The extensive customizability of hardware today gives consumers various options regarding the parts that go into their computers. What’s more, they can mount this hardware in a range of configurations and form factors. Take hard drives, for instance.
- Should Hard Drives Be Horizontal or Vertical?
- How To Properly Mount Your Hard Drive
- What’s the Best Hard Drive Orientation?
- Factors To Consider When Mounting Hard Drives
- Setting Up Your Newly Mounted Hard Drive for Use
Hard drives can be mounted vertically or horizontally with any side facing upwards, downwards, leftwards, or rightwards. Their orientation will not affect their performance or longevity. However, some manufacturers specifically recommend against installing drives at tilted angles.
In this article, I’ll review the procedure for correctly mounting various storage devices inside your computer and explain what you should and shouldn’t do.
By the end, you’ll be well-equipped to replace or add drives to your machine.
Should Hard Drives Be Horizontal or Vertical?
How To Properly Mount Your Hard Drive
Hard drives come in various forms, requiring different connections. They also have significantly different capabilities. You can choose from HDDs and SSDs, 3.5 and 2.5-inch (88.9 and 63.5 mm) drives, SATA, M.2, and PCIe.
Understandably, it can be confusing for a novice to determine what drives to purchase and how to mount them.
In the following sections, I’ll cover the broad gamut of hard drive options available so you will know how to mount a disk, no matter which option you’re pursuing.
In doing so, I’ll show that orientation is not a factor to consider in installation.
Installing 3.5 And 2.5 Inch Drives
Although other form factors do exist, the vast majority of consumers today continue to use either traditional Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) in a 3.5-inch (88.9 mm) form factor or newer Solid State Drives (SSDs) in a 2.5-inch (63.5 mm) form factor.
M.2 and PCIe-connected SSDs remain expensive and are used by relatively few people, although they increase in popularity yearly.
So before we explain how to mount these newer types of devices, let’s consider the mounting options for the SATA-connected drives that continue to dominate the market.
In the same bays, 3.5 and 2.5-inch (88.9 and 63.5 mm) SATA drives are housed inside your computer cabinet. The design of bays allows either kind of drive to fit into the same slot in a tight fit.
Drive bays and cages can vary from case to case and manufacturer to manufacturer. Typically, however, they are located at the front and bottom of a case, close to the intake fans and away from other heat-generating components inside your machine.
Most often, bays are positioned for drives to be mounted horizontally, parallel to the base of the cabinet. Additionally, many believe mounting HDDs with their Printed Circuit Board (PCB) facing downward reduces dust accumulation on the more sensitive PCB face of the drive.
That’s why mounting disks horizontally with the PCB side faced down is the most common way to install a traditional hard drive.
However, some compact cases also come with vertical mounting options. Moreover, mounting drives vertically is very common in enterprise servers. Both instances suggest that mounting drives vertically should not cause them physical damage or limit their lifespan or performance.
In most cases, drive connectors face rearward. However, enthusiast-level cases now come in options allowing you to route cables behind the motherboard for neater cabling.
Such cases may also allow options to customize drive location and orientation for optimum airflow and simplified cable management.
Installing M.2 And PCIe Drives
If anything, the solid-state technologies and minimal profiles of M.2 and PCIe drives make the orientation of hard drives even less crucial.
These drives are enabled by more sophisticated protocols that require them to use more advanced interfaces. In most cases, the locations of these interfaces on your motherboard will determine how a hard drive needs to be oriented.
M.2 and PCIe-connected SSD Drives are significantly smaller than SATA-connected SSD drives. They’re closer in size to a stick of chewing gum than a bar of chocolate.
M.2 and PCIe slots are clearly designated on your motherboard.
The M.2 slot is about an inch (25.4 mm) wide and protrudes a quarter of an inch (6.35 mm) off the board.
While the location varies from board to board, they are usually on the lower half below the CPU and beside the PCIe slot.
There may be multiple M.2 slots on your board with varying capabilities. You should consult your motherboard manufacturer’s manual to see which slots you should use.
PCIe slots are the elongated raised RAM seating-like slots that run parallel to your graphics card’s slot. Again, consult your motherboard manufacturer’s manual to see which slots you should use.
Hard Drive Orientation
In either case, the slot locations and connectors will determine the orientation of your hard drives, and you do not need to consider any additional factors in their placement.
Ensure the drives are fit in the correct slot and firmly locked, and you should be good to go.
Setting Up Your M.2 And PCIe Drives
Setting up your drives within your computer’s operating system will follow the same process as outlined for SATAs.
Following the earlier process will ensure your drives are up and running quickly.
What’s the Best Hard Drive Orientation?
Most consumers will not need to apply much thought to installation. Their cases will contain fixed bays and cages; their only choice is which face of their drive should face upward and which downward.
