Can You Use a Laptop Hard Drive in a Desktop?

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If you have essential data in your laptop, a spare laptop hard disk or if the primary hard disk of your desktop has failed, then you may ask whether can you use a laptop hard drive in a desktop or not.

Fortunately, the answer to that question is a resounding Yes! You can use a Laptop Hard Drive in a desktop by plugging in the SATA Data and the SATA power cable just as you would with a normal desktop hard disk.

The same idea, however, does not work the other way around; meaning, you CANNOT use a desktop’s hard drive in a laptop. This is because, laptops do not support the 3.5″ hard disk form factor.

In the following text, I will explore how you can use a laptop hard drive in a desktop and also talk about the benefits and the drawbacks, but first a little primer on the hard drive form factors and the SATA protocol.

What is the SATA Interface?

Which is Faster SATA or PCIe
SATA ports are used for connecting SATA hard drives to the motherboard.

SATA is an interface that is used primarily to add storage devices to your PC. The devices that can be used with the SATA interface are as follows:

  • 3.5″ Desktop Hard Drives
  • 2.5″ Laptop Hard Drives
  • 2.5″ SATA SSDs
  • Optical Drives (CD/DVD/Blu-Ray)

SATA interface is cross-compatible meaning it can work across generation and devices. The most current version of the SATA is 3. You can not only use a SATA 2.0 device on a SATA 3.0 slot but also vice versa.

Additionally, you can use a 2.5″ drive in the place of 3.5″ drive and vice versa.

Read in Detail: What are SATA Ports Used For?

What is the 2.5″ and 3.5″ Hard Drive Form Factor?

Hard Disk Drives (HDD), come in two form factors:

  • 2.5″ – aka Laptop Drive
  • 3.5″ – aka Desktop Drive

These numbers actually represent the diameter of the spinning disks inside the hard drive. The actual rectangular dimensions of the hard disk is different.

2.5″ – Small Form Factor

2.5″ Hard Drive – Wikimedia

2.5″ is a small form factor. Hard drives conforming to this form factor are found in laptops as well as in portable hard drives.

The approximate dimension of the drive is 4.0″ x 2.75″ x 0.4″ (D x W x H) (100  x 69.85 x 12 mm)

3.5″ – Large Form Factor

Can You Use a Laptop Hard Drive in a Desktop hard disk
3.5″ Hard Drive

3.5″ is currently the largest form factor for hard drives and is found in desktops as well as in stationary external hard drives.

The approximate dimension of the drive is 5.7″ x 4.0″ x 1.0″ (D x W x H) (146 x 101 x 26 mm)

Can You Use a Laptop Hard Drive in a Desktop?

Yes, you can use a laptop hard drive in a desktop fairly easily.

All you need to do is plug the 2.5″ laptop hard drive with the following cables:

  1. SATA power cable
  2. SATA data cable
2.5 hard drive labelled
Ports for 2.5″ hard drive labelled. You need to provide both power and data cable to the hard drive.

SATA Data Cable

wsata-data-cable
SATA Data cable connected to the motherboard on one end.

SATA Data cables connect to the SATA ports on the motherboard on one end and to the hard drive on the other end.

Both ends of the SATA Data cable are identical so you don’t need to worry about the right orientation.

SATA Data cables can be identified through their L-shape key. 

SATA Data Cables are often provided with the motherboard package.

You can easily procure a new SATA cable in case if you do not have a spare cable.

Also Read: What Does SATA Cable Look Like?

SATA Power Cable

Sata Power Cables
SATA power cable originating from the power supply unit

The other cable that you need to attach to the 2.5″ hard drive is the SATA power cable.

This comes with the Power Supply Unit.

Also Read: How Many SATA Cables Do I Need?

SATA Hard Drives are Plug and Play

Once both the data and power cables are installed on the 2.5″ hard drive, you should be good to go.

Generally, the hard drives installed on SATA interface are plug and play, meaning you do not need to tamper with the settings in BIOS.

Setting the 2.5″ Hard Drive as the Boot Drive

If you want to assign the newly installed hard drive as the main boot drive, then you may have to assign that through BIOS, particularly if you have multiple drives installed.

Converting a 3.5″ Drive Bay to 2.5″ Drive Bay in the PC Case

Most of the desktop PC Cases out there have drive bays only for 3.5″ hard drives. This obviously causes the issue of properly installing the 2.5″ inch drive inside the case.

The 2.5″ drive should be harnessed in place in order to avoid any accidental damage.

3.5 hard drive bay

Fortunately, you can convert a 3.5″ drive bay into 2.5″ drive bay using a very inexpensive adapter.

Drive bay adapter
A 3.5″ to 2.5″ drive bay adapter

Also Read: Are All Hard Drives Compatible with all Motherboards

A Note on SSDs: Can You Use a Laptop SSD in a Desktop?

Yes, you can use a laptop SSD in your desktop and vice versa. 

Whether your laptop has the NVMe SSD or the SATA SSD, they can both be installed in the desktop given that your desktop has the appropriate slots.

