Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Replacing your hard drive

Hard drives die, and that’s a fact. In fact, it happened to me just the other day.
The HD that died was a very old and very hard-worked unit that came in a Dell Pentium-III (circa 1999) workstation, and I was not terribly surprised by its demise (actually, when you think about how hard-drives operate, it is more surprising that it lasted as long as it did.).

There is no real way to predict when a hard-drive will fail; and there’s no real “rule of thumb” that says, “replace your hard-drive every 10,000 miles.” Basically, you just run it until the wheels fall off, and then replace it. There is an option available on some motherboards (enabled in your BIOS) called S.M.A.R.T., which monitors your hard-drive’s activity and attempts to warn you when certain parameters may be indications of looming failure.. but this has had a dubious history. If you have S.M.A.R.T. enabled, and it warns you of such a thing, it’s certainly time to make a system backup.. but you may get two days, or two years (or longer) more service.

When my drive failed, my replacement steps were greatly aided by the fact that I had an “image” (sometimes called a “ghost”, or “ghost image”) backup, which I simply copied to the new drive. I simply cannot iterate enough: do you have a full, system backup? Stored someplace other than on that drive? If not, I will say that this is definitely a situation where an ounce of prevention will save you a ton of pain. To read my article on automatically making system backups, click here.

Tip of the day:Buy the right type of hard drive. Currently, there are two basic “types” of replacement hard-drives. [A brief aside: there is some new hard drive technology that has reached the consumer market — namely “hybrid” drives, and “solid state” drives. These drives use Flash Memory (such as in a thumb drive) to improve performance and/or remove moving parts. While these drives are the wave of the future, they’re quite expensive.. and “new”. When it comes to these drives, I advise “Wait.”] These two types are the older IDE and the more recent SATA. A quick glance inside your computer will tell you which one you have.

The cables will tell: If your PC is more than a few years old, you almost certainly have an IDE/ATA drive. These are also called “EIDE”, “ATA”, and “DMA” and sometimes have the word “Ultra” attached.. as in “UltraATA”.
Newer computers use “serial” ATA, or “SATA”. This newer Standard is faster, and uses a skinnier cable.

40pin.jpg   sata.jpg
The older, IDE cables (that run from your motherboard to your drive bays) are typically grey and are wide ‘ribbons’. The newer SATA cables look more like cables than ribbons, and are usually colored — red and blue being popular.

The next step is to “set the jumper” on your new hard-drive. This is a small plastic ‘bridge’ which fits over two contact pins.
jumper.jpg

The two main choices are “Primary” (often called “Master”) and “Slave”, and unless you have multiple hard-drives on your machine, you will want the Master jumper position.
(Some of the nicer hard-drive manufacturers will have the jumper there already, but it pays to check.) There may be a diagram for jumper positions on the hard-drive itself, or the instruction sheet which came with it. And the manufacturer’s website should list it as well (this comes in handy when the replacing drive is itself older).

Now completely power-down your PC and unplug it. Use an anti-static wristband, or ground yourself by touching the computer’s metal frame before reaching inside (do this each time) your computer– a very small electrostatic discharge can ruin your whole day. Unplug the 4-wire Molex power lead, and the data cable from the back of the deceased hard-drive; and then remove the (typically, 4) screws holding the drive into the drive bay.

Reverse the process to install the new drive. The cables should only ‘clip on’ in one direction, so don’t try to force them onto the drive.. they should slip on to the connectors fairly smoothly.

Now power-up, and boot your PC. Since there is no operating system on the new drive (no Windows to load), you will see an error message, and that’s okay unless it says “disk not found” (read this message carefully!). A “Disk not found” message here means that the PC’s BIOS does not recognize the new hard drive. If this happens, the first thing to do is hit the F2 and enter (system) Setup and make sure the entry for “Hard Disk 0” is set to “Auto”– if it is, power-down and double-check and re-seat your cables and the jumper to ensure everything is correct and then try again.
If it still fails, you may have a defective unit: take it back to the store.

The next step in hard-drive replacement is to load (and update) Windows, your programs, and your files. This is a arduous, all-day process.. unless you have a good backup.

Copyright 2007 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.

December 13, 2007 Posted by | add device, Backups, BIOS, computers, hardware, how to, PC, shopping for, tech | , , | Leave a comment