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How to clone the drive in your Windows computer

Are you running out of free space on the drive in your computer? Or are you thinking about getting a faster drive for it? If so, cloning the drive in your computer might be just the answer, and here is how to do it.

How to clone the drive in your computer

Note: Drive cloning is a procedure that computer technicians perform regularly. If you do not feel comfortable doing any of the following procedures, please contact a local computer service company like Geeks in Phoenix.

When installing a new drive in your computer, you have two (2) options; you can perform a fresh installation of the operating system and all the programs. Or you can clone the current drive to the new one and preserve the installed operating system and programs.

Since many people do not remember how they installed their programs or where the installation media/software keys may be, cloning their existing drive is the best option. The complexity of cloning a drive depends on the type of drive, the form factor, and the current and new drive interface.

There are several types of drives; the most popular are SSD (Solid State Drive), HDD (Hard Disk Drive), and SSHD (Solid State Hybrid Drive). There are also several different drive interfaces; the most popular are SATA (7 pin connection cable) and M.2 (keyed socket). HDDs and SSHDs use a SATA interface; SSDs can use either SATA or M.2.

Different types of computer drives

There are several different form factors (physical size) of drives; HDDs and SSHDs come in 3.5" and 2.5" (width), SSDs come in 2.5" (width) when using a SATA interface, and 30 to 110 MM (length) when using an M.2 interface. Drives that come in 2.5" form factor can also have different heights (thicker); 9.5 MM is standard, and 7 MM is used in ultra-thin laptops.

 
Drive types
 
SSD
HDD
SSHD
Form Factor
3.5"
X
X
2.5"
X
X
X
M.2
X
Interface
SATA
X
X
X
M.2
X

If you are upgrading a laptop drive (2.5"), check with the manufacturer on what size is recommended. If you are upgrading an M.2 drive, check with the manufacturer (system/motherboard) on what interface (SATA 3, AHCI, or NVMe), key notch (B, M, or B & M) and length is supported.

Now the first thing you need to do is find out the model number of your current drive. Once you have the model number, you can search on Google and get all of its specifications. You can find the model number in Computer Management.

How to open Computer Management

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo menu
  2. Scroll down the list of programs and left-click on Windows Administrative Tools
  3. Left-click on Computer Management

or

  1. Right-click on the Start Windows logo menu to bring up the Power Users menu
  2. Left-click on Computer Management

Once you have the Computer Management console open, left-click on Disk Management and locate the disk that has the partition with the drive letter C:. Right-click the disk number (usually Disk 0) select Properties from the context menu. On the General tab, you will find the drive model number.

Once you have your existing drive specifications, it is time to decide on a replacement drive. Are you going to replace it with one that has the same form factor and interface or not. Your decision will determine how you clone your drive, and there are two (2) ways to do it.

Now it is just a matter of getting another drive with the same data capacity as your existing drive. You can get one with a smaller capacity, but you would have to shrink the partition(s) on the drive before cloning it. You can get one with a larger capacity (recommended), but you may or may not have to manually expand the partition(s) after you are done. Some drive manufacturers (WD, Seagate, and Samsung) cloning software will automatically do that.

There are two (2) different scenarios, upgrading your existing drive to the same form factor and interface or upgrading your existing drive from SATA to M.2. Doing an upgrade that involves just SATA drives is relatively simple; M.2 drives are a bit more complicated.

If you decide to upgrade to an M.2 drive, you will need to find out what type of M.2 drive your motherboard can support before purchasing it. You need to find out the local interface (SATA3, AHCI, or NVMe), width/length, and keying. You will also need the hardware (standoff and screw) to mount it to the motherboard.

SATA drives can be connected to your computer using internal SATA and power cables (desktop) or external USB docking stations / external drive enclosures (desktop or laptop). Since M.2 drives use sockets with PCI-e buses for power and transferring data, they have to be directly connected to the motherboard.

