How to upgrade your hard drive to an SSD (Solid State Disk)

By | September 19, 2017

I have a Dell Laptop (running Windows 10) that is only 2 years old with fairly good specs for a power user focusing on web development, photoshop, database development, etc.  I was extremely frustrated with my computer taking 10+ minutes to fully load up on a typical day due to the many processes now running on startup (Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and Apple iCloud to name a few).  A windows update might have taken my computer 30-60 minutes to update.  With such a new laptop I couldn’t fathom why it was so slow.  Enter in my decision to swap out my 1 TB 5400 RPM Hard Drive for a 1 TB Western Digital SSD.  After installing the new SSD, my boot times and shut down times are under 12 seconds each, windows updates that might have taken 30-60 minutes install in 5-10 minutes or less.  Instead of the 5-10 minute delay waiting for Dropbox, Drive, etc. to connect it takes 10 seconds.  Processing downloads and database queries are quicker.  Microsoft Word, Excel, and Outlook load in a fraction of the time.  I am completely sold on the SSD, as it has saved me so much time.  I have since made the swap on several office desktop and laptop computers as well and had similar improvements on each of them.

Here are the parts I used (all purchased on Amazon):

  1. 1 TB Western Digital SSD  I chose Western Digital because they are a name brand with good reviews, a great price, and a great warranty.  For some of my other installations I bought the following, which I think are similar brand recognition, quality, price, and warranty.
    SanDisk Ultra II 1TB SATA III SSD
    SanDisk Ultra II 500GB SATA III SSD
    Note that the lesser known brands might offer an okay warranty, but the support for that warranty is less than stellar to say the least–the Amazon reviews attest to that.
  2. ORICO 2.5″ USB 3.0 External Hard Drive Enclosure for 2.5 Inch SATA HDD and SSDThis is the simplest method for connecting your new drive to your computer in order to clone your current operating system and files that you will create.
  3. Corsair Dual SSD Mounting Bracket 3.5″ CSSD-BRKT2 This part is only required for a desktop installation, because most desktop hard drives sit in a 3.5″ Hard Drive bay.  This fits any 2.5″ SSD drives and allows it to slide into a 3.5″ HD bay.

Here is the process that I followed for my laptop (the desktop was similar in process except that instead of installing the new SSD in place of the old, I installed the SSD as the primary drive and installed the old hard drive as a secondary drive to use for file storage or backups):

1. Insert new drive into the Orico External Hard Drive Enclosure.  Be careful not to bend any pins and ensure that everything lines up perfectly.

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2. Plug in the USB drive to the laptop or desktop computer.

3. Open Windows Disk Manager by searching for “Create and format hard disk partitions” under the start menu.  You’ll notice that next to “Disk 1” in my screenshot it lists “Unallocated” below the blue bar.  This is the new SSD that you just plugged in to the USB port.  It will ask you to initialize the disk.  Select GPT.  There are many articles on why this is appropriate, but I won’t cover them here.

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4. Right click on the Unallocated space and select New Simple Volume and follow the wizard prompts.  The default settings will generally be fine to use, but I typically like to name my volume and select “Quick Format”.

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5. Install software that will clone your old hard drive and copy it and all files onto your new hard drive.  Western Digital has a version of Acronis True Image that they allow you to use for free as long as your old drive is a Western Digital drive.  I tried to use this initially but could not get the software to recognize my new WD hard drive since it wasn’t yet installed into my system.  You could likely get it to recognize on a desktop computer if you install the hard drive as a 2nd drive on your desktop computer first and then install it, but I chose the path of least resistance and installed free software called Macrium Reflect Free.  The software gives you a full 30 day trial to use it’s full feature set, which is plenty adequate to clone your disk, since it typically takes 2-4 hours depending upon the size of the disk.

6. After installing Macrium Reflect Free, I would highly recommend that your first step is to create a recovery CD.  To do this, under “Other Tasks” select “Create Rescue Media”.  This will help you boot the system should anything go wrong.  Once this is done, you will clone your old disk by selecting all of the partitions on your old disk and clicking on “Clone this disk”.  Note that if you have a Dell, HP, or Lenovo computer there is likely an operating system restore partition that should also be checked.  I checked 3 or 4 boxes for my Dell laptop and desktop.

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7. Once the cloning process is complete (~2-4 hours or more depending upon your hard disk size), you should shut down your computer and remove the USB port and your new HD from the Orico External Hard Drive Enclosure.  Again, please remove gently as you can damage pins on the hard drive.

8. Disconnect the power from the computer and then press the power button on the computer to discharge any residual static electricity in the system.

9. Remove the old HD from your system.  For my Dell laptop I had to first remove the battery on the back.  Then I had to unscrew the hard drive enclosure (see the following images).  The HD is mounted with screws to the laptop case.  Make sure that once they are free that you are very careful when removing the power and SATA cables from the HD as you can damage the pins if not careful.

10. Install the new HD in its place and connect the power and SATA cable in the same way that the old HD was installed.  Do not force any cables–all should fit together nicely and should glide into place.  If you have to force something that’s an indication that the cable might be upside down or something.

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11. Once the hard drive is mounted back into the case and the screws are tight, reinstall the cover and plug the computer back in.

12. Boot up the computer.  Everything should work as it did before, except it should be blazing fast!!

Should you have any problems with the new drive upon initial installation you can always shut your computer down and put the old drive back in and all should work as before as a fail safe.  Typically with my desktop computers I will install the old drive as a 2nd drive and then wait a couple of weeks to make sure no problems have emerged on the SSD swap out.  Then I will format the 2nd drive and use it for lots of additional storage.

Best of luck…feel free to comment if you have questions.

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