How do I change the primary hard drive on my laptop?

Changing the primary hard drive on a laptop can seem daunting, but it’s actually a straightforward process if you follow the right steps. In this 5000 word guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to successfully replace your laptop’s hard drive, from choosing the right drive to transferring your data and reinstalling your operating system.

Why Would I Need to Change My Laptop’s Hard Drive?

There are a few common reasons you may need or want to replace your laptop’s hard drive:

  • You need more storage space. Hard drives fill up quickly, especially with large files like photos, videos, and games. Upgrading to a larger capacity drive gives you more room for your data.
  • Your existing drive is slow or failing. Older hard drives can experience performance issues or mechanical failures. Installing a new, modern solid state drive (SSD) will significantly improve speeds.
  • You want to upgrade to an SSD. SSDs are much faster than traditional hard disk drives (HDDs). Replacing an HDD with an SSD provides a major boost to boot times, application launch speeds, and overall system responsiveness.

Upgrading your hard drive is one of the best ways to improve your laptop’s performance and extend its useful life. The process does require some work, but it’s a very doable DIY project for most users.

How to Choose the Right Hard Drive

When selecting a new hard drive for your laptop, there are a few key factors to consider:

  • Drive type: HDD or SSD? HDDs are traditional hard disk drives with spinning platters. SSDs are faster, lighter solid state drives with no moving parts. SSDs are now the preferred option in most cases.
  • Capacity: How much storage space do you need? Choose a drive that meets your needs while staying within your budget. Standard sizes are 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB.
  • Form factor: Most laptop drives use the 2.5″ form factor. Make sure to get a 2.5″ drive. The height measurement (7mm vs. 9.5mm) also needs to match your laptop.
  • Interface: Common interfaces include SATA, mSATA, M.2 SATA, and M.2 PCIe. Select a compatible interface for your laptop’s motherboard.

It’s important to pick the right drive – an incompatible form factor or interface simply won’t work with your laptop. Refer to your laptop’s manual or specs to determine what type of drive you need. An SSD in the 2.5″ form factor with a SATA interface is the most common and accessible option.


Here are some excellent hard drive upgrade options to consider for most laptops:

  • Samsung 870 EVO (SATA SSD)
  • Western Digital Blue 3D NAND SATA SSD
  • Crucial MX500 SATA SSD
  • Samsung 970 EVO Plus (M.2 NVMe SSD, for compatible laptops)
  • WD Blue Mobile Hard Drive (2.5″ HDD option)

We recommend an SSD over an HDD for the performance benefits. Models from reputable brands like Samsung, Western Digital, and Crucial offer the best speeds, reliability, and value.

What You’ll Need

Before you take apart your laptop and replace the drive, make sure you have the necessary tools and components:

  • New 2.5″ SATA hard drive or SSD
  • Phillips head and/or Torx screwdrivers
  • External hard drive or other storage device (to back up your data)
  • Laptop hard drive enclosure (optional, for repurposing old drive)

You’ll also need any installation media for your operating system, such as a Windows recovery drive. And make sure your laptop is fully charged and connected to a power source – you don’t want the battery to die halfway through the replacement process!

Back Up Your Data

Before replacing your laptop’s hard drive, the crucial first step is to back up all of your data. This includes:

  • Personal files – documents, photos, videos, music, etc.
  • Installed programs and applications
  • System settings and preferences

You have a few options for backing up your data:

  • External hard drive – Connect an external HDD via USB and copy over all of your important files and folders.
  • Cloud storage service – Services like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud etc. make it easy to upload your files to the cloud.
  • Clone your hard drive – Use disk cloning software to make an exact copy of your current drive if you want to migrate everything over.

An external hard drive backup is quick and easy. Cloud services require uploading your data which takes more time. Cloning creates a perfect copy but requires having a spare external drive available that’s at least as big as your laptop’s hard drive.

Use the method that works best for you, just make absolutely sure your personal data is backed up before proceeding! Losing files due to inadequate backup is one of the biggest mistakes you can make when replacing a hard drive.

Disassemble Your Laptop

With your new drive in hand and data backed up, it’s time to open up your laptop and locate the hard drive. The exact disassembly steps vary by manufacturer and model – you can typically find a teardown guide or video for your specific laptop with a quick online search.

Some general tips for safely taking apart a laptop:

  • Use a soft, clean workspace like a table. Avoid carpet or fabric.
  • Organize and label screws that you remove.
  • Follow manufacturer instructions for accessing components.
  • Carefully pry apart plastic snaps – don’t force anything.
  • Disconnect the battery before touching internal components.