There are M.2 to USB adapters, but they can be expensive and only support specific key notches. For cloning SATA to M.2 or M.2 to M.2, I recommend using the drive-to-image method (see below).

  • Drive-to-drive. This is the method you would want to use if you are cloning your existing drive to another drive with the same interface (SATA to SATA).
  • Drive-to-image. This is the method you would want to use if you are cloning your existing drive to a different interface (SATA to M.2)

Drive cloning software

A few drive manufacturers have the software you can download to clone your drive, but at least one of the drives (source or destination) has to be one of theirs. And a few of the programs you can use to create bootable media. Here are a few of the drive cloning programs available.

Western Digital - Acronis True Image

Seagate - DiskWizard

Samsung - Data Migration

Ultimate Boot CD (bootable media)

R-Drive Image

Hardware required for drive cloning

  • Docking station
  • External hard drive
  • Flash drive for creating bootable media

Different hardware you might use when cloning a computer drive

Drive-to-drive cloning

This is probably the easiest way to clone a drive. The first thing you have to do is install the cloning software on the computer with the source drive you want to clone. If you decide to use the UBCD, you will need to create the bootable media.

Then connect the destination drive by either attaching using a docking station / external case (laptop or desktop) or shutting down the computer and installing it (desktop).

Once you have both drives attached to the computer, you can boot the system normally or use bootable media and start the drive cloning program. Follow the software instructions and be ready to shut down your computer as soon as the software completes cloning the drive.

You will need to remove or detach the source drive from the computer, as both of the drives will have the same boot signature. If you cloned a SATA drive to another SATA drive, connect the destination drive to the connection that the source drive was on. You should be ready to boot your computer on the new drive.

Drive-to-image cloning

This procedure does require a few more steps to complete, but it does also have more options. One of the advantages of this type of drive cloning is changing your computer's primary drive interface. The disadvantage is you may have to expand/recreate partitions manually.

The first thing you need to do is install the cloning software on your computer and then create bootable media using it. You will need the bootable media to restore the disk image or disk backup to the new drive.

The next thing you will need to do is use that same cloning program to create a drive image / drive backup of your primary (boot) drive to an external hard drive. Once that is complete, safely remove the external hard drive from your computer and shut it down.

Now that your computer is turned off, uninstall the existing drive and install the new drive. Once the new drive is in place, boot your computer using the bootable media you created and proceed to restore the disk image / disk backup to the new drive.

If the new drive is larger than the old one, the cloning software may prompt you to expand the primary partition. If it does, let the software do it. If not, you may have to expand it manually using Disk Management inside of Windows.

Windows creates a hidden recovery partition right behind the primary partition. If the cloning software does not put that hidden partition at the end of the new drive and expand the primary partition, you will have to do it manually.

I use R-Drive Image for drive cloning, and it allows me to restore a complete drive image or individual partitions. When I run into the hidden recovery partition, I usually will restore all of the partitions except for the last one, the hidden recovery partition.

Since the system does not require the hidden recovery partition to operate, I boot it up on the new drive and expand the primary partition using Disk Management to fill up almost all of the remaining free space.

I leave a little more than enough free space to restore the hidden recovery partition. I then boot the computer back up on the R-Drive bootable media and restore the hidden recovery partition into the remaining free space.

For more information on upgrading computer drives. click on the following links.

How to upgrade the hard drive in your computer

How to upgrade your computers hard disk drive to a solid state drive

Make your computer faster by upgrading the hardware

One of the most frequently asked questions is, "How can I make my computer faster?". It may seem like a simple question, but it does not have a simple answer. Let's take a look at how you can make your computer faster by upgrading the hardware.

Make your computer faster by upgrading the hardware

In previous articles, I have discussed how to use software to speed up a computer. This time around, I will talk about how to get a computer run faster by upgrading the hardware.

