How to Install and Use a SSD (Solid State Drive)
Whether you opt for a cheaper solid-state drive with 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 may sacrifice storage and cost when you choose an SSD, it is still better than a regular HDD.
Regardless of whether you’re performing an upgrade and trying to breathe some new life into a PC or you’re looking to build a custom PC, keep on reading to learn 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 skim through this section. If you’re new to the task, there are a few things you should know before opening your computer’s case and tinkering around.
When you open the case, you should have two goals in mind; one is to get your computer running the way you want, and two should be preventing more damage. There are precautions you can take to complete goal number two.
- Unplug the power source – This may seem obvious, but it’s an easy thing to forget to do when you’re excited about your new SSD. Prevent electric shock to yourself or your hardware and unplug the power.
- Be aware of your clothing – From personal experience, bracelets, rings, or baggy sleeves can cause problems and get in the way. You may not have that problem in particular but beware of static in your clothing.
- Static – There is some debate on how likely you are to ruin computer hardware with static electricity. As someone who errs on the side of caution, use an ESD bracelet or static mat to prevent damage to your computer parts.
- Read the manufacturer’s instructions – While we’ve provided an excellent tutorial, some manufacturers have particular instructions to help you along.
- Organization – This one won’t hurt your computer, but it will help make the process much smoother. There’s no greater joy than opening a computer case and seeing all of the connectors and hardware neatly tucked away and in place—Plan where you will put your new SSD, and it’s accompanying cables. Then, get your tools ready and get to work.
Before we jump into the installation of the new SSD, let’s cover the cables used for connecting a new drive to your PC or laptop.
Responsible for transferring data, the SATA (Serial Advanced Technology) cable is one of the cables used for newer PCs to connect SSD, HDD, and Optical drives. It’s important to keep in mind that even though a SATA port or cable might be rated for 3/6+ GB/second transfer rates, it doesn’t mean you’ll actually obtain them.
The problem with HDDs, even those that are 7200+ RPM, they’re still only a spinning platter, and you can only read/write the data as fast as the drive is capable. This is where SSDs come into play, being flash storage in nature, they read/write data faster because they operate electrically when transferring data, not mechanically.
Not to be confused with SATA cables, which connect the motherboard and the drive, SATA connectors are used to provide the actual power to the device, an SSD in this case, and are attached to the power supply (PSU).
Connecting the SSD
Now that we’ve covered the basics of safety and know-how, let’s get into the SSD installation.
You screw it into one of your PC case’s dedicated slots, then connect the power and data cables.
TIP: Make sure that your SSD is plugged into the lowest-numbered SATA port if it will become the default boot drive. For best performance, a type SATA3 port is best. Note that this does not mean port three on your motherboard; it means the type of SATA connection, similar to USB 2.0 and USB 3.0.
Follow the steps below for proper installation practices. Some manufacturers may include a set of instructions specific to that device, so be mindful to review any information that comes with your product.
Note: You will most likely need an adapter that converts 2.5-inch SSDs to a 3.5-inch width to fit in the drive slot. However, some PC cases may include 2.5-inch bays for use. Check your case or manual before purchasing a new SSD.
Step 1: Fit 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 PC. Some solid-state drives include mounting brackets to hold them in the drive bay correctly, so attach the drive to the size converter before you start.
Next, find a 3.5-inch drive bay. Be careful not to use an external bay, which has a cutout on the front of the case, as these are for memory card readers and DVD/Blu-Ray drives.
If your PC case has drive rails or screw-less fittings, read the case’s manual for instructions on fitting your new SSD. For other case types, slide the hard disk into a spare drive bay until the screw holes in the side of the drive line up with the holes in the drive bay. The disk gets 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 from your power supply and plug it into the back of your SSD. It goes in only one way and clicks when it’s connected.
Note: Be extremely careful when plugging it in, as downwards pressure can break the clip and without it, the power plug won’t stay in place.
Step 3: Plug the SATA Data Cable into the Drive
Unlike IDE, SATA uses a simple and thin connector to carry data. Your motherboard will ship with several SATA cables, so take one of these from the box. Plug it gently into the rear of the SSD. It will plug in only one way and will click when it’s properly connected.
Be careful when you plug it in, as downwards pressure can break the connector and prevent the SATA cable from plugging in.
Step 4: Connect the SATA Data Cable into the Motherboard
Next, you need to find a spare SATA port on your motherboard. These are usually located at the bottom-right of the board and are numbered. The lower the number, the higher up the boot chain your SSD is.
If you’re installing more than one hard disk make sure the drive from which you’re going to boot is plugged into the lowest-numbered port. Check the motherboard’s manual to ensure that all the ports do the same thing; some boards have ports reserved for RAID.
Connecting the SATA cable is easy, as it will plug in only one way. It will click when the cable is connected properly.
Transfer Data from the Old Drive to the New One
Whether you’re using the Solid State Drive in addition to your existing drive, or you’ve made a complete swap, you’ll need to move your games and software over to the new drive.
Method 1: Move Files from Drive to Drive in Windows
Windows makes moving files really simple. 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 a lot of options for third-party software that will get the job done. Some SSDs come with the software already, but if not, you can search online for one that’ll help meet your specific needs.
Installing Windows onto the SSD
Arguably, one of the most useful ways to utilize an SSD is by installing your operating system on the solid state drive. Doing so will drastically improve boot times and generally improve all other processing speed. There are two common scenarios where you would install the OS onto the SSD; on a completely new machine, and transferring the OS from an existing HDD to a SSD.
Installing Windows onto a New Machine with an SSD
1: The first step in installing Windows onto an SSD on a new machine is to ensure that the drive is large enough to hold the entire operating system. Typically, 120GB will be enough, and 250GB is plenty of space 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 on dual-booting (using both an SSD and an HDD,) it is wise to install only the SSD as to avoid any mix ups when installing your operating system.
3: The following step is to power on the computer and insert your installation media of choice, usually a disc or a USB-drive. Allow the operating system to install and update before turning the computer back off if you are also planning on installing an HDD.
4: Fianlly, boot your computer and press the key to enter the advanced settings boot (for most motherboards this is an F key, such as F2 or F10.) Find the boot order screen, and ensure that the SSD on which your OS is installed boots first.
Transferring Windows from an HDD to an SSD with an Existing Computer
1: The first steps to installing Windows onto an SSD with an existing machine is the same as on a new machine; ensure that 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 into your Control Panel, selecting Backup and Restore, and then selecting Create a system image.
3: Then, you will select the partitions that you would like to be copied onto the system image. Make sure that you have selected the Windows Drive (typically this will be the C: drive.) It should take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to create the system image.
4: The next step is to install a fresh copy of Windows onto the SSD. This is done by using the Windows Media Creation Tool (which can be found on Microsoft’s website) to create an installation media on another device. Simply select the SSD as the device for which Windows to be installed on.
5: Replace your HDD with the new SSD and boot your computer. Enter the advanced boot settings and boot the system from the SSD. When setup is ready, you will be given the option to enter repair settings. Do so, and then select Advanced Options, and choose System Image Recovery.
6: Simply click through the remaining set up instructions, and your computer will boot your operating system from the SSD.
Installing and Using an SSD
As you can see, installing and setting up an SSD for your computer isn’t all that difficult, just double check your connections and remember to ground yourself out before handling potentially sensitive electronics.
Were you successful in installing your new SSD? Did you run into any issues? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.