Adding Storage: Installing a New Hard Drive

Installing a hard drive to a Windows desktop machine is one of the easiest repairs I have done on my computer. As a DIY project, almost anyone with a screwdriver and a bit of time can perform this task, and on a Windows machine, the results are immediate space availability and long term performance improvement. I did this just a few weeks ago, and the improvement in my machine has been dramatic.

Adding Another Disk

Before you begin, make sure you know that you have room available (physically) in your machine. Most desktop towers have more slots available than you will ever use, but manufacturers vary. Chances are, you do have the room available for this improvement.

In picking out a hard drive for your machine, decide how much you want to pay for. While storage costs have plummeted since the 1990s on a cost per gigabyte basis, storage needs have increased. If you plan to store copious amounts of media or important databases, more space might be critical. With that said, there is almost always a steep premium for having the “bleeding edge” and typically your best cost-per-benefit is found at the second tier, where equipment is still excellent but costs are dramatically lower. Typically, all you will need once you have the hard disk purchased is a screwdriver.

Physically Installing the Disk

Today’s towers are typically built with a removable panel on at least one side. This is usually secured with 1-2 thumb screws and/or a small latch. Consult your manual if you are unsure of how to do this, as it varies by manufacturer. Make sure your computer is off an unplugged, and then you can open the case.

Once inside, don’t be intimidated by the “cable mess” and wires. Remember, modern computers are designed to have “a place for everything and everything in its place”, and if the disk fits in a slot, then it is the correct slot for the machine. Typically, disk slots are located in the front of the machine, and they are secured by 2-4 small screws. Slide your new hard disk into the slot, and secure it to the machine so that it doesn’t shake loose.

There are two connections that need to be made. The disk will need power and a data cable. The power cable is typically thin and has just a few prongs on the end. It runs from the power source to the disks. Look at the installation on the disk that is currently on your machine for clues as to where your power source is and the cable type.

The data cable is a “ribbon” that tends to be quite wide and flat. It may be “daisy chained” off of the current disk. In any case it only fits in one space on your new disk, and once installed securely, you can close the machine and plug it in.

Getting the Disk Working

Getting the disk actually working is another step. Chances are, your computer will see it automatically. To verify this, enter the BIOS as the computer starts up. The splash screen will tell you how to do this. BIOSes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so you will need to consult the help files for your machine to know where to look, but it should now list 2 separate disks instead of one. If it does, close that and proceed to Windows.

Windows might not recognize the new disk if it is not initialized in the machine. Essentially, you must tell the machine to use it and/or format the disk for use with the machine. Instructions for that can be found through Microsoft. Follow this link for the instructions for Windows Vista. Windows 7 instructions from Microsoft can be found here.

Formatting the disk will clear it out and get it ready to accept data. This can be done through right-clicking the newly initialized disk.

Improving Performance

Improving your performance is easy with two disks. If you want your machine to run as fast as possible, keep the operating system and virtual memory stored on the primary disk. Then, place all media and data needs on the other disk. If you can, having a disk just for virtual memory may help even more.

Virtual memory is the hard disk space that your computer uses as scratch paper. If it is trying to read and write in another area and using the scratch paper at the same time, it has to keep swapping, which can slow it down on data intensive tasks like sound or video editing or database work. Separating data and your virtual memory to separate resources prevents this conflict.

For me, this made my computer significantly faster. Since I’m doing significant numerical analysis on a large database, being able to put the data on a different disk from the virtual memory has saved me time and sped up my machine. If you are running out of disk space, this easy solution is well worth the effort.


Wiese, Brian. How To Initialize a New Hard Drive on Windows Vista From Brian’s Blog. 9/16/2009

Microsoft. Initialize New Disks

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