Now when it comes down to what makes a computer fast, it boils down to how quickly can all of the different components process data. Let's take a look at all of the parts of a computer that affect the speed and see what we can upgrade.

Note: Some of these upgrades may require complicated disassembly of your computer. If you are not comfortable performing any of these upgrades, please contact a local computer repair service like Geeks in Phoenix.

Motherboard

The motherboard has the most bearing on the performance of a computer. The motherboard bus is what oversees the transferring of data between the various components. The faster the bus speed, the quicker the data travels through the motherboard.

The motherboard bus connects the Central Processor Unit (CPU) to the Northbridge and Southbridge chipsets. The Northbridge handles the graphics bus and memory bus. The Southbridge handles all of the Input/Output (I/O) components, such as SATA and M.2 drives, USB ports, onboard audio, and network adapter. And the speed of the CPU and memory are based on multiplying the bus speed.

Upgrading your motherboard

This is one upgrade that requires serious consideration. If you have a laptop, all-in-one, or a brand name desktop computer (like Dell or HP), a motherboard upgrade is impossible. Only machines that use off-the-shelf components can have the motherboard upgraded.

The first thing to think about is your existing hardware. Will the CPU and memory work on a new motherboard? You would probably get better performance if you upgraded the CPU and memory too.

The second thing to think about is software. You will have to reinstall the operating system and all programs completely. And if you are running Windows, you will also have to get a new product key, as your existing key is bound to your current motherboard.

Technically speaking, you can upgrade any component that attaches to the motherboard and not have to reactivate Windows. Change out the motherboard, and Microsoft sees that as a whole new computer. It is in the EULA (End User License Agreement).

So upgrading the motherboard is probably out of the question. But there are a few other components that you can improve to get better performance from your computer.

CPU

Upgrading a CPU is an excellent way of gaining some speed on a desktop computer. Sorry laptop owners, the majority of laptop computers have the CPU soldered to the motherboard. The same holds for some all-in-one systems too.

Upgrading your CPU

If you are thinking about upgrading the CPU on your motherboard, you will need to do some research. The first thing to do is find the manual/specifications for your motherboard. It would be best if you found out what the CPU socket type it has. For example, Intel CPUs use LGA 1151, LGA 2066, etc. socket types, AMD CPUs use sTRX4, AM4, etc. socket types.

The second thing you will need to do is verify with the motherboard manufacturer what CPUs the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) supports. Installing a new CPU may require updating the BIOS firmware. And you will need to do this before installing a new CPU.

All of this information should be easy to find on the manufacturer's website. If you can't find it, give them a call. Once you have a list of supported CPUs and the BIOS versions to run them, you should be ready to go.

Remember to get some thermal compound when you order the new CPU. The existing compound will more than likely spread across the current CPU and cooler. Clean off the old compound on the CPU cooler and apply some new compound to the new CPU and then reinstall the cooler.

Memory

Upgrading the memory in a computer has always been the biggest bang for the buck. This applies to all types of machines; laptop, desktop, and all-in-ones. And the majority of the time, it is pretty simple.

I usually recommend looking at the existing memory and seeing how to get the maximum amount in the computer. This time around, I recommend looking at the speed of the current memory, and if you can install faster memory.

Installing faster memory could mean having to replace all of the existing memory modules. But doing that would make your computer run faster. Remember that you can not mix memory of different speeds, they all have to be the same speed and clock timings.

Upgrading your memory

There are three things you will need to find out. The first and most important is what type of memory does your computer take. The majority of computers nowadays can use memory that runs at different speeds. Remember that the memory speed is a multiple of the motherboard bus speed.

The second is memory slots; how much memory can each handle and how many does your computer have. Again, you can find all of this information in the motherboard/system manual. It would be best if you were able to find these on the manufacturer's website.

The third is how to access the memory slots. Getting to the memory slots in a desktop is pretty straightforward. Laptops and all-in-one systems may be tricky. I have seen some MSI laptops that had to be completely disassembled to get to the memory slots.

