Disk Drive Installation
How you’ll install your disk drives will largely depend on the type of drives you’re using and how your case is configured. There are many ways a traditional 3.5” or 2.5” disk could be mounted and case manufacturers have very different
ways they’ve gone to task. Some will mount on the backside of the motherboard tray, others will have a dedicated drive cage with locking tabs, and others still might need the drive to screw into a bracket before it slides into
the system. If it’s not obvious how a drive will mount, check your motherboard’s instruction manual.
Note that we are covering M.2 connectors and SATA connectors, which represent the overwhelming majority of drives on the market today. IDE, SAS, and SCSI connectors are entirely different interfaces and are not compatible with
most modern motherboards.
We’ll start with the easiest drives to install. Both of these will slot directly into the motherboard and eliminate the fuss of managing any cables. M.2 drives come in several different physical sizes, interfaces, and “key” types,
indicated on the drive’s box. Your motherboard’s product page or instruction manual will list its compatible drive types. To quickly overview:
- Key type can be either M or B key. This refers to the physical arrangement of connector pins, with M key having two prongs and a wide center connector and B key having a small and a large connector each. M key is the most common.
- Size is referred to in width and length in millimeters. 2280 (22mm x 80mm) is the most common.
- Interface is either SATA or PCI Express. PCI Express Gen3 x4 is the most common. PCI Express revisions are generally interchangeable (Gen3 x2 will work in a Gen3 x4 slot, for example) but SATA and PCIe are not. Some motherboards
may support both on the same slot.
Locate the lowest-numbered M.2 slot on your motherboard, or whichever slot can accommodate your drive by having a matching screw hole at the appropriate distance from the connector. If a screw and cover is in place, remove the
retaining screw while holding the cover down as it will spring up and out of the M.2 connector at an angle. Set the cover aside and hang on to the screw. Take note of which side faces up on your M.2 drive (typically the memory
chips will face outward), and insert it gently into the M.2 slot at about a 30 or 40 degree angle. Little force should be required. Gently push the drive flat into place and use the retaining screw to secure the drive to the
Traditional drives will need to be secured inside the case. While SSDs have no moving parts and can thus be installed in any orientation, even dangling by their cables (which we don’t recommend, mind), HDDs must be screwed into
the case either flat or at a 90-degree angle. Since cases vary wildly, we can’t cover all the possibilities here...just be aware that drives will usually need four screws to mount properly, and be sure to remove any brackets
and install the drives onto them first rather than attempting to install directly into the case. Take a moment to find where the case manufacturer expects you to mount your drives and go from there. Be mindful of which way
the drive will face once installed so the connectors are accessible.
Most modern cases have dedicated locations for SSDs and other 2.5” drives. If yours does not, you can either purchase a relatively cheap 2.5” to 3.5” adapter or devise an alternative mounting solution. So long as the drive is secure
and none of the drive’s exposed electronics or holes are covered by your mounting solution, most alternate methods work fine.
Once your drives are in place, take a SATA data cable (most motherboards include at least one) and connect it to the shorter of the two L-shaped connectors on the drive. Route the other end of the cable through your case and into
an available SATA port on the motherboard. Any port is fine, but if your motherboard has both SATA-II and SATA-III ports, you’ll want to hook SSDs and high-performance hard drives into SATA-III ports for best performance.