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Installing Adapter Cards

Although most desktop systems are equipped with a wide variety of I/O ports and integrated adapters, it is still often necessary to install adapter cards to enable the system to perform specialized tasks or to achieve higher performance. The following sections show you how to perform typical installations.

General Installation

Before installing an adapter card, you should determine the following:

  • Does the adapter card perform the same task as an integrated adapter?—For example, if you are installing a display adapter (also called a graphics card or video card), does the system already have an integrated adapter? If you are installing a sound card, does the system already have a sound card? Depending upon the type of card you are installing, it might be necessary to disable the comparable onboard feature first to avoid hardware resource conflicts.
  • What type(s) of expansion slots are available for expansion cards?—A typical system today might have two or three different types of expansion slots, such as PCI Express x16, PCI Express x1 and PCI, or PCI and AGP, as shown in Figure 3-30. PCI Express x1 and PCI slots can be used for a variety of adapter cards, while PCI Express and AGP slots are designed for display adapters. The adapter card you select must fit into an available slot.
    Figure 3-30

    Figure 3-30 AGP, PCI, PCI Express x1 and x16 slots on typical motherboards. Arrow indicates rear of motherboard.

  • When PCI and PCI Express x1 slots are available, which slot should be used?—PCI Express x1 slots provide higher performance than PCI slots, and should be used whenever possible. Use PCI cards if PCIe cards are not available.

To learn how to change BIOS configuration settings to disable onboard ports, see Chapter 4.

The general process of installing an adapter card works like this:

  • Step 1.Shut down the system.
  • Step 2.Disconnect it from AC power, either by unplugging the system or by turning off the power supply with its own on/off switch.
  • Step 3.Remove the system cover. Depending upon the motherboard design and case design, the exact method varies:
    • If the case has a one-piece design, remove the entire case.
    • If the case is a tower design with removable side panels, remove the left side panel (as seen from the front) to install cards into an ATX system. Remove the right side panel to install cards into a BTX system.
  • Step 4.Locate the expansion slot you want to use. If the slot has a header cable installed in the slot cover, you will need to move the header cable to a different slot. Figure 3-31 illustrates a typical system that has some available slots.
    Figure 3-31

    Figure 3-31 A typical system has some available slots and some that are not available for various reasons.

  • Step 5.Remove the slot cover corresponding to the slot you want to use for the adapter card. Most slot covers are held in place by set screws that fasten the slot cover to the rear of the case, as shown in Figure 3-31. However, some systems use different methods.
  • Step 6.Remove the card from its antistatic packaging. Hold the card by the bracket, not by the circuit board, chips, or card connector. Figure 3-32 illustrates a typical card and where to hold it safely.
    Figure 3-32

    Figure 3-32 A typical adapter card. Callouts indicate where it is safe and not safe to hold the card.

  • Step 7.Insert the card into the expansion slot, lining up the connector on the bottom.
  • Step 8.Push the card connector firmly into the slot.
  • Step 9.Secure the card bracket; on most systems, you will secure the card bracket by replacing the set screw. See Figure 3-33.
    Figure 3-33

    Figure 3-33 An improperly installed card compared with a properly installed card.

  • Step 10.Connect any cables required for the card.
  • Step 11.Reconnect AC power and restart the system.
  • Step 12.When the system restarts, provide drivers as prompted.

The following sections discuss some special installation considerations that apply to some types of adapter cards.

Display Adapters

Before installing a display adapter in a working system, you should open Device Manager and uninstall the current display adapter. To learn more about using Device Manager, see Chapter 13 "Using and Managing Windows".

Display adapters are available for PCI Express x16, AGP, and PCI expansion slots. Display adapters in PCI form factor are intended for use in systems that don't have PCI Express or AGP slots, or to provide support for additional displays on systems that already have PCI Express or AGP cards installed.

When you install a card into an AGP slot, make sure the card locking mechanism on the front of the slot is open before you install the card. Locking mechanisms sometimes use a lever that is moved to one side, flips up and down, or has a locking tab that is pulled to one side.

After installing the display adapter, install the drivers provided by the graphics card vendor. If possible, use updated drivers downloaded from the vendor's website rather than the ones provided on CD.

