Installing Expansion Cards
Depending on the motherboard you have purchased, you may need to install one or more expansion cards. Many new motherboards have audio, video, and network "cards" built right into them. But if not (or if you don't want to use the integrated cards), then you will need to install expansion cards. If your board has integrated cards that you don't plan to use, you should disable them in BIOS, both to avoid possible conflicts and to avoid wasting resources on a component that's not being used.
Like any other component in your homebuilt computer, you should make sure that the cards you are about to install are compatible with your motherboard and with the operating system you plan on installing.
Compatibility becomes especially important when selecting AGP or PCIe video cards, because the voltages and slots for the different standards are different. So be especially careful that your motherboard is capable of supporting the video card you have selected before you attempt to install it, and check to see if there are any motherboard jumpers you have to set for the card you are installing.
In addition, always be sure to observe anti-static precautions when handling expansion cards. Nothing is quite so depressing as totally destroying an expensive card because you forgot to take anti-static precautions. Use a wrist strap and an anti static mat.
If you're unsure where something goes or whether it's compatible with your motherboard, please feel free to post your questions on the Computer Assembly page of our Home-built Computer Forum, or on the Forum page for the type of device in question.
Proper Insertion of Expansion Cards
So if the card doesn't seem to fit, check those notches and tabs. Don't break out a hammer and try to pound it in. You probably are trying to insert the wrong kind of card (or insert the card in the wrong kind of slot).
Notice in the picture on the right that the AGP video slot is set back from the rest of the slots and is of a different size. In addition, the various ridges, tabs, and so forth on the card and the slot are intended to help prevent incorrect insertion or incompatible cards. You should read the documentation for your motherboard and cards to make sure they are compatible.
The card shown in this picture is a network card that fits into the PCI slot. Notice that it is keyed to the slot. (Also note that the card is only slanted to make it easier for you to see the slot. Expansion cards, like RAM, are pushed straight down into their slots, like in the next picture down.)
It usually doesn't matter which PCI cards are installed in which slots. But sometimes it does, depending on how a particular motherboard and OS manage shared resources. So before installing PCI cards, check the motherboard and expansion card manuals for any recommendations for slot assignments; and if one of more of your cards don't work (or if they cause system instability), try changing the slots before you trash the cards. Sometimes that's all it takes.
Once you have determined which cards will be installed in which slots, actually installing them is simple. Place the computer on its side so the slots on the motherboard face up, align the card in the slot perpendicular to the motherboard (that is, straight up, because the computer is on its side), and push down until you feel the card "pop" into place.
You may have to use some oomph here. If the card doesn't seat itself using fingertip pressure, place your palm over the card and push down firmly and evenly until you feel the card pop into place. But first check the slots, notches, and tabs to make sure you're not trying to install the card in the wrong slot.
Finally, secure the card into place by screwing the card's metal bracket into the screw hole over the expansion slot opening on the back of the case. Some cases don't use screws, and instead have some sort of metal or plastic clip that holds the card (or all of them, sometimes) in the motherboard. Usually this is obvious, but check the manual that came with the case if you're confuzled.
It's a good idea to save the slot covers to cover the holes in case you ever decide to remove the card. Using electrical tape looks tacky and unprofessional.
Some cards may have additional connections that have to be made, such as the cable that connects a CD-ROM drive to the sound card, or a power connector for some high-powered video cards or audio break-out cards. See the card's documentation for detailed instructions.
Now let's proceed to the next step, Installing the Hard Drives.
- Assembling your New Computer