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I have a Dell Inspiron 1525 laptop, and the hard drive is failing and I'd like to get a new one.

What I'm wondering is, do I need to buy a hard drive specific to my computer model, or are laptop harddrives usually fairly generic? (If that's the case then I can shop around for the best value.)

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I had to get some special parts from Dell to fit a second HDD (1720 - can fit 2), but to replace one, those parts will already be there. No probs. – MGOwen Aug 6 '10 at 2:14
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Laptop hard drives are fairly generic. There are 2 major things to check for:

  1. Interface type.
  2. Drive height.

For interfaces, SATA is the current standard, with IDE (also seen as PATA sometimes) being an older standard. laptop IDE drives are still being sold, so make sure that you're not buying one of those, since your laptop uses SATA hard drives. IDE drives are not very common anymore though.

Regarding drive height, most laptops are designed to accept 9.5mm high drives, and most laptop drives are built to this height. There is a lesser used standard for 12.5mm hard drives which is less common. AFAIK, only a few 12.5mm drives are readily available, mostly the extremely high capacity 750 GB and 1 TB laptop drives.

Beyond that, it's all about features and performance.

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Laptop harddrives are pretty generic, but there are a couple of things to watch for:

  • Some drives are taller than "normal", some shorter. Some laptops, particularly those specifically designed to be particularly thin, require a thinner drive.
  • Some rescue/restore/install disks are fussy about what drives they will restore on to, though this is rarely a problem these days (the manufacturers prefer not to make them restrictive as it means it is more likely they need to get them remastered when the product line deviates slightly) and not a problem at all if installing from scratch yourself. I've only hit this problem once and that was some years ago, though other anecdotal evidence suggests it may have been more common in the past then my experience exposed me to.
  • Some machines, particularly older ones, do not like drives about a certain capacity due to BIOS limitations. Again this is uncommon with modern machines, as most after ~2003 support LBA48 with no extra limitations. This can tie into the point above though, in some rescue/restore/install disks not liking larger drives because of integer overflows, potentially in things as superficial as progress bar displays, despite the hardware being happy with larger drives.
  • Make sure you get the right interface: PATA or SATA. With newer machines you are much more likely to need a SATA drive but you don't have to go more than a couple of years back to find the point where neither was more likely than the other.
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You need to make sure that the drive will physically fit into the laptop, and can connect - both for power and data. If it does then any drive should work.

So check that the one you are getting will fit into the Dell. Ask the seller if that's the case and get it in writing (e-mail should do) so that you can return the hard drive if it doesn't actually fit.

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-1 Physically fitting is not enough; at the very least check for SATA/IDE... – sleske Jun 20 '10 at 20:24
@sleske - physically fitting implies you've got the right connectors (both power and data). – ChrisF Jun 20 '10 at 20:32
Ok, I thought you were only thinking about the physical dimensions. With the edit it makes sense. – sleske Jun 20 '10 at 23:30

Update: The main point to watch out for is that recent 'advanced format' disks use 4k clusters instead of 512 bytes. Some data transfer methods may leave you with misaligned cluster boundaries, and that will make your system very slow. When partitioning, use a 4k-cluster aware app. Windows 7's diskmgmt.msc is suitable, XP's is not. Knoppix 7's gparted is a good free alternative. Or, you could spend money on a premium program like Acronis Disk Director. But, free tools are OK so long as you use suitable ones.

SATA interfaces are all pretty much standard. You can BTW connect a laptop SATA drive to a desktop computer with ordinary SATA power & data leads. The connectors are the same, just closer spaced. This can be useful for setup.

For a portable drive, buy a USB box on Ebay. The cheap Chinese ones are generally OK.

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