When connecting the monitor(s) to the display adapter, keep in mind that CRT and some LCD monitors use the 15-pin VGA connector, while many LCD monitors use the larger DVI connector or the compact HDMI adapter that supports home theater systems (HDTVs and audio amplifiers). You can use an adapter to enable a DVI-I connector on a display adapter to connect to a monitor that uses the VGA connector and a DVI to HDMI adapter to connect a DVI port to a display or HDTV with an HDMI connector. To learn more about display adapters and graphics cards, see Chapter 8.

Sound Cards

After installing a sound card, you must connect 1/8-inch mini-jack cables from speakers and the microphone to the sound card. Most sound cards use the same PC99 color-coding standards for audio hardware that are used by onboard audio solutions, as described in Table 3-7.

Table 3-7. PC99 Color Coding for Audio Jacks



Jack Type

Microphone input (mono)



Line in (stereo)

Light blue


Speaker or headphone (front/stereo)

Lime green


Speaker out/subwoofer



Game port/MIDI out


15-pin DIN

After installing the sound card, you are prompted to install drivers when you restart the system. The driver set might also include a customized mixer program that is used to select speaker types, speaker arrangement (stereo, 5.1, and so on), and provides speaker testing and diagnostics. Be sure to test the speakers to assure they are plugged into the correct jack(s) and are working properly.

Video Capture Cards

Video capture cards are used to capture video from analog or digital video sources. Video capture card types include

  • IEEE 1394 (FireWire) cards—These capture video from DV camcorders and can also be used for other types of 1394 devices, such as hard disks and scanners. An onboard IEEE 1394 port can also be used for video capture.
  • Analog video capture cards—These capture video from analog sources, such as cable or broadcast TV, composite video, or S-video. Many of these cards also include TV tuners. Examples include the Hauppauge WinTV PVR series and the ATI Theater Pro series.
  • Digital video capture card—These capture digital video from HDMI sources, such as HDTV.
  • The ATI All-in-Wonder series—These cards incorporate accelerated 3D video display output to monitors, video capture, and TV tuner support.

After installing any type of video capture card, you need to install the drivers provided with the card, connect the card to video sources, and, in the case of cards with onboard TV tuners, set up the TV tuner feature.

Troubleshooting Adapter Cards

Adapter card problems can be detected in the following ways:

  • A device connected to the adapter card doesn't work.
  • The adapter card listing in Device Manager indicates a problem.

To solve these problems, see the following sections.

Device Connected to Adapter Card Doesn't Work

If a device connected to an adapter card doesn't work, it could indicate a variety of issues. After verifying that the device works on another system, check the following:

  • Step 1.Check Device Manager and make sure the adapter card is listed as working. Windows XP uses the yellow ! symbol to indicate devices that are not working, and the red X mark to indicate devices that have been disabled. Windows Vista and Windows 7 also use a yellow ! mark for non-working devices, but use a down-arrow icon for disabled devices. In some cases, an adapter card will work after you install a driver upgrade. To learn more about driver and firmware upgrades, see "Performing Driver and Firmware Upgrades," in this chapter. To learn more about using Device Manager, see Chapter 13.
  • Step 2.Check the system BIOS setup to ensure that any onboard devices that might interfere with the adapter card's operation have been disabled.
  • Step 3.Make sure the adapter card is properly secured in the expansion slot. Refer to Figure 3-33.
  • Step 4.If the adapter card requires additional power, make sure an appropriate power cable is connected from the power supply to the card. Some IEEE-1394 and display adapter cards require additional power to operate properly.

Performing Driver and Firmware Upgrades

A device is only as good as the software that makes it work. Device drivers are found in two forms:

  • Driver files
  • Firmware

The drivers for most devices installed in Windows can be updated through the Update Driver wizard found in the properties sheet for the device in Device Manager. The wizard can locate updated drivers on the Internet or can be directed to install drivers from a location you provide, such as drivers on a floppy disk, CD, or a particular folder on a hard disk.

To learn more about using Device Manager, see Chapter 13.

Firmware, which is software stored on a flash memory chip, can also be upgraded, although most adapter cards don't use upgradeable firmware. If a firmware upgrade is available from the adapter card vendor, follow the vendor's instructions for installing the upgrade.

Some upgrades are installed by creating a special boot disk from the downloaded file provided by the vendor, while others are installed from within Windows. Regardless of how firmware is upgraded, it's very important to keep in mind that the upgrade process can take two or three minutes and must not be interrupted. If the firmware process is interrupted, the card will no longer function, and it must be repaired or replaced.

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