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Need to upgrade your storage? Here’s how to do it, the easy way

Running out of storage space on your desktop? You could try backing up some of your files, or remove some unused programs and media, but it would be easier to just buy a new hard drive and continue downloading at your leisure.

While PCIe drives like the Intel 750 Series SSD are becoming more common all the time, the most readily available drives are still connected through SATA. Connecting a SATA drive is straightforward and fairly painless, and we’ll help you through the process.

Related: Intel’s 750 Series is the quickest hard drive we’ve ever reviewed

The first step is to make sure you aren’t going to damage any of your components with static electricity. If you have an anti-static wristband, clip it to the bare metal inside your case, and attach it to your wrist. If you don’t, the easiest way to stay static-free is to not walk around while working on the computer, and touch the bare metal of the case frequently to ground yourself.

Next, remove the hard drive from the anti-static bag. You’ll need to find somewhere to mount it inside the case. Mechanical hard drives are typically of the 3.5-inch form factor, and usually mount at the front of the case, below where the optical drives are. They are secured with screws or, in some more expensive computer cases, tool-less snap-in brackets.

A 2.5-inch solid state drive may not fit in the same slots easily. You can buy an adapter to convert a 3.5-inch bay to 2.5-inch drives. Alternatively, it’s often possible to mount a 2.5-inch drive into a 3.5-inch bay by using only one or two of the four typically used screws. It’s not ideal, but since a solid state drive has no moving parts it’s not a problem. We don’t recommend doing the same if you happen to have a 2.5-inch mechanical drive.

Once your drive is mounted and it’s not going anywhere, you need to plug in the power and data. Find a SATA power cable coming out of the power supply with the appropriate shape for your drive, usually a longer, thin plug with an L-shaped bend at one end. Plug it into the hard drive, then press firmly until it fits snug.

The SATA cable is for data, and looks like a smaller version of the power cable, with the same L-shaped bend in the end. You may also need to plug this cable into your motherboard, where there will be a row of ports with the same shape. Make sure you plug into a SATA 6Gbps/SATA 3.0 port if you’re installing a solid state drive. Otherwise, performance may be constrained.

Once you’re all set up, close your computer and start it up. You may have to format the drive for use first, but Windows will prompt you to do so when you boot up the first time. If not, your drive should show up in my computer with a new drive letter, ready to use.