How to install a hard drive

Updated: 10/04/2017 by Computer Hope

Buying tips and help

How to determine the hard drive type

Before getting started

  1. If present, backup any important data on the hard drive currently within the computer.
  2. Ensure you have a working bootable disk.
  3. Write down important information from the top or bottom of the hard drive such as the Model Number, Serial Number, and specifications.
  4. Ensure you are familiar with ESD and its potential dangers.
  5. When physically installing the hard drive, ensure the computer is powered down and unplugged.

Set the Jumpers

Before installing the hard drive the jumpers must be properly set on the drive itself. On the back of the hard drive should be small pins with a small plastic piece known as a jumper block or shunt. This jumper must cover the appropriate pins to set the drive as a Single, Dual Master, Dual Slave, or Cable Select.

Jumpers on back of IDE hard disk drive

If this is going to be the only hard drive, set the drive as Master.
If this is going to be a second drive, set the jumper as Slave.

It is important to note that when installing a hard drive on an IDE/EIDE interface while other drives, such as a CD-ROM drive, are present they must be changed to the right setting. For example, if a CD-ROM is present on the same cable as a hard drive, it must be set to Slave.

Drive Bays

Once the jumpers have been set appropriately, open the computer and determine the drive bay present within the computer. Most computers have an option between a 5.25-inch Bay and a 3.5-inch Bay. Today, all IDE/EIDE and SATA hard drives are 3.5-inch. If your computer has an available 3.5-inch bay it is highly recommend that this drive bay be used to install the hard drive, as no additional brackets will be required.

If the computer does not have an available 3.5-inch Bay, it is required that a mounting bracket be used. These brackets will convert the drive bay from a 5.25-inch Bay to a 3.5-inch Bay. Most hard drive manufactures will include these brackets with the hard drive. Unfortunately, these mounting brackets will not work with all computers. If you are unable to utilize these brackets consider the below suggestions.

  1. Contact the computer manufacturer for drive brackets compatible with your computer.
  2. Visit a local computer store for alternate brackets.
  3. If your computer has a 5.25-inch drive below an available 5.25-inch Bay, install the hard drive by just screwing in one side of the drive to keep it stationary. The 5.25-inch drive should provide support for the hard drive, while the screws should hold the drive.

Links to various computer and hardware manufacturers can be found on our support listing.

Attach Cables

Once the jumpers have been verified and the hard is attached and secured to the computer case, connect the cables to the computer hard drive. Start first with the IDE/EIDE interface cable (gray flat ribbon cable). This cable has a blue or red line or dotted line on one side of the cable, this indicates Pin 1. Almost always this side of the cable will point to the side where the power connects.

If the IDE/EIDE cable is not already connected to the interface card or motherboard, connect that cable now. If this is the only hard drive it is recommended that the drive be connected to PRIMARY 0, PRI 0, PRIMARY 1 or PRI 1.

Once the IDE/EIDE cable has been connected to the computer hard drive, connect the power cable. This cable is almost always keyed and only goes in one direction. Look at the connection on the drive itself and then the cable to connect this cable in properly.

CMOS Setup

Once the hard drive has been installed, place the case back onto the computer and connect the keyboard, monitor, and power to the computer (we recommend that you do not connect all the cables yet, if problems are experienced you may have to disconnect all the cables again).

Once connected, turn on the computer and as the computer is booting, enter BIOS setup. Verify that the hard drive is being seen or that the hard drives are setup as Auto. Older computers may require that you enter the hard drive BIOS values, these values are sometimes found on the hard drive itself or with the included documentation. A listing of these values can be found on Computer Hope.

Additional information and help with BIOS can be found on our BIOS page.
Listing of CMOS hard drive settings can be found on our HDD specs page.

Software Setup

Once the hard drive has been setup in CMOS or appears to be detected in CMOS, the hard drive must be setup through the software. Using a bootable floppy diskette, boot from the diskette to prepare the setup:

If you plan on installing MS-DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows ME, you need to setup the hard drive using the FDISK utility.

If you plan on installing Windows NT or Windows 2000 you can utilize the Windows NT setup to create a NTFS partition or FAT32 partition if using Windows 2000.

If you plan on using another operating such as Linux or Unix, disk partitioning will be performed during the installation process.


If additional issues are encountered during or after the installation of the hard drive, refer to our hard drive help page for additional help and information.

Additional information