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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Replace Your Laptop’s Hard Drive(Preliminary Steps)

Swap in a healthy, roomy new drive in five easy 


Not long ago, replacing your laptop’s hard drive meant packing up the system and shipping it back to its maker, or dropping it off with a local repair shop. Either way, you’d have to live without your beloved computing companion for some time, and depending on who was doing the work, you’d likely pay plenty. Fortunately, most of today’s notebooks allow easy access to their hard drives and certain other components. Here’s all you need to know about replacing your notebook drive without incurring tech-separation anxiety—or a big bill.

Step 1: Choose your drive well

The standard drives in modern laptops—excepting a few of the very slimmest ultraportables—conform to the 2.5-inch-wide hard drive form factor. Most laptop upgrade drives sold today are 2.5-inch and rotate at 4,200rpm, 5,400rpm, or 7,200rpm, offering capacities of 300GB or more. All else being equal, the faster the spin rate, the better the performance you should expect.

Drive prices vary depending on storage capacity, rotational speed, transfer rate, and the amount of buffer memory (cache). For example, a Seagate 200GB drive that spins at 7,200rpm and has a 3 gigabit (Gb) per second maximum transfer rate and 16MB of cache will cost around $150, whereas a slower (5,400rpm) 250GB drive with a 1.5Gb-per-second top transfer speed and an 8MB cache can be had for under $100. If sheer storage space is what you’re after, great deals abound on high-capacity drives that spin at 4,200rpm or 5,400rpm, whereas top-of-the-line, high-performance drives cost more and tend to offer extra features such as encryption and enhanced shock protection.

Ideally, your new hard drive will be faster and hold more data than its predecessor, but its most crucial parameter is whether it’s compatible with your laptop’s drive controller. Serial ATA (SATA) and Ultra ATA/IDE are the typical interfaces used in laptop systems. A typical ATA/IDE 2.5-inch laptop drive has a 44-pin edge connector and four jumper pins (resembling a desktop IDE drive), while SATA drives employ SATA-standard slot-style connectors. Some laptops employ a proprietary pin connector that connects the drive to the controller. Usually, this connector is mounted on the drive caddy (a carrier that inserts in the laptop’s hard drive bay) or attaches directly to the drive’s pins; either way, the connector must be detached from the old drive and connected to the new one.

A third possibility: Your old drive may employ a different type of connector—a ZIF connector—built into the drive itself. If yours does, make sure your new drive has the same type of connector. Another option is to purchase a converter that supports the interfaces on your drive and laptop, but your best bet is to match your new drive’s interface directly to the one used by your laptop, particularly if you’re dealing with tight spaces. The extra bulk or length added by a converter may prevent the drive from fitting properly.

Note that the overall thickness of your new hard drive may determine if it will fit into your system. You’ll almost certainly be replacing a 2.5-inch-wide drive with another 2.5-inch drive, but thicknesses can vary among these drives, so make sure you don’t purchase one that’s thicker than the original—it may not fit properly. If you’re unsure of your old drive’s measurements, check the specifications online, using the model number of the drive.

Most online sellers of laptop upgrade drives provide a drive-compatibility chart that lists nearly every popular laptop model out there and which drives will work with them, so be sure to do a little research before making your purchase.

Step 2: Back up your files

There are a variety of ways to transfer files from your old drive (assuming it still works) to the new drive. Using software such as Genie Backup Manager Pro or NTI’s Backup Now to back up and restore your files makes sense if you already own an external drive. Another possibility: You can simply copy your data to blank CD or DVD media or to a portable USB or external Serial ATA (eSATA) storage device, but—depending on the type and amount of data involved—this can be time consuming.

If you don’t own an external hard drive, consider using an online service such as MozyHome Online Backup (www.mozy.com) to archive and store your data until the new drive is installed. (We recommend this only for relatively small amounts of data, since uploading can take a while.) The easiest way to get back up and running without having to reinstall your operating system and applications is to use a drive-imaging program such as ShadowProtect Desktop 3.2 (www.storagecraft.com) to transfer the entire contents of your old drive, including the operating system and your personal system settings, to the newly installed drive. Again, though, you’ll need external storage to use as an intermediary.

Another option: The $49 USB 2.0 Data Transfer Kit from CMS Products (www.cmsproducts.com) is a USB-based system comprising software and an empty external drive case. You install your upgrade drive into the case and duplicate the contents of your old drive straight to the new one. You then swap the drives; the new drive in your laptop now contains your complete OS, data, and apps, and, as a bonus, you can use the old drive in the enclosure as an external backup unit.

Step 3: Remove your old drive

You may need to use a jeweler’s screwdriver
 to remove the bottom panel of your
 laptop and locate your hard drive.

A laptop hard drive is usually easy to remove or install—the process requires nothing more than a set of jeweler’s screwdrivers, a well-lit workspace, and a user’s manual.

Before doing anything else, unplug the laptop and remove the battery to avoid potential damage to the motherboard (and yourself). Turn the laptop upside down and look for a removable panel or a hard drive release mechanism. Laptop drives are usually accessible from the bottom or side of the chassis. Typically, you release the drive by flicking a lock/unlock button and/or removing a screw that holds the drive in place.

If you’re unsure how to physically remove the drive, refer to your user’s manual or visit the vendor’s Web site for detailed instructions. Also, check out Web-based user forums for discussions about your brand of laptop. Message boards often hold a wealth of firsthand reports.

Once the old drive has been removed from the chassis, you may have to extract it from a caddy or detach a set of mounting rails from its sides. If so, attach the rails or caddy to the new drive right away to keep the screws and washers from getting lost. If a connector is attached to the old drive’s signal pins, remove it and snap it onto the new drive. If you feel resistance, do not force it; you may have it upside down. Damaging the signal pins may render the drive useless.

Step 4: Install your new drive

   If your laptop uses a caddy to secure the
 hard drive, slide it carefully into place until it clicks.

Next, install the drive in the laptop in the reverse of the manner that the old drive was removed. If it’s a slide-in drive on a caddy, it should slide smoothly into the drive slot and produce a faint click when the connectors engage. If the drive sits flush into a panel on the bottom of the laptop, you may have to insert one edge first (usually the edge with the interface connector) to produce a snug fit. Again, if you feel resistance, or if the drive doesn’t fit properly, take it out and try again. Never force it (or any component) into place. Look for obstructions, and make sure the caddy or rails are installed correctly and that all retaining screws are tight and flush. Once the drive is installed, secure it with any screws you removed earlier and slide the locking mechanism (if any) into the locked position.


Step 5: Configure the new drive

When you power up the notebook, the system BIOS should automatically recognize the new drive. If you created a bootable backup disc or a complete image disc, place it in the optical drive and follow the application’s instructions for restoring your data. You may have to update a driver or two, but you should otherwise be ready to go. If you are performing a clean Windows installation, use the original OS disc and have your CD key code handy. Follow the formatting and partitioning instructions, and load the operating system. Once the OS installation is complete, you can begin installing your applications and any necessary drivers. Then copy over any data you’ve stored on external drives or discs—and enjoy your companion’s new storage horizons right away.


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