We’ve all seen those perfectly wired high-dollar rigs with cables completely hidden beneath the motherboard tray and have wanted that for our home-brewed PCs. Unfortunately, unless you’re prepared to buy or make cables that are precisely the correct length for the components in your system, a Voodoo-quality wiring job is nigh-impossible to achieve. However, with some zip ties and a little patience, you can get close.
Before you start, you’ll need something to restrain the cables. Some enthusiast PC cases come with a package of ties, but they’re also frequently available in the cable-tie area of your hardware store or in Radio Shack. We prefer small plastic zip ties, which you can buy at most hardware stores in quantities of 100 for around $5; Velcro straps will also work, and twist ties are even acceptable in a pinch. You’ll also need wire snips (to trim the ends of the zip ties), and some adhesive cable wranglers are also handy for attaching the bundled cables to the case. We also use flex tubing and shrink tubing to bundle up smaller cables. You can find the tubing at most electronics stores, or online at Frozencpu.com.
As always, feel free to do as much or as little with your PC wiring as you’d like. This is a project that can take from 10 minutes (if you want to do it quick and dirty) to several hours (if you want every little wire in perfect position).
1. Assess the Situation
Before you get your hands dirty, it’s a good idea to consider your plan of attack. First, untangle your cables and separate them based on their source and destination. Obviously, you can bundle all the power cables for your videocards together, but you probably don’t want to tie your hard drive’s SATA cable to your optical drive’s SATA cable.
You’ll also want to suss out the cable-management features of your case. Many cases, especially high-end ones, feature channels and holes that let you run cables behind the motherboard tray. This keeps them tidy and out of sight. Many cases also include binding clips or hooks to attach Velcro strips and tie downs.
2. Run Power Cables
A typical enthusiast PC has power cables running from the PSU to the drives, the videocard, and fans, as well as the two traditional ATX power connectors. Often, the supplemental ATX power connector is a prime candidate to run behind the motherboard tray, provided it’s long enough. As a general rule, we like to have one main vertical cable run, along the drive bays on the inside of the case. Typically, the trunk of that run is the main ATX power connector. With that in mind, go ahead and bundle the power leads for your videocards and your optical drive along with the ATX power connector, but use something you can disconnect later.
After your power leads branch off of the main run, you can make secondary bundles to keep the whole thing nice and tidy. For example, we also used zip ties to hook together the two PCI-E power leads required by our videocards.
3. Bundle Your Front Panel Headers
Next, we’re going to bundle and run our front-panel headers. We use a woven cable wrap, sometimes called flex tube braiding, and shrink tubing to hold it into place. Measure the length of flex tube you’ll need, then cut it to fit (image A). Slide the wires into the flex tube (image B), then cut a 1.5-inch piece of shrink tubing (image C) and place it around the end of the flex tube. Carefully heat the shrink tube using a heat gun until it cinches around the wires (image D), being careful not to melt the insulation on the wires. If you don’t have a heat gun, you can lock the flex tube in place using black electrical tape. Connect the wires and move on to the next step.
4. Run SATA Cables
SATA cables can be a little tricky to run. While they’re definitely easier to manage than old-style ribbon cables, they can still be unwieldy. The easiest thing to do is bundle them together using some thin zip ties. Depending on the case, you can buy cables that are either short enough that there’s no slack to hide, or long enough that you can run them behind the motherboard tray, where the excess cable will be out of sight. We bought long SATA cables from Newegg.com and ran the excess behind the motherboard tray.
5. Tidy and Cinch Down
The final steps are simple. Take all the cable bundles you’ve made and run them wherever you can find spaces. We cinched our main run down behind the drive bays, but you may have to take advantage of other routes, depending on your case. We usually Velcro extra cables coming out of the power supply to the bottom of the case. Finally, close up the case, and see how everything looks through the case’s window. After all, a good wiring job is all about the parts that people can see; it’s OK for the areas that are hidden from public inspection to be a little messy. To see the finished project, check out the Stimulus Package.