For more details on memory upgrades, check out the following article.

How to upgrade or add more memory to your computer

Drives

Having a drive that has a fast transfer rate will make a difference with the speed of a computer. Merely upgrading from a Hard Disk Drive (HDD) to a Solid State Drive (SSD) can be a game-changer. You would be amazed at the difference in performance between them.

Now HDDs and some SSDs use a SATA connection on the motherboard. The standard SATA connection has a transfer rate of up to 6 Gigabits per second. An HDD doesn't come close to that transfer rate, but most SSDs do.

And then there is the M.2 drive. It does require a particular slot on the motherboard, as it requires direct channels to the Southbridge chipset. But the transfer rate of 32 Gigabits per second will blow your socks off.

Of all of these recommendations for making your computer faster, this procedure will take the most time. Depending on the upgrade route you choose, the total time can be a few hours to a couple of days.

Upgrading your drive

There are two ways of upgrading your primary boot drive; cloning the existing drive or a fresh installation of the operating system. Each of them has its pros and cons.

Cloning your existing drive

  • Pros: This can be the fastest way of upgrading your drive, and you do not have to reinstall the operating system and programs.
  • Cons: You may run into a problem with resizing partitions and with getting your computer to boot correctly from the new drive.

There are two ways to go about cloning a drive; disk-to-disk or disk-to-image / image-to-disk. If you have a desktop computer, you can do either type of drive cloning. If you have a laptop or all-in-one computer, cloning to an image is the only option. And if you are upgrading from a SATA to an M.2 drive, cloning to an image is recommended.

For more details on disk cloning, check out the following article.

How to upgrade the hard drive in your computer

Fresh (clean) installation

  • Pros: You get a brand-new operating system and programs with that right-out-of-the box experience
  • Cons: This can take some time to get all of the software installed and personal files restored

This is the most time consuming of the two cloning procedures, but it has some significant advantages. What will take the most time is finding all of the software that you will want to reinstall. For more information on performing a clean installation of Windows 10, check out the following article.

How to perform a clean Windows 10 installation

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading computer components

Updated May 16, 2020

When doing computer repair for a living, there is one thing I do quite often: replacing and upgrading computer components. Whether it be replacing a hard drive or installing a new graphics card, there is always something you need to consider. So here are a few things you should ask yourself when selecting computer components.

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading computer components

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading your motherboard

    Form factor
  • What form factor size does your existing case support?
    If the motherboard you are looking at getting is ATX and your present case only has space and stand-offs for a mini-ATX motherboard, you will not be able to install the new motherboard.
  • Do you have any of the extra parts that came with the case, including stand-offs for the motherboard?
    If you are replacing a mini-ATX motherboard with an ATX motherboard and your case is large enough for it, do you have the stand-offs and screws for the extra mounting points that the new ATX motherboard will require?
  • Do you have the installation media for the operating system and all of your programs?
    When you change out a motherboard, unless it is from the same manufacturer and same model line, odds are you will need to perform a clean installation of the operating system and your apps. If you try and use the existing operating system currently installed with a new motherboard, you more than likely to get all sorts of errors. Be prepared to reinstall the OS and apps.
    CPU socket
  • What is the socket type of your existing CPU?
    You cannot use an LGA1150 processor in an LGA1151 socket.
  • Will the new motherboard your thinking about getting support your existing processor?
    You will need to do your research on the motherboard you are thinking about getting. If you cannot find the information online, give the manufacturer a call. There is nothing worse than getting a motherboard that you cannot use.
    Memory slot(s)
  • Does the motherboard your thinking about getting support your existing memory modules?
    Again, do your research. You have to make sure that everything is going to go smoothly when you do the upgrade.
  • Or are you going to need to get new memory modules?
    If you find out that you will need new memory modules, buy them in pairs (twin-pack, quad-pack). Try to avoid mixing different memory modules if you can. You will also find it cheaper to buy them in twin-packs or quad-packs than as single modules.
    Expansion slots (PCI-e)
  • What do you currently have for expansion cards?
    These include graphic card(s), RAID controller card(s), M.2 adapter card(s), Wi-Fi / ethernet card(s), etc..
  • And what type of expansion slot(s) do they use (PCI-e x16, PCI-e x4, PCI-e x1)?
    Make a note about all of the different PCI-e slots that are used on your existing motherboard and reference it when you are looking at a new motherboard.
    M.2 Slot(s)
  • If your existing mother has M.2 slot(s) and you use them, what form factor, key notches, and interface do they utilize?
    M.2 2242, M.2 2260, M.2 2280? B key, M key, or both? SATA 3, PCI-e 3, or NVMe?
    Internal USB connections
  • What type of USB headers does your current motherboard have?
    USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1 Gen 1 or USB 3.1 Gen 2.
    Internal drive connectors
  • What type of internal drive connectors does your current motherboard have?
    SATA, SATA Express or U.2?
    Power connector
  • What type of power connectors does the motherboard your thinking about getting have (4-pin or 8-pin ATX 12V)?
    Does your existing power supply have the correct connector?

