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Cramped PC, even though you had hectares of room last year?
Add an extra hard drive and widen your vistas again...
Simon Williams shows you how

Note: while many of the problems associated with fitting a second drive are common to all operating systems, some of the solutions described here are peculiar to Windows XP


Although several gigabytes of hard drive space may have been enough even a year ago, it's amazing how quickly you can use it up with applications like digital photography, personal video recording and DV editing. Before you start feeling too penned in, try adding an extra hard drive to your PC. There are three main ways to do this.

The Easy Way…

By far the easiest way is to add an external hard drive by plugging one into an available FireWire or USB2 port. The original USB standard isn't fast enough to run a hard drive, but the newer USB2 is as quick as FireWire and will do fine. Firewire 2 and Serial ATA (SATA) external drives are appearing now, too.

Most external drives need no special software, you simply connect them to a power supply and plug-in their FireWire or USB2 cables. You can do this even with your PC switched on. If you are using Windows XP, the operating system will recognise the new drive and assign it a letter. Before you can use the new drive, you’ll probably need to format it, but this is just a question of right-clicking on its icon and selecting Format. Some drives come pre-formatted, so check with your drive’s manual.

From then on, you can use the new drive in exactly the same way as your internal hard drive, making use of all the extra space it provides. Simply click on its icon within My Computer.

Nearly as easy…

If you want to fit a new drive inside your PC and simply want it to store more data, you can fit a second, internal IDE hard drive as a ‘slave’ to your main ‘master’ one. It’s usually just a question of plugging the second plug on the cable running between your system board and master hard drive, into the back of your new slave drive.

Once you’ve connected the data cable and plugged a spare power lead into your new drive, you’ll need to swap a couple of ‘jumpers’ on the back of both drives to set them up for the new, two-drive configuration. This is explained below.

When you re-start your PC, Windows XP should again recognise your newly added drive, but this time you will almost certainly need to format it before you can start to use it. Do this as you would with an external drive, by right-clicking on its icon and selecting Format.

If your existing hard drive is divided into more than one partition with, for example, hard drives C: and D: shown on your PC, even though it has only one physical drive, then Windows XP fits your new drive in as the next available letter, E:, moving any subsequent drives, such as CD-RW or DVD, down the alphabet.

Nearly as easy as ‘Nearly as easy’…

New hard drives are nearly always quicker than old ones, as the technology advances and improvements are made. When adding a new hard drive, therefore, you may want to start-up and run Windows XP from it to see the full benefits of the extra performance. To do this, you'll need to move the operating system from your existing hard drive onto the new one.

While it's possible to do this without software help, it's only really a job for the terminal geek. It's much better to invest in specialist software, specifically designed to transfer your operating system between hard drives. There are several products which do this, including Acronis MigrateEasy (also available as part of Acronis True Image 8).

This program and others like it offer guidance in transferring the operating system and all files from one drive to another, taking care of even those which are normally hidden under Windows XP and form integral parts of its operation. Upgrade utilities take care of some of the more intricate parts of the operation, such as when to change your old drive from master to slave and your new one from slave to master.

The basic procedure is to connect the new drive as a slave to the first one, copy all files over to it and then switch the two drives, so the PC start-ups from the new one. You can then reformat the old drive and reuse it for new files.

When fitting a new drive, the BIOS in your PC should recognise it automatically, but some older BIOSes may need you to force them to scan and auto-detect your new internal drive. They should then pick up the exact drive type and specification of your new device.

HOW TO: Add A Hard Drive In Three Easy Steps...


Step One

With your PC switched off, remove the side panel and locate your existing hard drive. Fit the new drive in a nearby drive bay, so that the second connector on the hard drive data cable can reach it


Step Two

Set the jumpers - miniature connectors - on the back of both drives, so one is master and the other slave. The jumper positions vary between models, but are usually shown in a label on the body of the drive


Step Three

Connect the data cable to the back of the new drive and take a spare power lead (there should be several hanging from the power supply) to the new drive’s power connector. That completes the physical installation

External options

Adding an external hard drive gives you the widest choice of different devices. There are portable and desktop drives available, though the portable ones use 2.5-inch platters, rather than the 3.5-inch ones in conventional desktop ones. This limits their size and makes them more expensive than standard IDE drives.

Both types require extra circuitry inside their cases, to enable them to connect through Firewire or USB2 ports. Companies offering directly connected drives like this include Amacom and Lacie. You can take the external hard drive route further though, using a cartridge-based drive, such as Iomega's Peerless.

This drive uses removable cartridges in a vertical holster, so you can swap drives, hot-plugging them even when your PC's switched on. This is a very good solution if you want extra storage and a fast back-up medium, too. The ruggedised cartridges can be bought separately.

Another advantage of external drives is that you can take your data with you. Moving from work to home and back with a pocketable hard drive means you can have access to all your documents, without having to lug a whole laptop to and fro. You lose little of the speed of data transfer you're used to on your desktop, either.

Going Further...

Don’t be woolly on jumpers

It is not uncommon after adding a second hard drive to find that your PC won’t start up again. If this happens to you, the first thing you should do is: DON’T PANIC! The second thing you should do is take a look at the jumpers…

The jumpers are the small metal connectors which slide over miniature pins on the back of a hard drive. They are used to select various different functions. The most likely reason for a PC failing to boot up after installing a second drive is that the jumpers on the back of one or both drives are set incorrectly.

There are typically four settings a hard drive can take. If you have just one drive fitted to your PC, it's likely to be set to ‘One drive only’, but when you add a second drive this needs to be changed.

If you’re adding the new drive for extra data, but leaving Windows XP installed on the original drive, set the jumper on the old drive to ‘Master’. This means this drive is the one that will be used to start up the PC and load the operating system. On your newly added drive you should set the jumper to ‘Slave’, meaning that this is a secondary drive which will be used to store data. If, however, you've moved the operating system onto the new drive, that should be set to Master and the old drive to Slave. You can ignore the CSEL, or Cable Select, setting, which requires a special cable which very few PCs use.

Copyright © 2005 Simon Williams

Simon Williams Simon Williams has been an IT journalist for more than twenty years, specialising in hardware of all varieties

June 2005



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