Some Better Uses for Drive Bays

Hello, and good day to you all, fair readers! I’m here to address a problem that I’m sure is fairly common among desktop PC owners: what do you do with all these 5.25″ drive bays? The idea of buying software, movies, and especially music on optical media like CDs or DVDs is quickly approaching “quaint” status. In this age of digital distribution, cloud storage, and network-based applications, I find that I’m using my optical drives for only two things:

  1. Installing operating systems
  2. Burning operating system install discs

And even that use for them is on its way out, as the latest versions of Linux and Windows can be installed via USB. The “disc” as we know it is going the way of the dinosaurs, but most tower-style computer cases have at least two, and sometimes even four or six 5.25″ drive bays. Having one optical drive can be seen as somewhat vestigial;¬† installing two is just plain silly, and any more than two can only be for ironic purposes, like a 3.5″ floppy drive placed in a modern high end gaming PC.

 

Make this joke a reality for 6 dollars!

Luckily, plenty of PC part manufacturers have stepped up to the task of putting all those empty drive bays to use. I’ve scoured our warehouse for useful 5.25″ drive bay-mounted devices, and ended up picking five that really stood out. So, without further ado, and in no particular order, here are five useful devices to take up all that empty room in your case:

Hard Drive Mobile Racks

One of the things you may be able to use is a mobile rack, which can be used to add and remove hard drives without opening your PC case. An unexpected added benefit is the nostalgia factor of slotting a large, rectangular object into an interface of some kind and closing the door, which reminds me of the old Nintendo days.

Note: if the hard drive does not work, do NOT take it out and blow into the SATA connectors.

Unlike the optical disk, hard drives are a physical media that seem fairly ensconced in our day to day computing lives. Sure, the looming threat of solid state drives are starting to cast the shadow of obsolescence on hard disk drives, but until they get significantly cheaper, HDDs are still the way to go for high capacity storage. If you have a mobile rack on your PC, you can easily back up your files using spare hard drives, putting them in and taking them out like so many backup tapes. I, personally, have one of these installed in my case, which I use to clone my file storage drive periodically. This has paid off – I’ve saved myself from losing everything on more than one occasion this way!

Hard Drive Cooling Bays

I’m personally of the opinion that more fans is always a good thing for a PC case, much to the consternation of my friends and relatives, who wonder how I live with the “jet engine noise” or express surprise that my computer doesn’t lift off the ground. But, keeping cool is worth any price, in my opinion.

Pictured: High performance air intake apparatus for a finely tuned machine

Hard drives are a computer component of the type that needs to be kept cool to function well (which is to say any computer component except for, perhaps, the case). A good deal of computer cases have fan mounting areas directly by the hard drives to make sure they don’t overheat, but a lot of cases put them into a dangerous area of “dead” airflow, letting them stew in their own operational heat. A drive bay-based hard drive cooler can avert the potential catastrophe that comes with a hard drive crash – components are replaceable, but your precious data isn’t! (Unless you back it up – see: hard drive mobile racks)

 Front Panel USB 3.0 Ports

If you’ve bought a motherboard any time within the past year, chances are it has USB 3.0 headers installed. You can tell by the signature blue connectors – which, you might notice, are sorely lacking on any case that costs less than 60 dollars. If you want easy access to your USB 3.0 ports and you’re using old parts or building on a budget, you are out of luck.

Wait a minute – no, you aren’t!

Luckily, they have a solution for that! Your drive bays can easily be adapted to add extra ports, even if they’re not ports that your case already supports. Expansion bays like this are typically just glorified extension cables, connecting directly to your motherboard from the drive bay – which means that almost any kind of port has some variant on this design, though USB 3.0 is an obvious choice.

The device pictured here can fit in either a 5.25″ drive bay or a 3.5″ drive bay with the included adapter – an adapter you can cannibalize if you want to put any other 3.5″ device in a 5.25″ drive bay.

Supplementary Power for SLI / CrossFire Graphics Configurations

In my time working as a content writer for OutletPC, I’ve taken a gander across many high end motherboards, many of them boasting support for four simultaneous graphics processors. There is a logistical problem involved – if you have four very high performance GPUs hooked up in tandem, it could be very difficult to find a power supply that will actually supply the needed juice to all of them.

More power! We need MORE POWER!

Enter this product, which I have only just found out exists: the FSP Booster x5. This actually functions as a secondary power supply which acts independently of your computer’s PSU, supplying power directly to your graphics cards. And, since it slots into a drive bay, you can even add more than one of them if your power draw needs are suitably ridiculous. Enthusiast class users, who typically have cases with many drive bays anyway, have a lot to gain from this tricky little device, which could also find use in other hobby-related projects.

Fan Speed Controllers

Typically, when it comes to controlling fan speed, I tend to be of the “always full blast all the time” school, as you may have already guessed. There are avenues one can take, however, to adjust the fan speed based on current system temperatures and performance demands, which is where fan controllers come in. Plus, unlabeled sliders and knobs automatically make your computer look important and complicated.

“Don’t touch that.”

Many different kinds of fan controllers exist – you’d be surprised, as it seems like a fairly straightforward device. Fan controllers with touch screens, automatic and manual override switches, and built-in temperature displays all exist. Plus, they can be used to control and dim LED or cold cathode computer case lighting, which allows for the inherently neat-sounding idea of a computer that literally glows red when it’s hot!

Anything You Can Imagine!

The drive bay covers themselves that come with your case can actually be used to create your own drive-bay mounted devices. Most of them are just plastic, which can easily be cut with a Dremel tool to accommodate your own modifications. I’ve actually done this on my computer case, gluing two of my drive bay covers together, and cutting a hole in them to make a mounting space for an 80mm case fan.

Remember this?

The sky’s the limit! Every single one of those empty drive bays in your computer case is a 5.25″ wide world of possibility. Possibility for everything except an optical disc drive, of course, because you have to draw the line somewhere.

3 thoughts on “Some Better Uses for Drive Bays


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