Oct 04

Get more life out of your laptop – hardware edition. Pt 2


Upgrading your hard driveIn the third and final edition of this series we are looking at upgrading your hard drive.

As we mentioned earlier  you can now buy hard drives with 3TB of storage, that’s 3072GB. Give it ten years and we’ll probably have that on our phones (if we’re still using ‘phones’) but at the moment, that’s an awful lot of data.

You’ve likely got somewhere between 300 – 600GB on your machine, and 750GB should be more than enough for your work as well as a couple of HD videos and a decent music collection. For when you’re travelling, of course.

But there are two reasons you’ll want to upgrade. Firstly, you just want more space. The second reason is that you suspect it’s starting to fail. And as that’s the more pressing issue, we’ll deal with it first.

Signs your hard drive is failing

Relax! It’s OK. All your important work is regularly backed up, so you’re safe! Aren’t you?

But signs that suggest your hard drive is failing include:

  • Corrupt files
  • Blue Screen of Death
  • Clicking noises

OK, so you’ve noticed the warning signs. How to check:

Look for bad sectors.

For example, in Windows 7 go to Start, then Computer. Right click on the hard drive you wish to check. Select Properties, and in the window that opens select Tools tab. In the Checking Disk window check the box next to ‘Automatically fix file system errors’ and ’Scan for an attempt recovery of bad sectors’.

If you have bad sectors that can’t be repaired, then it’s time to move to the next step.

Back-up data

Now you need to make sure your back up is up-to-date.  Use free cloud  storage where you can, such as DropBox, Box, Google Drive, SkyDrive, Amazon Cloud Drive and so on.  You should be able to get at least 15GB storage for free, with a little effort.

But for larger files and folders, you’ll need to have an organisation-wide back-up system. And, of course, this will need backing up as well, usually on tape so that a copy can be taken off premises.

Back-up software

If you use specialist software, you have two options.

Firstly, a fresh install, using the key codes provided with the original packaging. Secondly, you could clone your hard drive using something like Easeus. However, if you are getting bad sectors and corrupt data a fresh install is probably a good idea.

Just needing more space?

Firstly, refer to the software edition and see if you can clean up some space. If you still haven’t got enough space, the next step is to find out what type of hard drive you have.

First, as with replacing RAM -


  1. Do a full back up! Including the OS. Essential for a hard drive replacement, but also important for a RAM replacement, as there is a small chance, very small, that something will go wrong. It’s never happened to me, but better safe than sorry.
  2. Switch off, unplug from the mains, and remove the battery.
  3. Find the online manual for your machine for a guide to opening your machine.
  4. Technically it’s quite simple. PC cases are easy to open, laptops a little bit trickier, but it’s still worth getting someone you trust to do it if you’re unsure. Remember, tap your screwdriver or any other metal tool against something metal to get rid of any static charge first.
  5. To keep screws in place, get two pieces of cardboard, at least half the size of the laptop. Each screw you remove push into the corresponding position onto the piece of cardboard. Use the second piece for any internal parts you need to remove.


Most machines these days use SATA drives, and these come in two varieties, 2.5” and 3.5”. The larger ones are usually found in desktops, the smaller ones can be found in either laptops or desktops.

The other variety is IDE. To tell the difference, once you have your hard drive out, check the pins used to connect. IDE has a ribbon of pins almost across its entire length, SATA has two sections of denser ribbons. They look like this.

How to spot the difference in hard drive types


Amazon is a good place to get both SATA and IDE drives.

You will also need a caddy, or a connector, such as these (which can dock both SATA and IDE  for about £5) to prepare the new hard drive. Its a good idea to have one in the office anyway.

Using a different machine, plug the hard drive into the caddy and transfer the new data over. If you want to partition the drive, Easeus can help you do that as well.

You should now be able to insert your new hard drive into your machine, without it even noticing!



Your other alternative is to upgrade to an SSD. SSD, or Solid State Drives are like giant USB drives for your machine. Having no mechanical parts, they are faster, more efficient and less prone to shocks than traditional hard drives.

I’m advising against this at the moment. They are still quite expensive (which runs contrary to the spirit of this blog!), are not compatible with Windows XP (which tragically we know most people in the charity sector are using) and you need to know about your machines BIOS and whether it is compatible.

I can assure you though, once they do come down in price, we’ll let you know!


So there you have it.

Three ways to cheaply upgrade your machine, and put of that expense for a while longer!

Good luck, and let us know how you do!