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Friday, July 13, 2012

Is it Time to Replace Your Flat PATA Ribbon Connectors?

Does the inside of your desktop computer resemble something akin to a rats nest? Multiple hard drives, DVD drives, maybe even an old floppy drive all connected to your motherboard with a bunch of wide and flat ribbon like cabling?  If this sounds like your computer, you’re not alone.

Up until just a few years ago, desktop computers have relied primarily on what is known as the Parallel ATA (or PATA) interface to connect various internal drives (hard drives, DVD drives, etc.) with the desktops’ motherboard and other device controllers. Bridging these connections, and thereby keeping everything running smoothly, are the traditional 40 and 80 pin ribbon cable connectors.

Available in a variety of lengths and colors, from the standard light gray cable with black, grey, and blue connectors, to bright lime green or red ribbon with matching color coordinated connections, flat PATA ribbon cables are typically one of the most cost effective pieces of hardware to be found inside of your desktop computer. In addition to being a cheap method of transferring data, flat PATA ribbon cables are also typically very sturdy; with a high tolerance for heat and a large amount of flexibility for reaching even the most oddly placed PATA motherboard connection. Although generally very cheap to purchase, the sturdiness inherent in the construction of a typical flat PATA ribbon cable adds a fair bit of longevity to these data cables. In fact, so well produced are most ribbon cables that in all of this writers years I have never had to replace a flat PATA ribbon cable due to any malfunction caused by physical degradation of the cable itself.

Despite this stellar build quality, there are a few instances where replacing a flat PATA ribbon cable may be advantageous or, very rarely, altogether necessary.

First off, when would it be absolutely necessary to replace a flat PATA ribbon cable? Typically only when the cable in question has suffered severe physical damage. Say someone took a pair of scissors and cut your cable halfway through horizontally, severing both the plastic ribbon covering and the wires inside. In an extreme example such as this, replacing your flat PATA ribbon cable would definitely be necessary. Even in less extreme instances, where there appears to be a small rip or tear in the ribbon cable itself, it is recommended that you replace your ribbon cable to eliminate the risk of data loss due to a damaged cable. However, be aware that some ribbon cables which appear to be severed, particularly ribbon cables commonly used to connect 3.5″ floppy drives to the motherboard, may come from the manufacturer with parts of the ribbon near to the plastic connector seemingly cut vertically along the ribbon, when in reality the ribbon simply came “pre-sliced” from the factory.

If your flat PATA ribbon cables have suffered no damage, then there’s no reason to replace them right? Not always…

As you’ll likely notice when you take a peek inside your computer case, flat PATA ribbon cables, while not very thick, have a rather large surface area which is not only unsightly (particularly if your computer has a see-through window,) but can in fact inhibit airflow around the inside of your computer. While not usually a huge hazard, having a bunch of ribbon cables blocking airflow around the inside of your case can none the less increase the risk of having higher temperatures within your computer case which, in turn, could cause all manner of issues as time goes on; including an increased risk of premature hardware failure due to higher than optimal temperatures. What’s the best way to tackle this airflow issue? By replacing your standard flat ribbon cables with rounded ribbon cables.

Available in many styles, lengths, and colors, rounded ribbon cables are basically flat ribbon cables which have been twisted to fit in a much more airflow efficient tube shaped plastic sheath. In addition to offering a variety of styles with which to enhance the “under the hood” visual appeal and airflow of your computer, the small form factor of rounded cables also make it easier to navigate through the insides of your computer when performing hardware upgrades or maintenance. While a rounded cable normally costs a bit more than a comparable standard flat PATA ribbon cable, the extra cost is relatively small when compared to the improved airflow, convenience, and stylistic gains which rounded cables bring to your computer.

One final tip on improving airflow within your computer: If you wish to do so without replacing your flat PATA ribbon cables with rounded cables, this can also be done with a bit of creativity. As mentioned earlier, flat PATA ribbon cables are very pliable. With their highly flexible nature, the extra unused length of a flat ribbon cable can easily be folded and fastened to the inside of your computer case with plastic fasteners and zip ties; up and out of the way of all important circulating air within the computer case.

So what are you waiting for? Crack open your computer and take a long, hard look at what’s inside. If it looks like a mess of cables, chips, drives, and dust, consider replacing or re-ordering all those ribbons floating around inside of your computer.

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