Should Hard Drives Be Horizontal Or Vertical?

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.

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. 

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. 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.

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. 

Mounting Options 

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 have 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.

Factors To Consider When Mounting Hard Drives

A hard drive is being mounted inside a computer.

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.

Proper Fit

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 are the major additional factors 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.

Convenient Cabling

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.