Can You Use a Laptop Hard Drive in a Desktop? (The Complete Guide)

Lindsay Hayes

If you have a spare laptop hard drive lying around at home, you might be wondering whether you can put it into your desktop computer for some extra storage. The answer is yes. You can use a laptop hard drive in your desktop without running into any issues. The only downside is that laptop hard drives tend to have smaller capacities.

I was helping a friend of mine with a computer issue he was facing on his desktop. After we got that solved, he complained about a lack of storage space. He had some laptop hard drives that he wasn't using but expressed doubt that they were compatible. I was able to convince him that they would work, and within a few minutes, I had them installed and running!

If you've been wondering whether you can you use a laptop hard drive in a desktop computer, the answer that you're looking for, and more, are given here. Let's get right into the details.

Contents

Can I Put a Laptop HDD Inside A Desktop Computer?

If you're like me, you might have a lot of spare computer peripherals at home. Maybe you have an old notebook and you're thinking of removing the laptop's hard drive. So, can you use a laptop hard drive in a desktop?

Well, there's absolutely nothing that should stop you from using a laptop hard drive in a desktop PC. I have done it several times, and you might not need any special accessories if your case has 2.5-inch bays for hard drives.

However, for those without the perfect desktop cases, they will need to buy an inexpensive adapter to hold the laptop hard drive.

Hard Disk Drive

How To Install A Laptop Hard Drive In A Desktop PC?

If you're unfamiliar with what you need to do to get your laptop hard drive installed in your desktop PC, I will describe the basic process.

Don't worry, you can't go wrong here. As long as you know the basic internal components of your computer, you should be able to follow along quite easily. It's even simpler if you have a desktop drive already in place.

Now then, follow the steps below to put your laptop hard disk inside your computer.

1. Turn Off the Computer

Switch off your desktop PC if it's still on. Make sure it's unplugged from the power as well. It's unsafe to install accessories while it is running.

2. Open the PC Case

Open the case for your computer. How you do this depends on the kind of case you have, but with most of them, you will need to remove the screws at the back holding each side panel in place. Note that you will have to open both sides, not just one.

3. Check if the case supports 2.5-inch drives

You should be able to see the bracket that holds the desktop HDD. Are there any smaller brackets near it? If so, your case likely supports a 2.5 HDD.

However, if you can't tell, it's best to purchase a special bracket to allow you to use a laptop HDD in a regular hard drive slot. You can get one that includes the necessary cables here or one without them here .

4. Mount the Laptop Drive

If you need to buy a bracket, it's best to fix the laptop HDD to the bracket before mounting it inside the computer.

If your computer hardware supports a laptop drive from the onset, you can install it directly inside the PC.

Finally, some computer cases use a drive bay that can be easily removed and inserted. These bays use clips, so you will simply need to remove the drive bay, fix the laptop's HDD, and slide it back in.

Depending on the kind of bracket you have, you can either secure the laptop hard drive using four screws from the left and right side or four screws from the underside. One tip is to put in each screw loosely before tightening any of them.

5. Insert the Bracket

Now, you need to put the bracket inside the desktop computer. If you have a slide-in drive bay, just push it in and it will click into place. This is the most convenient type.

However, if you bought a bracket, you will need to put it into one of the desktop HDD spaces in the PC case. There are holes on the side of the adapter bracket, as well as slots on the side of the bracket in the case. You will need to align four holes on the left and right sides of each, and then insert screws into them.

This part can be tough, as you will need to support the laptop hard disk with one hand while inserting the screws with the other. However, it can be done! Just be patient.

6. Plug in the SATA Data Cable and Power Cable

The final step to getting your laptop's HDD working in your desktop is to plug the cables in appropriately. Two cables will need to be put in: the SATA data cable, and the SATA power cable.

If you bought this bracket that I mentioned earlier, you'll get the necessary cables included. You can also take a look at the cables that attach to the desktop HDD that's already inside your case, for reference.

The good thing is that these SATA connectors are not the same size. One SATA cable comes off the power supply in your PC. This one connects to the smaller socket on the hard drive.

The other cable is the SATA data cable. SATA data cables connect to both the motherboard and the hard disk. You can trace where your desktop HDD connects to on the motherboard. There should be similar sockets near that point. Just pick any of them to put the laptop drive into. The other end should plug into the larger of the two sockets on the laptop's HDD.

Now, when you turn on the system, you should be able to use the laptop hard drive like any other desktop hard drive.

Black Computer Tower On The White Table

Can I Use a Laptop Hard Drive as an External USB Drive?

If you've just gone through the process of putting laptop hard drives in desktop computers, you might realize that it's out of your skill level. I tried to make the steps as simple as possible, but, understandably, it might be tough for beginners.

The good thing is that you can use a laptop hard drive as an external hard drive. This gives you extra storage for your desktop PC, which is potentially portable if you need it to be.

Most external hard drives that you buy online have 2.5 hard drives inside them, which are the same kind used by laptops. This makes it easy to turn a spare hard disk into an external drive.

How to Use a Laptop Hard Disk for Portable Storage?

If you would rather have hard drives serving as portable storage devices instead of internal components, this section is for you.

You won't need to buy much to make this work. All you need is an external enclosure. This will come with the appropriate USB adapter with a SATA interface and a USB cable.

