How To: Manage Your Cables

Nathan Edwards

Cables suck.

But it’s not your fault. You spend an hour or so arranging your desk, moving your monitor, setting up your speakers—the last thing on your mind is cable management. When it comes time to plug everything in, you just want to fire up your rig and commence fragging, or movie watching, or minesweeping. You don’t want to get arm-deep in the mucky muck you’ve created behind your computer. What you can’t see won’t hurt you, right?

Wrong. Given time, sloppy cable management always rears its ugly head. It never improves by itself, and, in fact, it gets worse with each new device you wire into your rig. But you don’t have to get crazy to get clutter free and connected. We’ve broken cable management into four easy steps, and you probably already have all the tools you need!

1. Untangle Your Cables

It goes without saying, be sure your computer is off before you start yanking every cable in sight. And pull gently.

The back of your computer can look bad enough if you’re a simple PC user; if you’re a gadget geek, it turns into a mythological nightmare. First, there are the must-have cables: a power cable for the computer itself, video and power cables for the monitor, a cable for your mouse and keyboard, and a network cable. Sound enthusiasts will add a few more to the mix, as a typical 5.1 setup comes with cables for all five satellites, a power cable for the subwoofer, and possibly an additional cable for an external volume control.

Get a little fancier and you can throw in a USB headset for gaming, two cables to power and connect an external drive, USB and power cables for a printer, and a USB cable for a webcam. That puts us at 19 separate cables, all undoubtedly going to a single tower and surge protector.

Before you start tidying, you need to start untangling. And to untangle, you must first unplug. Going with the clean-slate approach is the best way to start managing your cable catastrophe. It’s impossible to make order out of a chaotic mess of wires. You’ll save far more time by disconnecting all your cables and carefully laying them on the floor next to your workspace. If you’re overambitious, you can organize the cables by type—speaker, USB, power—but no matter how you do it, you’ll want to have a game plan.

2. Label Your Cables

You can certainly tell some cables from others by sight alone, but what about all of those black USB cords you have? Or your speaker wires?

Don’t use a Sharpie to label cables—it will surely make a mess. Thin-tipped markers are your friends.

Labeling your cables is just as important as tying them together because you don’t want to have to trace through a tangled web of cords to find out what’s what. You can buy fancy labels from the store or do what we did—use colored tape to label cables by type (USB, power, etc.), then write their purposes on the tape itself.

3. Protect your Power

Most computer-based cables are thin, efficient, and tidy. By comparison, power cables are large, unwieldy, and irritating. And they take up a ton of room when they’re all jacked into a single surge protector.

Just throwing a surge protector on the floor is the surest way to begin a cable nightmare. Concealing wires is an art form, and you can start your magnum opus by making sure your surge protector stays in one place. We used screws, but you can also use Velcro strips to mount your power strip. Some good target locations include baseboards, the underside of your desk, or even the back of a desk leg.

4.Clamp your Cables

Now that you have laid the framework for your masterful movement toward cable happiness, it’s time to get to the nitty-gritty. Grab your zip ties, roll up your sleeves, and start bunching cables together. Be sure to combine like-minded cables as much as possible. For example, speaker wires shouldn’t go alongside USB cords, as your speakers might pick up interference when you use a USB device. The same is true for network cables and power cords—consider them the oil and water of your wiring setup.

Tie, tie, tie. You can never use enough cable ties, trust us. They’re easy to cut off if you make a mistake, just don’t nick a cable along with the tie.

Start at the back of your motherboard and work your way toward each major area in your workstation: desk, subwoofer, and so forth. Keep the overall line tight by throwing on a new tie every six inches or so. And once you’re done, you can use cable clips to conceal these larger cable mash-ups along the underside of your desk.

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