Once the replacement drive has been procured, the first step is to prepare the workspace. The process of replacing a laptop’s hard disk typically involves working with a number of small screws and without a tub to pop them in it’s all but assured they’ll end up buried in the carpet. A solid, flat surface is essential. Also, make sure the laptop is switched off and the battery has been removed. Remember, too, that the new drive will replace the old one – so the laptop will effectively be empty. This means you’ll need a plan for reinstalling Windows, applications and your data. When the new hard disk is inserted into the laptop it will be completely blank. Even you’re able to reinstall Windows from its original disc, applications and documents will remain on the old hard disk. One way to avoid this would be to ‘clone’ the old hard disk’s entire contents onto the new drive – this will be particularly convenient if you’ve placed the old drive into an enclosure using the instructions in Steps 9 and 10. The free version of Macrium Reflect can do just this. Alternatively, use the same tool can be used to create a backup ‘image’ of the existing hard disk before removal, perhaps onto an external hard disk or a stack of recordable DVDs: this image can then be used to resurrect applications and data on the new drive.
Now, locate the laptop’s existing hard disk drive. Flip the computer over so you’re looking at the base. In many cases, the underside will have a few removable panels, beneath which are user-replaceable parts such as memory modules and the hard disk. The commonest hard disk logo is a cylinder, so look for either this or the abbreviation HDD (hard disk drive) etched into a panel on the base. Some laptops require the removal of the entire base of the machine, but these are in the minority.
Before removing the plastic hard disk cover it is sensible to wear an anti-static wrist strap – just a few pounds from the likes of Maplin. If possible, use a magnetised Phillips screwdriver: this will make keeping hold of small screws much easier. Remove all the visible screws in the hard disk panel and gently pry the panel free from the base. Some covers may be clipped in as well, so resist the temptation to tug the panel free because it might snap. If there’s resistance, gently feel around the panel’s edges to find where it’s clipped in. Make sure to keep all the screws somewhere safe until the job’s finished.
The precise process of removing the hard disk will vary. In this case, the disk can be lifted free of the laptop by pulling the white plastic tab. In other cases, the hard disk may be secured to the laptop case by screws. As before, if the drive doesn’t pull free of the laptop with minimum fuss, it’s probably secured. Laptop screws can be small and easy to miss, so if the disk doesn’t come out easily, investigate to find out how it’s held down. Many manufacturers supply manuals spelling out how to take a laptop apart – it may be worth using a search site like Google to look up laptop’s model number and a phrase like ‘maintenance manual’.
Even if the disk lifts or pulls freely from the laptop, it will probably still be plugged in. Serial ATA disks – the commonest type – require two connections to the laptop. The first is a cable that allows data to flow from the disk to the laptop and the other supplies power. These plugs (which in this case are amalgamated into a two-in-one plug) are reasonably hardy but aren’t designed for frequent or rough use: if the socket on the old hard disk breaks, using it again will be very difficult. The best way to disconnect the disk from the laptop is to wiggle the connector gently from side to side until it pulls free.
Plugging in the new disk reverses the process. The good news is that serial ATA cables can be inserted in only one way, so if the cable doesn’t seem to fit the disk may be round the wrong way round. Take this step very carefully – as with Step 5, if the connector on the new hard disk breaks, you’ll be left with an out-of-warranty paperweight. Make sure the connector is securely connected using firm finger pressure.
Reseat the new disk exactly the same way as you took it out, making sure the space in which it sits is free of dust or other debris that might have found its way in during the process. If the disk is held in place by screws, do them up to finger-tightness only – using a mechanical screwdriver or over-tightening the screws by hand will make life that much harder if you need to remove the disk again in the future. Make sure, too, that the connecting cable isn’t creased or folded beyond any original design intention.
Close the plastic cover, insert and tighten any screws, reattach the laptop’s battery, plug it in and press the power button. Remember, that this new hard disk is blank so make sure that the laptop will try to launch from its optical (CD or DVD) drive, or an external USB hard disk, by configuring this option in its Bios settings. After the laptop has been switched on look for a prompt that tells you which key to press to access the Bios – typically F2, F10 or Delete (Del) – and press this button. Use the cursor (arrow) keys to navigate through the Bios screens to find a Boot Order or Boot Sequence list and then set the CD/DVD drive (or external hard disk) as the boot device. If you want to use the old drive as the boot device, then read on. Otherwise, the job is done: re-install Windows and your applications as planned in Step 1.
Assuming the old hard disk isn’t faulty then it’s possible to keep it in active service by placing it in an enclosure (or 'caddy'), so that it can be used as an external drive. These connect via USB and aren't expensive – an Iomax model costs £8 from Amazon, for example. Typically, installation is a simple case of opening the enclosure, attaching the drive to a Serial ATA connector and then closing things up once more.
Plug the now-enclosed hard disk into a USB port on the laptop and it should come to life – the USB port supplies the power it needs. At this point, if the laptop was set in Step 8 to start from an external drive then the PC will launch as before. This provides the opportunity to transfer the data to the internal drive using the directions in Step 1.