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How to add an expansion card to your desktop computer

Have you ever wanted to add more USB ports to your desktop computer? Or maybe a video card or wireless (Wi-Fi) network adapter? Here's how to add an expansion card to your desktop computer.

How to add an expansion card to your desktop computer

One of the coolest things about desktop computers is that you can add more functionally to it by installing an expansion card. Expansion cards range from video cards and RAID controllers to USB ports and wireless (Wi-Fi) network adapters. But before you can do anything, you will need to know a few things:

  • What expansion slots you have available in your computer?
  • What is the height (full or half) of your computer case?
  • What are the power requirements for the expansion card you want to install?

But before you can do anything, you need to know what expansion card slots your desktop computer may have available. The most common expansion slot is the PCI Express (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe, PCI-e)) bus type. See #1 and #2 in the installation instructions at the bottom of this article to find out how to open up your computer case to check.

The different PCI-e bus types

Now PCI-e slots and expansion cards come in different bus sizes, varying in the number of connectors and bus speed. Generally, the more connectors, the faster the transfer rate.

A photo of a PCI Express x16 slot
PCI Express x16 slot (82 connectors per side x 2 sides = 164 connectors)

A photo of a PCI Express x4 slot
PCI Express x4 slot (32 connectors per side x 2 sides = 64 connectors)

A photo of a PCI Express x1 slot
PCI Express x1 slot (18 connectors per side x 2 sides = 36 connectors)

The two different computer case heights

Once you know what expansion slot(s) your desktop computer has available, you need to find out what height (full-size or half-size) your computer case is.

A photo of a full-height expansion slot
Full-height expansion slot

A photo of a half-height expansion slot
Half-height expansion slot

Now a full-size case can use either full or half size expansion cards. If the expansion card you are looking at installing is low profile, the manufacturer usually includes full-size and half-size mounting brackets. If the expansion card is full height, you will not be able to put it in a half-size case, so double check it before purchasing.

Check the expansion card power requirements

Now everything that you plug into your motherboard requires power. The drives, processor, and even the memory modules require a certain amount of energy. Check the specifications for the expansion card you want to install and determine how much power it requires.

The next thing you need to check is how many watts your power supply delivers. The power output is crucial. Typically there is a power output table on the side of the power supply inside of your desktop computer that tells you what the maximum DC output is.

A photo of a typical desktop power supply output table
A typical desktop power supply output table

If your computer is a low-profile or Small Form Factor (SFF), knowing what the power output is critical. Most SFF computers have smaller power supplies (physical size) that have lower power output. Generally, the output of an SFF power supply is less than 300 watts, which may or may not have enough power to run an additional expansion card.

And to top it off, the expansion card you want to install might even require more power than it can get through the PCI-e bus, thus requiring an additional connection or two from the power supply.

High-end video cards are known to require an additional PCI-e power plug(s) from the power supply. If your power supply doesn't have enough PCI-e (6 or 8 pins), Molex (4 pins), or SATA (15 pins) connections, you will need to upgrade your power supply.

A photo of a video card that has both 8-pin and 6-pin PCI-e power connections
A video card that has both 8-pin and 6-pin PCI-e power connections

Now that you have the required information and purchased your expansion card, it is time to install it.

Installing an expansion card in a desktop computer

Installing an expansion card is relatively easy. You may or may not require tools, as some computer cases are tool-free. At the most, you might need a Philips head screwdriver to get the side of the case open and to secure the expansion card to the computer case.

  1. Disconnect the power cord from the computer. After disconnecting the power cord, place your hand on any metal part of the case to discharge any residual energy. Never work on a system that is plugged in and energized.
  2. Open the computer case. This step usually requires taking the side or top panel off. Look at the back of the computer case and determine what side the motherboard connections are on. The side panel you need to remove is on the opposite side of these.
  3. Remove the expansion slot cover panel on the backside of the case. Some expansion slot panels have a screw holding them in-place; some are stamped right into the metal back of the case. If it is a stamped panel, you will have to work it back and forth to break it off, so be careful not to cut your fingers.
  4. Install the expansion card. Most cards will slip right in, but make sure the notched edge of the mounting bracket slides down into the slot in the case. Sometimes you have to give it a little push from the outside of the case to get it in. Once it is in place, secure it down.
  5. Replace the side of the case, connect the power cord, and power your computer up.

If Windows doesn't automatically install the driver for the expansion card, you may have to use the installation disk that came with it. If the expansion card did not come with installation media, go to the manufacturer's website and download it.

Using a drive adapter or docking station to access a drive

When it comes to repairing computers, there are times when I have to be able to access Hard Disk Drives (HDD), Solid State Drives (SSD), or CD/DVD drives outside of a laptop or desktop case. That is when I need to use a drive adapter or docking station. So here are some of my favorite drive adapters and dock stations.

