Tech Made Simple

Hot Topics: How to Fix Bluetooth Problems | Browse the Web Anonymously | Complete Guide to Facebook Privacy | How to Block Spam Calls

Use It

author photo

How to Replace Your Hard Drive with an SSD to Make your Laptop Faster

by on October 17, 2019
in Tips & How-Tos, Computers and Software, Computer Safety & Support, Laptops, Tech 101 :: 7 comments

Techlicious editors independently review products. To help support our mission, we may earn affiliate commissions from links contained on this page.

There are many ways to make a slow laptop faster, but few are as easy and cost-effective as replacing your existing hard drive with a solid state drive (SSD). Making the swap will, in most cases, dramatically reduce the time it takes to boot Windows, load programs, and perform any activity that involves significant amounts of disk access (video editing, gaming, transferring files, etc.). When I swapped out my hard drive for an SSD, my Windows boot time dropped from a very-painful almost 10 minutes to well under a minute. And programs like Adobe Photoshop that could take a minute or more to open, now open in seconds. Your old computer won’t just be as good as new; it will be better than it ever was.

With an SSD, you’ll also get the added advantage of greater ruggedness (SSDs are much less susceptible to damage from drops than hard drives because they have no moving parts), better battery life and quieter operation.

Despite the advantages of SSDs, in the past, upgrading wasn’t an attractive option for many people because of the high cost. But with 1TB SSDs now available for around $100, it’s almost silly not to make the switch. And you don’t need advanced technical skills to do it. As long as you’re comfortable using a screwdriver and running a simple cloning program (which literally makes a clone of your existing drive, so your operating system, your programs and settings, and all your files will be exactly the same and ready to go on your new drive), this is a task anyone should be able to handle. 

Here are the simple steps to swap out your hard drive for an SSD.

1. Buy an SSD drive

What size SSD to buy

When looking to buy an SSD, the first thing you should determine is what size drive you need. You should choose one that is at least as large as your current hard drive. If your current drive is getting low on space, you should consider stepping up to something larger. I would suggest not going smaller than 500GB and, ideally, going with 1TB, which should provide ample storage for most people.

What type of SSD to buy

Assuming your laptop currently has a standard hard drive, it is almost certainly a 2.5 Inch SATA drive. So, you will be replacing it with an SSD of the same size and interface (internal connections). You may see people refer to other things – NAND technology, SATA III, etc. – don’t worry about that stuff, 2.5-inch SATA is all you need to know.

What brand/model to buy

There are hundreds of SSD models from dozens of brands on the market. But since the drive will hold all your computer’s critical information, this is not the time to just go with the cheapest model. Nor do you need the ultimate performance models intended for large server applications. I read through numerous reviews and tests of SSDs from professional reviewers and consumers to narrow the choices down to two models that I would recommend.

Editor's PickMy top recommendation – and the one I installed in my own laptop – is the Samsung 860 EVO. It is consistently rated at or near the top in performance tests versus competitive models and offers a leading 5-year or 600 TBW (for 1TB model) warranty. TBW (terabytes written) is a good indication of the drive’s robustness – the more the better. Under normal usage, you would never come close to hitting that TBW limit (600 TBW is equivalent to about 200 million photos). Samsung also comes with Samsung Data Migration software, an easy-to-use program for cloning your existing drive onto the SSD. As of the time of writing, you can get the 500GB version for $74.99 or 1TB for $129.99 on Samsung.com or Amazon. [NOTE: There have been reports of counterfeit Samsung drives being sold through Amazon. Make sure you only buy directly from Amazon or other well-known sellers.]

 

 

Samsung EVO 860 SSD

Editor's PickIf you want to save a little money, the Crucial MX500 is arguably every bit as good as the Samsung 860 EVO. Data transfer speeds will be the same and Crucial offers its own Acronis True Image software for easy drive cloning. The Crucial MX500 also comes with a 5-year warranty, though its 360 TBW limit for the 1TB model is lower than the limit for the Samsung 860 EVO, meaning it may be slightly less robust (realistically, that’s still far, far above what most people would ever hit). As of the time of writing, you can get the 500GB version for $66.99 or 1TB for $109.99 on Crucial.com or for a few bucks less on Amazon.

