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Installing DVD Drives and Other Auxiliary Drives


There are several different types of auxiliary drives available for your homebuilt computer, such as optical drives, tape drives, ZIP drives, and drive-like devices such as card readers. The installation procedures for all of these devices are pretty much the same.

Most new computers being built today don't have any of these drives. The functions they used to solidly serve have largely been taken over by USB flash drives, which are faster, more versatile, and available in much higher capacities. So in a way, this page is becoming obsolete and may be on its way to legacy status the next time I do a major revision of the site.

Picture of the rear sides of a SATA drive and a PATA drive showing the fifference in the connectors

On the other hand, my site stats suggest that a lot of people land on this page because they want to replace a failed CD or DVD device; so it does serve a purpose.

In that context, it also makes sense to review the two kinds of drive interfaces because some visitors may be replacing older PATA optical drives.

The easiest way to tell what kind of interface a drive has is simply to look at the connectors.

PATA (parallel ATA) drives have two rows of pins for the ribbon data cable, and a row of four larger pins for the power connector. They are now obsolete, and replacements are hard to find.

SATA (serial ATA) drives have two tongues of conductors, the smaller of which is for the data cable and the larger of which is for the power cable.

Or to put it more simply, if your failed CD-RW or DVD-RW drive has connections that look like the top drive in the picture, it's a SATA optical drive. If they look like the connectors on the bottom drive, it's a PATA optical drive. When replacing a DVD, DVD-RW, or other optical drive, make sure you buy the right kind. They are not interchangeable.


Installing an Optical Drive

This demonstration was photographed using a CD-RW drive on a PATA interface. SATA wasn't yet in wide use back then when these pictures were taken. It really doesn't matter, though. Other than for connecting the cables, the process is basically the same.

The process shown here will also work when installing a device like a card reader, except that there may be an additional connection to the USB header on the motherboard or to an add-on card.

Prying off the drive bay cover with a screwdriver to make space for the optical drive

As with any other drive, the first step in installing an optical drive is deciding into which of the case's drive bay it will be mounted.

Unless you're using a server-type case, typically only one to three front-accessible bays will be available for drives that are accessible from the front. If you used all of those bays for internal drives, you have to move one of the internal drives to another bay.

Making a front-accessible bay available usually means removing a plastic cover over the drive, and sometimes the entire front of the case. It may also mean unscrewing or prying away a piece of metal case's metal chassis.

Wear eye protection and work gloves if you have to pry or cut metal, and be careful. You wouldn't want to hurt yourself or get blood all over your new computer.

Video card being inserted into computer case with eBay logo in top left corner

If you're using (or replacing) an ancient PATA optical drive, you'll also have to determine its master / slave relationship and set the jumpers accordingly. If you don't remember how to do this, please review the pages on hard drive configuration, which begin here.

If you're replacing a failed PATA drive, just set the jumper the same way (that is, as a master or slave) as the one on the failed drive was set. (And if you're using a SATA drive, which is almost certain nowadays, you can just gleefully ignore all this talk of masters, slaves, and jumpers.)

When deciding where to place the drives, keep both convenience of use and cable routing in mind. Because tower-typed computers are usually placed on the floor or under the desk, the top bay is usually the most convenient place to install an optical drive.

Once you have decided on the drive configuration (and have put the jumpers where they belong if it's a PATA drive), you can begin to physically install the drives.


Computer builder is inserting the CD-ROM drive in the computer case from the front of the case

If you're replacing a failed CD or DVD drive, removing the failed drive is the next step. If you're building a new computer or installing a CD or DVD drive where there wasn't one before, installing the new drive is the next step.

Removing or installing front-accessible drives usually is easiest to do from the front of the computer. It may or may not require removing the plastic bezel from the front of the case. Usually it doesn't.

In most cases, the optical drives are secured directly to the case using screws. The drive is simply slid back into the case until its faceplate is flush with the front of the panel, and then is secured using screws. In other cases, it may be necessary to slide the drive in from the back or remove the front bezel from the case.

Be careful not to catch the drive's faceplate against the bezel of the case, or you may mar or damage the drive or the case.

Don't push too hard. If the drive won't easily slide in all the way, check to see what's blocking it. Some drives are slightly longer than average, and if you push them in fully without looking first, you may damage something in the case or on the motherboard.

