Installing an internal hard drive is one of the simpler upgrades out there – and is often a better option than using external drives that may have been dropped or lost.
The process usually requires nothing more than mounting, connecting a few cables and formatting the drive for use. Still, there are a few things you need to know to make the installation go as smoothly as possible.
Installing a hard drive on your PC doesn’t necessarily follow the same procedure as installing an SSD. If you’ve opted for a solid-state drive, be sure to check out our companion guides that explain how to install an SSD on a desktop and laptop. SSDs typically offer much faster speeds than hard drives, but hard drives offer significantly more capacity at lower prices.
Before we dive into the small details, these are some highly regarded options if you̵
- Seagate BarraCuda: 2 TB for $ 55, 4 TB for $ 90, 8 TB for $ 140, more sizes available.
- Toshiba X300: 4 TB for $ 95, more sizes available
- WD Black: 1 TB for $ 70, 2 TB for $ 100, 8 TB for $ 250, more sizes available.
Now let’s install this hard drive on your computer.
Disc cages, bays and mounting options
Internal 3.5-inch hard drives are usually mounted in a drive cage or in an available drive bay. The placement and orientation of the cages or bays will differ from case to case. The most common location is at the bottom of the front, near the intake fans and away from other components. Drive cages / bays are usually mounted perpendicular to the bottom of the chassis, while drives mounted in the cages are usually parallel to the bottom of the chassis.
In regular cases, drive connectors usually point backwards. In enthusiast class cases, it is becoming more common to see the drive’s connectors facing the right side, making it easier to route and hide cables behind the motherboard tray. Some enthusiast-class cases also allow users to remove drive cages or mount them in different positions to optimize airflow and simplify cable management.
Mount your hard drive
Physically mounting the hard drive in a PC is probably the most difficult part of the installation process.
Attaching the drive to a cage usually requires four screws on the sides or bottom of the drive. In many cases – especially enthusiastic ones – tool-less trays are used in which the drives are held with simple pins and clips.
Using screws is the more robust mounting method, but tool-less trays are fine for systems that don’t move around a lot.
Drives last longer if they stay nice and cool. When mounting drives in a system, try to leave as much space between the drives as possible to maximize airflow over the top and bottom. It also helps to place the drives directly in front of an inlet fan.
Connect the hard drives with SATA
Once the drive is mounted, you can quickly and easily connect it to your system.
Virtually all new desktop hard drives sold today use the SATA interface (unless you’re dealing with servers). SATA uses simple cables coded to fit one way on the drive and motherboard connector.
Connect one end of the SATA cable to the drive and the other end to an available SATA port on your motherboard and you’re halfway there.
You may find that the SATA cables that come with your new drive or motherboard have different connectors: straight ends or right-angled (L-shaped). Some may have metal mounting clips, some may not. The shape of the connector makes no difference in performance.
I like to use SATA cables with angled connectors on the drive side, provided there is enough space between all drives in the system. Using right-angle connectors on the motherboard side will result in blocked ports, as the connector can overlap adjacent ports.
Try to find SATA cables with metal retaining clips as they help hold the connectors. Most cables that are SATA 3 (6 gigabit) compliant are usually included with the clips.
When you are done connecting the SATA cable, you will need to connect the drive to your power supply unit (PSU). Your PSU’s SATA power cable, like the SATA data cable, is designed to fit on the drive in one direction. As long as you don’t force it, there’s really no way to screw it up.
Prepare the hard disk for use
After mounting and connecting the drive, boot your system and enter BIOS / UEFI. You can usually access the BIOS / UEFI by pressing the DEL or F2 keys immediately after booting the system. Normally your system will display a message like ‘Press DEL to enter Setup’. Consult your motherboard manual for the correct key.
In the BIOS, go to the default System Settings menu or the Integrated peripherals> SATA menu to see all drives installed in the system. If all of your drive controllers are powered on and the drive is properly connected (and functional), it should be listed in the BIOS.
If the drive is not listed, shut down your PC. Double check all connections, boot into BIOS and check again. If the drive still does not appear and all connections are secure, connect the SATA data cable to a different port on the motherboard.
Open Device Manager to confirm that Windows recognizes the drive. In Windows 10, right-click the Windows button on your desktop and select Device managerCheck the disk in the Disk drives section.
When you start Windows after installing the drive, you may see the Found New Hardware Wizard appear if the drive is detected. The last thing you need to do is partition and format the drive.
And with that, the disk must be available for use. If you split the drive into multiple partitions, you should see several drives appear in File Explorer, each with its own drive letter and label.