Once inside the case, you need to locate the hard drive bay. In many laptops this is straightforward to access once you remove the bottom panel. Refer to your manufacturer guide for exact steps. The hard drive connects to the motherboard via a SATA cable and draws power from a connector within the bay.

Safety Warning

Use extreme care when working inside your laptop – components can easily be damaged by static electricity or physical force. Only perform these steps if you’re comfortable disassembling electronics.

Remove the Old Hard Drive

Once you locate the hard drive, carefully disconnect it from the laptop:

  1. Release any screws, brackets, or tabs securing the drive in the bay.
  2. Unplug the SATA data cable from the drive.
  3. Unplug the power cable connected to the drive.
  4. Slide the hard drive out and remove it from the laptop.

In some cases you may need to remove a surrounding laptop frame or casing to fully extract the drive. Again, follow specific instructions for your model.

With the old drive removed, now is a good time to place it in an external hard drive enclosure if you want to access the data. This converts it into an external hard drive.

Install the New Hard Drive

Installation of the new hard drive involves reversing the removal steps:

  1. Slide the new drive into the empty hard drive bay.
  2. Reconnect the SATA data and power cables to the drive.
  3. Secure the drive with any screws, brackets, or tabs.
  4. Reassemble your laptop, replacing any components and screws.

Take your time and double check that cables are fully seated and the drive is properly aligned in the bay before reassembling your laptop. Once screwed into place, the hard drive should not wiggle or shift at all within the bay.

Initializing and Partitioning the New Drive

With the physical installation complete, the next step is initializing, partitioning, and formatting your new drive so the operating system recognizes it.

Option 1: Disk Management Utility

You can use Windows built-in Disk Management utility:

  1. Type “disk management” into the Windows search bar and open the tool.
  2. Right click the new disk and select “Initialize Disk”. Accept the default partition table.
  3. Right click the “Unallocated” space and select “New Simple Volume”. Go through the wizard to create a new partition.
  4. Format the volume with NTFS file system.

This creates a basic partition encompassing the full drive capacity and formats it for immediate use as a data drive.

Option 2: Third Party Tools

For more flexibility in partitioning, advanced format options, and other features, you can use a third party tool like:

  • AOMEI Partition Assistant
  • EaseUS Partition Master
  • MiniTool Partition Wizard

Follow the steps in the tool to initialize your new disk, create partitions, assign drive letters, and format volumes. This gives you added functionality for partitioning schemes.

Cleaning Up the Old Installation

If you replaced your boot drive, you’ll want to remove any old OS files that may cause conflicts with your new installation. To do this:

  1. Boot from a recovery drive or installation media.
  2. At the command prompt, type “diskpart” to launch the partition manager.
  3. Type “list disk” and identify the old system drive.
  4. Select this disk with “select disk X” (X = old disk number)
  5. Type “clean” to fully clean the disk.

This wipes all existing partitions and data from the old drive, giving you a blank slate for the new OS.

Installing Windows on the New Drive

Now comes the fun part – installing your operating system! Here are the basic steps for clean installing Windows 10:

  1. Boot from your Windows 10 installation media. This can be a recovery drive or bootable USB.
  2. Follow the prompts to load files and begin setup. Choose custom install when prompted.
  3. Select your new hard drive where you want to install Windows.
  4. Windows will take care of partitioning and formatting automatically.
  5. Continue following the on-screen steps to install Windows 10.

Take time to install all necessary device drivers, updates, and applications to get your new hard drive setup just right. You essentially have a brand new system!

Transferring Data From Your Backup

With Windows installed, you can start transferring your data back:

  • Restore personal files by copying them from your backup destination – external drive, cloud storage, old drive, etc.
  • Reinstall any programs and applications from scratch.
  • Import browser bookmarks, saved WiFi passwords, and other system settings.

Take time to get your new hard drive tuned up with your files, apps, and preferences. Once it’s ready, you’ll be able to enjoy the performance benefits!

Closing Thoughts

Replacing a hard drive may seem intimidating, but it’s one of the best upgrades you can make to extend the life of an older laptop. With some careful planning up front, the right tools, and patience throughout the process, you can successfully swap out your original hard drive for a new SSD or HDD. Just be sure to do regular backups going forward to protect your data on the new drive. Enjoy the speed boost!

Step Description
1 Choose an appropriate replacement drive
2 Back up important data
3 Disassemble the laptop
4 Disconnect and remove old hard drive
5 Insert the new drive into the hard drive bay
6 Reconnect SATA and power cables
7 Initialize and format the new drive
8 Perform a clean OS installation
9 Restore files and settings from backup

This summarizes the key steps for replacing a laptop hard drive. Planning ahead and following best practices will ensure positive results. Don’t forget to make a backup as the very first step!