Crucial MX500 SSD

2. Buy a SATA to USB data transfer cable

The data transfer cable is what you will use to clone your existing hard drive onto your new SSD using your laptop’s USB port. All the cables are pretty much the same, and you can pick one up for under $10 on Amazon. The Sabrent USB 3.0 to SATA gets solid reviews on Amazon and will do what you need it to do.

Sabrent USB 3.0 to SATA cable

This is also a good time to check to make sure that you have a screwdriver that will fit the screws on your laptop (small phillips head will work on most computers, though some manufacturers use non-standard screws). If not, pick up a basic computer screwdriver set, too. This screwdriver set has tons of heads (including the non-standard ones) and a tool to help you open your laptop case, if needed.

3. Clone your hard drive

If you’re worried about the effort to transfer Windows to your new drive, reinstall all your programs and transfer all your files, don’t be. The cloning program that comes with your SSD – Samsung Data Migration, Acronis True Image – will make an exact replica of your current hard drive on your new SSD, so there’s no need to reinstall anything. If you purchase a drive that doesn’t include the software, there are many free disk cloning programs you can download yourself.

To get going:

  1. Install the cloning software on your laptop
  2. Plug your SATA to USB data transfer cable into your laptop (ideally into a USB 3.0 port, for the best transfer speeds. USB 3.0 ports will have the blue tab on the inside)
  3. Plug your brand-spanking new SSD into the SATA cable
  4. Follow the instructions in your drive cloning application to clone your existing hard disk

The cloning process will take a while to transfer your data onto your new drive. Don’t use your computer will the cloning process is happening because any changes you make to settings or files may not be cloned to the new drive. This is an excellent time to go out for dinner, binge-watch Netflix or get in a good night’s sleep.

4. Install the SSD drive

Once your cloning is complete, you can now get that new drive swapped into your laptop.

  1. Unplug the SATA to USB cable and SSD from your laptop
  2. Unplug your laptop power and remove the battery (if removable)
  3. Open the laptop case by removing the screws. If you’re lucky, your laptop will have a handy little door with a couple of screws that give you direct access to the hard drive bay. But if you have a more recent “unibody design” model, you’ll have anywhere from 10-20 screws to take out (have a little cup ready to store them in). Then open the bottom part of the case to get access to your drive. You may need to use your fingernails, a flat-tip screwdriver or the handy tool that came with the screwdriver kit I recommended above to CAREFULLY pry it open. If you are unsure how to do this with your laptop, googling your laptop model and “open case” or “replace hard drive” will usually turn up plenty of YouTube videos for guidance.
  4. Once your case is open, unscrew the mounting bracket holding your existing hard drive and remove your drive. It should come out pretty easily. Now put your new SSD into the mounting bracket, slide it into the connectors on your laptop and screw the mounting bracket back into your laptop.
  5. Replace you case by snapping it back into place (putting it back on is usually easier than removing it).
  6. DO NOT SCREW THE CASE TOGETHER YET - we want to check and make sure everything is working first. Turn on your computer (it should boot really fast now!) and verify that everything – programs, files – looks just like it did before. Assuming all is fine, turn the computer off and get those screws back in.

5. Install your manufacturer’s drive management software

Most manufacturers have a drive management program, like Samsung Magician, that will keep your drive firmware up to date and allow you to customize the performance and other settings. It’s worth installing for the firmware updates but leave the other settings alone unless you really know what you’re doing. Your SSD will be plenty fast out of the box and most performance tweaking will have limited benefit in normal use.

