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How to upgrade the hard drive in your computer

Are you running out of free space on your computer's hard drive? You've uninstalled unused programs and cleaned it up, but still cannot free up any more space? Doing computer repair, I've seen this many times and have personally run out of space more times than I care to remember. Here's how to upgrade the hard drive in your computer.

Changing out a hard drive may sound scary, but it's not. If your existing drive is healthy and you have a good backup of the data on it, you should be good to go. The procedure is the same for desktop computers and laptops, with slight differences due to form factor (physical size).

Two different sizes of hard drives side-by-side
Two different sizes of hard drives side-by-side

There are two types of drives, SSD (Solid State Drive) and HDD (Hard Disk Drive), two different types of hard drive interfaces, SATA (7 pin connection cable) and PATA (40 pin ribbon connection cable) and two different form factors (physical size) of drives; 2.5" and 3.5" (the dimension relates to the width of the drive). HHD's come in 3.5" and 2.5" sizes, SSD's come in only the 2.5" form factor. Laptops use the 2.5" form factor and desktop computers can use either size. If you're planning on using an SSD or 2.5" HDD in a desktop computer you'll have to use 2.5" to 3.5" adapter brackets. Also, if you're installing an SSD into a laptop, check the physical dimensions first. Some SSD's are higher (thicker) than standard 2.5" HDD's and may not fit into a laptop.

View of hard drive properties inside of Disk Management
View of hard drive properties inside of Disk Management

The next thing to do is find out what you have for an existing drive. Open Computer Management, expand the Storage section and select Disk Management. Find the disk you want to upgrade, right-click on the disk name (Disk 0, Disk 1, etc.) and select Properties. On the General tab you will find the model number of that drive. Do a Google search for it and find out the specifications (form factor, data capacity and interface). Now it's just a matter of getting a new drive that matches the form factor and interface. Remember that the data capacity of your new drive has to be equal to or larger than your existing drive.

If your existing drive is an HDD, the first thing to do is check the existing drive for errors. Running a Checkdisk will find any errors that might prevent the successful cloning of the drive.

Running Checkdisk in Windows XP
Running Checkdisk in Windows 7 / Windows Vista
Running Checkdisk in Windows 8

If errors are found on the existing drive, you will not be able to use the software provided by the new drive's manufacturer. In this case, you will have to use third-party software like R-Drive that can ignore read errors.

Two ways to clone a hard drive

Drive-to-drive cloning

Drive-to-drive is the easiest to do and a few drive manufacturers (Western Digital, Seagate, etc.) have free utilities to do this. There are also a few free disk cloning utilities out there. Check out the UBCD, it has a few. All you have to do is turn off your computer and install the new drive into your computer. If your system is a desktop computer, consult the manufacturer's documentation on how to do this. If it's a laptop, you will have to attach it using either a USB adapter or inside of an external case.

A laptop hard drive connected to a USB adapter
A laptop hard drive connected to a USB adapter

If you plan on reusing your existing laptop drive, an external case might be the way to go. That way when you're done, you can put your existing drive into it, reformat it and use it as an external drive for storage.

Once you have the new drive in place, just start your computer up, install the manufacturer's software and start the disk clone. If you're installing a larger drive, always remember to check and make sure that the new free space is going to partition you want to expand. Once done, just power off the computer and change the drives out. If your system is a laptop, consult the manufacturer's documentation on how to change out the hard drive. If you installed a HDD, first thing you want to do is a Checkdisk. When you clone a drive, you copy everything including the MFT's (Master File Table). SSD's will automatically adjust them, HDD's don't. Run a Checkdisk to fix them.

Drive-to-image / image-to-drive cloning

Drive-to-image / image-to-drive are a bit harder to do but it has an advantage, a full disk backup. This process does require third-party software like R-Drive and an external drive or network drive. Most disk cloning tools allow you to create a boot disk, that way you can boot your system up on it to clone the drive. Once you have created a boot disk, you're ready to go.

Basically the process is the same as drive-to-drive, but instead of cloning to the new drive, you create a file containing an image of the existing hard drive on a removable hard drive or network folder. I prefer the portable (2.5") external hard drive, as they don't require any additional source of power (AC adapter). Boot your computer up on the disk you created. Once it is booted up, attach an external hard drive or configure the network settings and select the location for your drive image.

After you create the drive image, you can shut down your computer and change out the drives. Consult the manufacturer's documentation on how to change out the hard drive. Then you boot your computer back up on the disk you created, reconnect your external drive or network drive and restore the drive from the image file. If you're installing a larger drive, always remember to check and make sure that the new free space is going to partition you want to expand. Once done, just shut the system down, remove the boot disk and start it back up. If you installed a HDD, first thing you want to do is a Checkdisk. When you clone a drive, you copy everything including the Master File Tables. SSD's will automatically adjust them, HDD's don't. Run a checkdisk to fix them.