There are two kinds of SSDs:

  • SATA SSD
  • NVMe SSD
SATA SSD
A 2.5″ SSD drive has the same dimensions as the 2.5″ Hard Disk Drive. It can be used in both laptop and desktop.

SATA SSD uses the SATA interface and it can be found in 2.5″ and M.2 form factors.

NVMe SSD, on the other hand, is superior in performance as it uses the PCIe interface. NVMe SSD only uses the M.2 form factor and cannot be found in the 2.5″ form factor.

Samsung Evo 860 SATA SSD m.2
Samsung Evo 860 SATA SSD with M.2 form factor

For SSDs with M.2 form factor as shown above, you need to have the appropriate M.2 slot on the motherboard to plug it in.

Using an External Enclosure or USB Adapter to Plug Laptop Hard Drive to Desktop

You can also use the laptop hard drive on a desktop externally by procuring a SATA-USB adapter or an external enclosure.

SATA to USB adapter
SATA to USB adapter

A SATA to USB adapter kit comes with SATA to USB cable as well as a power adapter for plugging the hard drive to the wall socket. 

This is an excellent method to not just use a 2.5″ but also a 3.5″ hard drive externally on any computer.

However, one important drawback of this method is that you won’t be able to use the laptop hard drive as a boot drive. Also, this isn’t the perfect method to turn your hard drive into a portable drive.

2.5 inch external enclosure
2.5 inch external enclosure

You can convert your 2.5″ drive to a portable external hard drive using a 2.5″ enclosure. The enclosure provides both data and power to the 2.5 drive installed within.

Again, just as the previous method, you won’t be able to use your laptop hard drive in a desktop as a boot drive.

The only way to use your laptop hard drive in a desktop as a boot drive is to connect it internally through the SATA data cable.

Also Read: Can I Upgrade My Laptop Graphics Card?

Pros and Cons of Using a Laptop Hard Drive in a Desktop

There are some important pros and cons to using a 2.5″ drive instead of a 3.5″ drive in a desktop.

1. 2.5″ Drives Often Have Lower Capacity

2.5″ drives, due to their limited size, offer a maximum of 5 TB.

Compare this to 3.5″ drive which can be found featuring 20TB.

2. 2.5″ Drives Have Higher Cost/GB

2.5″ drives have a higher cost per GB. 

Take for instance the prices of 2.5″ and 3.5″ Seagate Barracuda. At the time of writing this article, the following is the price

  • Seagate Barracuda – 3.5″ – 5400 RPM 256 MB Cache – 6 TB – $142 = $23.66/TB.
  • Seagate Barracuda – 2.5″ – 5400 RPM 128 MB Cache – 5 TB – $155 = $31/TB

Hence you can see that the average cost per TB of a 2.5″ drive is much higher compared to the average cost of a 3.5″ drive.

3. 2.5″ Drives Have a Lower Cache

Hard drives cache are temporary high speed memory that improve the transfer rate of the hard drives. They help in minimizing wait times and also assist when multi-tasking or when accessing multiple applications/files from the drive at the same time.

2.5″ hard drives, unfortunately, at an average have a lower cache memory compared to their 3.5″ counterparts in the same price category.

4. 2.5″ Drive Have a Slower Transfer Rate

The read and write data rate of hard drives is measured in MB/s.

It is governed by a lot of factors such as the amount of sectors a hard disk has, the amount of tracks it has, the number of platters it has, and also the RPM of the drive.

3.5″ drives are larger, have more platters, more tracks and more sectors.

Additionally, the faster the drive rotates, the better is the transfer speed. The two common transfer speeds are 5400RPM and 7200 RPM.

It is far easier to find 7200 RPM hard drives on a 3.5″ form factor as compared to 2.5″ hard drives.

5. 2.5″ Drives Consumer Lower Power

The great part about 2.5″ hard drives is that they consume less power. Hence, on a laptop that runs on battery, the lower power consumption can help in extending battery life.

Additionally, due to this nature, 2.5″ drives can also be used as portable hard drives. 

Should You Use a Laptop Hard Drive in a Desktop?

Given the points mentioned above, if you are seeking performance and value, it is not ideal to go out and especially seek out a 2.5″ laptop drive for your desktop.

However, if you have a spare 2.5″ drive or if you want to access your laptop’s files on desktop, then you can certainly use it on a desktop.

Also Read: 

Final Words

Here I talked in detail about whether can you use a laptop hard drive in a desktop. Fortunately, thanks to the fact that both desktop and the laptop hard drives use SATA interface, you can certainly use a laptop hard drive in a desktop.

All you have to do is plug the 2.5″ laptop hard drive with SATA data and SATA power cable and you should be good to go.

Also Read: Which Motherboards Support PCIe 4.0?

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Author:

Atif Qazi
Atif Qazi is the founder of PCGuide101. He is a digital nomad who loves everything PC. He is a PC builder, tech enthusiast, engineer, and a lover of single player lore-rich RPG games.

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