What happens if I remove the hard drive?

A hard drive, also known as a hard disk drive (HDD), is a key component of computers that provides permanent data storage (Study.com). It consists of one or more rigid magnetic disks/platters that can store digital data using magnetic recording, with each platter having two read/write heads, one on each side. The platters rotate at high speeds while the read/write heads float above them, accessing data as needed. Hard drives typically connect to a computer via higher speed interfaces like SATA or SCSI (eComputernotes.com).

The hard drive plays a vital role in computer systems by providing long-term, non-volatile storage for the operating system, applications, and user files. It allows data to persist even when the computer is powered off, unlike RAM which is erased when a computer shuts down. The OS, software, and documents on the hard drive are what define a computer and make it usable. Without a functioning hard drive storing programs and data, a computer is essentially useless.

Immediate Effects

If the hard drive is removed while the computer is turned on, the computer will immediately shut down and will not be able to boot back up without the hard drive installed (“What would happen if you took the hard drive out of a PC…”, https://www.quora.com/What-would-happen-if-you-took-the-hard-drive-out-of-a-PC-that-was-turned-on). This is because the hard drive contains the operating system files that the computer needs to start up. Without the hard drive installed, the computer has no operating system to boot from.

In addition, all data stored on the hard drive will become inaccessible once the drive is removed. The data itself will still be present on the hard drive, but with the drive disconnected, the computer has no way to read or interact with the data (“Does removing hard drive remove all data?”, https://rossmanngroup.com/does-removing-hard-drive-remove-all-data/). So any files, programs, or user profiles stored on the hard drive will be unavailable until the drive is reinstalled.

In summary, removing the hard drive while the computer is on will immediately cause the computer to shut down and make all data on the hard drive inaccessible. The computer will be non-functional without reinstalling the hard drive.

Long-Term Effects

Removing the hard drive will have severe long-term effects on your computer. Without the hard drive installed, the operating system and all programs will cease to function properly. The hard drive contains all of your data, applications, settings, and the OS itself. With the drive removed, the computer has no way to access any of that information.

In addition, any data stored on the hard drive may be lost permanently if the drive is removed and not replaced. Unlike RAM, the hard drive provides persistent storage that remains even when the power is off. So all files, documents, media, and other data will essentially disappear from the computer if the hard drive is taken out.

Without being able to boot into the OS or access applications and data, the computer is rendered useless until the hard drive is replaced. So the long-term impact is complete loss of function and potential permanent data loss.

Data Recovery

If you accidentally delete important files or format the hard drive, data recovery software can help restore lost data. Some popular free data recovery options include Disk Drill, Recuva, and EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard. These tools scan the hard drive and allow you to preview and recover deleted files. However, free versions often have limited capabilities. For more complex data recovery, professional services may be required.

Data recovery specialists have sophisticated tools and methods for extracting data, even from drives that are formatted, corrupted or physically damaged. While expensive, they offer the best chance of recovering lost files in difficult situations. Examples of reputable data recovery companies include DriveSavers and Ontrack.

To avoid needing data recovery in the first place, be sure to regularly back up important files and operate drives carefully within specifications.

Replacing the Hard Drive

When replacing an old hard drive, it is important to follow proper steps to install the new drive and transfer data smoothly. The key steps are:

1. Back up your data. Copy important files, photos, etc. to an external drive or cloud storage before removing the old drive. This ensures you don’t lose data in the transition. Services like Carbonite offer automated backups.

2. Purchase a compatible hard drive for your computer model. Make sure the form factor (2.5 inch or 3.5 inch), connector type (SATA or IDE) and storage capacity match your needs.

3. Physically install the new drive in the computer, securing it in place. Consult the computer manual for exact steps.

4. Boot into the BIOS and make sure the new drive is detected. Designate it as the primary boot drive.

5. Install your operating system and drivers on the new hard drive.

6. Transfer data from backups or the old drive to the new drive. Use disk cloning software for easy transfers.

Following these steps carefully will ensure the new hard drive works properly as the primary drive with all your data intact.

Using External Drives

External drives can be a convenient option for adding more storage space or backing up your data after removing the primary hard drive. Here are some of the advantages and limitations of external storage devices:


Portability – External drives are designed to be portable so you can easily transport large amounts of data from one device or location to another.