Five things you should do first when you get a new computer

So you just got a new computer and you are ready to go. You're going to install programs and transfer files to it. But before you go personalizing it, there are a few things you should do first. Here are five things you should do first when you get a new computer.

Five things you should do first when you get a new computer

Register your new computer

Here's one that almost everyone post-pones until a later time, including myself. The problem with that is we never get around to it; we just keep putting it off. But if something ever goes wrong with your new computer, you will be glad you did. This is one of those 'do it right now' items. Then you can forget all about it and hope you never need it.

Make the recovery media

If your computer came with recovery disks, you're lucky. Most don't. If your computer did not come with recovery media, you will have to create the disks yourself. To save money, the majority of computer manufacturers load disk images (files) of these disks on the hard drive and require the owner to create the media. You'll only have to do this once and in most cases you will need 2 - 5 blank DVD's.

Each computer manufacturer uses a different name for this program, so look for something like 'Recovery Media Creator'. To find the program used to make the recovery media, just go to Start > All Programs and look for a folder that has Maintenance and/or Recovery in the name. Or it could be in a folder with the manufacturer's name.

If for some reason the media creation fails, you can always contact the manufacturer for assistance. Having registered your product will help simplify the process. I've actually seen manufacturer send out recovery media when the owner could not make it. But the key here is to do this now, not in a couple years when you need the recovery media. Manufacturers are more likely to help while the computer is under warranty. Once you have your recovery disks, put them in a safe place.

Verify used and free space with Checkdisk

Computers can come with two (2) types of drives, Solid State Drive (SSD) and Hard Disk Drive (HDD). Most computer vendors like Dell and HP, will pre-load hard drives with the operating system and Master File Table (MFT). SSD's will automatically adjust the MFT where HDD's do not. You have to do this manually on a HDD by running Checkdisk. Checkdisk will verify where the files and free space are on the drive and update the MFT. Here's how to do it.

Windows 10 Checkdisk
Windows 8 Checkdisk
Windows 7 / Windows Vista Checkdisk
Windows XP Checkdisk

Get the latest Windows updates

You might think that your new computer is up to date, being brand new. But the fact is you don't know when the manufacturer made the operating system image used on your hard drive. Windows 8 had updates available before it even went on sale. Run Windows Update to check for updates, odds are there are some available. You may have to run Windows Update more than once to get all of the updates. But doing it right now will get your new computer completely up to date before you start installing your programs.

Activate or install anti-virus software

Almost all computer manufacturers will pre-install some anti-virus software. It's usually only a 30 to 60 day trial subscription and will run out before you know it. If you plan on keeping it, buy a full subscription now and be done with it. If you want to use some other anti-virus software, now is the time to switch. Remember to uninstall the anti-virus software that came with your new computer before installing any other. Having two or more anti-virus programs running on the same computer will greatly decrease the performance.

Check your hard drive for errors in Windows 8

Keeping your hard drive free from errors is essential to the performance of your Windows 8 computer. When it comes to computer repair, this is one of the first things I do. So, if your experiencing problems opening an application or file, it may be time to check your hard drive for errors with Windows 8 built-in disk checking utility, CHKDSK (checkdisk).

There are two ways to run CHKDSK, standard and advanced. Here are the procedures for both.

Standard hard drive error checking in Windows 8

  1. Go to the Start menu.
  2. Right click the Start menu background to bring up the app commands.
  3. Select 'All apps'.
  4. Scroll to the 'File Explorer' tile and left click on it.
  5. Left click on 'Computer'.
  6. Right-click the hard drive that you want to check, and then click 'Properties'.
  7. Click the 'Tools' tab, and then, under 'Error-checking', click 'Check Now'. If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  8. Select 'Scan drive'.

Advanced hard drive error checking in Windows 8

  1. Open a Command Prompt with Administrative privileges (click here for instructions)
  2. Use the following command line syntax(s) and parameter(s) to run CHKDSK:

CHKDSK [volume[[path]filename]]] [/F] [/V] [/R] [/X] [/I] [/C] [/L[:size]] [/B] [/scan] [/spotfix]

volume Specifies the drive letter (followed by a colon), mount point, or volume name.
filename FAT/FAT32 only: Specifies the files to check for fragmentation.
/F Fixes errors on the disk.
/V On FAT/FAT32: Displays the full path and name of every file on the disk. On NTFS: Displays cleanup messages if any.
/R Locates bad sectors and recovers readable information (implies /F, when /scan not specified).
/L:size NTFS only: Changes the log file size to the specified number of kilobytes. If size is not specified, displays current size.
/X Forces the volume to dismount first if necessary. All opened handles to the volume would then be invalid (implies /F).
/I NTFS only: Performs a less vigorous check of index entries.
/C NTFS only: Skips checking of cycles within the folder structure.
/B NTFS only: Re-evaluates bad clusters on the volume (implies /R)
/scan NTFS only: Runs a online scan on the volume
/forceofflinefix NTFS only: (Must be used with "/scan") Bypass all online repair; all defects found are queued for offline repair (i.e. "chkdsk /spotfix").
/perf NTFS only: (Must be used with "/scan") Uses more system resources to complete a scan as fast as possible. This may have a negative performance impact on other tasks running on the system.
/spotfix NTFS only: Runs spot fixing on the volume
/sdcleanup NTFS only: Garbage collect unneeded security descriptor data (implies /F).
/offlinescanandfix Runs an offline scan and fix on the volume.

