuring Your Drive

Your existing setup might recognize the new drive if you’re simply adding it for extra storage. But there is a chance it won’t. If you install your drive and it doesn’t recognize it, type disk management into your Start menu search bar. Select the first option. We’ll use the Disk Management panel to bring your new drive to life How to Manage Hard Drive Partitions and Volumes in Windows 10 How to Manage Hard Drive Partitions and Volumes in Windows 10 Is Windows slow and running out of storage space? Or do you want to re-allocate space? We'll show you how to use Windows 10's partition manager. Read More .

5 Things to Consider When You Install a SATA Hard Drive disk management windows 10 drives

Your unallocated drive should be visible on a separate row. If it is an entirely new drive, it will appear as Unknown and Not Initialized. We will initialize the drive before use using the following steps.

  1. Right-click the uninitialized drive and select Initialize disk.
  2. Select MBR (Master Boot Record) for a drive smaller than 2TB, and GPT (GUID Partition Table) for a drive larger than 2TB.
  3. Once initialized, right-click the newly Unallocated space and select New Simple Volume.
  4. Choose the Volume Size. If you’re using the whole drive, leave the default allocation. If you’re planning more than one partition How to Set Up a Second Hard Drive in Windows: Partitioning How to Set Up a Second Hard Drive in Windows: Partitioning You can split your drive into different sections with drive partitions. We'll show you how to resize, delete, and create partitions using a default Windows tool called Disk Management. Read More , allocate the volume size as you see fit. Hit Next.
  5. Assign a drive letter using the drop-down Your existing drives will not be listed. Hit Next.
  6. Select a file system. It is recommended to use NTFS with Windows 10. Add a Volume label, and make sure Perform a quick format is unchecked. Hit Next.
  7. Hit Finish.

Windows 10 will promptly create a new partition and format the drive ready for use. If you’re wondering why I specified unchecking the quick format option, here’s why: a quick format doesn’t check the drive for errors or damage How to Format a New Internal Hard Drive or Solid State Drive How to Format a New Internal Hard Drive or Solid State Drive If you have a new HDD or SSD, you should format it. Through formatting, you can wipe old data, malware, bloatware, and you can change the file system. Follow our step-by-step process. Read More . It is preferable to uncover any errors or damage at this stage, rather than when you’re trying to upload data or install an operating system.

Configuring Your BIOS

You might not have to make any changes to your PC or laptop BIOS. However, if your computer doesn’t detect the new drive by default certain BIOS settings will require a tweak. Since BIOS options aren’t standardized, I can only offer vague guidelines here.

To launch the BIOS, you have to press a hardware specific key before the computer boots into Windows. The key is usually DEL, ESC, or F1, but it does vary by manufacturer. However, most systems display the correct button during the boot process, before Windows begins to load. Alternatively, consult our guide to entering the BIOS How To Enter The BIOS On Your Computer How To Enter The BIOS On Your Computer Inside the BIOS you can change basic computer settings, like the boot order. The exact key you need to strike depends on your hardware. We have compiled a list of strategies & keys to enter... Read More , including a list of commonly used keys by manufacturers.

Once you’re in the BIOS, be careful not to change any unfamiliar options Discover Your BIOS & Learn How to Make the Most of It Discover Your BIOS & Learn How to Make the Most of It What the heck is the BIOS, anyway? Is it really that important to know? We think so and fortunately it's pretty easy. Let us introduce you. Read More . You may need to toggle an option to “auto-detect new hardware,” or specifically turn on the unused SATA port on the motherboard. Carefully check that each cable is well seated in its port at each end and that you haven’t accidentally knocked other cables during the process.

Ready to Use

At this point, your new drive should be installed in your laptop or desktop computer. Following these steps is easy and ensures (almost) nothing can wrong. If you would like to learn more about your system hardware, check out our thorough guide to every part of your PC The Ultimate Guide to Your PC: Everything You Wanted to Know -- and More The Ultimate Guide to Your PC: Everything You Wanted to Know -- and More While your PC's technical specs change, its function remains the same. In this guide, we're going to set out exactly what each component does, why it does it, and why that is important. Read More . Good luck!

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  1. Doc
    November 1, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    Never use the Molex (4-pin) to SATA power adapter; most modern drives (SSDs and hard drives) require the orange 3.3v wire to supply power for the drive electronics. DVD and Blu-Ray drives usually work just fine with the Molex adapter, but hard drives won't spin up (and won't appear in the computer's BIOS, Device Manager or Disk Management).

    • Tina Sieber
      November 1, 2017 at 5:00 pm

      Thank you for the heads-up, Doc! I also appreciate that you notified previous commenters. Do you mind if I add your comment to the article (with credits)?

      • Doc
        November 1, 2017 at 10:21 pm

        Sounds good! More info is always better. :)

  2. 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?

  3. 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.

        • Doc
          November 1, 2017 at 1:16 pm

          Try using a different SATA data cable (the narrower one, rather than the power connector). Some newer SATA-3 cables aren't compatible with older drives.

  4. 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 :

    • Doc
      November 1, 2017 at 1:15 pm

      You probably need SATA power connectors (7-pin, with the orange wire).

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.