Being a tight-wad, on a limited budget, I’ve always had to find ways of getting the most out of any equipment I own for my money. As far as computers are concerned, that entails building my own, or upgrading and maintaining computers as far as is feasibly possible.
When it was time to upgrade my ailing laptop last October, which had been through two hard drives, two memory upgrades and three operating systems, I plumped for the Lenovo x121e.
For me, this laptop sports the perfect blend of portability and spec, for a very reasonable price… to be honest, it was probably the very reasonable price that made the decision for me. Another attribute of this laptop is the ease which it can be upgraded.
So far I’ve installed 8GB RAM and an Ericsson F3507g mobile broadband card, leaving only the hard disk left to upgrade. Unfortunately, due to the slim dimensions of the X121e, only 7mm drives fit, which made upgrading to an SSD a bit too rich for my blood… that is until Crucial launched a 7mm variant of their budget M4 SSD.
Anyway, I thought I’d write up a quick step-by-step guide on the process of upgrading. the process should be very similar for any other laptop or netbook. The process will only differ in the way parts of the laptop/netbook are accessed.
Step 1 – Getting everything ready…
The upgrade process will require a small amount of equipment. In order to clone the hard disk within the laptop, a cheap USB to SATA caddy or enclosure is a good option. i’d recommend this over a dedicated transfer kit as you can then use the hard disk out of your laptop as a handy external USB drive. The enclosure I purchased from Novatech also includes a small Phillips head screwdriver, which is also a necessary tool.
Before you begin, you will need to download and install some software to clone the hard drive in your laptop. For this walk-through I will be using Macrium Reflect, mainly because it’s free for personal use. I like free… even more than I like inexpensive.
Step 2 – Connecting everything up and preparing the SSD
First of all, you will need to connect up the cable that came with the enclosure. Most enclosures come wiht a Y-cable that requires two USB ports to provide enough power for the hard drive or SSD. Although it may work with just one, it’s best practice to connect both to ensure the process goes smoothly (and you don’t brick your shiny new SSD). then connect the SATA connector from the enclosure to the SSD and connect it to the USB cable.
The first time the drive is connected, it will not be picked up automatically by Windows. In order for Windows to see it, you will need to initialise the drive in Windows Disk Management. This can be found by right-clicking ‘My Computer’ and selecting ‘Manage’. User Account Control will ask for confirmation before allowing you to proceed.
Once the computer management window is open, select Disk Management from the left hand pane. Now you should be able to see both drives, but the new SSD will show as Unallocated Space. Right click the unallocated space and select ‘New Simple Volume’. This will open a dialogue for formatting the disk, so Windows can see it.
Step 3 – Cloning the disk
Open Macrium Reflect Free (or download and install it, if you haven’t already). You should be greeted with two disks in the main window. Select the first disk and click ‘Clone this disk’. After clicking next a few times, you’ be greeted with a progress window, like this…
This window will be there for quite a while, and is best left undisturbed. Go and make a coffee or something…
On my laptop, the cloning process took about an hour. When it’s done, Macrium reflect will greet you with this:
Step 4 – Replacing the old HDD with the new SSD
When dealing with internal parts of may computer, it’s best to err on the side of safety. I’d recommend taking the battery out of your laptop, and holding the power button for a couple of seconds to reduce the chance of there being any residual charge left in the machine. The next step is to remove the cover so the internal hard disk can be accessed.
Remember the tiny screwdriver that came with the Novatech Enclosure? You’ll need that now. On my Lenovo X121e, only three screws need to be removed then all upgradeable internal components can be accessed. This may differ from laptop to laptop, so it’s probably best to check the manufacturer’s website for specific instructions.
Once opened, the hard drive needs to be removed. On my laptop, a metal retainer with two screws holds the hard drive in place. Removing these screws allows the hard disk to be slid out of the SATA connector.
With the old hard disk removed, all that is left to do is transfer the retainer onto the SSD and replace it into the laptop.
Et voila. Screw everything back into place and start up the laptop. If the firmware on the SSD needs updating (as the Crucial M4 I have did) then it pays to check the manufacturer’s site for any updates.
Step 5 – What to do with the old hard disk
The great thing about using an enclosure to transfer data, rather than one of those specialised transfer kits, is that you can now make good use of the old drive.
One issue faced with the Lenovo X121e and the 7mm drives it takes is that no enclosures appear to be made that slim yet. to get around this, I used a fold piece of Jay cloth to pack out the gap between the enclosure wall and the hard disk, just to ensure that it’s not flopping around loose inside the enclosure.
If you are doing this, make sure that none of the breather holes on the HDD are covered up by the packing material and everything should be fine. Connect up the enclosure to your computer, format the disk and you also have a shiny new external hard disk, for a bit of extra storage.