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Understanding and Troubleshooting the Hard Disk Drive (HDD) or Solid-State Drive (HDD or SSD) on a Dell Computer

Summary: This article provides information about what are the different types of hard disk drives (HDD) or solid state drives (SSD) on Dell computers. Learn how to run a diagnostic test on aSee more

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Article Content


Symptoms

A hard drive is a fundamental component of a computer (excluding most thin clients). The operating system files, application files, and other data such as images, music files, video files, documents are stored on the hard drive.

The type of storage device your computer uses matters for performance, including power usage and reliability. Hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid state drives (SSDs) are the two main types of storage devices. A hard disk drive (HDD) is a traditional storage device that uses mechanical platters and a moving read/write head to access data. A solid state drive (SSD) is a newer, faster type of device that stores data on instantly accessible memory chips.

Are you experiencing issues with booting into the operating system or slow performance? Learn how to troubleshoot hard drive or solid-state drive issues on a Dell computer.

Cause

It is important to identify if the hard drive is failing on the computer. Bad or corrupted sectors on a hard drive can cause performance issues and operating system boot issues.

Resolution

Difference between a mechanical hard drive and a solid state drive

Mechanical hard drives (HDDs) are traditional hard drives that are used in most desktops and laptops. These drives are electromechanical storage devices that use magnetic storage on a series of physical platters to store and retrieve digital data. Mechanical hard drives support higher storage capacity, and slower read/write speeds compared to solid state drives (SSD). Mechanical hard drives contain moving components inside the drive. Mechanical hard drives are available in 3.5-inch form-factor that is mostly used in desktops and all-in-one computers and 2.5-inch form-factor that is used in laptops. The performance of a mechanical hard drive depends on the revolutions per minute (RPM) rating of the drive. A hard drive that is rated at a higher RPM has better read/write speeds compared to lower RPM hard drives.

Solid-state drives (SSDs) are the latest type of hard drives that are used on desktops, laptops, tablets, and so on. Solid-state drives use flash memory to store and retrieve digital data. Solid-state drives do not have any moving parts, this helps improve the performance of the computer. Solid-state drives have stronger resistance to physical shock, they run quietly, have faster read/write speeds, and lower latency. Solid-state drives come in several form factors:

  • Serial-ATA (SATA) SSD - A Serial-ATA solid state drive uses a traditional SATA or SAS interface to connect to the computer. SATA SSDs come in 2.5-inch form-factor that can be used in desktops and laptops.
  • mSATA - mSATA, short for mini-SATA. mSATA SSDs are used on certain laptops.
  • M.2 SATA - M.2 also called Next Generation Form Factor (NGFF) is a type of form-factor for solid state drives. M.2 solid state drives are used in certain laptops. The M.2 SATA drives use the SATA bus on the system board.
  • NVMe - NVMe drives, also called M.2 NVMe is a type of form-factor for solid state drives. The NVMe SSDs use the PCIe bus on the system board.
Table 1: Types of hard drives in Dell computers
  Hard disk drive (HDD), also called mechanical hard drive Solid-State Drive (SSD)
Form-factor or interface
  • Serial-ATA or SATA
    • 3.5-inch form-factor, mostly used in desktops and all-in-one computers.
    • 2.5-inch form-factor, mostly used in laptops.
  • 2.5-inch Serial-ATA (SATA)*
  • mSATA*
  • M.2 SATA*
  • M.2 NVMe*
Read/Write speed
  • Slower. Depends on the revolutions per minute (RPM) rating of the hard drive.
  • Faster
Energy efficiency
  • Uses more energy
  • Uses less energy

*The type of hard drive (HDD or SSD) that is supported on your Dell computer depends on the hard drive interface (Serial-ATA or SATA, mSATA, M.2 SATA, or M.2 NVMe) that is available on the system board. To learn what type of hard drive is supported on your Dell computer, see the technical specifications in the user guide of your Dell computer for model-specific information.

NOTE: Most external hard drives are connected to a computer using a USB cable such as a USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1, or USB-C cables. To learn more, see the documentation of the external hard drive on the device manufacturer's website. If the external hard drive is not detected, learn how to troubleshoot USB issues on a Dell computer.

Difference between internal and external hard drives

Internal hard drives are installed inside the computer. Unlike an external hard drive, these drives are not portable. An internal hard drive is connected to the system board of the computer. The type of internal hard drive (HDD or SSD) that is supported on your Dell computer depends on the hard drive interface (Serial-ATA or SATA, mSATA, M.2 SATA, or M.2 NVMe) that is available on the system board.

External hard drives are ideal for raw storage space to back up data and transport files from one computer to another. Most external hard drives come with a USB cable to connect the drive to the computer. External hard drives come in various capacities and connectivity options such as USB 2.0, USB 3.0, or Thunderbolt 3 external drives. The type of connectivity determines the performance of the external hard drive. To learn more, see the documentation of the external hard drive on the device manufacturer's website. If the external hard drive is not detected on the computer, learn how to troubleshoot USB issues on a Dell computer.

NOTE: For support on a non-Dell or third-party external hard drive, contact the device manufacturer.

How to run a diagnostic test on a hard drive

If the computer cannot boot into Windows, run the preboot-diagnostic test on a Dell computer:

  1. Turn on the computer and tap the F2 key several times until you see the One Time Boot Menu.
  2. Select Diagnostics and press Enter.
  3. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the preboot-diagnostic test.
  4. If the tests pass, the hard drive is working correctly.
  5. If the test fails, make a note of the Service Tag, error code, and validation code. Look up the preboot diagnostic error code or contact Dell Technical Support for repair options in your region.