Related articles
Things to keep in mind when building a custom-built computer

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading your processor / CPU

    Socket type
  • What socket type does your current motherboard have (LGA 1151, LGA 2011, AMD AM3+, etc.)?
    Remember that you cannot use an LGA1150 processor in an LGA1151 socket.
    Motherboard compatibility
  • What processors does your current motherboard support?
    You will need to do your research on your existing motherboard. If you cannot find the information online, give the manufacturer a call. You may need to update the BIOS on your current motherboard to run the new processor you are thinking about getting.

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading your CPU cooler

    The space inside of case
  • Does your present case have the room for an upgraded CPU cooler?
    If you are thinking of air-cooled, do you have enough space on top of the CPU for it? If your thinking about liquid-cooled, do you have the correct mounting holes for it? And are you going to need to replace any of the existing case fan(s) to accommodate a new CPU cooler?
  • Does your motherboard have all of the connectors for running a liquid CPU cooler?
    Some liquid-coolers require power from an onboard USB header. Also, does your motherboard have any special liquid-cooler fan headers?

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading your graphics card / GPU

    Slot version
  • What version PCI-e slot (2.0, 3.0, 4.0) does your current motherboard have?
    To answer this question, you will need to reference the motherboard manual or specifications online. If you have a problem finding this information, just contact the motherboard manufacturer.
  • What PCI-e version is the graphics card you are looking at getting?
    Again, to answer this question, reference the graphic card manual or specifications online. If you have a problem finding this information, just contact the motherboard manufacturer.
    If the PCI-e slot on your motherboard is version 3 and the graphics card you are looking at getting is version 4, you will have a problem.

Related articles
How to add an expansion card to your desktop computer

    Power connection(s)
  • Does the graphics card you are looking at getting require a separate PCI-e power connector(s)? If so, are they 6-pin or 8-pin PCI-e connector(s), and how many does it need?
    You should be able to find this information on the vendors or manufacturers website. Even the box should have the information on the outside.
  • Does your current power supply have all of the proper PCI-e connector(s) for it?
    Some lower wattage power supplies have only 6-pin PCI-e connectors. Visually check your existing power supply for the type and quantity of PCI-e power connectors.

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading your memory

    Slot type and speed
  • What slot type and memory speed does your existing motherboard support (DDR3 2400, DDR4 4200, etc.)?
    To answer this question, you will need to reference the motherboard manual or specifications online. If you have a problem finding this information, just contact the motherboard manufacturer.
    Existing memory compatibly
  • Are you going to added more memory to your current memory?
    The one thing you want to try and avoid when adding memory is incompatibility with existing memory. If you plan on adding a couple of more memory modules, try to use the exact make and model of your current memory. Even though memory from different manufacturers may be the same slot and speed type, their clock timings can be different. So, it is always recommended to use the same make and model of memory in all of the slots.