Follow the steps below to get your laptop HDDs installed in your system:

  1. The first step is to purchase an external enclosure for your laptop SSD or HDD online. Here's a great option that uses the SATA interface (there is also the IDE interface, but you'll likely only find that on much older hard drives).
  2. All external enclosures need to be opened somehow. The one I linked above uses a sliding mechanism without screws. Some use strong clips, and others use screws. Find out how the specific one you have opens.
  3. Once you get the hard disk case open, it's time to put the 2.5 hard drive into it. Make sure that the SATA interface on the USB adapter and the hard disk aligns before pushing them firmly together. There's no need for SATA data cables with this setup.
  4. Now that the hard drive is inserted into the SATA interface on the USB adapter, you can close the enclosure.
  5. Now, plug the included USB cable into the hard drive case, and the other end into the USB port on your system.
  6. For a new 2.5 hard drive, you may need to format it before you can use it, but if you pulled it from an old laptop, you should see the files on it right away.

This is a great way to get extra storage devices to use with both laptop and desktop computers.

Are Hard Drives Between Laptop and Desktop Computers Interchangeable?

Now that we've talked about how you can use a laptop SSD or hard drive in your desktop PC build at home, you might be wondering if it also works the other way around.

Can you use a hard drive for a desktop in a laptop?

Well, the answer depends on what you mean by a desktop HDD. Most people think of the 3.5-inch form factor for hard drives when they think of those made for desktop systems. In this case, there's no way to fit one inside a laptop, so they are not compatible.

However, if you look at the 2.5 SSDs being made these days, their intended use is not exclusively in laptops. The same applies to M.2 SSDs, though not all motherboards and laptops support this form factor. They can be used in your desktop too, in which case, you can say that both laptop and desktop hard drives are interchangeable.

So, if you buy any modern hard drives in the M.2 or 2.5 form factor, you can switch them between your laptop and desktop without much hassle. 3.5-inch hard drives are just for desktops though.

Dismantled Hard Disk Drive

What Are the Different Kinds of Hard Drives?

We have mentioned many different sizes of hard drives in this article so far.

Thanks to the wide array available, it can be confusing for novices to find their footing. This section will give you a little crash course on the different hard drive types out there.

Form Factor

A hard drive can come in many shapes and sizes. Over time, certain forms have slowly phased out, like the tiny 1.8-inch HDDs. Below, however, are the forms that are most popular nowadays.

2.5-Inch

When you think of laptop HDDs, you are probably thinking of 2.5-inch drives.

These smaller disks are great because they can store data in capacities that betray their size, yet they still have a form factor that makes them easy to fit in a laptop or external enclosure.

You can get both SSDs and HDDs in this form factor, which adds to their versatility. You can also use them in desktops and notebooks.

The only potential downside is that these max out at a lower capacity than 3.5 hard disks.

3.5-Inch

A 3.5 hard drive is the classic form that we all know as a desktop HDD.

These drives are large, with enough space for more spinning disks. This means that a single drive can achieve a much higher maximum capacity,

The only disadvantages are that you can't use them in a laptop due to their large size, and it's difficult to find SSDs of this size. You'll have to deal with a mechanical HDD with most 3.5 drives.

M.2

The M.2 form factor is the new kid on the block. Only SSDs come in this shape.

M.2 drives don't have any spinning disks and look similar to RAM sticks. Despite their small size, they can contain as much as most 2.5 SSDs.

They work well for small systems, though you can still use them in desktops with a compatible motherboard.

Connector

There are different connector types used in hard drives. Here are the basic three:

IDE

IDE connectors have gone out of fashion, but it is possible that you still have a hard drive that uses this connector at home.

IDE drives are particularly vulnerable to damage because IDE connectors use pins that can bend or break.

SATA

The SATA interface is one of the most popular out there and it's what pretty much every 2.5 and 3.5 hard drive or SSD uses today.

There are typically two SATA ports on a SATA SSD or hard drive. One is for the power supply to the hard drive, while the other is for the SATA data connection.

M.2

To put things simply, you can consider M.2 to be a connector type as well as a form factor, as there are no other hard drive types that connect in the same way.

Installing an M.2 hard drive does not need SATA cables, as the hard drive plugs directly into the motherboard.

Black and White Image Of A Hard Disk

Speed

It can be annoying to wait for your system to boot up. There are different levels of performance that you can choose from in terms of speed.

5400RPM

The 5400RPM hard drive spins 5,400 times a second, as the name gives away. It's the most basic form of desktop hard disk.

This is the most common kind of 3.5 or 2.5 HDD that you'll find, unless you specifically look for a faster one.

7200RPM

If you want to stick to mechanical disks, the 7200RPM model gives you better performance than the average drive.

These can be a bit tough to find, but you can get a balance between a large place to store data and speed.

SSD

An SSD is the fastest form of hard drive that you can get these days. Your SSD can come as a SATA SSD or an NVMe one.

A SATA SSD is available in all form factors. However, the major downside with an SSD is the higher cost associated.

Final Words

If you have a notebook hard drive that you want to get installed in a desktop system, it will work perfectly, as long as you have the right kind of bracket/adapter or if your PC case supports 2.5 drives in its drive bay.

You can even use the HDD that you salvaged as an external hard drive, though you may need to buy an adapter and an enclosure too. Keep in mind that you can't put a desktop HDD in a notebook, though.

Did this article help you figure out how to set up your notebook hard drive in your desktop? If so, that's great. Take a look at our related articles for more great info.

Lindsay Hayes

Author
Hi, I’m Lindsay, a techie from Kansas City. That’s right; I’m a born and bred Midwesterner. I learned to take electronics apart at my dad’s GameStop way back when, and I haven’t stopped since. I spend most of my time checking out new gadgets.
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