Computer Support - Keeping Your Mobile Customers Mobile

In recent years, notebook prices have dropped significantly and notebook performance is rapidly approaching that of streamline desktop computers. These two factors have contributed to popularizing notebook computers more than ever before. More notebooks in the hands of customers means more notebooks that you'll have to support. For example, when it comes time to replace a notebook's primary hard drive or install a secondary hard drive in a removable module bay, will you have the necessary skills?

Getting more bang for the buck

Although 5400 RPM hard drives are readily available, most new notebook computers today ship with 4200 RPM hard drives. If you need to replace a primary hard drive in a notebook computer, you should consider installing a 5400 RPM unit. You can then move the existing 4200 RMP drive to a removable module bay as a secondary drive.

In this article, we're going to walk you through the steps you'll need to perform successful notebook hard drive installations. First, we'll show you how to replace the primary hard drive. Then, we'll show you how to install a secondary hard drive in a modular bay. Along the way, you'll see that aside from notebook chassis itself, installing an IDE hard drive in a notebook computer is similar to installing one in a desktop computer. For example, Figure A shows the back of a typical notebook hard drive. As you can see, it has a set of configuration pins and an IDE interface connector, just like that of a standard desktop hard drive.

Figure A: Notebooks hard drives have configuration pins and an IDE interface connector.

Before you begin

When you're replacing hard drives on a desktop computer, it's relatively easy to determine how your IDE devices are currently configured, i.e. Which ones are masters and which ones are slaves. The computer's CMOS on a desktop computer reports this information and you can see the device configuration during the device detection phase at startup.

On notebook computers, it isn't quite so easy. First, some notebook manufacturers display a bitmap logo during startup, preventing you from seeing what's going on during the device detection phase. Secondly, the CMOS on a notebook computer may only tell which IDE devices are installed, not necessarily how the devices are configured. For example, the CMOS may report only that a CD-R/RW is installed in the modular bay; it may not report whether the device is configured as a master or as a slave.

Before you begin replacing a hard drive, you should verify the notebook's current IDE configuration. Surprisingly, even Microsoft Windows XP's System Information utility won't give you that information. In all likelihood, you'll need to resort to using a third-party utility. HWINFO32, which you can download from, is one such utility. As you can see in Figure B, it clearly reports the selected device's master/slave configuration.

Now's a good time to visit the notebook manufacturer's Web site to see if the notebook's service manual is available as a download. The service manual provides detailed information on replacing parts and outlines any service procedures that are unique to the notebook. If possible, print the appropriate sections of the service manual and have them next to you as you work.

Figure B: Before you begin work, verify the notebook's current IDE Configurations.

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