What’s the right hard drive for my computer?

A reader sends in the following question:

The main hard drive in my desktop computer has failed. I still have the old drive, but I don’t know what a suitable replacement will be. What do I look for?

Generally, any hard drive from a major manufacturer will do.  Any major computer retail store should be able to help you to find a replacement. Make it easy, and take the hard drive with you to the store.

If you want a little more knowledge about hard drive considerations here are some hard drive basics to consider.

  • Data Cable
  • Capacity
IDE Ribbon

IDE Ribbon

Data cable: This refers to the cable used to connect the drive to the motherboard. A typical computer uses either an IDE or SATA connection. (Note: IDE drives are also called PATA drives.)

  • An IDE or PATA drive will have a 2 inch wide connector at either end of its cable. The cable often looks like a two inch flat ribbon.
  • A SATA drive has a small half-inch connector at either end of its similarly thin cable.
SATA connector

SATA connector

So if your old hard drive has a two inch wide connection on it, its an IDE drive, and you will need another IDE drive to replace it. If it has a 1/2 inch connection on it, then you will need a SATA drive.

Capacity: This is how much the drive can hold. Today’s hard drives are measured in gigabytes, abbreviated as GB. Techies often says “gigs” instead of “gigabytes”. Most hard drives have a label on them which will tell you how many gigabytes of data they can hold.

Today 500 GB, and 1,000 GB hard drives are becoming very common and affordable, but an older computer might not be able to “recognize” or use a drive of that size. If you have an older Windows XP computer, you might find it cannot handle a hard drive larger than 137 GB. (If you’re still using Windows XP I say, “Now’s the time to get a new computer, not just a hard drive.”) If your computer was running Windows Vista or Windows 7, then hard drive capacity won’t be a problem.

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