There are numerous methods for making a slow laptop faster, but few are as simple and inexpensive as replacing your existing hard drive with a solid-state drive (SSD). In most cases, performing the swap will significantly reduce the time it takes to boot Windows, load programs, and perform any activity that requires significant amounts of disk access (video editing, gaming, transferring files, etc.). When I replaced my hard drive with an SSD, my Windows boot time dropped from nearly 10 minutes to well under a minute. Adobe Photoshop, which used to take a minute or more to open, now opens in seconds. Your old computer will not only be as good as new; it will be better than it was before.
You’ll also benefit from greater ruggedness (SSDs are much less susceptible to damage from drops than hard drives because they don’t have moving parts), longer battery life, and quieter operation with an SSD.
Despite the benefits of SSDs, upgrading was not an appealing option for many people in the past due to the high cost. But, with 1TB SSDs now available for under $100, it’s almost ridiculous not to upgrade. It also does not require advanced technical skills. Anyone should be able to handle this task as long as they are comfortable using a screwdriver and running a simple cloning program (which makes a clone of your existing drive, so your operating system, programs and settings, and all your files will be the same and ready to go on your new drive).
Here are the simple steps for replacing your hard drive with an SSD.
Buy an SSD drive
What SSD size should I buy?
When shopping for an SSD, the first thing you should consider is the size of the drive you require. Choose one that is at least the size of your current hard drive. If your current drive is running out of space, you should think about upgrading to something larger. I would recommend not going smaller than 500GB and, ideally, 1TB, which should be enough storage for most people.
What type of SSD should I buy?
If you have a standard hard drive in your laptop, it is almost certainly a 2.5 Inch SATA drive. As a result, you will replace it with an SSD of the same size and interface (internal connections). You may hear other terms such as NAND technology, SATA III, and so on, but don’t worry about it; 2.5-inch SATA is all you need to know.
What brand/model should I buy?
On the market, there are hundreds of SSD models from dozens of brands. However, because the drive will store all of your computer’s critical data, this is not the time to go with the cheapest model. You also don’t need the highest-performance models designed for large server applications. I read through numerous SSD reviews and tests from both professional reviewers and consumers to narrow the choices down to two models that I would recommend.
The Samsung 860 EVO is my top recommendation and the one I use on my laptop. It consistently ranks near the top of performance tests when compared to competing models, and it comes with an industry-leading 5-year or 600 TBW (for 1TB model) warranty. The number of TBW (terabytes written) is a good indicator of the drive’s durability; the higher the number, the better. Under normal circumstances, you would never come close to exceeding the TBW limit (600 TBW is equivalent to about 200 million photos). Samsung Data Migration software, an easy-to-use program for cloning your existing drive onto the SSD, is also included. At the time of writing, the 500GB version was $74.99 and the 1TB version was $129.99 on Samsung.com and Amazon. [NOTE: There have been reports of fake Samsung hard drives being sold on Amazon. Make certain that you only buy from Amazon or other well-known sellers.]
If you’re looking to save money, the Crucial MX500 is arguably just as good as the Samsung 860 EVO. The data transfer rates will be the same, and Crucial provides its own Acronis True Image software for simple drive cloning. The Crucial MX500 also has a 5-year warranty, though its 360 TBW limit for the 1TB model is lower than the limit for the Samsung 860 EVO, implying that it may be slightly less robust (though realistically, that’s still far, far above what most people would ever hit). At the time of writing, the 500GB version was $66.99 on Crucial.com and the 1TB version was $109.99 on Amazon.
Buy a SATA-to-USB data transfer cable
The data transfer cable will be used to clone your existing hard drive onto your new SSD via the USB port on your laptop. All of the cables are essentially the same, and you can get one for under $10 on Amazon. The Sabrent USB 3.0 to SATA has good reviews on Amazon and will do the job.
This is also a good time to double-check that you have a screwdriver that fits the screws on your laptop (a small Phillips head will work on most computers, though some manufacturers use non-standard screws). If you don’t already have one, get a basic computer screwdriver set. This screwdriver set includes a variety of heads (including non-standard ones) as well as a tool to assist you in opening your laptop case if necessary.
Clone your hard drive
Don’t be concerned about the time it will take to transfer Windows to your new drive, reinstall all of your programs, and transfer all of your files. There is no need to reinstall anything because the cloning software that comes with your SSD – Samsung Data Migration, Acronis True Image – will create an exact replica of your current hard drive on your new SSD. If you buy a drive without the software, there are numerous free disk cloning programs available online.
To get started:
- Download and install the cloning software on your laptop.
- Plug in your SATA to USB data transfer cable (ideally into a USB 3.0 port for the fastest transfer speeds). The blue tab on the inside of USB 3.0 ports)
- Connect your brand-new SSD to the SATA cable.
- To clone your existing hard disk, follow the instructions in your drive cloning application.
- It will take some time for the cloning process to transfer your data to your new drive. While the cloning process is in progress, do not use your computer because any changes you make to settings or files may not be cloned to the new drive. This is an excellent time to go out to dinner, binge-watch Netflix, or sleep well.
Install the SSD drive
Once your cloning is finished, you can install the new drive on your laptop.
- Unplug your laptop’s SATA to USB cable and SSD.
- Unplug your laptop and take out the battery (if removable)
- Remove the screws to open the laptop case. If you’re lucky, your laptop will have a small door with a couple of screws that allow you to access the hard drive bay directly. However, if you have a more recent “unibody design” model, you will need to remove anywhere from 10 to 20 screws (have a little cup ready to store them in). Then, to access your drive, open the bottom section of the case. To CAREFULLY pry it open, you may need to use your fingernails, a flat-tip screwdriver, or the handy tool that came with the screwdriver kit I recommended above. If you’re not sure how to do this with your laptop, searching your laptop model and “open case” or “replace hard drive” on YouTube will usually yield a plethora of tutorials.
- Once your case is open, unscrew the mounting bracket that is holding your current hard drive and remove it. It should be fairly simple to extract. Now, slide your new SSD into the mounting bracket, insert it into the connectors on your laptop, and screw the mounting bracket back into place.
- Snap your case back into place to replace it (putting it back on is usually easier than removing it).
- DO NOT SCREW THE CASE TOGETHER YET – we need to make sure everything works first. Turn on your computer (it should boot up quickly now!) and check that everything – programs, files – looks the same as it did before. Assuming everything is fine, turn off the computer and replace the screws.
Install the drive management software provided by your manufacturer
Most manufacturers provide a drive management program, such as Samsung Magician, that allows you to keep your drive firmware up to date and customize the performance and other settings. It’s worth installing for the firmware updates but leave the other settings alone unless you’re an expert. Your SSD will be plenty fast right out of the box, and most performance tweaks will provide little benefit in everyday use.
That’s all! You can now enjoy the significant performance boost provided by your new SSD. While your SSD should be more reliable than your old hard drive, you can use it as a fully functional replacement if you occasionally clone your new SSD to your old hard drive using the USB to SATA cable.