DIY

How to Install a New Hard Drive to Replace an Old One

Georgina Torbet Updated 30-03-2020

Hard drive space isn’t infinite. Today’s massive drives, with capacities exceeding 1TB, can create that illusion. But as drive sizes increase, ways to consume drive capacity also expand. HD video, for example, can eat gigabytes for breakfast.

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That’s the bad news. The good news is that learning how to install a new hard drive isn’t difficult, so there is no need to be concerned about a hard drive that is nearly full. Read on to find out how to install a new drive to replace an old one.

Identifying The Proper Replacement Hard Drive

Before you can replace a hard drive in your PC with a new drive, you’ll need to determine the type of drive you need to buy.

HDD or SDD?

Replace Hard Drive - SSD

The most important choice you need to consider is whether you want a mechanical hard drive (called an HDD, or hard disk drive) or a solid state drive (called an SSD). SSDs are smaller in dimensions than HDD. They are also a lot faster. If you want to access programs with less waiting, then an SSD is one of the best upgrades you can make to your PC.

However, an SSD is more expensive than a HDD would be for the same amount of storage. For example, while 1TB HDDs are very affordable, a 1TB SSD is an expensive luxury. So one popular choice is to buy a smaller SSD, say around 256GB, to install your operating system and programs on.

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Then you can also buy a large capacity HDD, say around 1TB, to store your media like photos and music or your games library. That way, your operating system will be fast but you’ll also have plenty of storage.

Also, consider the problem of bottlenecking. If you have a newer system with plenty of RAM and a good processor, then you’ll benefit greatly from upgrading to a SSD. Everything will run much faster and your computer will be much better to use.

But if you have a very old computer which is limited by an old processor and not much RAM, then you won’t necessarily see that much benefit from upgrading to an SSD.

In that case, you might as well save your money and stick to an HDD.

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HDD Data Connection Types

Today, most hard drives use a data connection known as SATA. However, very old computers might instead support a data connection called IDE. You can easily tell the difference between the two because an IDE connection uses numerous pins, while SATA uses a pin-less L-shaped connector.

The pictures above provide a comparison—the IDE drive is on the left and the SATA drive is on the right. Laptop drives will obviously be smaller, but the connections have the same appearance.

Physical Drive Size

You’ll also need to make sure you buy a drive with the correct physical dimensions. There are two popular hard drive sizes: 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch. The larger is built for desktop systems, while the smaller is generally for laptops and compact desktops. However, solid state hard drives often come in the 2.5-inch size regardless of the type of machine they’re meant to be installed in.

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This rule isn’t absolute, however, because some all-in-one computers use 2.5-inch drives.

Transferring Data From The Old To New Drive

The process of installing a new hard drive is one of the least difficult hardware installation procedures around in terms of the physical effort required. However, the hard drive is one of the most critical components in your system because it stores all of your information.

Everything from your operating system to your emails to your favorite songs are stored on your hard drive. Obviously, a straight replacement will leave you without that information.

If you’re using a computer that has more than one hard drive bay you’ll find the process of transferring data from one drive to another to be easy. All you need to do is install the second hard drive in your system and then clone an image of your existing drive Disk Partition, Clone, Backup: What's the Difference? Partitioning, cloning, and backing up are all important computer processes. We'll explain the differences and help you find which is best for you. Read More using one of the many freeware tools available for this task.

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Once the old drive’s image has been cloned and placed on the new drive, you can simply remove the old drive or reformat it and use it as a second drive (make sure the clone was successful before taking this step, however!)

Computers that have only a single drive bay are more difficult to work with because you can’t have the new and old drive installed at the same time. You can, however, still clone your old drive to your new one. This is possible by connecting your new drive to your PC with a USB-to-SATA cable or an external hard drive dock.

Cloning a drive may take some time because of the bandwidth limitations of USB 2.0, but it will complete eventually.

How to Replace a Hard Drive

Desktop computer hard drives are usually placed in the lower front half of a mid-tower enclosure. They are attached using between two and six screws. Once the drive is in place, you just need to plug in the SATA data cable.

This connects to your motherboard. Then you connect the power cables to your power supply unit. The next time you boot up your machine, you should be able to see the new hard drive in your BIOS.

