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How to Replace a Hard Drive

Save your laptop—and your data

FH14MAR_HARDRV_02-2Family Handyman
Hard drives rarely fail without warning. So if you hear buzzing, clicking or low-pitched squeals, your drive is about a day away from the big croak. Don't worry, DIYers. You can replace the drive yourself and save all your data if you act fast.

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Make a backup and other preparation

First, shut down the laptop. Buy a new (and larger) hard drive to fit your computer. If you don’t already have an external backup drive, get one now. And, you’ll need “imaging” software to copy your entire laptop drive onto the external drive and then transfer it to the new laptop drive. Finally, you’ll need an antistatic wristband to prevent static damage to the new drive and existing components. Find all the parts at a computer or electronics store.

No magnets! No conventional vacuum cleaners!

Even though it might make dealing with all the tiny screws easier, don’t use magnetized screwdrivers-or magnets of any kind-inside your computer or nearby outside. A jeweler’s screwdriver set comes in handy for this project.

And, if you see dust in there, resist the urge to suck it out with a conventional vacuum cleaner-you’ll need a special antistatic vacuum. Or you can blow it out with a can of either compressed air or refrigerant-based propellant cleaner.

Replace the hard drive

Photo 1: Make a boot disk and a backup

Plug in the external drive and boot the computer with the imaging software disk. Then create an exact duplicate of your hard drive on the external drive. Use the imaging software to burn an emergency boot disk.

Photo 2: Remove the old drive

Attach your antistatic wristband and clip the end to a ground point. Remove the screw from the drive door. Then slide the door down and pull the drive straight out.

Photo 3: Replace the drive

Remove the four Phillips head screws from the bottom of the tray (or the side rails). Then lift out the old drive and install the new drive in the same orientation. Replace the screws and gently snug them up.

We’re working on a Dell C840 laptop; it’s typical of most PC-style laptops with a “slide-out” drive tray. However, to find the exact procedure for your laptop, just search online for your model number and add “service manual” to the search field.

Start the repair by backing up the failing drive to the external drive (Photo 1). Disconnect the power cord and remove the laptop battery (or batteries). Then remove the failing drive (Photo 2). Using an optional antistatic mat provides an extra measure of protection. With the drive tray out, swap out the drives (Photo 3) and reinsert the drive tray. Then boot the computer with the emergency disk and restore the data from the external drive to your new laptop drive.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Antistatic mat
  • Antistatic vacuum cleaner
  • Antistatic wristband
  • Phillips-head screwdriver

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • Can of compressed air
  • Can of refrigerant-based propellant cleaner
  • Hard drive