How to install hard drives and SSDs

There are three different storage drive sizes you’re likely to encounter, and they all mount and connect differently. Generally, hard disk drives (HDD) are the larger 3.5-inch size, while newer solid-state drives (SSD) adopt the smaller 2.5-inch size. There’s also the even smaller M.2 format and PCI-Express drive format, which tend to be thin sticks with bare chips measuring around a few inches long.getintopc

Step 1: To install a hard drive, find the 3.5-inch drive mounting point(s) in your case. These can be full hard drive cages with multiple mounting points, or it might be just space for a single drive with screw holes right in the case. If in doubt, refer to your manual.

Slot your drive into the appropriate place and screw it or lock it into place using your case’s mounting system. When in place, attach the SATA data cable to the drive and the motherboard, and attach the SATA power connector to the drive.

Step 2: To install a SATA SSD, repeat the same steps as the larger hard drive, only changing the mounting point to an appropriate 2.5-inch cage or slot — sometimes these are found behind the motherboard tray. Make sure that it is secured in place, and attach both the SATA power and data cable.

Step 3: To install an M.2 NVMe SSD, locate the appropriate slot on your motherboard. It will be labeled, but it is pretty small, so check your manual if you’re unsure.

Remove the retaining screw and slot in the drive at a 45-degree angle. Gently but firmly push down on the drive until it clicks into place, then replace the retaining screw.

Step 4: To install a PCIe SSD, choose an appropriate PCIe slot on your motherboard. The 16x slots will offer the most bandwidth, but that may not be necessary for your particular drive’s bandwidth. Consult the drive’s manual for confirmation on which is best for your particular motherboard.

Angle the drive with the gold contacts down, then gently push it into the PCIe slot. It should click into place when it is locked in. It shouldn’t take much force, so if it gets stuck, check the alignment.

Turn the PC on

Step 1: Switch on the power supply and press the Power button on the front. If all is well, it should display the post screen or manufacturer logo on the monitor and then move on to Windows installation or the login screen. If it doesn’t, however, don’t fret. It’s not uncommon for PCs to need to reboot a couple of times on their first startup, and some can even take a couple of minutes to boot the first time while they configure memory and other components.

If you encounter any error messages or beeps, refer to your motherboard’s manual to decode the message and figure out what you need to fix.

If you don’t get any power at all, turn the power supply off and double-check all of your connections. Make sure the wall socket is turned on, too. For further help, consult our PC Troubleshooting guide.

Step 2: Once the system does boot up, you’ll need to install Windows. If you’re not sure how, here’s a quick guide on how to download Windows and install it.

Step 3: Once you reach Windows, you’ll need to install drivers. Windows 10 and 11 already support modern chipsets and automatically download and install the remaining drivers in most cases. Check the Update and security menu in the Settings pane for more information regarding this process.

If that doesn’t work, the chipset driver for your motherboard will handle most connectivity and onboard features, though this varies greatly based on motherboard and component manufacturers. You can download the latest version(s) from your motherboard manufacturer’s website.

If you have a discrete graphics card, you’ll need to download your graphics drivers from either the AMD page for Radeon drivers or the Nvidia page for GeForce drivers.

Don’t forget peripherals

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the thrill of building a gaming PC and forget that you need peripherals to make it function. If you still need a keyboard, monitor, and mouse to complete your setup, we can point you in the right direction:

  • Best keyboards
  • Best computer mice
  • Best computer monitors

With some luck and a lot of attention to detail, you should have a fully operational system. Keep an eye on your system temperatures for a few days to make sure all the coolers are working correctly, and if an error message pops up, take care of it accordingly. After a few weeks, you’ll get the hang of your machine and be more confident in what you can push it to do. If something breaks or needs an upgrade, you’re fully equipped to deal with it.

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