Friday, February 10, 2012

How to Change a Laptop Hard Drive

Awhile back I replaced a failing hard drive in a friend's laptop and decided to take pictures along the way.

This particular laptop is a Dell, but laptops are generally the same when it comes to replacing components.

Why did I replace the hard drive? Well, the operating system (Windows 7) was acting strange which is a sign of one of two things: 1) The software has corrupted and needs to be reinstalled, or 2) the hardware (hard drive, memory or motherboard) is failing and needs to replaced. As an IT guy, I have different tools I can use to diagnose an unhealthy computer. Most of these tools involve booting to a CD and running some sort of diagnostic test specific to an individual part in the machine. I tested the memory which passed fine, and then the hard drive, which failed. Now the hard drive was still working enough to recover the data saved on it, so that was a bonus. We opted to replace the hard drive for $100 instead of replacing the whole computer.

I've had good luck with Western Digital hard drives, so I purchased one from NewEgg (a great place for computer parts and accessories).

Let's get started!

Step 1: Gather Equipment
We'll need the following:
1) Container for screws so we don't loose them
2) A phillips screwdriver
3) A flat screwdriver
4) A new hard drive
5) A broken laptop

Step 2: The Basic components
Out of curiosity, you may be wondering what all these things are on the underside of your laptop, I labeled a few in the photo below. Go ahead, flip your laptop over and get familiar. 

Step 3: Disconnect power source and remove the battery
Before working on any computer, always, disconnect the power source - this means removing the battery as well. Yes, there are some laptops with internal batteries that cannot be removed, we learn to deal with it. 

A) Confirm laptop is shut down
B) Unplug power adapter
C) Push the release levers to unlock the battery (white arrows in photo)

Step 4: Remove the hard drive cover
A) Use a screwdriver to remove the cover over the hard drive - screws are highlighted below in green. 

B) Set the cover out of the way. (In some cases, the screws are attached to the cover - leave them attached or you won't be able to secure the cover later - see green circles below.)

C) You will notice this laptop actually has room for TWO hard drives but is only using one. 

Step 5: Remove the hard drive caddy
A) Use a screwdriver to remove the screws for the hard drive caddy.

B) Remove the hard drive caddy. Depending the laptop, it may require you to separate the hard drive from the machine by pulling the caddy up or sliding it away from its connector. For this model, pull up on the black plastic tab once the screws are removed and safely place in our screw container. 

Step 6: Remove failed hard drive from caddy, replace with new hard drive
A) Use a screwdriver to remove the screws holding the hard drive to the caddy.
B) Then taking note of which how the hard drive was positioned in the caddy, replace with the new hard drive. 
C) Screw caddy to the hard drive, just snug, these are delicate electronics folks, no need to go all Hercules on them. 

Step 7: Move the hard drive adapter from the old hard drive to the new drive
Often laptop hard drives will have some sort of adapter to connect the pins on the hard drive to the laptop's hard drive controller. 
A) Carefully, use the flat screwdriver to separate the adapter from the old drive by "walking" it off - a little from each end, then install on the new hard drive. Try not to touch the gold pins with your fingers. 

Step 8: Reassemble hard drive caddy (with new drive) in the laptop, return the hard drive cover, reinstall the battery.
Assembly is the opposite of disassembly - make sure you don't have any spare screws!

Step 9: Start your recovery process
In my case I reinstalled Windows 7 from the DVD, then copied the files from the damaged drive to the new system. 

Best of luck. Posts coming soon: How to Recover Data from a Fail(ed/ing) Hard Drive and How to Upgrade the Memory in a Laptop

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro

My Uncle is looking to purchase his next laptop and is thinking he'll enter the world of Apple computers. As the wise consumer that he his, he asked for input on which model he should get, the MacBook Air or the MacBook Pro (the 13" model)

The MacBook Air from

For starters, switching to Mac has is an entire post in itself but I'll keep it short with this: If you are used to (and rely on Microsoft Office) in a business environment, be aware MS Office for Mac is not an exact replicate. If you are a fan of Outlook for Windows, I warn you: Outlook for Mac is not nearly as robust as its Windows counter part. I have enjoyed using Mac Mail but it definitely doesn't handle a Microsoft Exchange server (most large companies use Exchange for e-mail) as well as Outlook, but it works well enough. Apple computers also ship with a lot of built-in, free software such a Preview (a great PDF program) and iPhoto (photo library and editor).

I have owned 2 Apple laptops, a 15" PowerBook (2005) and a 15" MacBook Pro (2010) and have been extremely happy with their longevity and the operating system (OSX, instead of Windows XP, Vista or 7).

When comparing the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro, the main deciding factor is functionality. If you are looking for a computer to surf the web and check email, the Air is for you. It is extremely light weight, fast (flash hard drive), and a slick machine. Some major drawbacks about the Air are: No CD/DVD drive (i.e. no watching movies on disc or burning discs) and no on board network adapter (no plugging into a network cable at the office). Now, both of these short comings can be overcome with USB accessories, but it is worth noting. If you don't need a CD/DVD drive or a hard wired connection to the network (WiFi only) then these aren't deal breakers for you. The Air's flash hard drive is smaller, so keep that in mind if you are planning on saving lots of photos on your computer.

Now for the MacBook Pro... this machine comes with Firewire and Thunderbolt ports in addition to the USB, mainly for accessories as well as the CD/DVD drive. The Pro also comes with a better processor and larger (but slower) hard drive, of course you can always splurge for the solid state drive for better performance.

These two machine are also quite close in cost, so the features of one may be considered a wash for just $200, that call is up to you.

Well, it is past my bed time and I'm sure this could use a good proof-reading, but I'm wrapping up a server upgrade and going to bed. Best of luck, feel free to post specific questions, I'll try to answer them the best I can.