If the computer can boot into Windows and can access the internet, run the Dell online diagnostics:

  1. Browse to Dell.com/support.
  2. Identify your Dell computer.
    1. Click Download & Install SupportAssist to auto-detect your Dell computer. Follow the on-screen instructions to install Dell SupportAssist.
    2. Or, enter the Service Tag or Express Service Code of the Dell computer and click Search.
    3. Or, click Browse all products and manually select your Dell computer from the catalog.
  3. Go to the Diagnostics tab.
  4. Click Run Quick Test.
    NOTE: If SupportAssist is not installed on your Dell computer, you are prompted to download and install the SupportAssist app.
  5. If the test passes, the hard drive is working correctly.
  6. If the test fails, contact Dell Technical Support for repair options in your region.

How to replace the hard drive on a Dell computer

Have you received or purchased a replacement hard drive for your Dell computer? The service manual for your Dell computer has instructions on how to remove and install the hard drive on your Dell computer.

CAUTION: Dell recommends backing up data regularly. Before you replace the hard drive, back up the data from your computer to an external hard drive or to an online data storage service such as Microsoft OneDrive.
NOTE: The hard drive on certain Dell ultrabook laptops is integrated into the system board. Contact Dell Technical Support to learn more about repair options that are available in your region.

To access the service manual of your Dell computer:

  1. Browse to Dell.com/support.
  2. Identify your Dell computer.
    1. Click Download & Install SupportAssist to auto-detect your Dell computer. Follow the on-screen instructions to install Dell SupportAssist.
    2. Or, enter the Service Tag or Express Service Code of the Dell computer and click Search.
    3. Or, click Browse all products and manually select your Dell computer from the catalog.
  3. Go to the Documentation tab.
  4. Under Manuals and Documents, click View PDF or View HTML next to the Service Manual.
  5. Follow the instructions under the Removing and installing components section to replace the hard drive or solid state drive.

How to upgrade a hard drive on a Dell computer

Hard drive upgrade is often considered to increase the storage space or to enhance the performance of the computer. Upgrading from a traditional hard disk drive (HDD) to a solid state drive (SSD) helps improve the performance of the computer.

Hard drive specifications that must be considered before purchasing an upgraded hard drive

  • For mechanical hard drives:
    • Form-factor - Mechanical hard drives come in either 3.5" used in desktops or 2.5" used in laptops.
    • Storage capacity - Hard drives come in a wide range of storage capacities, capping out at 18 TB per drive due to physical limitations.
    • Transfer speed - Many factors determine the performance of a consumer-grade hard drive, but revolutions per minute (RPM) is an important one. Higher RPM means faster transfer of data to and from the drive. For example, a 7200RPM drive is faster than a 5400RPM drive.
    • Cache - A larger cache enables the data to transfer faster because more information can be stored at one time. Modern hard drives can have cache sizes ranging from 8 MB to 256 MB.
  • For solid state drives:
    • Interface - Solid-state drives come in various interface types such as 2.5" SATA, mSATA, M.2 SATA, or NVMe.
    • Storage capacity - Solid-state drives come in a wide range of storage capacities.

The type of hard drive (HDD or SSD) that is supported on your Dell computer depends on the hard drive interface (Serial-ATA or SATA, mSATA, M.2 SATA, or M.2 NVMe) that is available on the system board. To learn what type of hard drive is supported on your Dell computer, see the technical specifications in the user guide of your Dell computer for model-specific information.

To buy a replacement hard drive from Dell, go to the Dell electronics and accessories website or Dell Internal Hard Drive shop page.

NOTE: The Dell shop pages are available in select regions only.
NOTE: Upgraded parts in a Dell computer such as hard drive, memory, and so on, that are sourced from Dell or a third-party vendor do not take on the warranty of the Dell computer.

How to back up data on a Dell computer

Backing up data regularly is an important part of computer maintenance. Online or "cloud" storage simplifies data backup for productivity tasks, but for media, sensitive information, and other large data a formal backup solution may be required.

Learn more about different options for backing up data on a Dell computer.


How to troubleshoot hard drive-related issues on a Dell computer

Modern hard drives are designed to self-heal. The drives transparently identify and block bad sectors and redirect data to a reserved space on the drive allotted for this purpose. This capability allows for higher fault tolerance and mitigates some of the design limitations of hard drives.

Learn How to Troubleshoot Hard Drive or Solid-State Drive Issues on a Dell Computer.

Additional Information

If your Dell computer is unable to boot into Microsoft Windows, see the Dell knowledge base articles below.

Other helpful resources


Out of Warranty support Out of warranty? No problem. Browse to the Dell.com/support website and enter your Dell Service Tag and view our offers.

NOTE: Offers are only available for US, Canada, UK, France, Germany, and China personal computer customers. Server and Storage are not applicable.

Article Properties


Affected Product

Chromebox, Alienware, Inspiron, Retired Models, OptiPlex, Vostro, XPS, G Series, Chromebook, G Series, Alienware, Inspiron, Latitude, Vostro, XPS, Retired Models, Fixed Workstations, Mobile Workstations

Last Published Date

02 Jun 2022

Version

21

Article Type

Solution