Related articles
How to upgrade or add more memory to your computer

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading your drive

    Form factor and size
  • What size and form factor drive(s) are you looking at getting?
    If you are replacing an existing drive, you should go with one that is the same form factor (3.5", 2.5", M.2, or U.2) and the same size (GB's, TB's) or larger than your existing drive. If you are upgrading your drive to a different form factor (SSD, HDD, or U.2), you need to make sure your current case has a place to mount the other kind of drive (3.5" or 2.5"). If you are upgrading your drive to a different form factor (M.2, mSATA), you need to make sure your existing motherboard has the correct form factor (M.2 2242, M.2 2260, M.2 2280), key notches (B key, M key or both) and interface (SATA 3, PCI-e 3 or NVMe) as the drive you are looking at getting. If you are looking at getting an M.2 or mSATA and your motherboard does not have the appropriate slot, you will need to use an expansion card.

Related articles
How to upgrade the hard drive in your computer

Things to consider when replacing or upgrading your case

    Motherboard Form Factor (micro-ATX, ATX, ITX, etc.)
  • What is the form factor of your existing case?
    If the case you are looking at getting is designed for a mini-ATX motherboard, you will not get a standard ATX motherboard to fit in it. Check the case manufactures website to verify the motherboard form factors that will fit in it.
    CPU fan
  • Does the case you are looking at getting have enough space for your existing CPU fan?
    There is nothing worse than getting the motherboard, CPU, and cooler installed in a new case only to find out that you cannot get the side of the case on. Double-check all dimensions.
    Peripheral/expansion
  • Does it have enough front panel connectors for the onboard headers of the motherboard?
    It sucks having USB 3.0 header(s) on the motherboard and not having any or enough connectors on the front of the case.
  • If you have a DVD or BD drive, does it have a 5.25" drive bay in front for it?
    A lot of cases nowadays do not have 5.25" drive bays. If you have a 5.25" drive or drives (CD, DVD, BD), you will need to double-check the case you are looking at getting.

How to build a computer

Updated May 19, 2020

Are you thinking about building a computer? Have you already got the parts and don't know where to start? If so, I am going to show you how to assemble a computer.

How to build a computer

In a recent article, I discussed things to keep in mind when building a custom computer. There are plenty of websites like PC Part Picker that will generate a parts list. But once you have purchased all of the parts, you'll have to put them all together.

In this article, I am going to assemble a computer from all the separate components. If you don't have all of the tools or are kind of scared of possibly making a mistake, please contact a local computer shop and have them assemble it for you. If you live in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area, feel free to give us a call.

Tools required to build a computer

Tools required to build a computer

  • Anti-static wrist strap
  • Wire ties
  • Snipers (for trimming wire ties)
  • Needle nose pliers (optional)
  • 3/16" nut driver (for stand-offs)
  • #1 Phillips screwdriver
  • Thermal compound (may or may not be required)

Building a computer step by step

Cable management is one thing you will need to keep in mind as you are building your computer. Take the time to secure all wires, even if it is temporary.

Don't be surprised if during your assembly that you have to cut and replaced some wire ties. When you perform cable management, this is normal. Just make sure you have plenty of extra wire ties handy.

And remember to put on the anti-static wrist strap and attach the clip of it to a metal portion of the computer case before you start building your computer.