Laptops are different, as some laptops will offer a plastic hard drive bay cover on the bottom of the laptop that is held in with one or two screws. Removing the cover will reveal the drive, which is itself typically attached with a few screws. Installing a replacement drive is simply a matter of taking the existing drive out and putting the new drive in its place.

The power and data connections are built into the mount itself, so you don’t have to worry about tracking down the cables.

Please note that not all laptops are intended to be user serviceable in this way. So please read your laptop’s manual for information about hard drive replacement before proceeding.

Booting & Partitioning

replace hard drive - windows disk management

Once you’ve replaced your old drive you’ll want to boot up your PC. This way you can make sure everything is functioning well. Assuming you did clone your data from your old drive to your new once, this process should be painless. Your PC will barely realize that anything has changed.

You should probably visit the Disk Management utility, which can be found by visiting the Administrative Tools > Computer Management section of the Windows Control Panel, to ensure that Windows is recognizing and using all of your new hard drive’s capacity. If it isn’t, you can extend the current partition to cover the free space or create a new drive partition.

If you didn’t end up cloning your drive, this step will be irrelevant. Because you’ll have to format and partition the new drive during the installation process of your operating system.

Install a New Hard Drive Easily

Replacing a hard drive in your PC can seem like an intimidating task if you don’t know much about hardware. But it’s a fairly simple process and can make your experience using your computer much better.

For more detailed information about a laptop-specific project, see our guide to upgrading your laptop DVD drive to a hard drive How to Upgrade Your Laptop DVD Drive for a HDD or SSD DVD drives are becoming more and more useless. We show you how to upgrade your laptop DVD drive with a 2.5-inch HDD or SSD. Read More .

Related topics: Building PCs, Computer Maintenance, DIY Project Tutorials, Hard Drive, Solid State Drive, Tech Support.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Mizu
    August 23, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    I'm late to the party, but hopefully someone can still answer me.

    I received a laptop with a broken hdd for free. It is a newer HP running win10. I want to install Linux on it and I've had issues with installing Linux on EFI/UEFI machines before.
    Will installing Linux on a new hdd give me any issues or will I start with a completely clean slate?

  2. Tammy Jane Mackie
    October 19, 2016 at 10:56 pm

    My initial question, "do I need to transfer my copy of Windows 7 from the old hard drive onto the new one, in my laptop or is it in the background installation?" Was not addressed in this or I did not see it. Thanks.

  3. sammy J.
    July 19, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    I have replaced my hard drive in my dell laptop, how can I get it up and going ? when I turn on the power it ask for system pass word, I enter the pass word and it does nothing, I have no way to log on. Please help Email me any help please.

  4. Khaidemcha Jitendro
    May 10, 2016 at 7:11 am

    i have cloned manually using AOMEI software i.e. partition of c drive of old HDD to g drive of a new HDD but couldn't run the computer with the new HDD. Is there would be any problem on partition cloning or what would be other reason?

  5. Charles
    April 26, 2016 at 7:53 am

    "Complete Hardrive switch?"
    (With the terms of removing an old build's hardrive with a bcd error corruption of Win7; for a new hardrive can it be installed with Win10 with the old parts & motherboard?)

  6. clifford
    February 16, 2016 at 6:12 am

    I have an Asus K55A it's hard drive corrupted totally irrecoverable I have ordered a new hard drive the old hard drive can't be cloned will this method work for me I know I'll have to install a new OS but what else should I do

  7. Anonymous
    June 19, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    Hi, I hope you can help me.
    I have a Dell Studio XPS8100 running Windows 7 with two hard drives and the hard drives have failed - I actually think only one has failed but I cannot access it or boot it. I got warning that it was failing and managed to download onto an external hard drive all my files etc. (just in case). I do have a back up program - Easeus Todo Workstation. I have two choices 1 - to replace the hard drive and reboot my machine using my back up programme with a view to buying a new machine when Microsoft issue the windows 10 upgrade (I have heard from Easus that they would only be able to rescue my files and folders into Window 8 and I would prefer to keep allthe programs I have downloaded and paid for though they are working on being able to migrate the backup to a Windows 10 upgrade). So my question is do I need to install two drives or can I install just one. I don't know if it will work with installing just one. I have recently retired to France so I don't anyone who can help me. I would be very grateful for some assistance.
    Hilary Elder

  8. Willie Wells
    March 18, 2015 at 7:17 pm

    I have the Dell XPS8500 desk top windows 7 home premium . the hard drive went out, my question, when I install a new hard drive, will I need to install drivers and utilities , and then install the windows 7 program ? Dell do not ship any disk with their computers any longer. Could I get information on what to do ?

