Installing a new hard drive: Part 1

Adding and replacing hard drives is perhaps one of the most popular upgrade projects there is - because, let's face it, you can never have too much disk space. Large operating systems, applications, games and Internet downloads can leave your previously capacious hard disk cramped and bloated. These days, the minimum drive capacity you should aim for is 20GB, but much larger capacities (up to 120GB) are available for professionals or hobbyists who work with very large multimedia files.

The most common type of hard drive, found in most consumer PCs, utilises the IDE interface. In this guide I will go through the steps involved in replacing your old IDE drive with a new one from scratch. Also, I'll show you how to go about adding a second hard drive to your system to complement your existing drive.

Benefits Larger storage capacity for a few years at least.
Cost $200-$700 (depending on capacity and spin speed).
Experience Level Experienced to advanced.
Time Required About 20 minutes for physical installation.
Recommended Tools Philips head screwdriver, long-nose pliers or tweezers.
Where to shop IBM, Seagate, Maxtor.

BEFORE YOU BEGIN: Back up your data

While your operating system, device drivers and all your applications can be reinstalled from their original disks to your new hard disk, you will need to back up all your data files (i.e., word documents, music files, images, etc.). There are numerous ways to do this, which can't all be explained in this article, but the easiest would probably be to burn your files to CD. If you simply wish to transfer your data, one method is to detach your current hard drive, install and prepare the new one, and then attach the old drive as a slave to transfer your data files to a new location.

Under the hood

PC hard drives come in a 3.5in form factor (the same size as a floppy drive) and, therefore, need to be installed in an internal drive bay of this size. Open your PC to locate your drive bays and determine how easy they will be to access. In some cases, expansion cards and even memory modules may need to be removed in order for you to physically manoeuvre the drive into place. Make a note of where everything goes before you remove anything.

Capacity and ATA specification

Most new hard drives come equipped with an ATA100 specification interface. If your motherboard doesn't support this specification, don't worry, because modern hard disks are backwards-compatible with previous motherboard ATA specifications such as ATA33 and ATA66. In some cases, if the BIOS on your motherboard is a tad too old, your new hard disk may not be properly "recognised at all (i.e., the system will not recognise the full capacity of the drive). In this instance, a BIOS upgrade for your motherboard may be in order. Check with the manufacturer of your board to find out if it will accept the type and capacity of drive to which you want to upgrade.


The first step is to completely take the cover off your PC so you have access to both sides of the case. Take careful note of which cables are plugged into your existing hard drive and where they connect to other devices and the motherboard. Unplug the power cord from your existing drive and then gently take off the flat, data ribbon cable. Drives are usually held in place by four screws (two on either side), so you will need to remove these next.

Slide the drive out of the case and place it somewhere safe. Now pull out the new drive from its antistatic bag.

Before you attempt to place the drive into your case, you will need to check its jumper settings. If your new drive must be installed as a Primary Master then the jumper settings on the drive must be set to Master, so look on the drive or in its accompanying documentation to find the correct jumper settings. Use a pair of pointy pliers or tweezers to place the jumper onto its correct position.

The data ribbon cable attached to your drive must also be attached to the motherboard's IDE 1 controller. Look at the two IDE connections on your motherboard to find the Primary IDE controller (your previous drive should have been attached to it). In some cases it may be colour coded.If you are installing a second drive, then you have a few more choices. You can attach the drive to your secondary IDE controller (IDE 2) as a master, and have your CD-ROM device set up as a Slave (again, by manipulating the jumpers) attached to the same ribbon cable. The other method is to set up your hard drive as a Slave and pair it up on the first IDE channel (IDE 1) with your original hard drive.

Back in the box

Once the jumpers are set and you've located the correct IDE controller, place the drive into your case with its circuit board facing down, align the appropriate screw holes and mount it securely using four screws.

On your data ribbon cable (these are usually supplied with your motherboard) you should find three connectors. Plug the end that is farthest from the middle connector to your IDE controller on the motherboard (in most cases, a notch ensures that this can't be plugged in the wrong way). Plug the other end of it into your new drive. The coloured stripe on the ribbon cable indicates pin 1 and is located nearest the power connector on the drive (once again, a notch should be present) so you will need to carefully manoeuvre the cable to this position.

The last part of the physical installation requires you to connect the power plug. This can only fit one way, so you will need to align the angled bevelled edges of the plug with the drive and gently push it into place.

BIOS settings

With your new drive physically installed, the next step is to get the system BIOS to recognise it correctly. This entails going into your system's BIOS program. Accessing the BIOS on most systems can be achieved by holding down the key as the system boots, but watch your screen for messages such as "Hit xx to enter setup", just to be sure.

BIOS programs vary according to motherboard make and model but, generally, hard drive setup can be found under the 'Standard CMOS Setup' heading or something similar. It is safe to say that almost all systems sold in the last three years will sport an autodetect hard drive utility that will detect your drive with the press of the button. Otherwise, navigate to the Standard CMOS Setup or equivalent, and toggle the Type for your Primary Master entry to read AUTO.

Now exit the BIOS, saving your changes, observe your bootup screen to see if your drive has been correctly detected.

Hint: press the button as the system is displaying bootup information to freeze the screen. Press to resume the bootup process.

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Elias Plastiras
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