5 Things to Consider When You Install a SATA Hard Drive
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5 Things to Consider When You Install a SATA Hard Drive

    Before you install a SATA hard drive, be sure you have the right cables and slots available on your motherboard. Here's what you need to know.

    Ready to upgrade your hard drive and found you're dealing with a SATA connector? SATA drives are easy to set up, support hot swapping, and the interface is reasonably fast. We'll show you everything you need to know about installing a SATA drive, and how to connect the power and data cable.

    What Are SATA Drives

    Serial ATA (SATA) connectors remain a common interface between the drive and the motherboard. The image above shows a 2.5" SATA hard drive from Fujitsu with the data port on the left and the power port on the right. On older SATA drives, you might also see a 4-pin Molex power connector. You'll find SATA interfaces in both hard drisk drives (HDDs) and solid state drives (SSDs).

    SATA drives were introduced to replace IDE and Enhanced IDE (Parallel ATA) drives. SATA removes the master-slave relationship between parallel hard drives, with each drive connecting to the motherboard using its own SATA adapter.

    As well as a specific port, SATA offers substantial improvements in data transfer rates. The original SATA specification transfers data at speeds up to 150 MB/s. The latest revision, SATA 3.5, transfers data at speeds up to 1,969 MB/s (1.969 GB/s), enables active drive temperature monitoring, and better integrates with industry I/O standards. While the latest SATA iteration isn't in use for consumer drives, the technology does eventually filter into those products.

    Should You Get a SATA or PCI Express SSD?

    Solid State Drives sales have rapidly increased throughout the past few years, from around 39 million units in 2012 to an estimated 360 million in 2021. With SSDs, you can choose between two types of connectors: SATA and PCI Express (PCIe). Wondering which one is right for you? And do you need an SSD at all?

    Consider your use case: If you need a large amount of storage at an affordable price and don't plan on using it as an everyday drive running your operating system, i.e. it doesn't need to be ultra-fast, then a regular HDD drive is the right choice. In that case, you'll want a connection compatible with your motherboard, most likely SATA connector. If you're looking for the fastest possible drive and neither price nor storage capacity are an issue, consider an SSD and check whether your computer has a PCIe slot.

    Note that SATA SSDs are only available in the smaller 2.5" form factor. In addition to non-ultrabook laptops, that also makes them ideal as external drives.

    1. Hard Drive Installation Safety Guidelines

    Before installing a new hard drive, take the following precautions to prevent damaging your hardware.

    Turn the Power Off

    Before you open the case and begin fiddling with the hardware, shut your system down. Then turn off the mains power switch. You'll find the switch at the back of your case. Once turned off, hold the power button down for a few seconds to discharge any remaining power.

    Ground Yourself

    Electrostatic shock can wreck your drive as soon as you take it out of its packaging. An electrostatic shock comes from a static energy build-up in your body. As you touch the metallic case of the drive, you transfer that energy, which can then fry vital components. Luckily, most new hardware arrives in an anti-static bag and should come with a handling warning, too. Moreover, some modern components have integrated anti-shock technology that should prevent hardware damage from an unexpected static shock.

    But just because your drive has shock protection, it doesn't mean you shouldn't be wary of affecting other hardware components. The easiest way to protect your hardware is to ground yourself. Touch a metal table leg or the case of your computer (do this after discharging your motherboard, as described above).

    Alternatively, buy an anti-static wristband.

    2. SATA DATA and Power Connectors

    This article assumes you have a modern motherboard that no longer has IDE connectors. IDE drives haven't featured in consumer computers for some time. The overwhelming majority of computers and motherboards sold in recent years will focus solely on SATA drives (with a few exceptions, of course). Let's familiarize ourselves with the SATA 7P connector and port.

    The left connector is for data (typically a red cable), while the second powers your drive. It is possible to buy an all-in-one, 22-pin SATA 15P cable that combines both connectors (but is less flexible).

    3. SATA Data and Power Cables

    Your new HDD or SSD probably arrived with at least its interface cable (the red cable in our example images above and below). But your drive also needs power. That power usually comes in the form of a 4-pin Molex power connector with a SATA drive specific connector.

    A SATA HDD can arrive with a range of input connectors, allowing you to choose between a SATA power connector (the empty port to the left of the red interface cable, below) or 4-pin Molex connector (the cable on the far right, below). You can choose either one but not both at the same time!

    A reader notes that you should "never use the Molex (4-pin) to SATA power adapter" because "most hard drives and solid state drives require the orange 3.3V wire to board to supply power for the drive electronics." This may cause the drives to fail at spinning up or registering in the computer's BIOS, Device Manager, or Disk Management. Thank you for the heads-up, Doc!

    Consequently, some modern HDDs have done away with 4-pin Molex power inputs and now offer just a SATA power input. A SATA SSD will arrive with only a SATA power connector and a data transmission cable.
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