Upsizing a hard drive

A few months ago, I replaced my Media Center machine with a new Dell E521. It came with a 160GB hard drive (not enough given that this system has two TV tuners and is constantly recording). I briefly considered paying Dell for an upgraded drive. But then I looked at the upgrade prices and said no:


Yeah, it didn’t make sense to pay $220 for a 500GB drive when bare drives that size are going for $129.

So tonight I decided to replace that 160GB drive with a 500GB Seagate drive I bought from Newegg. Some observations:

  • I put the new drive in a Vantec eSATA/USB enclosure, plugged it in, and used the drive cloning feature in Acronis TrueImage Home 10 to transfer everything from old drive to new. (You can save about $13 by buying it at Amazon.)
  • The Acronis software worked perfectly. It took roughly a half-hour to clone the drive and make it bootable.
  • Dell’s BTX cases make the upgrade really easy as well. The side of the case pops off with no tools, the plastic drive holder snaps on and off with no tools, and SATA cabling is so much easier to work with than the old IDE ribbon cables. Given the design of the Dell case, it helps to have a cable with a right-angle connector.

All in all, this may have been the easiest upgrade I’ve ever done. The whole job took less than an hour, and my involvement required only five minutes at the beginning and two minutes at the end. Total cost was significantly less than the upgrade cost from Dell, and I have a 160GB drive that I can use in any system with a SATA controller.

8 thoughts on “Upsizing a hard drive

  1. Ed:
    When I install new or replacement hard drives in a media center PC I opt for acoustically-tuned drives. They are not the highest performing drives but are quieter, which I believe is a better choice for a Media Center PC. They also cost more than regular OEM drives. I typically use either Maxtor Quickview or Seagate 35DB models.

  2. I’ve upsized drives using a similar technique (external cage) and a program from Terabyte Unlimited called BootIt Next Generation (which also works a a boot manager and a very good one). I’ll probably need to do this at some point to upgrade my existing 160GB media-storage drive (music, etc.) which is rapidly getting maxed-out.

    I’m wondering if you have specific preferences about drives — Western Digital vs. Seagate, etc…

  3. Jim, I agree. Although memory upgrades are usually much easier. There’s a lot more effort involved in moving data and programs from one hard drive to another. The physical part of the upgrade has gotten much easier with SATA (no jumpers, cables that are easy to work with) but the data part trips up or at least intimidates the average user.

    In my life I’ve noticed the same phenomenon with homebuilders, automakers, and other companies that produce complex products. They make their best profit margins on the add-ins and add-ons. And sometimes they get you because you just don’t want the hassle.

    Example: If you’re building a new house, you can get the upgraded cabinets from the builder at a huge markup over what it would cost you to buy them yourself and pay someone to install them. And you would have to buy cheap cabinets, have the builder install them, then rip out them out yourself to install the upgraded ones. The builder knows this, so they go for maximum profit here.

    Same thing with Dell and hard drives.

  4. Hey, Ed, I have to tell you that I find memory a little intimidating myself. Making sure I get something that will not only work, but will perform at its best is not as easy as it used to be. For that matter, the last time I built a PC, selecting the CPU, chipset, memory, and motherboard was a real Rubik’s Cube of options and blind alleys.

    (And, by the way, I’m a firm believer in using Crutchfield and Home Depot for add-ons to cars and houses respectively.)

  5. I did something similar when I had to replace a dying 8GB hard drive on my wifes old (we were the fourth owners) desktop computers.

    I used the Acronis Migrate Easy 7.0 15-day trial and you can read about it at Upgrad to a new hard drive. Unfortunately the first replacement hard drive also failed on me, but it was still within the 15-day free trial, so I grabbed the old drive again and found a newer replacement hard drive.

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