How to install a hard drive

Updated: 11/13/2018 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

If installing an IDE hard drive, the jumpers must be properly set on the drive itself.

Note: A SATA hard drive does not have or require a jumper to be set. If installing a SATA hard drive, skip to the next section.

On the back of the hard drive should be small pins with a small plastic piece, known as a jumper block or shunt. The jumper must cover the appropriate pins to set the drive as a Single, Master, Slave, or Cable Select.

Jumpers on back of IDE hard disk drive

  • If the new hard drive is going to be the only hard drive in the computer, set the jumper as Master.
  • If the new hard drive going to be a second hard drive in the computer, set the jumper as Slave.

If a hard drive uses a IDE/EIDE interface, and it shares the cable with another drive (such as a CD drive), that drive must be configured as a slave, and the hard disk as master. See your drive manuals for the correct jumper settings, and set each drive's jumpers accordingly.

Drive Bays

Once the jumpers have been set appropriately (if necessary), 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 in width. If your computer has an available 3.5-inch bay, it is highly recommended 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 cannot use these brackets, consider the below suggestions.

  • Contact the computer manufacturer for drive brackets compatible with your computer.
  • Visit a local computer store for alternate brackets.
  • 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 the bay to keep it stationary. The 5.25-inch drive should provide support for the hard drive, while the screws should hold the drive.

For links to many computer and hardware manufacturers, see our support listing.

Attach Cable and Power Connector

Once the hard is attached and secured to the computer case, connect the appropriate cable to the hard drive, as well as the power connector. If installing a SATA hard drive, use a SATA cable. If installing an IDE hard drive, use an IDE cable.

SATA cable

Both ends of a SATA cable look the same, having an "L" shaped connector. Therefore, the end of the SATA cable connects to the hard drive only one way. Line up the SATA cable end with the hard drive's SATA connection and gently push the cable end into the hard drive connection.

After connecting the SATA cable to the hard drive, connect the other end of the cable to the motherboard's SATA connector.

IDE cable

The IDE/EIDE cable (gray flat ribbon cable) has a blue or red line or dotted line on one side of the cable, which indicates pin 1. Almost always this side of the cable will point to the side where the power connects to the back of the hard drive.

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

Power cable

Once the SATA or IDE cable has been connected to the hard drive, connect the power cable to the hard drive. This cable is almost always keyed and only connects to the hard drive's power connection one way. Look at the power connection on the hard drive and then line up the power cable to connect it properly.

BIOS or 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, access the BIOS or CMOS setup. Verify the hard drive is being recognized or that each hard drive is set up as Auto. Older computers may require that you enter the hard drive BIOS or CMOS values, which 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 the BIOS can be found on our BIOS page.
  • A listing of CMOS hard drive settings can be found on our HDD specs page.

Software Setup

Once the hard drive has been set up in CMOS or appears to be detected in CMOS, the hard drive may need to be set up using included software. Using a bootable floppy diskette or CD, boot from the diskette or disc to prepare the setup.

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

Tip: 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.

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