How to Replace a Faulty Hard Drive

Computer hard drives don’t last forever, and it is not uncommon for them to stop working long before the rest of the computer needs to be replaced. Fortunately, switching out a busted hard drive for a brand new one is fairly easy to do, and it’s much cheaper than buying an entirely new computer. Today, we are going to go over how to replace a faulty hard drive at home.

open hard drive

Before we get started, here are three important warnings:

  • If you really don’t know what you’re doing, you might not want to do this on your own. This tutorial is not intended to be a be-all, end-all guide for hard drive removal and replacement. It is simply an overview of the process so you can get an idea of what it would take to do the job by yourself. Read the entire tutorial before you actually do any of the steps listed, and if you aren’t 100% confident in your ability to perform all of them without damaging your computer, then please consult with a professional!
  • If the faulty drive is still at least semi-functional, back up your data to an external hard drive or online storage system. This isn’t pertinent if you’re replacing your old drive with a new one because the old drive is completely dead—you will probably need a professional data recovery service for that. However, if you are still able to access the faulty drive, back up your files. That way, if something goes wrong and the old drive is ruined, your data will be safe.
  • Be extremely careful when dealing with electrical components. Shut down and unplug the computer before you even think about opening it up and fiddling with the circuitry! Electrocution is not fun to experience, and it can be deadly! If you are working with a laptop and the battery is easy enough to access, it is not a bad idea to remove that, too, just as a precaution. Meanwhile, static electricity from a human body can very easily fry computer parts, so stay “grounded” as you’re working. This can be as complex as using an anti-static wristband or as simple as occasionally touching an unpainted metal object with a clear path to the floor.

Alright, if none of those bullet points scared you away, then it’s time to get started!

Step 1: Gather your Materials
It is going to take more than the power of positive thinking to replace your hard drive. Here are the tools and equipment that you are going to need:

  • A new hard drive. Most modern computers use what’s called a “SATA” drive, but some older devices might need an “IDE” drive. The difference has to do with how the drive will connect to the motherboard, so this is a very important distinction to make! Also, hard drives come in both 3.5” and 2.5” sizes; though the larger sizes are generally used in desktop PCs and the smaller drives are for laptops, this isn’t always the case. To learn whether you need a SATA or an IDE drive and the proper size, check the official website of your computer’s manufacturer, or run a web search for “[Vendor and model of your computer] replacement hard drive.”
  • A screwdriver. Look at the back of your laptop or the sides of your CPU tower to determine the shape and size of any screws you will need to remove. Do not try to use a screwdriver that is not well-suited for the job; if you accidentally strip the screws on the computer case, replacing the hard drive will suddenly become considerably more difficult to do. It might also be wise to grab a drinking glass or other small vessel and keep it within arm’s reach; any screws that you remove from your machine should immediately be placed in the container for safe-keeping. This will prevent them from “wandering off” while you are working.
  • An appropriate work space. Set up shop on a clean, hard, flat surface, like a table, kitchen counter, or wooden bench. Avoid carpeting, as it can contribute to static buildup.

Step 2: Open up the Machine
Using the screwdriver that you picked up in Step 1, remove any panels protecting the computer’s inner-circuity from the outside world. If your computer is a desktop PC, this will mean taking both sides off of the CPU tower; if your computer is a laptop, you will probably need to unscrew the back bottom panel from the machine. Put all of the components that you remove in a safe place where they won’t get damaged or warped.

It is worth mentioning that some computers don’t actually have screws holding their protective panels on; some will have switches that, once flipped, release the panels so that they will just slide off. If you don’t see any screws on the panels, then you probably need to look for a switch.

Step 3: Get to the Faulty Hard Drive
If your computer is a laptop, chances are, the hard drive will immediately be visible once you remove the back panel. On the other hand, Desktop PCs tend to have them screw-mounted in a “cage” of sorts, so it might take you a few seconds to locate it. If you don’t know whether or not a certain component is the hard drive, then don’t guess! Either find something that resembles the new hard drive you purchased, or use a different computer to find a diagram of the computer you’re trying to fix!

Step 4: Take Out the Faulty Hard Drive
Once you have located the old drive, find the data and power cords attached to it and carefully unplug them. Remove any screws holding the drive in place; there will usually be between four and six of them. And if the drive is suspended in its metal cage (instead of nestled flat against something), hold it with your hand as you are unscrewing it. This will prevent it from falling and possibly breaking any of the computer’s circuitry once the last screw becomes loose.

(Note: it is entirely possible that your computer will have room for more than one hard disc. If this happens, you don’t really need to remove the old one before installing the new one, thus saving you a step. However, you will need to acquire an extra set of cables, since the old set will still be in use by the old drive.)

Step 5: Physically Install the New Hard Drive and Put the Exterior Panels Back On
Essentially, you’re now going to repeat Step 4 but do everything backwards. Start by putting the new drive where the old one used to sit, being careful not to knock out any unrelated cables or components. Replace the screws and fasten the drive in place. Plug the data and power cords back in—SATA drives are simply “plug-and-play,” but if you have an IDE drive, you will need to set the jumpers on the new drive to match the old one before the data cable will work with it.

Once everything is properly aligned, you should have no trouble returning any of the panels you removed in Step 2 to where they are supposed to be. And if anything needs to be screwed in again, do so.

Congratulations, you just replaced your faulty hard drive! The only thing left to do is either re-install the operating system that was set up on your old drive, or do a “clean” install of a new system. But that’s another tutorial for another day…

Though some people might be extremely uncomfortable with the idea of opening up their computer and messing with the hard drive, it is actually a fairly simple task. As long as you have an idea of what you are doing, then chances are, you can do this job at home and save yourself the cost of having someone do it for you—or starting from scratch with an entirely new device!

That said, if you get halfway through the process of replacing your hard drive and realize that you are in over your head, or you would still rather leave this kind of thing to the professionals, know that you don’t have to do it alone. Just give ComputerCPR a call at 817-756-2241. For our trained specialists, replacing a “problem” hard drive is no problem at all!

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