The computer builder tightening the optical drive mounting screws using a screwdriver

Once the drive is properly positioned, secure it into place with the mounting screws, and connect the data and power cables.

The data cable connections are made in the same way as when installing a hard drive. If you're using a SATA drive, you'll need a SATA cable. If using a PATA drive, you'll need a PATA cable. The cables may or may not be included with the drive or the motherboard.

All modern SATA drives and most drive-like devices like card readers use SATA power connections, but a few have a Molex connector either in addition to or instead of the SATA power connector.

PATA optical drives usually use Molex connectors, but some really old drives use old-fashioned floppy-type power connectors (technically called "Berg connectors"). Again, this is something you won't need to worry about if you're building a new computer, but might need to know if you're repairing an old one.

In a nutshell, if you're replacing a drive that had one kind of power connector with a new drive that has a different kind of power connector, first check to see whether your power supply has a free power lead of that type tucked away somewhere. If not, then you can use a hard drive power cable adaptor of the correct configuration to match up the power connections.

Some optical drives also have a legacy analog audio connector that connects the drive to an analog audio input (usually labeled "CD Audio")on the sound card or the motherboard. It's very old technology and its highly doubtful that you'll ever need it. But it does no harm to connect that cable if your sound card or motherboard has an input for it.


Connecting Card Readers and Other Drive-Like Devices

Two USB headers on a motherboard labeled F USB 1 and F USB 2

Many devices like card readers or hot-swappable drive bays can be mounted in the openings traditionally used for optical drives using the same method described above.

Connecting these devices to the motherboard, however, may be a bit different. Read the documentation for the device to know where it connects and what kind of power lead it needs.

In general, however, most card readers and similar devices connect to either an internal USB header or a SATA header. Some can use either one.

If all of your motherboard's internal USB headers are being used by other ports, first check to see if the device you're installing has an internal header of its own. If it does, then you can plug the new device into the motherboard, and plug the cable that used to be plugged into the motherboard into the header on the new device.

If the new device doesn't have a header, then your best bet is to install a USB controller card that has an internal header in an available expansion slot. Make sure to choose one that will fit an available slot on your motherboard and that has an internal USB header. There also are various internal "USB splitters" available, but I haven't had much luck with them and I therefore don't recommend them.

Other drive-like devices use a SATA interface instead of connecting to an internal USB header. These devices are simply connected to an available SATA header on the motherboard just like any other SATA drive would be. If you don't have any more SATA headers available, then you can install a SATA controller card in one of your motherboard's expansion slots to accommodate the device. Just make sure to choose a card that will work with the available expansion slot on your motherboard (PCIe, etc.).


Installing the Cabinet Fan

Installing the cabinet fan in the computer case

While we're at it, let's also install the cabinet or case fan.

Case fans create airflow through the case to help keep the internal components cool. They're essential on any computer used for gaming or other demanding applications, and are a good idea on any computer.

If your case doesn't already have pre-installed fans, then you should install at least one (and probably more, especially if you're a gamer or plan to overclock).

Make sure to choose fans that fit the openings on your computer case. There are different sizes including 60mm, 120mm, 140mm, 200mm, and others.

In general, most builders like to create airflow from front to back by using filtered intake fans in the front of the computer case, and exhaust fans on the rear of the computer case. Many also install exhaust fans on the top of the computer, or use the radiator for the water cooler as an exhaust fan in addition to being a radiator. The most important thing to remember is to not install the fans in such a way that they fight each other. They should all be moving the air along in the same general direction.

The fans are attached to headers on the mother board labeled "CAB FAN", "SYS FAN", or something quite similar. DC fans use three-wire systems and variable voltage to control the fan speed. PWM fans use four-wire systems and pulse-width modulation to control the fan speeds. Be sure to choose the correct fans for your motherboard.

In this assembly, the fan housing was included but didn't come with a fan installed. A fan that was purchased separately was mounted in the fan shroud, which was in turn snapped into the computer case. Most modern cases use much bigger fans than this one, and they're usually attached directly to the case.


Next, let's install the Panel Connectors

The gray-bearded author outdoors with a wild bird on his shoulder and a Buy Me a Coffee tip link


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