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Making the upGrade
Add or replace a hard drive


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There's nothing hard about hard drive installation...

Adding or replacing an IDE hard drive (the kind installed in overwhelming majority of personal computers in use today) is relatively simple. Unless you deliberately opt for OEM (original equipment manufacturer) packaging, the new drive will come with everything you need to get it installed and running. OEM packaging may cost less, but unless you're very familiar with the procedures involved, you probably should stick with retail packaging that includes instructions, screws, and installation software.

A typical 3.5" IDE hard drive

The double row of pins on the left is where the IDE cable connects to the drive. Master/slave settings are determined by positioning the white jumper block on a designated pair of pins. The power connector is keyed to the four pins on the right.

We like the drives from Maxtor, which come with a utility called MaxBlast. This handy software automates the task of partitioning and formatting your new hard drive, and will even copy the contents of your existing drive to the new one.

Although we prefer a "clean install" beginning with an empty drive and the DOS prompt, in the real world it's a whole lot quicker and easier to sidestep the software reinstall with the copy option. We're talking about waiting a couple of hours while the computer transfers 10GB of software and data versus potential days to reinstall and reconfigure everything.

Whether you're replacing or adding a drive, you'll likely want the new one to be your boot (c:) drive, as it will almost certainly be much faster than the one you're using now.

Taking it step by step...

In this project, we're replacing a 13GB drive that has five partitions, moving up to a 40GB unit. To preserve file references and network mapping, the new drive will also have five partitions. We'll elect to make each one proportionately larger during the setup procedure.

We don't worry too much about partition sizing- we can always use Partition Magic later to change what we've done.

Before shutting down the system to install the new drive, we run ScanDisk or equivalent. This is a precautionary measure, as an undetected disk error can cause the copy process to fail.

Always power down a computer when poking around inside, but leave it plugged in to a properly grounded outlet. Touch the metal chassis before touching any components to discharge static electricity.

After removing the access cover, the first step was to temporarily connect the new drive alongside the old one, first configuring the jumper so the new one would be designated a slave. The jumper pins are very fragile, so be careful to align the jumper block correctly before pressing it on.


Atop a stack of CD cases, temporarily hooked up to spare IDE/power connectors

Then we turned the system on, booting to the setup screen to ascertain both drives were recognized. In some systems, it may be necessary to power down, set the original hard drive's jumper to a "master" designation, then recheck setup.

Once the drives have been recognized by setup, we insert the Maxtor installation disk, and exit. When the system reboots, the software will detect your new hard drive and offer a series of options.

From there, it's just a matter of reading onscreen instructions and following the prompts- a far cry from the days of cmos setup table entries, fdisk, and format commands.

Once the installation software has copied the existing contents to the new drive, we power down, disconnect the new drive and set the jumper to the "master" position.  We remove the old drive, and properly install the new one in its place.

Add or replace...

Had we been adding a second hard drive rather than replacing one, the procedure would have been about the same except we would have had to find another spot to mount the new drive in. In some of today's compact and stylized cases, this can be a challenge.

It will be easier to connect the cables before sliding the drive into place. Clearances are often very close, and it may be necessary to disconnect or move other components.

Just don't forget what goes where.  Masking tape and a marking pen can be helpful for labeling cables if you have to disconnect some for access.

Holes in the side of the hard drive line up with holes in the mounting bay.


Here, the old drive has been removed and the new one slid partially into place.   It's easier to connect the cables now, while you can still maneuver a little.

Use the screws provided to secure your new hard drive to the computer chassis. They should be snug, but don't strip the threads.

At this point, we like to boot from a floppy disk, just to check everything out before Windows tries to load. This way, if any problems crop up, we'll know it's not a software glitch.

If all checks out from DOS, we reboot into Windows, poke around some to satisfy ourselves that everything's as it ought to be, then shut down, close the case, slide the system back into its resting place, and we're done.

What can go wrong?

Anything from a bad connection to a too-deeply nested subdirectory structure can spoil the process. Modern hard drives are extremely reliable, so a faulty drive is the least likely culprit.

If your drives don't show up in setup, recheck your connections first, then see that the "master-slave" settings are properly configured. Some systems ship with "CS" (cable select) settings, where the hierarchy is established by position on the cable. Most use the "master-slave" arrangement, but whichever is used both drives must be in agreement concerning which will have priority.

The copying software that comes with some new drives is not exactly high end. When dealing with large drives and complex file systems, we often have to utilize something like Drive Image, Ghost, or Drive Copy to successfully duplicate all contents of one drive on another.

More about Drive Image


What to do with the old drive?

Assuming you replaced the old drive for speed or capacity and not because of failure, you have a perfectly good hard drive on your hands. You could install it as a secondary drive, but how about converting it into a portable USB device?

These can be ideal for backups, transporting large amounts of data, and many other uses. To learn more about USB hard drives and how to convert your old drive into one, click here.

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