Using a drive adapter or docking station to access a drive

Having a power supply or motherboard fail can be a real pain in the butt. You cannot get your computer to start up, but you cannot even get to any of your documents or settings. That is when having a second computer and a drive adapter or docking station comes in handy.

Using a drive adapter or docking station can convert an HDD or SSD drive to a USB device. And if you use a drive adapter, you can connect a CD/DVD drive to an ultra-thin laptop and use it a record or playback CDs or DVDs.

Now I have several different drive adapters and docking stations that I use for different uses. The majority of them are USB 3.0, but I do have a few that are USB 2.0.

The easiest one to use is a drive adapter that attaches directly to the back of the device. This type is what I use to connect a CD/DVD drive to ultra-thin laptops that do not have CD/DVD drive. I also use it with desktop computers with CD/DVD drives that do not work.

Photo of a single drive adapter
Photo of a single drive adapter

Now the majority of drive adapters and docking stations can only work with Serial ATA (SATA) drives. The one pictured above works with SATA drives and 2.5" or 3.5" Parallel ATA (PATA) for those 'old school' drives.

And the cool thing about this drive adapter is the power supply for it uses a standard Molex connector. You can use it to power up any older device that has a Molex connection.

Photo of a single drive docking station
Photo of a single drive docking station

The most common docking station is for a single SATA drive. The beautiful thing about docking stations is they have power buttons, so you do not have to disconnect the USB connection before disconnecting the power supply.

Photo of a multiple drive docking station
Photo of a multiple drive docking station

You can also get docking stations that can hold more than one drive. These come in handy if you are cloning one drive to another. They can also be used to recreate failed RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) arrays.

The downside to docking stations is you can only connect 2.5" or 3.5" HDD's or SSD's to them. If you want to attach a CD/DVD drive, you will need to use a drive adapter.

Using either a drive adapter or docking station is just like using an external drive. Just attach it to a USB port and power it up. Most computers will automatically install a driver and assign it a drive letter. From there, you are ready to go.

Security and your computer

With the recent outbreak of data encrypting malware, keeping your computer secure is a significant issue. There isn't just one thing that you can do to secure your computer, but multiple. So here are few ways to make sure your computer is as secure as possible.

Security and your computer

Operating system security

Is your device up to date?
Is your device up to date?

Keeping your operating system up to date is essential for security. Microsoft does a pretty good job of issuing patches and updates for Windows, especially when they discover a new vulnerability.

But if you are not keeping your OS up to date with patches and updates, you could be making your computer vulnerable to any current or future exploits. And if you are still using an OS like Windows XP or Windows Vista that does not have support from Microsoft anymore, you need to upgrade your OS.

If you have turned off Windows Update, turn it back on. And if Windows Update is not working correctly, here is how to fix it.

Troubleshooting Windows Update problems

Anti-virus security

Is your anti-virus up to date?
Is your anti-virus up to date?

A good anti-virus program is essential for security. You can get an anti-virus program with all of the bells and whistles (firewall, identity protection, custom browser, etc.). Or you can get one with just a virus scanner. Either way, you have to have some form of protection.

Now Microsoft includes an anti-virus program inside of Windows (Windows Defender), and it works reasonably well. But there are plenty of other anti-virus programs out there, including a security suite your Internet Service Provider (ISP) may provide.

But if you want to know how they all stack up, go over to the independent IT security institute AV-Test. They test all of the most popular anti-virus programs regularly. They cover multiple platforms (Windows, Mac, and Android).

AV-TEST | Antivirus & Security Software & AntiMalware Reviews

I like using a layered approach to my computer security, using different programs that complement each other.

How to use layered security to protect your computer

Web browser security

Is your web browser up to date?
Is your web browser up to date?

Having a secure web browser is mandatory in my book. And since web browsers have become targets for online exploits, you need to know your browser is safe and secure.

I like the fact that Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox check for updates when you start them up. And they also get updated more frequently than Internet Explorer, or Microsoft Edge does.

There are two (2) things I like to do to my browsers to improve their security:

  1. Disable Adobe Flash. Hackers have been exploiting Adobe Flash for years now by getting bogus Flash ads into third-party ad networks.
  2. Anti-virus. I prefer an anti-virus program that integrates into the browser using an extension or add-on.

And since ads also are becoming an issue, I will sometimes recommend using an ad blocker like Adblock Plus. There is a version for almost every browser.

E-mail security

Is your e-mail secure
Is your e-mail secure?

E-mail is currently one of the most popular ways to spread malware. You have to be very careful with what e-mail attachments you open. Knowing how to spot a piece of spam e-mail is essential.

