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Building a PC: Installing an Optical Device

written by: •edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 5/20/2011

Whether you are jamming the ancient CD-ROM from your old PC in there or you have a sleek new Blu-Ray burner, they all go in pretty much the same.

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    Before We Begin

    A desktop PC’s hard drive (the installation of which we cover in the next article) should always use SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) connections by now. These are easier to work with and transfer data more quickly than the previous ATA connections, now often called PATA (Parallel Advanced Technology Attachment) to emphasize the difference from SATA.

    The newer SATA connections are not ubiquitous on optical devices yet though. While they are more convenient and probably somewhat more future-proof, you can save a few bucks by going with a PATA unit or saving a drive from an old computer, which would almost certainly be PATA. Just make sure your shiny new motherboard can handle the older format.

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    So How Do I Install It?

    cable-select If you have a SATA burner, perform the physical installation as outlined below, then hook up the power and data cables the way you would a hard drive or any other SATA device. We will explain how to do that in a later article.

    If you have a PATA burner, there is one thing you will want to do before the thing goes into the case. Using a pair of tweezers and the labeling on the unit itself, or your burner’s documentation, adjust the jumpers on the back to the Cable Select position. Just about any motherboard and operating system will work best with that setting on the optical, or other ATA, device. Just pull the cap off the pins where it is found and put it over the pins that are labeled for Cable Select. Note the cap may already be in the correct position. If you are put off by this step, note that it isn’t required by SATA connected devices.

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    Tool Free Can be Pretty Screwy

    Many case manufacturers try to simplify computer building and maintenance, often by incorporating “tool-free” features. When well executed, these can hold components just as securely as screws but be far easier and faster to use. Poorly executed, they are harder to use than screws, and do a terrible job of holding things in place. If your case has tool-free features they will be described in its documentation.

    The Silverstone Sugo we are using is not tool-free free, it you will; everything requires a screw driver. While this may seem unsophisticated, the SG02-F is Silverstone’s value leader (their top cases are some of the best in the business, but they can set you back as much as a nice graphics card), and screws keep costs down relative to fancy tool-free bits. Also, for a potential LAN Box, screws are as time tested as computing gets, and they will keep everything solidly in place while you lug the case around.

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    Step Into the Cage

    cdcage Tool-free case or not, your optical device will go into a cage; a metal box that holds things of that size in the case. The picture at left (from an earlier point in the build) shows where this is in the Sugo with a yellow rectangle. The front of the case will usually have plates held in with little tabs, as shown in the first picture below. These block the slots not being used which not only looks better, but keeps dust from rushing in. Nicer cases may have spring loaded panels that hide the drive but still allow drives to get in and out. This can look nicer than drives that aren’t quite the same colour.

    Note that our case, like many others, can fit a 3.5 inch device you want to access from the front of the case (like a card reader or if you still use 1.44MB floppies) in a 5.25 slot using brackets. The brackets and plate are shown in the second pic below for reference, but will not actually be used in this PC.

    Remove the plates from the slots you plan on using. Remove the adjacent plates if you want better access, but you will need to replace them when done. Support the drive with one hand while inserting the screws with the other (yellow and red squares, respectively, in the third picture below). Use the screws that came with the optical device. If the device didn’t include any, use the same round headed screws we used for the motherboard. You only need two screws on each side.

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    Burner Installation Pictures

    Optical Cage Interior3.5CD Burner Installation
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    The Next Move

    We could hook up the new device, but it is easier to keep the wires out of the way until everything is in the case. We will hook everything up soon, but first we are going to install the hard drive.