Extra capacity – Adding an external drive can instantly give you more storage space for files, photos, videos, etc. without having to replace the internal drive.

Backups – External drives make it easy to backup your data for safekeeping in case something happens to your computer.

Accessibility – Data stored on external drives is readily accessible as long as the drive is plugged in via USB, Thunderbolt or another connection interface.


Speed – External drives are generally slower than internal drives due to connection interfaces like USB. Transfer speeds may be constrained.

Durability – Being portable means external drives are more susceptible to damage from drops, bumps, dust, etc. Important data on an external drive should also be backed up.

Single point of failure – If the external drive fails and a backup doesn’t exist, the data will be lost. Spreading data across multiple drives can mitigate this risk.

Set up required – External drives usually require formatting, partitioning and software installation before they can effectively extend storage or serve as a backup destination.

Cloud Storage

One option after removing your computer’s internal hard drive is to store your data remotely using cloud storage services instead of local storage. Cloud storage allows you to store your files on remote servers owned and operated by cloud providers like Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Box, and Amazon Drive. Some key advantages of cloud storage include:

Accessibility – You can access your data from any device with an internet connection, rather than being limited to the specific device where it is locally stored.

Collaboration – Cloud services make it easy to share and collaborate on documents with other users.

Reliability – Data stored in the cloud is often more reliable and secure than local storage, since it is hosted in data centers with backup power and redundancy to prevent data loss.

Scalability – Cloud storage can scale to meet your growing storage needs, while local storage has a fixed capacity.

However, depending on your needs, cloud storage may also have disadvantages like slower access speeds compared to a local drive, limitations on storage space, and reliance on the internet for accessibility. But it provides a convenient way to store files without an internal hard drive.

Data Backups

Regular backups are crucial to prevent permanent data loss in the event of a hard drive failure or removal. Without backups, all files and data stored on the hard drive will be lost and unrecoverable if the drive fails or is taken out. According to experts, regular backups are considered a best practice and essential part of any IT environment.

Backups create redundancy for your data by copying files and storing them in a secondary location, either locally or in the cloud. Should anything happen to your primary hard drive, you can restore from a recent backup and avoid significant data loss. How often you backup depends on how much data change occurs and your tolerance for potential data loss between backups. Many recommend daily or weekly backups for most users.

Without a backup solution in place, removing the hard drive leaves you empty-handed. Years of files, documents, photos, downloads, programs, settings and more will disappear instantly. No backup means starting over from scratch. Protect yourself by implementing regular backups appropriate for your use case before drive removal.


When removing a hard drive from a computer, it’s important to take precautions to avoid damaging sensitive components. Here are some tips for safely removing the drive:

Make sure to ground yourself before handling the hard drive by touching a metal part of the computer case. This prevents static buildup which could potentially damage components (source). Wear an anti-static wrist strap if possible.

Be very gentle when disconnecting cables and handling the drive itself. Don’t bend or flex the cables, and avoid knocking or dropping the drive. Hard drives contain fragile moving parts inside.

Place the hard drive on an anti-static surface after removal, or insert it into an anti-static bag for storage or transport. This prevents static electricity from building up on the drive.

Use the proper screwdriver for removing case screws to avoid stripping them. Magnetic screwdrivers can also damage drives, so use a non-magnetic one.

Consult your computer or drive manual for any specific precautions related to safely removing that model of drive. Follow all manufacturer instructions.

With care and awareness, you can remove a hard drive without causing any damage. Taking simple precautions goes a long way toward keeping your components safe.


In summary, removing the hard drive from your computer has several key effects that users should be aware of. Immediately, the computer will fail to boot up properly without the hard drive installed. Long-term, all data stored locally on the hard drive will be inaccessible unless the drive is reinstalled or mounted externally. Data recovery is possible but may require professional help if the drive is damaged.

There are various precautions users should take before removing a hard drive, such as backing up data and ensuring their files are transferred elsewhere. Replacement or external hard drives can be used to regain functionality after removing the main internal hard drive. Cloud storage and regular backups are recommended to prevent permanent data loss.

Overall, removing the hard drive disables the computer’s ability to boot up normally and access locally stored files. With proper precautions and replacements, users can recover from a removed hard drive, but it requires planning and care to avoid losing data.