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How to install a solid state drive

With a little effort, you too can join the SSD phenom

By Bill O'Brien
September 22, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Before you buy your replacement SSD, you'll need to figure out if your laptop uses a drive with a SATA (Serial ATA) or PATA (Parallel ATA) interface. While a general rule of thumb is that 2006 marks the year when PATA was replaced by SATA. It's easier, and less embarrassing, if you check the specifications for your portable before you buy the SSD.

Vista-powered portables should not be problematic, especially if you've kept it up to date. XP, on the other hand, may present a problem. Vista will roll-in the drivers it needs for the SSD and tell you to reboot. XP may not, Check with the SSD manufacturer to determine compatibility before you buy. (To be honest, I've only tested these SSD drives with Vista.)

Also make sure that your portable actually uses a 2.5-inch drive. Most do, some don't. Lenovo's X300 Thinkpad series, for example, doesn't and if you're upgrading the SSD shipped with it, a 2.5-inch replacement won't fit. The Samsung drive in the Lenovo is smaller.

If you're replacing your boot drive, you might want to clone the existing hard disk onto your SSD before you do anything else. It will spare you the task of needing to re-install drivers and, in most cases, you can create a proportional partition on the SSD should your old drive and the new solid state drive differ in capacity.

We've done this successfully many times with Apricorn's DriveWire. It includes instructions and all the needed cloning software. If you intend to use the hard drive you're replacing as an external disk when you're done, consider instead Apricorn's Universal Hard Drive Upgrade Kit. Ditto on the instructions and software. As well, the enclosure doubles as the new home for your old drive.

When your drive is ready to install, power down your computer and unplug it. Turn the laptop upside down and remove the battery. This will assure that all power is off to the motherboard and the components connected to it. The problem with this approach, unfortunately, is that you've now left your computer ungrounded.

If you're sitting in a cloth chair with your comfy Mocs rubbing on a nice rug, you could be a source of deadly lightening bolts that we typically call static electricity. Either ground yourself by touching something metal (not connected to or touching the portable) each time before you touch it or stop by your local electronics store and pick up a grounding wrist strap. (Follow the directions on how to use the wrist strap.)

Portables of recent (two or so years) vintage will have a cover plate on the bottom or an edge plate along one side that needs to be removed so you can access the drive. Older laptops might require that their entire bottom panel be removed. Put any screws off to side and note where each has been removed should they be of differing lengths.

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