Conquering Common Computer Fears: Inside the Hard Drive

The ‘mystery’ of what is inside a computer is not a mystery at all, yet many people are afraid to open the hard drive and take a look at what’s inside. If you open one up, you will discover that the case is simply a repository of plug in places, holders and ‘bays’ for the various components that make a computer. Many of these parts can be upgraded or changed (“changed-out” is the technician’s term) by the user with no particular technical skill whatever.

Conquering Common Computer Fears: Inside the Hard Drive

Conquering Common Computer Fears: Inside the Hard Drive

This is not a guide to building your own computer. That does, I believe, require a level of expertise that the average user may well not have. Rather, this is about venturing into that box that contains the working components of your computer to alter, exchange or upgrade some of the more common and easy to install components. It is a way to begin to become the master of your machine!

These activities include making changes in the following areas/devices:

Hard Drives:

These are the components that are the storage memory of your machine. All of your programs (software) and saved work are stored in these devices so as to always be available to you. They fill up over time and if you use the same computer for a period of years, the need to either upgrade or add a Hard Drive is likely. They can be a small as 30 or 60 GBs or as large as several hundred GBs. (The drives used internally are all a standard size, no matter what their capacity.) They install simply into ‘bays’ located on the front face of your ‘box’ and although many computers (desk tops) come with one installed, there is frequently a second available bay to install another one should you wish to.

The installation is as easy as screwing in two simple side brackets, sliding it into place, and connecting three simple cable plug-in connection. Be sure that if you get another Hard Drive, that it is the same type as the first (generally SATA or IDE.)


Random Access Memory is the memory used while you are actually doing something with your computer. Generally speaking, the more of it you have installed (not to exceed the computer’s defined limit), the faster your computer will run. It comes in two basic varieties, either free standing units or in necessarily matched pairs. Replacing (or adding RAM) is easy. The units are long, narrow plastic circuit boards that simply snap into place in your computer.

Be sure, though, that you get RAM cards to install that are the specific type and specifications needed by your computer. There are MANY types. Check your computer’s manual or the manufacturer’s online site to be sure you get the correct type, speed and configuration.

Optical Drives:

These are the units that read and/or write data from or to CDs and DVDs. All computers come with the ‘bay’ space for at least one but most can accommodate two. Removal or installation of one is quite easy as they just plug into the space available and require, generally, only a single connection to be set. It’s pretty obvious once you look inside.

Computers, especially inexpensive ones, often come with optical drives that will read but will not write (‘burn’) a disk. You may want to change out what came with your machine for one you can use to create disks of your own. I recently changed out one for another that allows for “LightScribe” labeling of the disks I create. Lots of possibilities exist.

Other Adaptors, Connectors or Devices:

All computers have sound and most have video ‘cards.’ These devices can simply be unplugged and replaced. Likewise, you may want some kind of plug connection that your machine did not come with (Firewire, more USB ports, etc.) There is space, general at the back of the ‘box’ near the bottom of middle where there are easily identifiable spaces to simply ‘plug to install’ any of these devices.

Again, as was the case in the discussion about Hard Drives, all devices will not work in all computers, so be sure to do a little research online OR take the box into a local computer store, tell them what you want to do and let them show you what parts will work with your machine.

Any or all of the above modifications can be done by an average person with a small Phillips head screwdriver and some time and patience. Any or all of them will serve two important purposes. Firstly, the change(s) will make your computer more the way you want/need it to be and, perhaps equally importantly, 2) will increase your technical self-esteem and get you over that common fear of going ‘into the box.’