How to Install and Use an SSD (Solid State Drive)

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Matthew M. White
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Whether you opt for a cheaper SSD with a lower capacity or a more expensive one with 1-2 terabytes (TB) of storage, installing an SSD is a relatively simple task. A Solid State Drive is invaluable for those who need fast load times on their computer. Although you can sacrifice storage and cost when choosing an SSD, it's still better than a regular hard drive.

Whether you're upgrading and trying to breathe new life into a PC or looking to build a custom PC, keep reading to find out how to properly install an SSD in your system.

Things to know before working on hardware

Those of you who have already built your own PC or have a lot of experience with electrical components, feel free to browse this section. If you are new to this task, there are a few things you need to know before you open your computer case and start tinkering.

When you open the case, you should have two goals in mind; one is to make your computer work the way you want it to, and two should prevent more damage. There are precautions you can take to achieve goal number two.

  • Unplug the power source – This may seem obvious, but it's an easy thing to forget when you're excited about your new SSD. Avoid electric shock to yourself or your equipment and disconnect the power supply.
  • Pay attention to your clothes – In your personal experience, bracelets, rings or puffy sleeves can cause problems and get in the way. You may not have this particular problem, but beware of static electricity in your clothes.
  • Static – There is some debate about how likely you are to destroy computer hardware with static electricity. As someone who errs on the side of caution, use an ESD wristband or static mat to prevent damage to your computer parts.
  • Read the manufacturer's instructions - Although we've provided a great tutorial, some manufacturers have special instructions to help you.
  • Organization - This one won't harm your computer, but it will help make the process much smoother. There's no greater joy than opening a computer case and seeing all the connectors and hardware neatly arranged and in place. Plan where you will put your new SSD and the cables that come with it. Then get your tools ready and get to work.

SSD/HDD cables

Before moving on to installing the new SSD, let's cover the cables used to connect a new drive to your PC or laptop.

SATA cables

Responsible for data transfer, SATA (Serial Advanced Technology) cable is one of the cables used by new PCs to connect SSD, HDD and optical drives. It's important to keep in mind that even though a SATA port or cable may be rated for 3/6+ GB/second transfer rates, it doesn't mean you'll actually get them.

The problem with hard drives, even ones that spin over 7200 RPM, they're still just a spinning platter, and you can only read/write data as fast as the drive allows. This is where SSDs come in, being flash-based in nature, they read/write data faster because they operate electrically when transferring data, not mechanically.

SATA connectors

Not to be confused with SATA cables, which connect the motherboard and the drive, the SATA connectors are used to supply the actual power to the device, an SSD in this case, and are connected to the power supply (PSU).

Connecting the SSD

Now that we've covered the security and know-how basics, let's move on to installing the SSD.

You screw it into one of the dedicated slots in your PC case, then connect the power and data cables.

TIP: Make sure your SSD is plugged into the lowest numbered SATA port if it will become the default boot drive. For best performance, a SATA3 type port is preferred. Note that it does not mean port three on your motherboard; it means SATA connection type, similar to USB 2.0 and USB 3.0.

Follow the steps below for installation best practices. Some manufacturers may include a set of instructions specific to this device. So be sure to review all of the information that came with your product.

Note: You will likely need an adapter that converts 2,5" SSDs to 3,5" wide to fit the drive slot. However, some PC cases may include 2,5 inch bays for use. Check your case or manual before buying a new SSD.

Step 1: Insert the SSD into the bay

Most solid state drives (SSDs) are designed to fit in a 2,5 inch laptop drive bay, which may not work in a desktop computer. Some SSDs include mounting brackets to hold them properly in the drive bay, so attach the drive to the size converter before you begin.

Next, find a 3,5 inch drive bay. Be careful not to use an external bay, which has a cutout in the front of the case, as this is the case for memory card readers and DVD/Blu-Ray readers.

If your PC case has drive rails or screwless fittings, read the case manual for instructions on installing your new SSD. For other enclosure types, slide the hard drive into a spare drive bay until the screw holes on the side of the drive line up with the holes in the drive bay. The drive is secured with four screws, two on both sides of the case.