How to spot a piece of spam e-mail

I use the anti-spam program Mailwasher to filter out the junk and spam from my e-mail. I also have configured my anti-virus program to monitor Mailwasher for viruses, even though Mailwasher, by default, renders all mail in text format and cannot open attachments.

But when Mailwasher does download a suspicious attachment, my anti-virus program will scan it and flag it as such. I use the Pro version, but Mailwasher does have a free version that is sponsored by advertising.

Eliminate spam from your inbox with MailWasher

Password security

Are your passwords secure?
Are your passwords secure?

Reusing passwords is a big security no-no. It's nice to remember your passwords easily, but it can be a nightmare if someone were able to guess them. That is why you do not want to use the same password over and over again.

If you are like me, coming up with a unique password for every different place you log into can be hard. Luckily there are password generators that can make it easy to create secure passwords. One of my favorites is the Norton Identity Safe Password Generator.

Norton Identity Safe Password Generator

Using the Norton Identity Safe Password Generator, you can create passwords up to 32 characters long that have mixed case letters, numbers, and punctuation with no similar characteristics.

Now that you have generated a secure password, why not test it out. Gibson Research Corporation (GRC) has a bunch of cool security tools on their website, one of them being Password Haystack.

Password Haystack

Password Haystack is a brute force password calculator that will tell you how long it will take to guess any password. Go ahead and enter your chosen password and see how long it can take to hack it. You may be surprised at how little time it can take to crack it.

How to perform a clean Windows 10 installation

Doing computer repair for a living, I see quite a few computers that could benefit from a clean, fresh installation of Windows 10. Almost always, these computers started out running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 and, at some point in time, were upgraded to Windows 10.

How to perform a clean Windows 10 installation

Then, of course, there are times that the registry has gotten corrupted or the hard drive has failed. But whatever the case, a clean, fresh installation of Windows 10 is always a great way to get your computer back to tip-top shape.

Now you might be thinking that just performing a reset of Windows 10 would work perfectly fine. And in most cases, you would be right. But if your computer originally came with Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, you could have problems. Let me explain.

When you bought your computer new, it came with a hidden recovery partition with all of the installation files for your version of Windows. If that version was Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, the data got replaced when you upgraded to Windows 10.

The recovery media issue with upgrading to Windows 10
The recovery media issue with upgrading to Windows 10

But the problem that I have encountered is the upgraded recovery partition sometimes doesn't work. So, when you try and reset Windows 10, it fails. A clean installation of Windows 10 fixes that issue. With a clean, fresh Windows 10 installation, you will know that everything will work.

The only down-side to a clean Windows 10 install is the fact that you have to reinstall all of the programs you installed. But if your system will not boot, then it is a moot point. You would have to reinstall them anyway.

Backup and inventory

So, the first thing to do is to backup your computer. You will need an external drive that is relatively large (I use 1TB, and 2TB drives myself) and a blank CD/DVD (system repair disk). Here is an article on how to use Windows 10 Backup.

Backup your files with File History and Windows Backup in Windows 10

The second thing to do is to take inventory of the hardware and software inside of your computer. Use a program like Belarc Advisor to create a list of hardware and software on your computer.

Make sure you print a copy of the results. You can also save a copy to an external drive if you like. But a printed copy will work the best, as you can check off items that you install after the reinstallation of Windows 10.

Create the Windows 10 installation media

This step is relatively easy. All you have to do is download the Windows 10 media creation tool. It is a stand-alone program that does not require installation to run. Just double-click on the application, and you are ready to start.

Windows 10 Media Creation Tool options
Windows 10 Media Creation Tool options

You will need either a blank DVD or an 8GB USB drive to create the bootable installation media. If you run the media creation tool on the same computer as you are going to reinstall Windows 10 on, it will automatically select the recommenced options.

Clearing the hard drive

Now comes the time to wipe the drive or just the Windows 10 partition. If you have a Dell or HP computer, they have a diagnostic partition, so you may want to wipe just the OS partition only.

Keep in mind that if you upgraded from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, the recovery partition that came with your computer to restore factory settings no longer functions. Sometimes it might be better to wipe the whole drive clean and be done with it. But that is entirely up to you.

I like to use the disk wiping tools included on the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD). All you have to do is download the most current ISO image and burn it to a CD. You can create a bootable USB drive too. The instructions are on the UBCD website.

Now, since the UBCD uses a version of Linux, it may take a little work to get your computer to boot up. If your system has Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) enabled, you will have to go into the BIOS and disable it temporarily.

Installing Windows 10

Now that your drive is wiped clean, it is time to install Windows 10. If you are using a DVD, turn your computer on, eject the DVD tray, insert the Windows 10 DVD you created, and restart your computer. If you are using a USB drive, plug it in, and start your computer.

