Langa Letter: How To Safely Add Or Replace A Hard Drive
Want to expand your PC without having to rebuild your operating system? Fred Langa shows you how to do that--and more.
Hard drives fill up and eventually die: It's a fact of PC life. And while it's easy to add a new, empty drive to a PC as an adjunct to an existing, in-use drive, that's sometimes not really what you want. What's better is to add a new, fast, capacious drive and move your data, intact, to it. This way you can pick up more or less where you left off, and you don't have to rebuild or reinstall the operating system (unless you want to). If you keep the old, high-mileage drive in the system at all, it's just as extra space--not as the main drive.
Because this is somewhat harder than just tossing a new drive in the PC, it's something many drive vendors gloss over, or acknowledge only with anemic tools that may or may not actually do the job.
But if you don't mind just a little geekiness--just a little, honest!--there are several allied tips and tricks that can give you enormous flexibility in adding or replacing a drive in a system. It's fast, fairly easy, and can save you many headaches in trying to retain as much of your original setup as possible. That's what we'll be covering today.
The information in this article stands on its own, but it also fits into a wider context. You can read it as-is, or think of it as "Part Two" of a three-part article. Please let me explain: Several weeks ago, I received a challenge from a reader who didn't believe me when I said in print that it was possible to put together a brand-new terabyte (1,000 Gbyte) file server for around $500. Well, you can, and I did. The example system I put together now resides on the far side of my office, offering up a thousand gigabytes--that's a lot of disk space!--as network storage on my office LAN.
The heart of my terabyte server is a modest array of high-capacity drives. In assembling that system, I realized that because large, single hard drives are more or less standard in many new PCs, most users have never had to deal with the details of drive installation, initialization, and configuration, either for adding multiple drives to a system or for swapping drives. Both these processes raise questions as to the safest and best ways to set things up, as well as to avoid data loss, especially if you're moving a current PC's setup and files to a new drive.
In the previous column in this space, "Another Hidden Gem: The Windows Disk Management Tool," we looked at the most widely applicable part of the process: a little-known tool built into Windows for creating, formatting, or deleting partitions and drives; changing drive letter assignments and paths; and so on.
Today we'll look at a slightly nonstandard way of physically adding a drive to an existing, in-use system--a way I find much easier than the methods recommended by some drive manufacturers.
Then in an upcoming column, we'll take a close look at that from-scratch $500 terabyte server, including complete lists of where I got the parts and for how much.
Whether you're looking to add new, inexpensive, massive file storage capacity; or want to add or swap a drive in an existing system; or just want to learn more about a powerful tool built into Windows that most users have never even heard of, these three columns--individually or together--have something very interesting for you. Let's get started!
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