How Do I Replace a Hard Drive?

Replacing a desktop, laptop, or tablet hard drive is easy

Photo of a Crucial MX100 512 GB SATA SSD
Crucial MX100 512 GB SATA SSD. © Crucial

You'll need to replace the hard drive in your computer for one of two reasons - either your current drive has experienced a hardware failure and needs replaced or you want to upgrade your primary hard drive for increased speed or capacity.

Replacing a hard drive is a pretty easy task that anyone can complete with a little help. In other words, don't worry - you can do this!

Note: You might not really need to replace your hard drive if it's just a storage capacity issue that you're having. See the section at the very bottom of this page for more information.

Tip: If you've decided to go with a solid state drive instead of a traditional HDD, see this list of the best SSDs to buy if you're struggling to pick one.

How Do I Replace a Hard Drive?

To replace a hard drive, you'll need to back up any data you want to keep, uninstall the old hard drive, install the new hard drive, and then restore the backed up data.

Here's a bit more on the three required steps:

  1. Backing up the data you want to keep is the most important step in this process! The hard drive isn't the valuable thing - it's the priceless files you've created and collected over the years.
    1. Backing up could mean something as simple as copying files you want over to a large flash drive or other storage you're not using. Better yet, if you're not backing up regularly already, use this as an opportunity to start with a cloud backup service so you never even run the chance of losing a file again.
  2. Uninstalling the existing hard drive is easy. Make sure your computer is turned off and then disconnect the hard drive and physically remove it.
    1. The details here depend on the type of computer you have but in general, this means removing data and power cables or sliding the hard drive out from the bay that it's installed into.
  3. Installing the new hard drive is as simple as reversing the steps you took to uninstall the one you're replacing! Secure the drive where the old one was before and then reconnect the same power and data cables.
  1. Once your computer is back on, it's time to format the hard drive so it's ready to store files. Once that's done, copy the data you backed up to the new drive and you're set!

Need a walkthrough? Below are links to illustrated guides that will walk you through the hard drive replacement process. The specific steps necessary to replace a hard drive differ depending on the type of hard drive you're replacing:

Note: A PATA hard drive (formerly known as an IDE hard drive) is the older style hard drive with the 40 or 80 pin cables. A SATA hard drive is the newer style hard drive with the thin 7-pin cables.

Important: Are you replacing your primary hard drive that the operating system is installed on? If so, we highly recommend that you start fresh on your new hard drive with a clean installation of Windows versus copying the entire contents of the old drive to the new one.

A fresh install of Windows will avoid any problems of data corruption or other software related issues that might have been present on your original hard drive. Yes, there are tools and programs that can "migrate" or "move" your OS and data from one drive to another but the clean install and manual data restore method is usually the safer bet.

You can even think of the migration process to a new hard drive as a great opportunity to start fresh with  a new operating system like Windows 10, something that you might have been putting off because you didn't want to erase and restore all your data.

Do You Really Need to Replace Your Hard Drive?

If your hard drive is failing or has already failed, or you need more space in your primary hard drive, then replacing it makes sense. However, for hard drives that are simply running out of space, upgrading to a newer one might be an overkill.

Hard drives that are running low on available storage space can usually be cleaned up to make room for anything else you want to put on them. If Windows reports low disk space, use a free disk space analyzer tool to see where, exactly, all the biggest files are located and delete or move whatever makes sense.

If you're looking to simply add hard drive capacity to your computer, or need a place to store the big files you don't need on your primary drive, consider using an external hard drive or installing a second hard drive, assuming you have a desktop and there's physically room for it.