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How to install an SSD on a desktop PC

Installing an M.2 or SATA SSD on your desktop is an essential part of any PC build, or a simple upgrade to make your PC feel faster. Fortunately, installing an SSD is easier than finding the best one (we’ve got an overview for that!) Or even understanding how they work. I’m not going to cover that here, but I’ll go through the installation of both types.

The steps below apply to almost every model. I’ll start with the M.2 SSD as it is a bit trickier to install, and there are a few things to research before doing it. Click this link to go to the SATA SSD section.

How do I install an M.2 SSD on a desktop PC

An M.2 SSD looks like a piece of chewing gum with chips on one side, a label on the other, and gold contacts on one end. Some will install just like that. Some have their own heat sinks and look more like a pack of gum than a piece of gum. Some motherboards have a shield for the M.2 slot, and you will have to slide the drive underneath. We cover all the forms below.

Step 1: Find the M.2 slot

Install ssd in pc identify m2 slots reduced Adam Patrick Murray / IDG

Identify the M.2 slots on your motherboard before installing an M.2 SSD. They can be in different locations: this sign has a black one on the left and a chrome one on the right. The specifications of each slot can be found in the manual of the motherboard.

The first thing you’ll want to do is find where the M.2 slot is on your motherboard. Look for a slot about an inch wide that protrudes about a quarter of an inch from the motherboard. Every motherboard is different, but the most common locations are under the CPU and around the PCIe slots in the bottom half of the board. If you can’t find it, check the manual.

Some motherboards have a pre-installed shield that serves as a heat spreader but can also provide a nice bit of visual flair. This will of course have to be removed before you can access the M.2 slot.

If your motherboard supports two M.2 SSDs, you should check your manual to find out which slot is the recommended slot for installing your boot drive. Each slot may offer different levels of performance, while others may disable a PCIe slot if it is in use. In short, read the manual first!

Step 2: Find the M.2 mounting system

install ssd in pc, find the distance screw of the mounting system Adam Patrick Murray / IDG

The M.2 slot has a mounting system, like the spacer with a screw shown here (see orange circle we point to, above), which keeps the SSD straight when installed on the motherboard.

Once you find the correct slot, locate the screw about two inches to the left that is inserted into a spacer. The distance is there because when the drive is inserted, there is a gap between the SSD and the motherboard. The deadlock plays the critical role in keeping the drive flat.

If your motherboard doesn’t have the screw or spacer, check the box – it may come in a small plastic bag. If your motherboard has an M.2 shield, you will need two screws to attach it to the motherboard.

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