HOWTO: Upgrade or Replace Your Hard Drive

Category: Hard-Drives

When your hard drive is crammed full of data, or the buzzing of the bearing says it’s nearing the end of its life cycle, then it’s time to consider a new drive. That used to be a simple matter of choosing a bigger drive; maybe one that spun faster; or one with speedier I/O bus. But today, your options are multiplied and decisions are more complicated.

Hard Drive Options

You have traditional magnetic platters, still the work horses of mass storage. They’re reliable and cheap; a 500 GB HDD that will last five years can be had for less than $50, and 1 Terabyte – 1,000 GB, space unheard of on desktops just a few years ago – are going for $100 or less.

The minimum spin speed is 5400 rpm; 7200 rpm costs very little more; and some HDDs spin at 10,000 or 12,000 rpm. Faster is better, of course.

Then there are Solid State Drives (SSD), essentially enormous flash memory arrays like a USB thumb drive on steroids. With no moving parts they really make data fly; Windows will boot up in 30 seconds, and video editing proceeds as fast as Word document editing. SSDs are available for less than $100 in capacities up to 120 GB. A one TB SSD will still run you over $600.

Upgrade Your Hard Drive

In between are hybrid drives, part SSD and part HDD, integrated to optimize overall read/write speed and access. Essentially, you get a HDD with a very large cache. Frequently used files are kept on the SSD, while less frequently used files go the HDD. Prices are closer to inexpensive HDDs than to pricey SSDs.

While faster is always better, bigger is not. In fact, bigger can be the enemy of faster; excessively large drives tend to come in slower spin speeds. Data can be scattered all over a nearly empty disk, necessitating frequent optimization.

Before you rush out to buy a 1 or 2 TB drive of any kind, ask yourself how much of that capacity you are really going to use. I have a laptop that came with 500 GB of storage; in two years, I’ve yet to fill half of it.

Clone Your Old Drive

How can you move all of your data from the old drive to the new one? The best method is cloning: making an exact bit-for-bit copy of your existing drive and transferring it to the new one. Cloning gives you a bootable new hard drive, with operating system, applications, and data all exactly as they were on the old drive. There are commercial cloning utilities such as Norton Ghost, but many penny-pinching geeks swear by the open-source Clonezilla. Before cloning, you can install the new drive as a second internal drive in your PC, or connect it externally via USB with a $20 kit. The latter option is ideal for laptops, or desktop systems that don't have room for another internal drive. (Here's a USB to SATA Adapter that includes cloning and backup software for PC & Mac.)

Finally, what should you do with the old drive? I don't recommend selling or giving away your old hard drive. Even if you delete everything and reformat it, the drive still contains recoverable data that you may not wish anyone else to access. My articles Completely Erase a Hard Drive and How to Destroy a Hard Drive will give you some practical options to destroy the data on the drive, or render it useless.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome! Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "HOWTO: Upgrade or Replace Your Hard Drive"

Posted by:

13 Mar 2014

Clone your HD, and keep the spare one in a safe place as a backup. In case of trouble, you can get going again in about 5 minutes without having to worry about recovery or how you're going to re-install the OS or find your licence keys for all that software.

Posted by:

Jim Michaels
13 Mar 2014

I've been using open-source ReDo backup & recovery to clone both my Linux and Windows machines to 1TB USB external drives. It's a whole lot easier than Clonezilla. It restored my Windows7 box exactly as before. I use it on both HDD & SSD drives.

Posted by:

Green Bunny
13 Mar 2014

Could you please recommend the $20 kit that you refer to, for connecting a new (soon-to-be-internal) drive EXTERNALLY via USB? Thanks.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Here's something even better. A USB to SATA Adapter, that includes cloning and backup software for PC & Mac.

Posted by:

13 Mar 2014

For Windows 7 I've converted the HD to an SSD easily in two older laptops by just using the built-in Win 7 Backup and Recovery program. Just make an image to an external HD and then restore it to the new empty drive you install using the Rescue Disk that Win 7 also suggests that you make with the backup. Seamless! Latest was today on a Crucial 240GB SSD on sale this week for $113.
Secondly, I've kept the old mechanical drive as a backup to reinstall in case the new HD goes bad in the future.

Posted by:

Smoky Lowe
13 Mar 2014

I have found a good two pound hammer works very well to fix a old worn out hard drive.

Posted by:

13 Mar 2014

Bob, Another interesting article. You sure do a great job. I wonder if you could explain the price difference between HDD's and SSD's. It seems to me that an HDD with all the moving parts would be more expensive to manufacture than an SSD.

Posted by:

norm johns
17 Mar 2014

HAPPY BIRTHDAY Bob. Hope you have a great day. Thanks for all the great advice and use of a great website.
Kindest Regards Norm.

Posted by:

21 Mar 2014

The USB to SATA Adapter seems to be only for 2.5 drives.
3.5 drives would need an additional 12v power source.

Posted by:

18 Mar 2017

My hard drive on Dell XPS1340 laptop died. I bought a replacement and after physically connecting the new hard drive it can't find the OS. The CD drive is accepting a cd called Dell application already installed .....for reinstalling Cyberlink PowerDVD but spits out Dell drivers and utilities already installed...for reinstalling Dell Studio XPS1340
Just want to have a fresh OS and start over. Thanks!

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- HOWTO: Upgrade or Replace Your Hard Drive (Posted: 13 Mar 2014)
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