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Tips and Tricks for working with Computer Hardware

As of 7-1-2016

This discussion applies to desktop computers only. Laptops and All In One coputers are not made to be opened and have hardware added. The exception may be to add a new hard drive to a laptop. My all in one compurter says the warranty is void if the case is opened.

Typically there is little need today for installing hardware inside the computer. The exception might be if a something breaks and you want to install a new one like the hard drive or DVD drawer. There might be reason to install a new video or sound card to get better performance but you are often better off to put the money toward a new computer.

Sometimes the hardest part is figuring out how to get the case open. There are so many configurations of cases, it would be impossible to cover them here. Many of the newer cases allow removing just one side needed to gain access to the working side. Usually the clue is one or more screws on the rear of the case. Do a search on line for the instruction manual for your brand/model.

The other area of Hardware installs is External parts. Like Printers, Scanners, Cameras, USB drives, or other equipment.

Most hardware is Plug and Play install, but there are still tricks to installing. I'll try to give some guidelines here, but again, there are so many cases, it will be hard to cover them all. I'll cover those that I've had experience with.

First, when purchasing hardware, always buy a boxed kit with the software. If you buy an OEM version, it may not include software or instructions. These are parts purchased in quantity for a knowledgeable tech to build a new computer from scratch.

Click Here for a site with extensive pictures and explanations of hardware (2005 having trouble finding the photos)

For more pictures of connectors, Click Here

If you want a technical description of how hardware works check out

DVD drives and Hard Drives:

Most of these kits come with complete instructions. Adding a new Hard Drive or DVD involves using a ribbon cable connector from the mother board to the devices. The mother board has 2 connectors that connect 2 devices each. The main plug can connect to a Primary and Secondary and the Secondary plug can also connect to 2 devices, defined as master and slave.

When you start your computer, you may see a screen that defines the 4 devices. You may have to enter the Setup menu at startup to see the defined devices. Your system can hold 4 devices in any combination of hard drives, CD, CD-RW, & DVD. When you start the computer, if you see a screen that shows the devices, touch the Pause button and review the list. If you see 4 devices as Primary master, Primary slave, Secondary master, Secondary slave, you cannot add more. If any are blank, you can add something in the blank spot.

A nice combination today is 2 hard drives and a pair of DVD-RW drives.

Your instructions that come with the device define the method of setting jumpers to make the new unit act as a master or slave.. You may have to remove the existing ribbon cable and replace it with one supplied with the new unit.

When you install the new unit and restart the computer, it may recognize the new hardware automatically. If it does not, then you will need to follow the instructions supplied with the unit.

Adding a new hard drive is fairly easy today, but requires some time and patience. Follow this procedure and it should go easy:

1. Install the new hard drive as a slave drive. This may be done as a primary slave or on the secondary as primary or slave.

2. Start the software that comes with the new disk. It allows you to prepare the disk to hold files. It also allows you to copy the data from the old disk to the new disk in preparation for using the new disk as a primary. After this is complete, shut down and change the plugs from the ribbon cables to set the new drive as a master on the primary and the old one as a primary slave or a secondary master or slave. Reset the jumpers as needed.

3. Restart the computer and it should start using the new drive as Primary master and the old drive in the position assigned.

The advantage of using the new drive as a primary rather that just adding a secondary larger drive is that most new drives have faster access and will speed up operations.

Adding a new DVD involves a similar process as noted above, except the drive stays in the selected location. Your primary hard drive must be the primary master. Any other device can be in the other 3 positions. Set the jumpers depending on how you plug it in. A typical example might be like this:

1. Primary Master=xxxGb hard drive
2. Primary Slave=DVD-RW
3. Secondary Master=xxGB hard drive (your old original drive)
4. Secondary Slave=DVD-RW

2, 3, 4 can be interchanged in any order, provided the jumpers are set correctly and the ribbon cable is in agreement. Installing your old drive as a secondary drive gives you access to files that you may need. However we have found that CD copying works better if the CD's are not both on the secondary. Make the CD drives the slaves and the hard drives the masters for best results.
Click Here for pictures.

So much for internal equipment. Now lets cover external hardware. This is usually easier, because it does not involve opening the case.

External hardware just plugs into the CPU box similar to a printer. It helps to know the difference in connector types. There are 5 main types of connectors, Serial, Parallel, PS/2, SCSI and USB. There is an even newer one called Firewire, but is still in limited use. The principles discussed here apply there also. Video and joy sticks use special connectors also, but are specific to the device and not used for connecting different kinds of devices as with the main 5. Click Here for pictures.

Serial connectors are small rectangular connectors on the rear of the case with 9 pins. They consist of 2 rows of pins, one with 4 pins, the other with 5 pins. In a serial connector on the back of the case, you see the actual pins. Click Here for pictures. All computers used to come with at least one serial port. In 2008, many new ones do not have a serial port.

Parallel connectors are a little larger rectangular connectors with 25 pins, one row with 12, one with 13. On a parallel connector on the case, you see the holes that the pins plug into. Click Here for pictures. All computers used to come with at least one Parallel Port. Again in 2008, most new ones do not have a parallel port. As a side note, most new computers do not include a floppy drive either.

PS/2 connectors are used for mouse and keyboard connections and are identified for each device and not interchangeable.

USB connectors are supplied on all computers sold in the last few years.

SCSI is not standard on home computers. It is sometimes added for certain devices like Zip Drives and scanners, but can be tricky to set up. USB has all but replaced it since USB is so much easier. SCSI devices run faster than devices run through parallel and serial ports and was the connection of choice for speed until USB came along. Using SCSI for external devices requires adding a SCSI card into one of the ISA or PCI slots in the computer. Click Here for pictures.


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