  1. Unpack the computer case.
    Unpack the computer case
    Make sure to do an inventory of all the parts (screws, drive caddies, etc.) that come with it.
  2. Install the I/O panel in the rear of the case.
    Install I/O panel in rear of case
    Be careful installing the I/O panel as the metal edges can easily cut your hand.
  3. Install the stand-offs for the motherboard.
    Install the stand-offs for motherboard
    Some cases have stand-offs built-in, others do not. If your case does not have them built-in, check the hole pattern on the motherboard or the motherboard manual to ensure you have the stand-offs in the correct locations. Hand tighten them using a 3/16" nut driver.
  4. Install the motherboard.
    Install the motherboard
    You may have to work it a little bit to get it under any tabs on the I/O panel. Then attach it to the stand-offs using the supplied screws.
  5. Install the CPU.
    Install the CPU
    Make sure you have the notches in the CPU aligned correctly to the socket on the motherboard. Refer to the motherboard manual for the correct way to secure the CPU in the socket.
  6. Install the CPU cooler.
    Install the CPU cooler
    If you are using a new cooler, it will have thermal compound already applied. If you are rebuilding an existing computer, you will need to clean any current thermal compound from the CPU and cooler. Then you will need to apply a new layer of thermal compound. Just spread a thin coat of thermal compound across the entire surface of the CPU. A business card works great.
  7. Install the memory modules.
    Install the memory modules
    The modules will have a notch in them, so they will only go into the slot one way. Check the memory modules against the memory slots on the motherboard for the correct orientation. Also, refer to the motherboard manual for the proper installation order.
  8. Install the case fan(s).
    Install the case fan(s)
    Some cases come with fans already installed, and some don't. If you have to install the can fans, make sure you have the airflow correct. The airflow should go from the front of the case to the rear of the case. The fans have directional arrows printed on one side of them. Once installed, connect them to the appropriate fan header(s) on the motherboard. Refer to the motherboard manual for the locations.
  9. Connect the front panel connectors to the motherboard.
    Connect the front panel connectors to the motherboard
    Refer to the motherboard manual for the locations of all the pins (power button, power LED, hard drive LED, audio jacks, and USB jacks) for the connectors.
  10. Install the drive(s).
    Install the drive(s)
    Depending on your case, you may have separate carriages or combination carriages for Solid State Drives (SSD) and Hard Disk Drives (HDD). If you are installing an M2 SSD, refer to the motherboard manual for the correct location. If you are also installing CD / DVD drive(s), you may have to remove knock-out metal panel(s) from a 5 1/2" bay in the front of the case. Be careful, twisting it back and forth to break it free, as the metal can be sharp and cut your hand.
  11. Install the cables for the drive(s).
    Install the cables for the drive(s)
    Refer to the motherboard manual for the port location and numbering. If you have M.2 drive(s) installed, check the manual to find out if it shares resources with any of the SATA ports. You will want the primary (boot) drive to be attached to port 1.
  12. Install any expansion cards (graphics, Wi-Fi, etc.).
    Install any expansion cards
    Refer to the motherboard manual for the locations of the PCI-e slots. Here is an article we wrote about installing expansion cards.
  13. Install the power supply.
    Install the power supply
    Depending on the power supply, it may or may not have the power cables already attached. Route the wires thought the case making sure not to cut them on any sharp metal edges.

Make sure to trim all of the wire ties, and remove the protective film from the case. Attach the keyboard, mouse, monitor, and go into the BIOS (Basic Input / Output System) to verify and change any of the settings. Refer to the motherboard manual on how to do this. When you have finished editing the BIOS settings, you will be ready to install the operating system.

How to add an expansion card to your desktop computer

Have you ever wanted to add more USB ports to your desktop computer? Or maybe a video card or wireless (Wi-Fi) network adapter? Here's how to add an expansion card to your desktop computer.

How to add an expansion card to your desktop computer

One of the coolest things about desktop computers is that you can add more functionally to it by installing an expansion card. Expansion cards range from video cards and RAID controllers to USB ports and wireless (Wi-Fi) network adapters. But before you can do anything, you will need to know a few things:

  • What expansion slots you have available in your computer?
  • What is the height (full or half) of your computer case?
  • What are the power requirements for the expansion card you want to install?

