Hard Drive Guide - Selecting the correct hard drive

Over a decade ago, upgrading a laptop's hard disk drive (HDD) used to be a daunting and difficult task.  It took a good amount of knowledge as far as which screws to remove and which plastic parts to pry off, oftentimes the keyboard would have to be "popped out" too just to access the laptop's hard drive.  There was a quagmire of  flex cables and wires to deal with.  Once you were done exchanging the hard drives, it was an even more difficult putting the laptop back together again.  Everything just did not fit right when everything was said and done.  Ten years ago, it was better to leave the "hard drive upgrading" up to the professionals.

photo of hard drive upgrade and notebook

Today, upgrading a laptop's hard drive is so much simpler.  Most laptops today can be upgraded as a DIY project.  Most laptops have its hard drives in a hard drive carrier (also known as a notebook hard drive caddie or notebook hard drive caddy or notebook hard drive tray).

photo illustrating what a hard drive caddy is

With the hard drive inside a hard drive caddy, users can easily remove or re-insert the hard drive into the notebook.  (photo below illustrates hard drive caddys being inserted into an IBM ThinkPad's primary drive bay and 2nd drive bay)

photo illustrating hard drive caddys being inserted


There are also some laptops/notebooks that have the capability of adding a second hard drive without having to remove the optical drive.  The HP Pavilion dv8000 series notebooks, dv9000 series notebooks and the Dell Inspiron 1720 have dual-drive bays (two hard drive bays).  These notebooks normally ship with one hard drive installed and have an empty hard drive bay to add another bare hard drive.  All that is needed to add another hard drive is a hard drive caddy. For purposes of this discussion, we will refer to a hard drive without a drive caddy/drive tray as a "bare hard drive". 


Size of Laptop Hard Drive (not capacity)

There are two common sizes for bare hard drives are 2.5" and 1.8".  The size refers to the actual size of the platter (disk) used in the  hard drive.  Most laptops will use a 2.5" hard drive.  Some of the smaller laptops, also known as sub-notebooks, use 1.8" hard drives.  Please check before you buy. You can find hard drive size requirements for your laptop at www.newmodeUS.com. 

laptop hard drive comparison, 1.8



Height of Laptop Hard Drive

Most 2.5" bare hard drives are 9.5mm or 8.5mm in height.  Years back, 2.5" hard drives were manufactured in 19mm, 17mm and 12.5mm.  As long as the 2.5" bare hard drive you are purchasing is 9.5mm or below, you should be in great shape.  

laptop hard drive height comparison between 9.5mm vs. 12.7mm vs. 19mm




2.5" hard drives range in capacities from 40GB to 320GB.  1.8" hard drives are available in 20, 40 and 60GB.   We will not discuss what capacity of hard drive you should purchase.  Only you, the user, knows what your size requirements are for now and for the future.  Please note that 2.5" hard drives and 1.8" hard drives are not interchangeable.



Interface (SATA or PATA)

2.5" hard drives are available with two kinds of interfaces: PATA (Parallel ATA) or SATA (Serial ATA). SATA drives are fairly new in the market.  External dimensions for both PATA and SATA are fairly the same.  The way to distinguish between the two is by looking at the connector/interface.  PATA drives have two rows of pins.  SATA drives have a "card edge" connector (see photo below).  It's only in 2007 that we started seeing laptops/notebooks shipped with SATA hard drives as the primary drive.  Prior to 2007, notebooks/laptops were shipping with PATA hard drives as primary hard drives.   Make certain before you buy your hard drive what type of hard drive your laptop/notebook uses.  PATA and SATA hard drives are not interchangeable.

SATA hard drives versus PATA hard drives

You will also come across different naming conventions for PATA and SATA drives.  Manufacturers and resellers don't refer to them as a "PATA hard drive" or a "SATA hard drive".  Oftentimes, you will see them listed as "ATA-6", "ATA-7", "SATA 1.5", etc.   Please refer to the chart below to get a better understanding of what type of drive you will be requiring.

SATA versus PATA naming conventions

Upgrading a Laptop's Hard Drive

Most of the time, all you will need is a small screwdriver.  There are two ways you can go about this.

a) You can buy a bare hard drive and replace the old hard drive in the caddy with the new one.

b) You can buy a bare hard drive and hard drive caddy and assemble it together to make a completely separate removable hard drive for your notebook.


The advantage of going with option "b" is you will have second removable hard drive for your laptop.  You can keep the old one in your file drawer as a backup and use the new one as the main drive. If anything happens to your main drive, you can always pull out your old hard drive and have your laptop back again running within minutes.


NOTE:  If your laptop has a "Secondary Hard Drive Bay" (also known as "multibay" or "slimselect bay") and if there is a "Secondary Hard Drive Bay Caddy" available for your laptop, you can use your old hard drive as a second hard drive for your laptop.

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