How to install a 2.5-inch SATA SSD in a desktop PC
Now let’s move on to installing a 2.5-inch SATA SSD. This installation is much more dependent on the PC case you are using and where you want to place it, so there’s an endless variety of possibilities.
Instead of an exact step-by-step guide, we’ll cover the basics that will always apply to every installation. Once again I’m assuming you already have a drive in hand, if not check out our roundup of the best SSDs.
The two most common options for installing the drive in a PC is either to put it in a drive cage or to secure it to the case itself. Drive cages usually have some sort of method to attach the drive to the tray, and the tray slides into a cage.
Mounting it to the case can involve either screwing the drive to the metal, or putting the drive into a tray first and then attaching it. Either way take care to make sure you have enough cable length to safely route the cables inside the case.
Installing a 2.5-inch SATA SSD: Required cables
When installing a 2.5-inch SATA SSD you will always need two things: a SATA data cable and access to a SATA power cable. Most motherboards include a SATA data cable, which is used for data transmission from the drive to the motherboard. Look for a long, thin, and flat cable—sometimes with an L-shaped connector at the end.
The SATA power cable, which provides power to the drive, will be included with the power supply. It usually has multiple connectors.
Installing a 2.5-inch SATA SSD: Attaching the cables
In order to use the SSD you will need to have both cables attached and secured to the drive at all times. Depending on where you install the drive in the case it might be easier to plug the cables in before you mount the drive.
Plugging in both cables is simple: Look for the end of the drive that has the connections, and note there are two. The shorter port is for the interface cable, and the longer port is for the power cable. If you look closely, each port is keyed with a tiny notch that indicates the correct orientation for the cable to plug into.
Because of this there is only one way to install the cable, so line them up and insert firmly. The interface cable includes a primitive locking mechanism that gives a subtle click when inserted. The power cable does not lock in, so be sure to press it in all the way for a secure connection.
Installing a 2.5-inch SATA SSD: Connection to Motherboard
The interface cable will then need to be plugged into the motherboard. There will most likely be multiple ports to choose from, so now is another time you should consult your manual.
You’ll need to find where the manual refers to the SATA ports on your motherboard. To get the maximum bandwidth out of your SSD you’ll want to connect to the SATA 6Gbps ports, but the slower 3Gbps ports will work fine as well.
In this example you can see that this motherboard features six SATA 6G ports, and they are stacked into three columns of two ports. Typically you’ll want to use the ports in order, so if the numbering starts at one, choose that and identify which port it is on the motherboard itself.
On any remotely modern PC, the performance should be the same, but on an older PC the first port is usually the highest-performing. When the ports are stacked like this sometimes it can be a bit confusing knowing which number is which, so just take your time and look closely. This cable will lock into place, so after you insert it in enough you will hear a subtle click to know you are secure.
Installing a 2.5-inch SATA SSD: Final notes
As we close out SATA SSD installation, a few useful notes.
Some of the SATA data connectors feature an L-shaped plug, shown below.
The L-shaped plug is useful for situations where you need to keep a low profile so the cable doesn’t get pinned somewhere. Both the L-shaped and the straight cables offer the same performance.
The SATA power cable will most likely have multiple ports on it. This is to allow you to attach multiple drives or peripherals onto the same cable.
Which plug you use will depend on the length you need to reach to plug in the drive and whether that cable also needs to reach other ports. All the plugs will work just the same.
Finally, a Windows 10 tip! If you are installing both an M.2 and SATA SSD you might be confused as to which drive is which when it comes time to install Windows.
One way to get around that is to keep the SATA SSD unplugged while you're going through the installation process, so there's no option for installing Windows other than the higher-performance NVMe SSD. After you're up and running, plug the SATA drive back in, format it, and you're ready to roll.