How To Install An SSD

Putting in an M.2 or SATA SSD on your desktop is a basic part of building a PC or a simple way to make your PC run faster. Thankfully, installing an SSD is easier than choosing the best one or figuring out how it works. These aren’t things I’ll go into here, but I will show you how to run both types.

These steps can be used with almost any model. First, I’ll talk about the M.2 SSD because it needs a little more care during installation, and there are some things you should think about ahead of time.

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How to install an M.2 SSD in a desktop PC

An M.2 SSD looks like a stick of chewing gum with chips on one side, a label on the other, and gold contacts at one end. Some will install just like that. Some will come with their own heat sinks and look more like a pack of gum than a stick of gum. Some motherboards will have a shield for the M.2 slot, and you’ll have to shimmy the drive underneath it. We’ll cover all the forms below.

Step 1: Find the M.2 slot

Find the M.2 slot on your processor to start. This hole sticks out about a quarter of an inch from the motherboard and is about an inch wide. Your motherboard model may tell you a different place, but popular places are below the CPU and around the PCIe slots in the bottom half of the board. If you can’t find it, look in the instructions that came with your motherboard.

Some motherboards have a shield for the M.2 slot already installed. This shield can help keep the motherboard cool and look nice. This shield needs to be taken off before you can get to the M.2 spot.

If your motherboard can handle two M.2 SSDs, check the manual to see which slot is best for putting your boot drive. Each slot might have a different amount of performance, and using one slot could stop a PCIe slot from working. So, reading the instructions first is very important.

Step 2: Find the M.2 Mounting System

Find the screw that is put into a standoff about three inches to the left of the M.2 slot. A space between the SSD and the hardware is kept by the standoff, which keeps the drive flat.

There may be a screw or standoff in the box that comes with your motherboard if your motherboard doesn’t have them. Find and tighten two screws if your motherboard has an M.2 screen on it so you can attach it to the motherboard.

Step 3: Get ready to install the M.2 SSD

Touch a metal object, like a metal furniture leg, to ground yourself and get rid of any static electricity. After that, get a screwdriver. Leave the screw off the standoff and store it somewhere safe to keep it from getting lost or broken.

If your motherboard has a shield, unscrew it from the motherboard while paying close attention to the bottom, where a thermal pad should be protected with a piece of plastic. Put the shield somewhere safe for now; don’t take off the plastic yet.

Make sure the offset is in the right place for the size of your M.2 SSD, which is usually 80 millimeters. Using pliers, make any necessary changes to the standoff and make sure it is put in securely—not too tight, just snug.

On systems with shields, there should be a square brace for the drive to rest on while the shield holds it in place.

Step 4: Put the M.2 SSD in place

Make sure the edge of the M.2 SSD with the gold contact points lines up with the slot before you put it in. There is a small notch that separates the contact points into two parts. Line up this notch with a similar notch inside the M.2 slot so that the drive’s top is looking up. Put the drive in tightly at an angle of about 15 degrees until it is locked in place.

For systems that have a screw and a standoff, press down on the drive to make sure it sits flat and lines up the half-circle notch with the standoff. Holding the drive flat, put the screw in and tighten it until it feels right, being careful not to tighten it too much.

Hold down the drive while putting the shield over it in devices that have shields. Make sure the shield is dropped straight onto the drive. If you move it after it has stuck, the thermal pad could make the drive slide. Get a friend to help you hold the SSD flat while you level and tighten the screws if you need to.

As soon as the screws are lined up, lower the shield into place and make sure the screws are tight but not too tight.
Last Words on Installing an M.2 SSD

One last thing to keep in mind is that some M.2 SSDs have their own heat sink built in. The heat sink on the Adata XPG Gammix S70 drive we looked at was so big that it was hard to install. The ones we’ve tried are mostly less annoying.

You shouldn’t put the shield on your CPU over the heatsink that came with it. The shield should be kept somewhere safe in case you need it again.

How to put in a 2.5-inch SATA SSD

Let’s put in a 2.5-inch SATA SSD next. This process depends a lot more on the PC case you use and where you want to put it, so there are a lot of different options.

We won’t give you a real step-by-step guide, but we will talk about the basics that will work for any system. I’ll say it again: I’m assuming you already have a drive. If not, check out our list of the best SSDs.

Putting the drive in a drive cage or attaching it to the case itself are the two most popular ways to put the drive in a PC. Most drive cages have a way to connect the drive to the tray, which then slides into the cage.

Screwing the drive to the metal or putting the drive in a tray first and then attaching it are both ways to mount it to the case. No matter what, make sure you have enough wire length to safely run the cables inside the case.

Installing a 2.5-inch SATA SSD: Required cables

If you want to add a 2.5-inch SATA SSD, you will always need two things: a SATA data cable and a SATA power cable. A SATA data cable is built into most motherboards and is used to send data from the drive to the computer. Look for a long, thin, flat wire that might have an L-shaped plug on the end.

The SATA power cable, which gives the drive power, will come with the power source. It normally has more than one connector.

Putting in a 2.5-inch SATA SSD: Connecting the cables

You will need to always have both wires connected and locked to the SSD in order to use it. It might be easier to plug in the cables before you place the drive, depending on where you put it in the case.

It is easy to connect both cords. Just find the end of the drive with the connections and note that there are two of them. The communication cable goes into the shorter port, and the power cable goes into the longer port. If you look closely, you can see that each port is marked with a small notch that shows which way the wire should go in.

There is only one way to put the cables in, so make sure they are lined up and push them in tightly. The interface cable has a simple locking system that makes a quiet click sound when it is entered. It’s important to press the power wire all the way in to make sure it stays in place.

Connecting the 2.5-inch SATA SSD to the motherboard

After that, you’ll need to connect the wire to the motherboard. Most likely, you’ll have more than one port to pick from, so now is another time to look at your manual.

Find the text that talks about the SATA ports on your hardware. You should connect to the SATA 6Gbps ports to get the most out of your SSD, but the slower 3Gbps ports will also work.

In this picture, you can see that this motherboard has six SATA 6G ports, which are arranged in three sets of two ports each. Of course, you’ll want to use the ports in the order they’re listed, so if the list starts at 1, pick that one and find the port on the computer that goes with it.

The speed should be the same on any PC that is even slightly new, but on an older PC, the first port is usually the fastest. It can be hard to tell which number is which when the ports are stacked like this, so just take your time and look closely. If you push this wire in far enough, you will hear a soft click that lets you know it is securely in place.

Putting in a 2.5-inch SATA SSD: The last few words

Some SATA data ports have plugs that are shaped like the letter L, as shown below.

You can use the L-shaped plug when you need to be discreet so the wire doesn’t get caught on something. The L-shaped wires and the straight cables both work the same way.

Most likely, the SATA power cord will have more than one port on it. This lets you connect more than one drive or other device to the same wire.

Which plug you use will depend on how long the cord needs to be in order to plug in the drive and whether it needs to reach other ports as well. There is no difference between the plugs in how they work.

Here’s a Windows 10 tip at last! At the time of installing Windows, you might not know which drive is which if you are putting both an M.2 and a SATA SSD.

You can get around that by unplugging the SATA SSD while you install Windows. This way, you can only use the faster NVMe SSD to install Windows. Once everything is working, connect the SATA drive again, reset it, and you’re all set.