Adding a Big SATA Drive to an XP Computer

Subscriber Richard Day wrote recently about his plans to add a new hard drive to his old Windows XP computer:

It is a Dell 64bit computer. It is a model e510.

I have been running XP64 on it for several years. It is fast, but I would like to add a large SATA hard drive. It currently has a 74 gig drive that is too full. I would like to purchase an additional drive, but I would like it to be as large as it can be and still work on this machine.

My thought is to partition this new large drive and make it the main drive. I would use Acronis 2010 to transfer the data to the new drive. After partitioning the drive, I would like to install Windows 7. I would like to have a dual boot available. I read an article or two on your site concerning how to do this.

So, my question is how large of a SATA drive can I install on this old, but good clunker? Thanks

I wrote back to Richard to tell him that the E510 has support for two SATA drives according to the Dell Support site at

Unfortunately, it says SATA and not SATA-2 or SATA 2.0. You MIGHT be able to find a SATA drive these days, but they’re pretty old technology in the hard drive world. The SATA-2 drives are the ones really on the market, especially the big drives. SATA-3 drives are showing up in the market, too, as SATA-3 connectors are showing up on new motherboards.

With an older computer, as I found out when I tried to add a 2TB SATA-2 drive to the SATA-2 connector on my old home theater PC, older motherboards were limited in the size hard drive they would support A 1TB drive would work just fine, but when I connected a 2TB SATA-2 drive, the computer couldn’t even boot. When I disconnected the 2TB drive, the computer could boot.

My simple solution was to buy a new SATA 2.0 PCI interface card, install it in the computer, load its drivers into Windows XP, and then hook up the drive.

Richard mentioned that he wanted to use Acronis True Image to create an image of his current XP drive and to install it to the new drive.

The problem he may have, if he doesn’t prepare properly, is that his XP installation on the new drive may not be boot-able. He didn’t mention whether his current drive was SATA or not. Of course, if he installs a SATA 2.0 card, he’ll have to install the SATA 2.0 drivers in his current Windows installation, before he makes the backup to go to the new drive. Otherwise, Windows may not be able to read the new drive to be able to boot from it.

Tech Tip
[NOTE: I haven’t tried to make a shift like this — I’ve added large SATA 2.0 drives to XP systems, but only as additional storage. This may not be all the preparation he needs to change his boot drive. This may be a situation where he needs the Acronis Plus Pack, which is used to prepare for copying to dissimilar hardware.

Also, if he installs a new SATA 2.0 PCI interface card, he’ll have to change the BIOS settings to tell the computer to boot from a drive connected to the card.]

Richard also mentioned that he wanted to upgrade to Windows 7 after he gets the new hard drive installed.

Although the Windows 7 upgrade package will do an upgrade over Windows Vista, it won’t do that for Windows XP. However, a license copy of Windows XP on the computer does meet the requirements for upgrading the computer to Windows 7.

Be aware that dual-booting your Windows XP, if you buy an upgrade version of Windows 7, has to be done by installing Windows 7 into a separate partition than the Windows XP partition. Windows XP has to be on the computer first, or it will overwrite the drive’s boot sector (Windows XP doesn’t know what Windows 7 is, but Windows 7 knows what Windows XP is and will install accordingly.

The other issue is the license. If you use a Windows 7 Upgrade package and install to a separate partition, that should be strictly a short-term transitional solution.

Your current Windows (XP or Vista) license becomes void when you use it to qualify for the upgrade. Microsoft’s End User License Agreement considers each partition as a "separate computer."

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