Step 2: Plug the SATA power cable into the drive

Locate the correct connector on your power supply and plug it into the back of your SSD. It goes one way and clicks when connected.

Notes: Be extremely careful when plugging it in, as downward pressure can break the clip and without it the power plug will not stay in place.

Step 3: Plug the SATA data cable into the drive

Unlike IDE, SATA uses a simple, thin connector to transport data. Your motherboard will come with several SATA cables, so grab one from the box. Gently plug it into the back of the SSD. It will only plug in one way and will click when properly connected.

Be careful when plugging it in, as downward pressure can break the connector and prevent the SATA cable from plugging in.

Step 4: Connect the SATA data cable to the motherboard

Next, you need to find a spare SATA port on your motherboard. These are usually located at the bottom right of the table and are numbered. The lower the number, the higher your SSD is in the boot chain.

If you are installing multiple hard drives, make sure the drive you are going to boot from is plugged into the smallest port. Check the motherboard manual to make sure all ports do the same thing; some cards have ports reserved for RAID.

Connecting the SATA cable is simple, as it only plugs in one way. It will click when the cable is properly connected.

Transfer data from old disk to new

Whether you're using the Solid State Drive in addition to your existing drive or have done a full swap, you'll need to move your games and software to the new drive.

Method 1: Move Files Between Drives in Windows

Windows makes moving files very easy. Under "Settings" and "My Computer" you will find a list of folders containing the files on your computer.

Once your SSD is properly installed as above, the new drive will appear. You can now access the properties of each folder and move it to the SSD.

Method Two: Use Third-Party Software to Transfer Files

If you need to move your entire software setup, including Windows, there are plenty of options for third-party software that will do the job. Some SSDs already come with software, but if not, you can search online for one that will help you meet your specific needs.

Install Windows on the SSD

Arguably one of the most useful ways to use an SSD is to install your operating system on the SSD. This will dramatically improve startup times and generally improve all other processing speeds. There are two common scenarios where you install the operating system on the SSD; on a brand new machine and transfer the operating system from an existing HDD to an SSD.

Install Windows on a new machine with an SSD

1: The first step in installing Windows on an SSD on a new machine is to ensure that the drive is large enough to hold the entire operating system. As a general rule, 120 GB will suffice, and 250 GB is sufficient for all current operating systems.

2: The next step is to install the drive following the instructions given in the previous section. If you plan to dual boot (using both an SSD and an HDD), it's a good idea to install only the SSD to avoid confusion when installing your operating system.

3: The next step is to turn on the computer and insert the installation media of your choice, usually a disc or USB flash drive. Let the operating system install and update itself before shutting down the computer if you also plan to install a hard drive.

4: Finally, start your computer and press the key to enter advanced boot settings (for most motherboards, this is an F key, such as F2 or F10.) Look for the screen of boot command and make sure the SSD your OS is installed on boots first.

Transferring Windows from HDD to SSD with Existing Computer

1: The first steps to install Windows on an SSD with an existing machine are the same as on a new machine; make sure the drive is large enough to hold the entire operating system and connect the SSD to the computer.

2: The next step is to create a system image of your current machine, this can be done by going to your Control panel, by selecting Backup and Restore, then selecting Create a system image.

3: Next, you will select the partitions you want to copy to the system image. Make sure you have selected the Windows drive (usually this will be the C: drive). Creating the system image should take 30 minutes to an hour.

4: The next step is to install a fresh copy of Windows on the SSD. This is done by using the Windows Media Creation Tool (which can be found on the Microsoft website) to create installation media on another device. Simply select the SSD as the device where Windows should be installed.

5: Replace your hard drive with the new SSD and start your computer. Enter advanced boot parameters and boot the system from SSD. When the configuration is ready, you will have the option to enter the repair parameters. Do this, then select Advanced options, and choose System image recovery.

6: Simply click on the remaining setup instructions and your computer will boot your operating system from the SSD.

Install and use an SSD

As you can see, installing and configuring an SSD for your computer is not that difficult, just check your connections and remember to ground yourself before handling potentially sensitive electronics.

Have you successfully installed your new SSD? Did you encounter any problems? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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