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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 :: 62 comments

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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.

[Editor's note 11/4/2020: The process Acronis uses to clone your drive is different than what Samsung Magician uses (which is what I described here). For Acronis, you will need to swap the drives, boot using Acronis media (e.g., flash drive), then clone. Other cloning programs may have their own procedures, so it's always best to follow the directions specific to your software.]

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

Using AOMEI Backupper to clone HDD to SDD getting "System Service Execption" and BSOD

From Vincent Burke on March 05, 2021 :: 4:04 pm

Hi Josh, enjoyed reading all above. I connected my new SDD by usb to my Dell Inspiron Laptop (Win 10 64bit) and using AOMEI Backupper began the process of cloning. However, after starting well (detailing source drive (500Gb HDD), highlighting new SSD drive as target etc) twice it has shown a BSOD showing “System Service Execption” and it reboots automatically to my normal starting position (all shut down, no Chrome, no AOMEI). However, after the first time I had a small partition (“System Reserved NTFS about 580Mb) at the start of the SSD and 950GB unallocated space showing on the SDD in Disk Management. Second attempt with AOMEI resulted again in “System Service Execption” blue screen and then auto restart after about 2 minutes.
I wonder what’s wrong?
Many thanks.
Vincent

Reply

Could be a number of things...

From Josh Kirschner on March 05, 2021 :: 6:24 pm

This is a tricky error to diagnose because it could be caused by anything from a bad drive (HDD or SSD) to bad drivers to a cable or port issue.

I would begin with the easiest solutions. First make sure all of your drivers, BIOS and firmware are updated after you have plugged in the SSD but before you start the cloning process. If that doesn’t resolve it, try a different cloning program to see if you still get the error.

If neither of those work, you may need to start narrowing down hardware components. First, try cloning the SSD on another computer, if you have one. Same issue? Possibly the SSD is bad. No issue? More likely a problem with your old hard drive, SATA controller or other component. In that case, the easiest approach may be to install a fresh version of windows on the SSD and manually copy over programs and data.

Reply

ssd to old dell inspiron 6000 with different connector

From john ramming on April 27, 2021 :: 5:59 pm

I’m trying to keep my older dell inspiron 6000 alive with a ssd, the connector is a 44 gold finger in the dell, not the same as on the ssd i have. are there adapters or do I need to specify a different ssd?
Thanks
John

Reply

found info

From john ramming on April 28, 2021 :: 12:09 am

I now know I need a PATA, dell has a small adapter in the laptop that takes the 44 pins to 44 gold fingers.
Thanks
John

Reply

From 1tb hd to 500gb ssd

From Alessandro on July 02, 2021 :: 11:16 am

Hi, thank you for your article. I would like to replace my 1tb hd with a ssd smaller in capacity. Currently I am using less than half capacity of my HD. It can be even less than a quarter after deleting some not useful stuff. So even a 250gb would be enough for my current needs. Is that possible? Thanks

Reply

Yes, you can do that

From Josh Kirschner on July 02, 2021 :: 5:30 pm

You can clone a larger HDD to a smaller SSD assuming you have enough space on the SSD. Any of the cloning programs mentioned above should be able to handle that with my standard caveat that I haven’t tried it myself, so can’t personally confirm that there isn’t some weird issue you might run into.

That said, the price difference between a 250GB and a 500GB (or even 1TB) SSD is so small, I would pick an option that allows more flexibility for future growth if you - or the next user - gets into gaming, video, etc.

Reply

Any updates for 2021?

From Bruce on July 16, 2021 :: 6:58 pm

This is a beautifully written article that cuts to the chase and easy to understand. Question: It’s been two years since it was written. Now that it’s 2021, would you add or change your recommendations or advice?

I have a 2012 laptop with a Seagate 2.5” 7mm SATA drive. It’s beginning to show signs of failure (occasional drive error messages). I’m confident that I can replace it myself. I’m looking for the easiest and most reliable way to clone, swap, and play.

Reply

Has it been that long?

From Josh Kirschner on July 21, 2021 :: 6:37 pm

Can’t believe it’s been that long - seems like I just wrote this! The short of it is that not much has changed in the world of SSDs (other than prices have gone up slightly). I still recommend the Samsung 860 EVO, which gets great reviews across the board (and has been completely problem-free for me).

Reply

... and one more detail...

From Bruce on July 21, 2021 :: 7:09 pm

Thanks much, Josh. I’ve read elsewhere that Samsung Data Migration will not clone the Dell factory RECOVERY partition, which I certainly would want. However, Macrium Reflect can easily clone my HDD including the RECOVERY partition. Do you have any input on that?

I’ve read the cloning section of the 400+ page Macrium user guide. It infers the capability, but does not specifically reference, recovery partitions.

Very grateful for your response!

Reply

Please disregard previous reply

From Bruce on July 22, 2021 :: 11:13 am

Josh -
I have confirmed with Macrium that their free Reflect software will indeed clone the recovery partition.

You can remove my previous reply if you wish, or leave it to share confirmation with other readers of your excellent blog.

Thanks for the info

From Josh Kirschner on July 22, 2021 :: 1:16 pm

Samsung Data Migration will not clone OEM recovery partitions unless the OEM drive is a Samsung drive. I’m not entirely clear on why it doesn’t but Macrium does, and would be curious to know if the cloned Macrium recovery partition actually works after cloning, but can’t hurt to give it a shot.

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