Welcome to the RPS guide on how to install an SSD, which you’ll note is not titled “How to install an SSD or hard drive”. Yes yes, old-timey mechanical drives are cheaper, and better if you need terrabytes upon terabytes of space, but when you can buy a good-quality NVMe SSD like the WD Blue SN550 at £70 for 1TB…I mean, you should probably do that instead.
What’s more, SSDs are easier to install than most HDDs. Modern PC cases often comes sprinkled with mounts for those slimline 2.5in SSDs, and if you have a PCIe/NVMe SSD, you can slot it straight into the motherboard without any power or data cables. You can find some hard drives in the 2.5in form factor, but generally they require making room for chunkier, heavier drives that make more noise and don't have a cable-cutting option.
This guide will show you how to set up both kinds of SSD, as well as the software-side setup you’ll need to perform if you’re adding a new SSD as your secondary or tertiary drive.
How to install a 2.5in SSD
The bigger but generally more affordable breed of SSD needs three things: a power cable, a SATA cable, and somewhere to sit inside your PC. Cable management will be easier if the drive is already in place, so start by locating one of your PC’s 2.5in mounts. Large 3.5in drive bays usually have mounting holes for fitting a 2.5in drive as well, or there might be dedicated 2.5in mounts attached to the case’s interior chassis. Some cheaper cases also have mounting holes drilled directly into the chassis.
It’s a little easier, however, if you have removeable mounts available, as these will let you do the fiddly screwdriver work mostly outside of the case. That’s right, you’ll need a crosshead screwdriver to both remove the mount and affix it to the SSD, before re-installing both to the case.
First, locate the screws – these are very small, and will have come with the case. If you’ve misplaced yours, it’s easy enough to buy replacement screws online, as all SSDs have the same size holes. Place the drive in the mount with the holes aligned, then securely fasten the screws. Replace the mount, if it’s a removable one.
With the SSD in position, you can now attach the power and data cables; these come included with your PSU and motherboard respectively. They also both use distinctive L-shaped connectors, with the power cable being the wider of the two. Plug this into the SSD, and do the same with the SATA cable, which connects right next to it. Plug the other end of the SATA cable into a spare SATA port on your motherboard, which are normally found near the bottom-right corner.
It’s worth remembering that on many motherboards, installing an SSD in an M.2 slot can disable individual SATA ports, as there won’t be enough bandwidth to support both sets of ports being fully filled. Your motherboard manual will tell you which SATA ports are switched off in this scenario, so just switch to a different port if an M.2 is blocking your SATA drive.
How to install an M.2 SSD
M.2 SSDs can use NVMe or SATA, but both connect directly to your motherboard via an M.2 slot. Be careful about trying to add an M.2 drive to an older PC, as while these slots are common on recent mobos, you only have to go a few chipset generations back for them to be entirely absent. NVMe SSDs are so fast and easy to install, mind you, that they’re almost worth upgrading your motherboard for alone.
To insert the drive, slide it sideways into the waiting slot; it should click in, with the semi-circular notch at the other end becoming aligned with a tiny standoff poking out of the motherboard. You’ll need to hold down this end of the SSD by screwing a little screw into this standoff; this screw will either already be fastened inside, or can be found in a small bag that came in the same box as your motherboard. Either way, using your daintiest screwdriver, insert and tighten this screw until it’s holding the SSD firmly in place.
How to initialise and create partitions on an SSD
If you’re installing a new SSD as part of a brand new PC build, the Windows installation tool will basically handle the rest of the setup process as it installs the OS on the drive. If, on the other hand, you’re installing an SSD as additional storage for an existing system, there’s one more step required to make it usable.
You’ll need to configure your SSD in Windows’ Disk Management tool, which involves creating a storage partition: usable space that Windows can interact with when reading and writing data. You can open Disk Management by hitting the Windows key and typing “disk management” until “Create and format hard disk partitions” appears. Click on this or press Enter to open the tool.
Immediately, Disk Management will detect that a new drive is connected, and will ask to initialise the disk. Check “GPT (GUID Partition Table)”, then click OK to initialise.
You’ll see any connected storage drives in a list at the bottom; your newly initialised SSD will be the one with a black outline, and will be listed with “unallocated” space. So, let’s get this allocated to a partition:
Step 1: Right-click on the unallocated space on the SSD, then click “New Simple Volume” followed by “Next” once the wizard opens.
Step 2: Leave the volume size as it is – the size value defaults to the maximum available space on your SSD in megabytes, in other words making full use of the capacity. Click “Next”.
Step 3: Assign a drive letter from the drop-down list, or just go with whichever is listed by default, then click “Next”.
Step 4: By default “Format this volume with the follow settings” should be checked – this is what you want. The File system should be NTFS and Allocation size should be set to Default. You can optionally give the drive a name, of sorts, by typing it in the Volume label field; I like to name my drives according to their make and model, but you can name your SSD whatever you want. Or just leave it black! It will still be identifiable from its drive letter. Finally, make sure “Perform a quick format” is checked, then click “Next”.
Step 5: Click “Finish”, then “Format disk” when prompted.
Once formatted, you should see your new SSD listed in Disk Management with a functioning partition. That means that after all that fiddling with tiny screws, removing and re-installing mounts and potentially naming a computer part like it’s a pet gerbil, your SSD is completely installed and ready to use. Congrats!