But before you can do anything, you need to know what expansion card slots your desktop computer may have available. The most common expansion slot is the PCI Express (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe, PCI-e)) bus type. See #1 and #2 in the installation instructions at the bottom of this article to find out how to open up your computer case to check.

The different PCI-e bus types

Now PCI-e slots and expansion cards come in different bus sizes, varying in the number of connectors and bus speed. Generally, the more connectors, the faster the transfer rate.

A photo of a PCI Express x16 slot
PCI Express x16 slot (82 connectors per side x 2 sides = 164 connectors)

A photo of a PCI Express x4 slot
PCI Express x4 slot (32 connectors per side x 2 sides = 64 connectors)

A photo of a PCI Express x1 slot
PCI Express x1 slot (18 connectors per side x 2 sides = 36 connectors)

The two different computer case heights

Once you know what expansion slot(s) your desktop computer has available, you need to find out what height (full-size or half-size) your computer case is.

A photo of a full-height expansion slot
Full-height expansion slot

A photo of a half-height expansion slot
Half-height expansion slot

Now a full-size case can use either full or half size expansion cards. If the expansion card you are looking at installing is low profile, the manufacturer usually includes full-size and half-size mounting brackets. If the expansion card is full height, you will not be able to put it in a half-size case, so double check it before purchasing.

Check the expansion card power requirements

Now everything that you plug into your motherboard requires power. The drives, processor, and even the memory modules require a certain amount of energy. Check the specifications for the expansion card you want to install and determine how much power it requires.

The next thing you need to check is how many watts your power supply delivers. The power output is crucial. Typically there is a power output table on the side of the power supply inside of your desktop computer that tells you what the maximum DC output is.

A photo of a typical desktop power supply output table
A typical desktop power supply output table

If your computer is a low-profile or Small Form Factor (SFF), knowing what the power output is critical. Most SFF computers have smaller power supplies (physical size) that have lower power output. Generally, the output of an SFF power supply is less than 300 watts, which may or may not have enough power to run an additional expansion card.

And to top it off, the expansion card you want to install might even require more power than it can get through the PCI-e bus, thus requiring an additional connection or two from the power supply.

High-end video cards are known to require an additional PCI-e power plug(s) from the power supply. If your power supply doesn't have enough PCI-e (6 or 8 pins), Molex (4 pins), or SATA (15 pins) connections, you will need to upgrade your power supply.

A photo of a video card that has both 8-pin and 6-pin PCI-e power connections
A video card that has both 8-pin and 6-pin PCI-e power connections

Now that you have the required information and purchased your expansion card, it is time to install it.

Installing an expansion card in a desktop computer

Installing an expansion card is relatively easy. You may or may not require tools, as some computer cases are tool-free. At the most, you might need a Philips head screwdriver to get the side of the case open and to secure the expansion card to the computer case.

  1. Disconnect the power cord from the computer. After disconnecting the power cord, place your hand on any metal part of the case to discharge any residual energy. Never work on a system that is plugged in and energized.
  2. Open the computer case. This step usually requires taking the side or top panel off. Look at the back of the computer case and determine what side the motherboard connections are on. The side panel you need to remove is on the opposite side of these.
  3. Remove the expansion slot cover panel on the backside of the case. Some expansion slot panels have a screw holding them in-place; some are stamped right into the metal back of the case. If it is a stamped panel, you will have to work it back and forth to break it off, so be careful not to cut your fingers.
  4. Install the expansion card. Most cards will slip right in, but make sure the notched edge of the mounting bracket slides down into the slot in the case. Sometimes you have to give it a little push from the outside of the case to get it in. Once it is in place, secure it down.
  5. Replace the side of the case, connect the power cord, and power your computer up.

If Windows doesn't automatically install the driver for the expansion card, you may have to use the installation disk that came with it. If the expansion card did not come with installation media, go to the manufacturer's website and download it.

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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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