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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.

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

Because my site stats suggest that a lot of people land on this page because they want to replace a failed CD or DVD device rather than because they want to build a computer, let me digress for a moment to review the two kinds of drive interfaces.

The process described on this page will work just as well for replacing a drive as well as installing one; but when replacing a failed drive, you have to determine what kind of interface it has so you can purchase a suitable replacement.

The easiest way to tell what kind of interface a drive has is simply to look at the connectors. PATA drives have two rows of pins for the ribbon data cable, and a row of four larger pins for the power connector. SATA 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 while the computer is in use. 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 plastic cover over the entire front of the case. It may also mean unscrewing or prying away a piece of metal from the front of the case's metal chassis.

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

If you're using (or replacing) a 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 drive, just set the jumper the same way as the one on the failed drive was set. (And if you're using a SATA drive, just gleefully ignore all this talk of masters, slaves, and jumpers.)


Once you have decided on the drive configuration and have put the jumpers where they belong, you can begin to physically install the drives. When deciding where to place the drives, keep both convenience of use and cable routing in mind.

In most cases, You'll have to remove both a plastic cover and a metal plate from the drive bay where you will be installing the drive. Most often, you do this by removing the plastic cover, and then prying the metal plate from the rest of the case using a screwdriver.

Always wear eye protection when doing this, and please be careful not to cut yourself and get blood all over your new computer.


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 mot 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 position, 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.

Unfortunately, there's less consistency regarding the power connectors on optical drives, card readers, and other drive-like devices.

Nearly all SATA devices 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 use old-fashioned floppy-type power connectors (technically called "Berg connectors").

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 the devices to the motherboard, however, may be a bit different.

Many card readers and similar devices connect to a USB header on the motherboard. These headers are usually labeled "USB" or "F_USB", sometimes followed by a number or the speed of the header (for example, "F_USB 3.1"). The "F" is for "Front" because these headers are usually used for the case's front-panel USB ports.

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. Cabinet 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 them built in, you should install at least one.

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 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. Other cases have holes for the fan to be directly mounted to the case using pins or screws.

I usually choose cases that have filtered air intakes, and I mount the fans to blow air out of the case. This draws the air in through the filters and helps keep dust out of the case. But others prefer installing the fans to blow air into the case. It's a personal decision. Neither way is always correct.

Either way, the proper header on the motherboard to plug the cabinet fan into will usually be labeled "CAB FAN" or something very similar. Using this header will allow most motherboards to control the fan speed based on the internal temperature of the computer case.


Next, let's install the Panel Connectors


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