  9. MK
    February 9, 2015 at 3:58 am

    Question - Are the terms 'clone' and 'reimage' referring to the same thing? I've heard the term 'reimage'...

    If so, then it appears that a SATA/IDE adapter cable CAN be used to clone or reimage; guess I also need to know if this means that EVERYTHING on the hard drive is transferred, including all programs, documents, photos, music, etc.? It certainly sounds like that's what it means, and that is certainly preferable to the old method of only transferring the OS, then having to manually transfer docs, etc., and re-downloading or loading non-OS software, etc. I don't want to give bad directions to my brother when he borrows my adapter, and I'm no techie, so all advice is appreciated!
    Thanks!
    MK

  10. that guy
    December 23, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    I have forgotten my administrator password can't get pass user: admin. Log in to windows screen. Can you help? I have a tower (dell. Xp. Pro).

  11. Mike
    April 17, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    I have 2 old IDE drives on my PC. I've just copied my C drive onto a new SATA drive using Norton Ghost. The problem I had in doing this was that I had to assign a drive ltter to the new drive in order for Ghost to recognise the destination drive. However, in doing this, I think Ghost then prevents me from allowing the new drive from becoming the Master Boot Drive (which is what I want).
    So now I have a new G:(C:) drive, which is a copy of my original C: drive, but I'm unable to boot from the new drive.
    Please can someone tell me how to make the new drive ny new, C: drive? (I've tried disconnecting my old drive, but PC won't boot).
    Advice very much appreciated. Thanks.

    • M.S. Smith
      April 17, 2011 at 7:22 pm

      Have you tried changing your boot drive in BIOS?

      Open BIOS by pressing the appropriate button at the boot screen (depends on the model of PC, but is usually DEL, ESC, F10, F12 or another function key). Then look for boot settings (again, the specific name depends on your model of PC). You should be able to designate G: as your boot drive.

  12. Antony
    February 10, 2011 at 6:18 am

    when we want to upgrade the old hard drive to a new one ,we really need to choose a reliable and effective software to help us to transfer the data. Here i want to recommend two softwares. Our company are using acronis true image and many of my colleagues are using easus todo backup home which is free for home users.

  13. Elton Sites
    January 25, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    I didn’t know till now that you can make a short cut in replacing hard drives. I do the long procedure and that is installing the new one and installing all the software from scratch. With the cloning technique, this can save a lot of time and effort. Thanks for the tip.

  14. anonymous
    January 25, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    If you are cloning from IDE to SATA with windows XP, wouldn't you need to provide sata drivers?

    • M.S. Smith
      January 25, 2011 at 6:15 pm

      I haven't tried an IDE to SATA clone myself. I would actually be surprised if Windows did not manage to install the SATA drives automatically when it noticed the difference, but I could be wrong.

  15. Elton Sites
    January 25, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    I didn’t know till now that you can make a short cut in replacing hard drives. I do the long procedure and that is installing the new one and installing all the software from scratch. With the cloning technique, this can save a lot of time and effort. Thanks for the tip.

  16. DarkDuck
    January 25, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    "not all laptops are intended to be user serviceable in this way, so please read your laptop’s manual for information about hard drive replacement before proceeding."
    I would say that this should be checked beforehand. You don't need to buy new HDD and clone it if your laptop is not serviceable. 8-)
    To be honest, I have never seen this type of laptops. Should be a rare case.

  17. darkduck
    January 25, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    "not all laptops are intended to be user serviceable in this way, so please read your laptop’s manual for information about hard drive replacement before proceeding."
    I would say that this should be checked beforehand. You don't need to buy new HDD and clone it if your laptop is not serviceable. 8-)
    To be honest, I have never seen this type of laptops. Should be a rare case.