Can You Plug in a Hard Drive While the Laptop Computer is on?

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Can You Plug in a Hard Drive While the Computer is on

Yeah, so here’s a question that often gets asked as it regards the SATA interface. And knowing the answer is very important if you have a server or want to test a hard drive on your PC. We recommend that when in doubt (unless it’s a server) go ahead and shut down your system before connecting drives. If we’re just talking about a USB drive, you can plug and unplug it while your computer is running by using the safely remove hard drive button on Windows or eject button on Mac to ensure your data isn’t corrupted. But never remove an internal hard drive while the computer is on.

Can You Plug in a Hard Drive While Your Computer is Running?

Yes, you can, so long as the hot-plugging capability is enabled in the BIOS. And the SATA controller and operating system support it.

If those two factors are squared away, then the computer system will detect the SATA drive immediately once you plug it in. And as long as it’s not a system drive, most modern drives can be plugged into your computer while it’s running.

The addition or removal of a component to a running computer system without significantly interrupting the system’s operation is called hot plugging.

An Examples of devices that are designed for hot plugging are a USB drive (sometimes referred to as a flash drive). You can easily plug in or unplug a USB drive into your laptop’s USB port without having to turn off the system.

In the same way, a SATA drive can be plugged into a computer system without disrupting anything. Thanks to advances in technology, most modern drives are designed to support hot plugging.

How to Enable the Hot Plugging Option in BIOS

In fact, you can add multiple drives to any system you’re working on by enabling the hot plugging option in BIOS. Then, once the drive is plugged in, the system will detect it right away and it’s ready to use.

But before plugging in anything, be sure that the SATA ports on the motherboard of the computer you’re plugging the drive into are configured and enabled to support hot plugging.

Here’s how to do it in BIOS:

  1. First, you need to enter the computer’s BIOS. Power on the computer and press F2, Delete, or F10 keys multiple times to enter BIOS. Additionally, you can consult the motherboard’s manual for more information about how to enter BIOS.
  2. Once you gain access, you need to click the Advanced tab. Then select SATA/Storage Configuration.
  3. Then, make sure the SATA mode is set to AHCI in the settings that appear.
  4. Now you should see several options for configuring individual SATA ports. Under each port, you’re looking for the option name, “Hot Plug”. If it’s set as disabled, switch to the enabled setting.
  5. CAUTION: It’s recommended that you choose the enable setting for all the ports except for the one with the main OS drive or system drive. This will now allow you to plug in a SATA drive while the computer is running without interference to the systems operations.
  6. Finally, save the changes by locating the Save Changes and Reset Option on the Save and Exit screen. Or you can do a quick save and exit by pressing a keyboard shortcut (normally F10) and restart the computer.

Can I Hot-Plug Any Drive into My Computer?

Hot plugging is a feature of the SATA interface which wasn’t included in the former PATA standard. But this capability is also dependent on the motherboard chipset SATA controller supporting it.  

Flash Drives

But what about if we’re just talking about a flash drive? Can you remove the hard drive without clicking safely remove hardware?

You can plug in a flash drive into a USB port no problem and the system will recognize it instantaneously. But what about unplugging it? Many users simply yank it out of the port with no issue. And as long as you’re sure that no other programs are using it, you won’t suffer data loss or file corruption.

Internal-Hard Drive

While you can plug in an internal hard drive using SATA, you shouldn’t unplug it while the computer is on. Apart from the risk of a nasty electrical shock, internal hard drives tend to be set up for write caching (we get into more about the advantage and disadvantages of hot plugging below).

Write Caching is when your computer stores data locally on your system before transferring it to your storage device. Write Caching enables the hard drive to work faster. Unplugging a hard drive without shutting down the system can result in permanent data loss and/or corruption.

The Advantages of Hot Plugging

As mentioned, if you’re running a computer (like a server) that can’t be turned off, the advantages of hot plugging become apparent.

If a need arises to access data that’s on another drive, the ability to plug in a hard drive comes into play and becomes as necessary as it is beneficial.

Video editing is another activity where hot plugging becomes super important. Here, a drive can be pulled from a camera and connected to a computer without having to shut down the system. This allows edits to be made immediately without a lot of down time.

Yet another application where the ability to plug in a drive while the computer is on is in the security field. Security systems are always on. A surveillance SATA drive can be plugged into the system from a DVR (Digital Video Recorder) or NVR (Network Video Recorder).

Without over selling it, there are many practical applications for hot plugging. You can even use this capability for your laptop and desktop computer applications. Hot plugging is also a great tool for RAID 5/6 array.

The Dangers of Hot Plugging

Just like anything else, there are pluses and minuses to hot plugging. While modern SATA drives support hot plugging (and many manufacturers even specify this ability on a drive’s spec sheet). You can face issues when attempting a hot plug.

Chiefly, electrical issues can occur. Not only can an electrical mishap damage the drive, but it can harm you too.

For example, if he disk you’re using has a legacy Molex connector (which is not recommended) and you power the disk through the connector. A hot plug can cause electrical peaks the likes of which can be dangerous.

Not only that, but even the current passing through can cause you serious harm. That’s why it’s often recommended to use SATA power connectors or cables for powering the drive.

Issues are not limited to hardware failure. Hot plugging a drive can also result in data loss if the drive malfunctions.

To Sum Up

These problems can also happen just by attempting to hot plug an older drive too. But as long as the drive is for storage and not the system drive. The computer you’re plugging it into should support plugging in the drive without having to turn off the system. Also, most modern operating systems like Windows 10 support hot plugging. You can test this capability with most modern mechanical hard drives and solid-state drives without risk. Again, most motherboard’s SATA controller and operating systems should support hot plugging. Analyze your situation to make the right call. But in general, yes, you can plug in a hard drive while the computer is on.