Installing a Serial ATA Hard Drive

How to properly connect it to your computer's motherboard, and more

Installing a Serial ATA hard drive into a desktop PC is a straightforward task, provided the computer supports an open drive bay, internal power connector, and appropriate interface cable between the new drive and the motherboard.

Every computer manufacturer and after-market drive manufacturer has some unique characteristics. Always follow the detailed or quick-start instructions that came with your computer or drive. The steps that follow are universal and don't address each manufacturer's specific, non-standard requirements.

A 2.5" hard drive that has been opened, exposing its inner workings. This is a 500GB Western Digital Scorpio Blue hard drive with SATA connections. This 2.5" hard drive is common in laptops.
Evan Amos / Creative Commons 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

How to Install a Serial ATA Hard Drive

Follow these instructions to install an ATA hard drive on your PC.

  1. Power down the computer. Remove the power cord to disconnect the computer from AC power.

  2. Open the computer case. How you open the computer case varies depending on how it was manufactured. Most new ones use either a side panel or door. Older models require the whole cover to be removed. Remove any screws used to fasten the cover to the case and set them aside in a safe place.

  3. Install the hard drive to the drive cage. Most computer systems use a standard drive cage to install a hard drive, but some newer ones use a form of tray or rails.

    • Drive Cage: Slide the drive into the cage so that the mounting holes on the drive line up with the holes in the drive cage. Fasten the drive to the cage with screws.
    • Tray or Rails: Remove the tray or rails from the computer and align the tray or rails to match the mounting holes on the drive. Fasten the drive to the tray or rails using screws. Once the drive is affixed, slide the tray or drive into the appropriate slot until it's secure.​
  4. Connect the Serial ATA cable to the primary or secondary Serial ATA connector on the motherboard or PCI card. The drive can be plugged into either. If the drive will be used as a boot drive, select the primary channel, as this is the first drive to boot between the Serial ATA connectors.

  5. Attach the other end of the Serial ATA cable to the hard drive. The serial ATA cable is keyed so it can only be plugged in one way to the drive.

  6. Connect the Serial ATA power adapter, if it has one. Depending on the drive's power connectors and the power supply, it may be necessary to use a four-pin-to-SATA power adapter. If one is required, plug the adapter into the four-pin Molex power connector from the power supply. Most new power supplies come with several Serial ATA power connectors directly off the power supply.

  7. Attach the Serial ATA power connector to the connector on the hard drive. The Serial ATA power connector is larger than the data cable connector.

  8. Replace the computer panel or cover to the case and fasten it with the screws that were previously removed when opening the computer case.

  9. Insert the AC power cord into the computer system and, if necessary, flip the switch on the back to the ON position. Once these steps are taken, the hard drive should be physically installed into the computer for proper operation. The drive must be formatted for use with the operating system.

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