Replacing a Laptop Hard Drive
Recently, the hard drive on my laptop (Toshiba Satellite 1400)
started to make horrible grinding noises and the computer would hang
for several seconds before continuing operation. Rather than
waiting for a complete hard drive failure, I decided to replace my hard
drive and try to recover as much as I could from the old drive.
This document explains how I replaced my hard drive. I was
completely successful and transfered about 20G of data, Windows XP
operating system and settings. The process took me about 14 hours
but much of that time does not require a person in attendance.
THESE INSTRUCTIONS ARE BASED ON MY SINGLE EXPERIENCE. YOUR
COMPUTER IS LIKELY DIFFERENT AND SO THESE INSTRUCTIONS MIGHT NOT WORK
OR MIGHT EVEN CAUSE DAMAGE
I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY DAMAGE OR LOSS THAT RESULTS FROM
FOLLOWING ANYTHING ON THIS PAGE.
These instructions are my best effort to explain how I replaced my
drive. I have extensive experience in computers and electronics
and so my instructions might skip steps that I considered straight
forward. Your experience may differ.
That said, I hope this is helpful and I would be glad to hear your
comments or suggestions.
As we should all be doing regularly, it is recommended that you back
up all the especially valuable data.
- Small and Valuable - If
your hard drive is failing rapidly or you only have a limited amount of
time, focus on small but important documents such as address books,
Word documents, ICQ contact lists, etc. These are generally small
enough to be saved to disk or emailed.
- Large and Valuable - f
you have time, move on to larger items such as saved emails (I had
about 50MB of email!), mp3 collections, photographs, etc. These
generally have to be burned to CD or transfered to another computer on
a local network.
- Other - Other useful
items to save are those little programs that we have all downloaded
from the internet that are a pain to find and install - it is
especially handy if you still have them in zipped format.
Buying a Hard Drive and Enclosure
Buy a replacement hard drive that is larger than the amount of stuff
you have on your existing drive. I upgraded from a 30G drive to a
40G drive for $155CDN. I don't know too much about the relative
value of different brands of hard drive. My personal opinion is
not to buy a drive too much larger than you actually need since the
price of hard drives only decreases with time.
For laptops, you will likely want to buy a hard drive enclosure as
well. These are small metal boxes that you can slide a hard drive
into and it then connects to your USB port as an external drive.
For desktop computers, an enclosure is not important because you can
usually just add a second hard drive to your IDE cable in your computer
without much trouble.
Stick the new hard drive into the enclosure and connect to your
The industry standard for transferring a complete hard drive is a
program called Norton Ghost
from Symantec. It is listed for $70 on the website and that
seemed pretty pricey to me for what seems to be a relatively simple
one-time job. I'm sure those in the know, can find a copy for
less than that. Other options for transferring data include the
'xcopy' command available in the command window. I found that the
documentation for this option minimal but it might work for you.
I ended up using a program called 'DiskWizard'
freely downloadable from Seagate. I downloaded the 10MB
Diskwizard for Windows version.
The program identified the external drive and under 'Maintenance'
Options allows you to set up partitions and format the drive.
Ensure that at least one of the partitions is larger than the amount of
data you have. Once the drive is formatted, another option allows
you to transfer from a source drive to a destination drive. On my
system, it took about 10 hours to transfer the contents of my hard
drive over the USB cable to the destination. Most of this time is
spend watching a progress bar so clearly you can go do something else
while this is going on.
Activate the new Drive
In order to boot off the new hard drive, you need to tell the BIOS
that there is an operating system on the drive. I used a DOS
program called fdisk to do this. Since I had skipped this step
and spent a bunch of time later trying to figure out why my new drive
was not working, I activated the partition after I had installed the
drive. I booted the computer using the Windows Restore CD that
came with my computer and hit Cancel
on the first screen. This dropped into a dos prompt and I typed
fdisk. Use the program to toggle the 'active' marker for the
partition on the drive.
I am sure that you can activate the partition while the new drive is
still in the enclosure but I do not know how to do this.
Install the Drive
Turn off the computer and unplug it. Use the owners manual
that came with your laptop or trial-and-error to remove the panel
covering the hard drive. Carefully extract the drive being
careful not to hit it sharply. Keep track of the screws that you
had to remove so you can reverse the procedure with the new drive and
install it back in your computer. Be very careful with the pins
connecting the drive. Be sure the pins are aligned before trying
to force them into the drive. Once the drive is firmly in place
replace the cover panel and turn on the computer.
If everything goes smoothly, your computer should boot off the new
drive and everything should be just as it was on your old drive
including all your settings, preferences, programs and data.
I was impressed at how well the transfer worked. I had fears
of having to reinstall all my programs and setting up all my window
preferences again so this procedure was very successful.
In addition, the enclosure and old hard drive (such as it is) can be
used as backup and as a way to transfer data between computers.
Since it is USB it can connect to almost any modern computer easily.