Tutorial: How to install a 3TB disk drive in an old PC

I'd recently run out of room on my data drive so I was looking for an easy way to increase the storage - and to give me some room to rebuild my home server at the same time.  Looking round, the best value disk drive I found was a 3TB high-capacity disk drive as a replacement  to install in my main computer.

I run a reasonably well-specced Dell Optiplex 780 equipped with a quad-core CPU, 8GB of RAM, an Intel SSD and a 500GB disk drive.  While this is fine for day-to-day use - and with a decent Sapphire low-profile Radeon HD 6670 graphics card, it's also a fair games player - it is considered an old machine these days and I thought I may run into some problems putting such a large hard disk drive into it.

I wasn't wrong.

I'll summarise the three major problems you'll face so you can see what you may be up against if you choose to install a 3TB disk drive - and then show you what I did to get the disk drive active in Windows.
  1. Older computers (such as my Dell) run a traditional BIOS rather than the newer UEFI-based systems available now.  This means that if your PC has a BIOS it cannot boot from disk drives more than 2.2TB in size.  Depending on how old your PC is, it may not even recognise a 3TB disk drive!
  2. Microsoft, in their wisdom, designed their 32-bit consumer operating systems (32- and 64-bit Windows XP, 32-bit Vista, 32-bit Windows 7) so that they do not support larger than 2.2TB disk drives.
  3. Even running the 3TB drive in an external USB enclosure may not work as many USB controllers cannot properly address a 3TB disk drive.
For me:
  • I normally boot 64-bit Windows 7 from an 80G SSD hard drive, so, although my PC is too old to boot from the 3TB drive, I am able to access the 3TB disk drive as a data drive once Windows has loaded.  
  • I used an external usb docking station to copy my existing data to the new disk drive and then swapped drives in the PC to complete the upgrade.  Even though the enclosure did not fully access the new drive I was able to get the full capacity of the drive available to use.
Here's what I did:

Step One: Check your PC recognises the drive
I temporarily took the existing disk drives out of my PC and installed the new 3TB disk drive to check that the BIOS recognised it properly as a 3TB disk drive.  It did.

Step Two: Check the Caddy recognises the drive
I put back the old disk drives and booted my PC into Windows.  I then connected the 3TB disk drive to the PC via the external USB caddy. The drive was recognised, which was positive, but there were issues.  See Stage Three below.

Step Three: Prepare the new drive
Next, you need to format the new disk drive.  The easiest way to do this is to run the Windows Disk Management tool. Click on Start, then in the Search programs and files box type diskmgmt.msc and press Enter. After a few seconds the Disk management tool starts up.  As you've a new, uninitialised disk in the computer you may get a pop-up window like this:
If you don't, hover your mouse over the new drive, right-click and click on Initialise Disk.  Note that the wizard offers you two types of initialisation: MBR or GPT.  Choose GPD and click on OK.  When the disk is initialised you may notice that Windows shows you only have 746GB of unallocated space instead of the full 3TB.  Don't worry; this happens frequently, but there is a way round it as you will see if you read on below.  Go ahead and create a New Simple Volume and use all of the unallocated space on the new volume. Finally, format the new volume ready for use and assign a drive letter.

Step Four: Copy your data to the new drive
As I was upgrading my old 500GB data drive, I wanted to copy the whole of the old drive contents to the new drive.  For this I used an excellent free product called AOMEI Partition Assistant.  This has a Partition Copy wizard which I used to copy my old Data drive to the newly created volume on the 3TB drive.  Run this wizard and set your old data drive as the Source partition and the 3TB disk drive as the Destination Space,  let it complete and then shut the PC down.

Step Five: Swap out your old Data drive
Once the PC has shut down open it up and replace your old data drive with the new 3TB one.  Put the old drive safely to one side - this is your backup while you finish the process!!  Then power up the PC.  Now, because my data was stored on Drive E and the new drive was set as Drive F, I ran into some issues because Windows could not find some of my data. If you run into the same issues as I did then run diskmgmt.msc and re-assign the drive letter to be the same as your old data drive (E: in my case - yours could well be different)  You may have to re-boot the PC to make sure everything works as it should.

Step Six: Resize your Data partition
After a successful reboot, re-run the AOMEI Partition Assistant and this time highlight the new data partition on the 3TB drive.  Run the Resize/Move partition wizard and drag the slider of the data partition to take up the full 3TB (mine showed 2,794GB.  Good enough!)
Let the wizard run until it has finished and check you can read and write files on the new disk.

Last of all - enjoy all this new-found space!  As you can see below, on my system the disk is running well and has lots of spare space - for now!