Before installing the hard drives and optical drives in the computer case, they should be configured properly. The newer SATA drives do not need to be configured at all and can be simply installed in the case, but the traditional ATA (also called IDE or EIDE) drives have jumpers that set them as either ‘Master’ or ‘Slave.’.

Motherboards with an IDE interface have two channels for hard drives, optical drives, or tape drives. Each channel can have two drives connected to it. Because there is only one cable for each channel, the drives need a way to identify themselves to the motherboard, and for this reason they are set as either master or slave.

The usual configuration is to put the hard drives on IDE channel 1 and the optical drives on IDE channel 2, although there is no reason not to mix optical and hard drives on the same channel. If you only have one drive of each type, you should install each of them on its own channel.

There are jumpers on the back of the drive allowing you to set it as master, slave, or cable select. The cable select option automatically assigns a master/slave status to a drive depending on which connection it is using. The connection furthest from the motherboard is the master connection, while the connection in the middle of the cable is the slave connection.

The jumper positions should be clearly marked on the drive itself. If not, consult the manual. Use a pair of needle nose pliers or tweezers to insert the jumpers on the proper pins.

If you are installing just a single drive on each channel, they should each be set as the master drive. If you have two hard drives, the one with the operating system will be the master drive. If you have two optical drives, for example one CD-ROM and one DVD drive, it doesn’t matter which one is set to master and which one to slave. The master/slave setting is really just to distinguish one drive from the other — master doesn’t have any higher priority than slave.

Now attach the data cables. These are the wide flat ribbon cables that run from the motherboard to the drive. IDE cables have three connectors. The two connectors which are close together are attached to the hard drives. The third connector is attached to the motherboard. The connectors are keyed so it is easy to see how the cable is inserted.

Remember that the master drive is at the end of the cable and the slave drive is in the middle of the cable. To verify the cable is correct, make sure that pin 1 is connected to the red wire on the cable.

It is now time to install the drives in the case. The two drives which are on a single channel should be installed close together with the master drive on top and the slave drive on the bottom. Optical drives are usually installed at the top of the case and hard drives below them. The optical drives must be accessible from the front of the case so the bay coverings need to be removed. The drives are secured to the case with two screws on each side.

The final step is to connect the power cables. IDE drives have a four pin molded connector which is impossible to put in the wrong way. SATA drives also have a keyed power connector, but some models may have both a SATA power connector and a four pin IDE power connector. You can use either one, but DO NOT use both.

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