Find Your Route
After installing the motherboard, hard drives, power supply, and optical drive, I decided to look at the back side of the Define.
Note the various wires that the case needs, including those for the power switch, the power LED, and so on. I’ll get to those in a bit. Right now I’ll run the two power cables behind the motherboard, like so.
Not all cases have neat cutouts for routing cables, but it would have been almost as easy to run the cables along the side of the motherboard tray and then across to where they’re needed. If I’d had to do that, I might have needed an extension cable for the ATX12V connector.
Now that the power is connected, I can install the CPU cooler. After doing that, I run the two sets of wires around the edge of the fan, and affix them to one of the fan screws with a twist tie.
Next up are the internal case connectors. I route these around the back of the case and through appropriate cutouts. Note that audio cables typically come with two connectors--and you’ll need only one. I recommend tying the excess connector off, like so.
The wires for front-panel connections are very long. I recommend taking a nylon buckle strap with an adhesive pad and tying down the excess front-panel cable length. This arrangement makes the case side easier to close, and keeps the small wires from getting in the way.
Next up are the SATA power cables. Once that’s done, I dress the excess length of the power connections. It's worthwhile to look over the whole affair at this point.
Okay, now it’s time to connect the SATA data cables. Note that I route the data cables to minimize the potential of blocking airflow, but I don’t tie them down. I find that SATA cables are the ones I’m most frequently detaching and reattaching, so I like keeping them easy to access.
Note that I’ve also routed the PCI Express power cables behind the motherboard so that they emerge at the back end of the graphics card. The only time I’ve ever had a graphics card fry on me is when a PCI Express power cable blocked the fan completely. I heard no noise, and the GPU died from overheating before I knew what was happening.
That area under the motherboard may offend some neatniks. But you never really see it. Instead, below is what you see, once the system is fully assembled.
Now that I’ve routed all the power connections, a number of extra power cables are left. I use a Velcro strap to tie off the excess in as small and compact a bundle as I can create.
With the cables routed, bundled, and tied down, I need to assess whether I've met the main goals of cable organization: maximizing airflow and minimizing the chance that a stray cable can damage a fan or other component. Let’s check the inside of the system.
It looks like the system has unobstructed airflow, and no stray wires are floating around, just waiting to create problems. The underside of the motherboard may not look all that neat; but despite the relatively tight quarters, I was able to attach the side panel with no problems or unsightly bulges.
Of course, if you are obsessed with neatness, you can do even more, by employing a few wire extenders and some more-judicious tie-downs. If you prefer a really clean routing of wires and cables, go for it. Just remember: Don’t use zip ties! When you upgrade or rebuild your system, you’ll be much happier.