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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.
Electrostatic shock can wreck your drive, 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.
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.
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.
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, like so:
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).
Your motherboard will have the following ports available:
Should you find that you don’t have a Serial ATA connector available, you can upgrade your motherboard with a SATA PCIe card. 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):
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).
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:
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.
A SATA SSD will arrive with only a SATA power connector and a data transmission cable, respectively 1. and 2. in the following image:
4. Installation Procedure
Installing a SATA drive is an easy procedure. The following video details the installation process for a desktop PC.
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.
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.
- Right-click the uninitialized drive and select Initialize disk.
- Select MBR (Master Boot Record) for a drive smaller than 2TB, and GPT (GUID Partition Table) for a drive larger than 2TB.
- Once initialized, right-click the newly Unallocated space and select New Simple Volume.
- Choose the Volume Size. If you’re using the whole drive, leave the default allocation. If you’re planning more than one partition, allocate the volume size as you see fit. Hit Next.
- Assign a drive letter using the drop-down Your existing drives will not be listed. Hit Next.
- 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.
- 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. 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, including a list of commonly used keys by manufacturers.
Once you’re in the BIOS, be careful not to change any unfamiliar options. 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.
When you’re done, don’t throw out your old drive. There are many ways to get use out of that disk, even if it’s dead.