How-To Replace a Laptop Hard Drive

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Replacing a notebook’s storage drive is an easy task, right? Not always. In this how-to guide we show you the basics and more, step by step.

What is a Storage Drive?

The storage drive is a computer’s long-term memory; it’s where your documents, pictures, music, operating system and programs are stored. We’ll be using the term storage drive to generically refer to a computer’s hard drive or Solid State Drive (SSD). Be sure to read our Upgrade Your Hard Drive to SSD: How And Why article to learn more about storage technology.

Is My Storage Drive Upgradeable?

Most notebooks sold today have user-replaceable storage drives. There are exceptions, however; an ongoing trend in the notebook computer world is the advent of “sealed” computers where the chassis is bonded together and therefore not considered user-serviceable. A great example of this is an Ultrabook, which isn’t a brand but a sub-category of notebook computer with a thin and light design. These computers in almost every instance don’t come with access panels on the chassis. Generally speaking it’s possible to tell if a notebook computer can be upgraded simply by looking at the chassis bottom — if there are no access panels, it’s probably not upgradeable.

Getting Started

Following this guide takes about a half hour and requires the following:

  • A clean towel to rest the notebook computer on
  • A small Phillips head screwdriver

Before you start:

  1. Shut off and then unplug the notebook computer
  2. Remove the notebook computer’s battery
  3. Press the notebook’s power button a few times to clear any excess electricity
  4. Put the notebook on the clean towel so it doesn’t get scratched

Disclaimers:

  • This DIY is meant to be a guide only; the steps are ambiguous to apply to the largest number of notebooks. In other words, the steps listed here are not step-by-step for any notebook in particular.
  • Follow this DIY at your own risk; NotebookReview.com takes zero responsibility for any damage caused.

Remove the Existing Storage Drive

After going through the “Getting Started” section above, the first step is to flip the notebook computer upside down — be sure to place the notebook on a towel so it doesn’t get scratched. Next, locate the access panel where the storage drive resides. Depending on the computer, this may either be a smaller dedicated panel (like the notebook in the pictures, a Lenovo ThinkPad T510) or one larger access panel that houses all the user-serviceable components.

Once you locate this panel, take the Phillips head screwdriver and start removing them. Pop the panel loose once you’ve removed them all. Put the screws in a safe place where they won’t get lost.

Notebook computers typically have a caddy that holds the hard drive in place; this is common in notebooks because it acts as an insulator against shocks and vibrations. For our notebook in the pictures, this consists of rubber bumpers. In some instances, you’ll need to unscrew the screws holding the caddy in place first before being able to get it out of the notebook. Once this is done, it’s time to be careful; the storage drive can only go in and out of the notebook one way. The general procedure for removing it is to push the hard drive backwards until it disconnects, then find a finger hold and gently take it out of the chassis. Note the tab-like connectors on one side of the storage drive; these are how it connects to the computer. By pushing the hard drive back a bit, you’re disconnecting it.

Install the New Storage Drive

This is generally the reverse of the removal process but again be careful about connecting the drive; it can only go one way as that’s how the connectors are situated. That means that the storage drive can’t go in upside down.

What’s Next?

Note that if you bought a new storage drive, it’s going to be blank with no data on it; you’ll have to install Windows (or Mac OS if you have an Apple computer), device drivers and then begin the process of transferring your data. It’s a good idea to have a plan for doing this in advance.

Although we recommend installing a clean copy of your operating system when you install a new storage drive, there are several applications (such as Acronis True Image or Carbon Copy Cloner) available for Windows and Mac that allow you to “clone” your old hard drive and copy it on the new drive.

Conclusion

Replacing a storage drive isn’t a strenuous process but as we saw in the guide, some precautions have to be observed to avoid possible damage.

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