Since there is no operating system, your computer will search all available media for a boot record. Once it finds the Windows 10 media, the installation will begin.

During the installation, you may get a dialog box requesting your Windows 10 product key. Windows 10 is a little different from previous versions of Windows, in that the product key is not stored on your computer, but in the cloud. Microsoft calls it Digital Entitlement.

With Digital Entitlement, you do not need to enter your product key during installation. Just click on the I don't have a product key link on the bottom of the screen. Once the installation is complete, Windows will automatically activate the first time your system can get online.

From here, all you have to do is install the programs and features you want. Then sit back and enjoy your clean, fresh Windows 10 installation.

Use the Microsoft Update Catalog to find and install Windows drivers and updates

Are you having problems finding Windows drivers for your older hardware? Or have you had an update to Windows recently fail to install and want to install it manually? Then the Microsoft Update Catalog may be just what you need.

Using the Microsoft Update Catalog to find Windows drivers and updates

Sometimes repairing Windows computers can be hard, especially when it comes to drivers and updates. Usually, using the standard means of obtaining drivers (Device Manager / manufacturer website) and updates (Windows Update) is relatively easy.

But there are times when I cannot find a device driver or an update to Windows fails to install. That is when I go over to the Microsoft Update Catalog and see what I can find.

The Microsoft Update Catalog is a collection of Microsoft drivers, hotfixes and software updates like Windows Update. They are the same files you receive through Windows Update.

Just like Windows Update, there are three (3) types of updates: Important, Recommended, and Optional (drivers). The only difference is that you can choose what version you download.

Searching the catalog is relatively straightforward. For failed updates, I use the Knowledge Base (KB???????) number. For drivers, I use manufacturer/model number or the hardware id from Device Manager.

Finding and installing Windows Updates

Now before downloading updates, make sure that Windows Update is working correctly. Check the Windows Update history and see if all updates are failing to install or if it is just one.

If all updates are failing, take a look at this article, Troubleshooting Windows Update problems. If it is only one particular update that is failing, then I would go ahead and download it then manually install it.

First, you will need the Knowledge Base number from the Windows Update history to use for the search query.
Finding and installing Windows Updates 1
Once you have it, type it into the search field and click on Search.

The second thing you will need to know is what version of Windows you have and if it is 32-bit or 64-bit for the search results.
Finding and installing Windows Updates 2
Some updates are specific to one version of Windows. Some are general, across the board, every version of Windows.

Once you find the update you need, click on the Download button. A separate window will open with the update name and link to it. Just left-click on the link and choose whether you want to open it or save it. Since some of these can be rather large, I like to download them to my computer first, then install them.

Finding and installing Windows device drivers

Usually, the Device Manager inside of Windows works great for finding device drivers. If there is a driver for your version of Windows, it can automatically download and install it.

But what happens when there is not a device driver for your version of Windows? That is when you need to look for one for a previous version of Windows. Let me explain.

For example, you find that Windows 10 doesn't have a driver for your older hardware. You check the manufacturer's website, and they do not have one either. Or worse, they have gone out of business.

For this exercise, I will use a Windows 10 computer and a brand-new RAID controller I have had sitting here for around eight (8) years or so. The box indicates the last operating system that was supported was Microsoft Vista, so it is safe to say that Windows 10 will not have a driver.

Usually, the first thing I do is psychically check the device for any manufacturer name or model number. If I can find a model name or number, I use it as the search query in the Microsoft Update Catalog.

If I cannot find anything on the device that identifies it, I install it a computer and start it up.
Finding and installing Windows device drivers 1
I then go into Device Manager and let it try to find a driver. If Device Manager cannot find a driver, I use the hardware id
Finding and installing Windows device drivers 2
as a search query in the Microsoft Update Catalog.

Now I know that there are no drivers for Windows 10, so I have to find one for an earlier version of Windows. I will first look for a Windows 8.1 driver, then a Windows 7 driver, then a Windows Vista, and then a Windows XP driver.
Finding and installing Windows device drivers 3
As long as it is the right platform (32-bit or 64-bit), I should be able to use it.

Once I find a driver, in this case, it's for Windows XP 64-bit, I download it to a folder on my local drive. Now the downloaded driver file will have a .CAB extension, so before I can use it, I will need to extract the data from it.

Once I get the files/folders extracted, I go into Device Manager and select Update Driver. I then select Browse my computer for driver software. From there, I browse over to and select the folder where I extracted the driver files. I also check the Include subfolders checkbox. I then click on Next,
Finding and installing Windows device drivers 4
and Windows 10 installs the driver.

For more information on the Microsoft Update Catalog, follow the links below.

Microsoft Update Catalog
How to download updates that include drivers and hotfixes from the Windows Update Catalog

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