Drive manufacturers have explicitly stated that either orientation is acceptable. So, in this case, you can fix your hard drive any way you choose.
You will, however, need to firmly secure drives and ensure your computer is on a stable surface when turned on to ensure that individual drives do not move when in operation.
These instructions are more critical in the case of traditional HDDs, which have spinning platters.
SSDs should also be firmly secured, but their lack of moving parts makes damage from movement less likely.
Many users also believe that hard drive orientation should not be changed once a drive has been used for some time.
It is unclear why this might be the case, but since there is no good reason to change orientation once you’ve begun using a drive, it’s worth keeping in mind.
Of course, if you’re looking to install a drive in a laptop, you will likely have even fewer options. And as laptops get lighter and thinner, the options for mounting disks in different orientations are further reduced.
In cases with greater customizability, you can install drives vertically or horizontally.
Similarly, installing drives with any side facing upward, downward, right, or leftwards will not make a difference in driving performance and longevity.
Factors To Consider When Mounting Hard Drives
A drive’s orientation makes so little difference to its performance and health that it makes little difference in your chosen orientation.
However, you’ll need to ensure the drive is level and firmly secured, with enough air circulation and tight connections.
Drive bays usually accommodate four screws per drive, although many these days are also toolless: you only need to slide a drive in place until it locks to secure it. In either case, ensure that drives are fitted tightly into their bays and will not move once in place.
Heat Build-Up And Dissipation
If you have greater choice in orienting your drives, heat build-up and dissipation is the major additional factor to consider. Here, drive placement can have a minor impact on the temperatures inside your computer.
In turn, higher temperatures can lower the overall performance of your computer and damage delicate electronic components.
Place your drives in an orientation that allows for the best air circulation inside your case. Usually, this will involve coordinating their installation with intake and exhaust fans.
The goal is no drive blocking a fan and a smooth airflow through the case from the intake fans to the exhaust vents.
Similarly, if you have additional free bays, allocate as much free space between individual drives as possible. This way, drives will stay cooler and perform better. Positioning drives as close to intake fans is also a good idea.
Case size and preallocated mounting options determine hard drive placement for most computer users. If you fall in this category, pick any drive bay that allows for convenient cabling, and you are ready.
Once drives have been fitted, you must connect the appropriate cables so they can communicate with your computer’s motherboard and draw power from its Power Supply Unit (PSU).
Both connections use SATA cables. Plugging them in is pretty straightforward. All you have to do is ensure the connections are tight and your cables are not obstructing any other components.
Setting Up Your Newly Mounted Hard Drive for Use
Once you’ve mounted the drive and connected all its cables, close your case, boot your system, and open its BIOS/EUFI by pressing the “DEL” or “F2” keys after powering up. The new one should show up in the BIOS or EUFI.
If your drive is not showing up, there may be a problem with an individual cable, port, or drive. You must shut down your computer, open its case and secure the connection or try a different port and cable.
Once your BIOS or EUFI has recognized the drive, proceed to your desktop. You will now need to format and partition the drive before using it.
To format a drive on a Windows machine, follow these simple steps:
- Go to Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Create and format hard disk partitions.
- Right-click on the unallocated space of the new disk and select New Simple Volume from the contextual menu.
- Use the Wizard that opens to allocate partition size and a disk letter.
- Choose NTFS as the file system (if you want the drive to work on both Windows and Apple machines, choose exFAT instead).
- Give the new drive a name.
- Check the Quick Format option in the dialogue box.
- Click Next, followed by Finish, and wait as Windows formats your new drive.
To format a drive on an Apple computer, follow these simple steps:
- Simultaneously hold down the CMD and Spacebar keys to open the search and then type in Disk Utility to open the program.
- Select the drive you wish to format, name it, and choose the Erase option from the buttons on the top of the Disk Utility program window (this will format it in the HFS file format).
- With the drive still selected, now choose the Partition option.
- Allocate space and click on Apply.
- If you wish to use the drive on Windows and Mac computers, skip steps 2 to 4.
- Instead, select it, name it, choose exFAT as the file system, and press Erase to finish formatting it.
- Your new drive should now be ready to use.
Note that the discussion so far has only dealt with SATA-connected drives. However, with flash storage’s increasing popularity and affordability, traditional HDDs are on their way out.
The faster speeds of M.2 and PCIe-connected flash storage suggest that even SSDs may eventually move away from the larger form factor.
You can mount hard drives vertically or horizontally; they will perform just as well and last as long.
Ensure drives are firmly secured and correctly connected before you use them. Where possible, ensure they are not obstructing airflow inside your computer.
The newest drive formats offer less flexibility in installation. If you’re installing an M.2 or PCIe SSD, you may have no choice in which way it is oriented.