The /I or /C switch reduces the amount of time required to run CHKDSK by skipping certain checks of the volume.

My five favorite Windows tips for maintaining your computer

In this article, I am going to share my five favorite tips for maintaining Microsoft Windows.

  1. Checkdisk. This is the first thing I do when I get a system here in the shop. Errors do occur and files do get damaged. Best to take care of this first thing. And yes, this can take a while, so I always recommend leaving your system on and let Checkdisk run over night. That way your computer is ready to go first thing in the morning.

    For more information on how to perform a Checkdisk, just select your operating system below:
    Windows 7 / Windows Vista Checkdisk
    Windows XP Checkdisk

  2. Delete Temporary files. This is the first place to look when you need to free up some hard disk space. These files served their propose at one time, but for some unknown reason, the program that used them did not delete them. When deleting temporary files, some may be still in use. I recommend deleting all files / folders that are over a week old. See below for the location of temporary files folder on your version of Windows:

    Windows 7 / Vista - C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Temp
    Windows XP - C:\Documents and Settings\username\Local Settings\Temp

  3. Delete the Internet Explorer cache. This is the second place to look when you need to free up some hard disk space. I have seen systems with over 9 Gb of temporary files. Open Internet Explorer and go to Tools > Internet Options and change the following settings:

    Internet Explorer Temporary Files
    Internet Explorer Temporary Files

  4. Pagefile optimization. This one often gets over looked. There is a formula for calculating the correct pagefile size. Minimum pagefile size is one and a half (1.5) x amount of memory. Maximum pagefile size is three (3) x minimum pagefile size. Say you have 4 Gb (4,096 Mb) of memory. 1.5 x 4,096 = 6,144 Mb would be the min. pagefile size and 3 x 6,144 = 18,432 Mb would be the max. pagefile size.

    Windows Pagefile Settings

    To change the pagefile size, you need to access the System Properties dialog box. Press Windows logo key + Pause (Windows 7 / Vista users select 'Advanced' system settings). Then select the 'Advanced' tab and under 'Performance' click on Settings. Then select the 'Advanced' tab and under 'Virtual memory' click on Change.

    For more information on how to change the pagefile size, just select your operating system below:
    Windows 7 Pagefile Settings
    Windows Vista Pagefile Settings
    Windows XP Pagefile Settings

  5. Disk Defragmenter. Probably the best single thing you can do to speed up your computer. Imagine a filing cabinet where all of the folders were out of order and files were misplaced through out the cabinet. How could you find anything? Same thing with your hard drive. Disk Defragmenter takes care of that for you. And you can run it as a scheduled task too.

    For more information on how to use Disk Defragmenter, just select your operating system below:
    Windows 7 Disk Defragmenter
    Windows Vista Disk Defragmenter
    Windows XP Disk Defragmenter

Give these five tips a try and see how much more performance you can get from your computer,
Scott

Check your hard disk for errors in Windows 7 and Windows Vista

You can help solve some computer problems and improve the performance of your computer by making sure that your hard disk has no errors.

Click on the Start button.

Click on Computer.

Right-click the hard disk drive that you want to check, and then click Properties.

Click the Tools tab, and then, under Error-checking, click Check Now. If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

To automatically repair problems with files and folders that the scan detects, select Automatically fix file system errors. Otherwise, the disk check will simply report problems but not fix them.

To perform a thorough disk check, select Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors. This scan attempts to find and repair physical errors on the hard disk itself, and it can take much longer to complete.

To check for both file errors and physical errors, select both Automatically fix file system errors and Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors.

Click Start.

Depending upon the size of your hard disk, this may take several minutes. For best results, don't use your computer for any other tasks while it's checking for errors.

Note:
If you select Automatically fix file system errors for a disk that is in use (for example, the partition that contains Windows), you'll be prompted to reschedule the disk check for the next time you restart your computer.

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Diagnosing PC problems can be time-consuming. From running memory checking software to scanning for viruses, these are processes can take some time. We base our in-shop service on the actual time we work on your computer, not the time it takes your computer to work!

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(602) 795-1111

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in servicing laptop and desktop computers. Since 2008, our expert and knowledgeable technicians have provided excellent computer repair, virus removal, data recovery, photo manipulation, and website support to the greater Phoenix metro area.

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