How to install an SSD in a desktop PC


Installing an M.2 or SATA SSD in your desktop is an essential part of every PC build, or an easy upgrade to make your PC feel faster. Luckily, installing an SSD is easier than finding the best one (we have a roundup for that!) or even understanding how they work. I’m not going to cover any of that here, but I’ll walk through installing both kinds. 

The steps below should apply to almost any model. I’ll start with the M.2 SSD because it’s a bit more tricky to install, and there are some things to research before you do it. Click this link to jump to the section on SATA SSDs.

How to install an M.2 SSD in a desktop PC

An M.2 SSD looks like a stick of chewing gum with chips on one side, a label on the other, and gold contacts at one end. Some will install just like that. Some will come with their own heat sinks and look more like a pack of gum than a stick of gum. Some motherboards will have a shield for the M.2 slot, and you’ll have to shimmy the drive underneath it. We’ll cover all the forms below. 

Step 1: Find the M.2 slot

install ssd in pc identify m2 slots resized Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Before installing an M.2 SSD, identify the M.2 slots on your motherboard. They may be in different locations: On this board, there’s a black one at the left, and a chrome-plated one on the right. Each slot’s specs will be in the motherboard manual.

The first thing you want to do is find where the M.2 slot is on your motherboard. Look for a slot about one inch wide that protrudes from the motherboard about a quarter of an inch. Every motherboard is different, but the most common locations are below the CPU and around the PCIe slots in the lower half of the board. Check the manual if you have trouble finding it.

Some motherboards have a pre-installed shield in place that serves as a heat spreader but also can provide a nice piece of visual flair. This will obviously have to be removed before you access the M.2 slot.

If your motherboard supports two M.2 SSDs you’ll need to consult your manual to see which slot is the recommended one for installing your boot drive. Each slot might offer different performance levels, while others might turn off a PCIe slot if used. In short,  read the manual first!

Step 2: Find the M.2 Mounting System

install ssd in pc find the mounting system standoff screw Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The M.2 slot will have a mounting system, such as the standoff with a screw shown here (see orange circle we’re pointing to, above), which keeps the SSD straight when it’s installed on the motherboard.

Once you’ve found the right slot, find the screw about three inches to the left that is inserted into a standoff. The standoff is there because when the drive is inserted, there will be a gap between the SSD and the motherboard. The standoff plays the crucial role of keeping the drive flat.

If your motherboard doesn’t have the screw or standoff, look in the box—it might be in a small plastic bag. If your motherboard features an M.2 shield, you’ll need to find two screws that mount it to the motherboard.



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