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Installing Your Computer's Hard Drive


There are several different types of hard drives you can use in your homebuilt computer. At the time of this revision, EIDE drives are being used less and less, and SATA (Serial ATA) drives are becoming the new standard. And of course, SCSI drives are still available, though few home users choose SCSI because of their high cost.

This page illustrates the installation of both EIDE and SATA drives. SATA hadn't really caught on when this computer was built. Also, installing an EIDE hard drive is slightly more involved than installing a SATA drive, and some people still use them. Although the physical installation is the same (there are only so many ways to tighten four screws, after all), SATA drives use different cables and connectors, and SATA drives don't require master/slave relationships, and therefore have no jumpers to set.


IDE Hard Drive Configuration

If you are using EIDE drives, then you will have to set the jumpers to match the drive's configuration before you physically install the drives in the computer. If you haven't yet done this, then please click here for detailed instructions before proceeding any further. (And if you're using SATA drives, which you should be, then you can ignore all this talk of jumpers.)


Physically Installing a Hard Drive

Removing the hard drive cage.The case that we're using has a detachable "cage" for the hard drives. The cage is first removed from the case, the drives are mounted into the cage, and the cage is reattached to the case. This design helps reduced scraped knuckles from working in tight spaces and avoids the need to remove the side of the case behind the motherboard to access the mounting screws.

I always prefer this sort of case design, all else being equal. It makes it a lot easier to remove and replace the drives if the need arises or if you want to upgrade in the future. But if you plan on installing a lot of drives in your new computer, then you're probably better off with a server-style case that has built-in bays for them. (A "bay" is the place where the hard drive goes.)



Physically installing the hard drive.The hard drive is mounted in the cage using four mounting screws. Make sure that you use the correct holes so that the cage will fit back in the case properly, and don't force the screws! Most hard drives are made of soft alloys that strip easily. If the screw doesn't want to turn, try turning it backwards until it seats itself.

If you are mounting a front-accessible drive (such as a floppy drive or ZIP drive) in the same cage, then make sure you mount the front-accessible drive in the position behind the opening in the front of the case.

Again, don't over tighten the screws! Hand-tight is plenty.



Re-attaching the hard drive cage.Once you have screwed the drive into the cage, re-attach the drive cage into the computer case. (Click here for a handy trick to insert those hard-to-reach screws.)

A lot of people ask me, "Is it really necessary to use all four screws to mount the hard drive?" The answer, alas, usually is yes. Using four screws reduces the chances of annoying buzzing caused by vibrations. So even though it can be a pain to reach the screw holes sometimes, you really should try to use all four mounting screws. It's just more a more professional way to build a computer

Some cases use friction mounts or rubber bushings to reduce vibration. Using them will help reduce your computer's noise and may help protect the hard drive from vibrations.


Connecting EIDE (PATA) Hard Drive Cables

Now we're ready to connect the data cables and power cables. EIDE drives use either flat, ribbon cables, or the newer-style rounded cables. SATA drives use thinner, flexible cables that are easier to route through the case and that improve airflow.

Ribbon cablesFor this demonstration, we're using old-fashioned ribbon cables. EIDE hard drives use an 80-conductor cable that usually has color-coded connectors. The black connector gets connected to the master drive, the gray to the slave drive (if any), and the blue to the motherboard. If the connectors are not color-coded, then the one off-center in the middle gets connected to the slave drive, the one on the end closest to the one in the middle gets connected to the master drive, and the one on the end farthest from the middle connector gets connected to the motherboard or IDE controller card.

Let's pause for a moment to clarify the difference between primary and secondary, versus master and slave. Some people are uncomfortable with the "master" and "slave" terminology, and use "primary" and "secondary" instead, thinking the two terms mean the same thing. But although they may be well-meaning, they're wrong. Primary and secondary refer to the two controllers on the motherboard, each of which can handle two drives: a master and a slave. So if all four drives are installed, there will be two masters and two slaves, one of each on both the primary and secondary controllers.

If it really bothers you, then just set all the drive jumpers to "CS" (for "Cable Select") and be done with it. That's what I usually do anyway. Just be sure to attach the correct connectors to each drive. The connector on the end goes to the master when using CS, and the connector in the middle goes to the slave. Check here for more information about hard drive jumper settings if you're using PATA drives.

EIDE connectorsYou'll notice a colored stripe along one edge of the ribbon cable. This stripe must line up with pin Number 1 on both the IDE controller and the drive.

If pin Number 1 is not clearly marked on the device itself, then look in the manual or instructions. (On hard drives, pin 1 usually -- but not always -- is the one closest to the power connector.)

Most EIDE drive cables also have little raised grooves that fit into a little notch on the connector to insure that they are attached properly, but sometimes these are absent. If you attach the drive cable improperly, the drive will not work, and it may be permanently damaged.

Attach the cables firmly, but gently, by pushing them straight onto the connectors on the drives and the motherboard. Make sure that the pins line up before you push. If you break a pin, you will permanently ruin the drive or motherboard.


Connecting SATA Drives

SATA connectors on motherboardIf you are using a SATA (Serial ATA) drive, you don't have to worry about jumper settings or clumsy ribbon cables. The connectors on the motherboard will look like those in the picture on the right.

The first drive on the primary SATA controller should be connected to the system hard drive. Other than that, it really doesn't make much of a difference which connectors you use for the other drives.

Once again, the cable should be inserted straight down into the connector. Don't force it! If it doesn't seem to want to go in, make sure that the cable is properly oriented on the connector. SATA connectors are keyed to prevent improper insertion, so if it doesn't fit easily, you're probably trying to attach it backwards. If you force it, you'll break it, and your expensive new motherboard will be ruined.


Connecting the Power Cables

Attaching the power cable to the hard drive. Finally, attach the power connectors to the drives.

Make sure that the power connectors are attached using the correct polarity. The sockets and connectors are shaped so that they should only fit the correct way unless you force them. So don't force them. If it doesn't fit without forcing, then you probably are trying to connect it backwards!

If you fire up the computer while a drive power connector is attached backwards, you will immediately and permanently destroy the drive, and possibly the power supply and/or the motherboard. So make sure you double check to make sure that all the connectors are attached properly.


Next, let's look at Installing Auxiliary Drives.






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