That’s it! You can now enjoy the huge performance boost from your new SSD. And while your SSD should be more reliable than your old hard drive, if you occasionally clone your new SSD to your old hard drive using the USB to SATA cable, you’ll be able to use it as a fully-functional replacement, should you ever need it.

[Image credit: Samsung, Crucial, Sabrent, Bigstock Photo:laptop upgrade]



Discussion loading

gravatar

Desktop

From Diana Hammond on October 18, 2019 :: 2:35 pm

If I want to do this to my desktop since I don’t own a laptop, how different would the process be?

Reply

gravatar

Desktop Variation

From George Mells on October 19, 2019 :: 3:06 am

To Diana:  Assuming your desktop has SIDE ports it will be very similar but you might not need the USB adapter.  There should be a second SIDE port and power connector for a second drive.  You would connect the new drive to port 2, perform the drive copy, and then change the port connectors around to make the SSD the primary drive.  If all is good you could then erase the old drive and use it for additional storage.

Reply

avatar

Same perfromance gain

From Josh Kirschner on October 20, 2019 :: 11:55 am

Follow George’s advice for desktop installation. You will see the same level of performance gain on a desktop as you would on a laptop. Though if your desktop has a larger 3.5 inch drive bay, you may need an adapter to fit a 2.5 inch SSD. You can get one like this on Amazon for about $7: https://amzn.to/2oXfk77.

Reply

gravatar

Change drivs

From ncrgeo@gmail.com on October 22, 2019 :: 12:21 pm

You really make it look easy! I have a very old laptop that is still in wonderful condition and you have given me a very good idea as to what to do with it. One question: have the drive connections within the laptop/desktop changed over the last 7-10 years?

Reply

avatar

Connections should be the same

From Josh Kirschner on October 22, 2019 :: 1:08 pm

Your laptop drive connections should be the same from 7-10 years ago as they are today. The format I describe above (and what most laptops have today) is actually the “old” technology (vs the newer M.2 format).

Reply

Changed to new SSD now laptop won't stay on

From Evan Dickerson on October 28, 2019 :: 7:43 pm

Hi, great article, I have changed from a HDD to a SSD in my Dell laptop and the performance is great. One persistent problem I have is that
now the laptop will not operate unless it is plugged in to power, within a few minutes of unplugging the power cord, it will just turn off. It is a recently replaced battery and works fine with the old HDD. Any help would be appreciated, thanks.

Reply

avatar

Likely the battery

From Josh Kirschner on October 29, 2019 :: 4:48 pm

I know you said you just replaced the battery, but this still sounds like a battery issue. If it was recently replaced, perhaps it is still under warranty and you can have it checked/replaced. Also, want to confirm whether the battery “works” fine with the old HDD or “worked” fine with the old HDD - that is, did you put the old HDD back in and you don’t have the battery issue or did you not have the issue back when you had the HDD, but the issue cropped up since you had the SSD? The latter supports the faulty battery diagnosis, the former suggests a different issue.

If the battery really is working fine with the HDD, then perhaps it is something related to your power management settings. Try turning off sleep mode when it is running on battery and see if that fixes things. Not clear why the SSD would cause that to happen unless the laptop is expecting a HDD and when it doesn’t sense that activity it goes to sleep (this one is a long shot, IMHO). Some forum threads for Dell owners with similar issues have also suggested changing the battery settings in the BIOS or upgrading the BIOS. Though, in the end, it doesn’t seem like this worked for most people - it was a bad battery issue.

Let me know what you figure out.

Reply

Home | About | Meet the Team | Contact Us
Media Kit | Newsletter Sponsorships
Newsletter Archive
Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookie Policy

Techlicious participates in affiliate programs, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, which provide a small commission from some, but not all, of the "click-thru to buy" links contained in our articles. These click-thru links are determined after the article has been written, based on price and product availability — the commissions do not impact our choice of recommended product, nor the price you pay. When you use these links, you help support our ongoing editorial mission to provide you with the best product recommendations.

© Techlicious LLC.

site design: Juxtaprose