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How to connect your system panel connector and case cables

Down to the wire

Featured post How to connect case cables

Hooo boy. Here comes the fun part of our How to Build a PC guide. And by fun, I mean, excruciatingly awful and needlessly fiddly. It’s time to connect up your system panel connector and all your case cables to all the teeny tiny metal prongs dotted around your motherboard. Hooray!

Step 1: All right, let’s get the worst bit out of the way first. You may want to employ the use of a torch/headlamp or magnifying glass for this part, as you’ll need to find the location of your system panel connector on your motherboard. This is where you’ll be connecting some of your case’s front panel controls like the power button. The writing that labels where it is on the motherboard itself is usually pretty tiny, so it may be more useful to consult your motherboard manual to help you find it. On the whole, though, you’re looking for something like this:

If you squint, you can see tiny, tiny letters saying + PWR LED and + HDD LED on the motherboard's very lower edge.

If you squint, you can see tiny, tiny letters saying + PWR LED and + HDD LED on the motherboard’s very lower edge underneath all those pins in the bottom right corner. That’s your system panel connector.

Once you’ve located the system panel connector, it’s time to find the corresponding headers coming out of your case – these are tiny little wires with thin plastic tubes on the end of them, and should be dangling somewhere on the right hand side of your case, possibly tucked away in a drive bay somewhere.

You’ll notice that each little plastic bit has something written on it, like HDD LED+, HDD LED -, PLED+, PLED- and RST SW and PWR SW. As you can imagine, these are the corresponding connectors for the power button (and its corresponding LED light if your case has one), reset switch and your HDD light.

Say hello to your front panel cables.

Say hello to your front panel cables: USB3 (far left), front panel (centre left), speaker (centre right) and USB2 (far right).

If you’d rather not have bits blinking away at you in the darkness, then by all means leave the LED connectors out. But you will need to connect the power and reset buttons at the very least. You’ll also notice that there’s a plus and minus on each connector – connect them the wrong way and they won’t work.

Again, it’s probably wise to have your motherboard manual open at this point, as there should be a nice big diagram that’s a lot easier to see than trying to peer at the labels on the motherboard itself. All you need to do, though, is slot the right bit of plastic on the appropriate prong of metal. Not difficult, just damn fiddly.

All motherboards should come with one of these as standard, really. They make life so much easier!

All motherboards should come with one of these as standard, really. They make life so much easier!

And if you’re really lucky, your motherboard will come with one of these Q-connector beauties (see above) that lets you do the fiddly bits out in the open where there’s more light. Once that’s done, you can just plonk the whole thing down on the system panel connector hassle-free. Otherwise, your system panel connector should look something like this when it’s done:

If you don't have a Q-connector, then you'll have to insert all the pins manually on the motherboard itself. Get those reading glasses at the ready.

If you don’t have a Q-connector, then you’ll have to insert all the pins manually on the motherboard itself. Get those reading glasses at the ready.

Step 2: All right, we’re nearly there. Next up are the USB headers. Most cases these days come with at least a couple of USB ports on the front, and will have a corresponding cable sticking out of the front panel along with the system connectors described above. Thankfully, we’re dealing with normal-sized headers this time, not tiddly sticks made for ants.

There may even be two USB headers on the front of your case – one for any USB2 ports and one for faster USB3 connections. As you’ve probably guessed, you’ll need to put them in the right headers on your motherboard to get the right speeds. You don’t want to end up sticking your USB3 header into a USB2 slot, after all.

This is a USB3 header. Note the blank pin in the top left corner - this will help you work out which way round to put your header.

This is a USB3 header. Note the blank pin in the top left corner – this will help you work out which way round to put your header.

Again, it’s probably worth consulting your motherboard manual here, as scouring the board for the appropriate labels can be pretty hard on the old eyeballs. There’s usually only one USB3 header (see above), but you’ll probably find you’ve got several USB2 ones (see below). If you don’t need them all, just use the one that’s closest to where you’ve popped out the connector in the hole of your motherboard tray.

Most motherboards have more than one USB2 header, so just use the one closest to your cable.

Most motherboards have more than one USB2 header, so just use the one closest to your cable.

Once you’ve found the appropriate connectors, make sure the header you’re holding is the right way round – each one has a dud pin missing to help you figure out which way up it needs to be – and press it down until it goes no further.

Naturally, the same thing goes for any USB Type-C headers you might have as well – see below. Not all motherboards have USB Type-C connectors, so if you’ve got a case with one on its front panel, make sure to get a motherboard that lets you take advantage of it. Otherwise, you’ll just have a dud port on the top of your PC that’s no use to anyone.

If your motherboard has a USB Type-C header, it will look like this.

If your motherboard has a USB Type-C header, it will look like this.

Step 3: We’re so close now. The last thing we need to do is connect the headphone and microphone jacks on the front panel of your PC. There’s probably only one cable left among all the others you’ve picked through so far, this time labelled HD AUDIO. It may also have an accompanying cable labelled AC’97 attached to it. Don’t worry. This is for older motherboards that don’t have an HD Audio connection, so feel free to ignore it.

If your unsure which way round your front panel cables should go, look for the blank pin.

If your unsure which way round your front panel cables should go, look for the blank pin.

The HD Audio cable goes in a header that’s sometimes called AAFP, but can also be labelled as JAUD1. This is usually located on the bottom of your motherboard, often next to your USB2 headers, and you should be able to identify it by its shape and pin layout.

Like before, connecting this is simply a matter of making sure the header is the right way up and pushing it down over the pins. If you’re unsure where it is, remember to consult the diagram in your motherboard manual.

The HD Audio header will sometimes be labelled AAFP.

The HD Audio header will sometimes be labelled AAFP.

Step 4: Finally, it’s almost over. In fact, for some of you, it is over. Congratulations! You have successfully built your very own PC. Go and get yourself a second cuppa – you’ve earned it.

However, if your case has speakers, or is able to beep warnings at you, you may have one final string of cables left to install (sorry). It’s time to take a trip back to that mess of plastic tubes we picked through earlier, as your speaker pins will be located right next door to your system panel connectors.

If your case has a speaker (most don't), you'll find these headers next to the system panel connector.

If your case has a speaker (most don’t), you’ll find these headers next to the system panel connector.

Hopefully, they’re a bit easier to find this time, as they should be the only remaining pins in that particular cluster. Slot the right bits of plastic over the correct pins, and voila. You’re done! Now you can get that second cuppa as well.

Now all we need to do is figure out how to put that case back together again, connect your peripherals and tidy everything up. We’re in the home stretch!

Contents:

How to build a PC guide
How to install a power supply

How to install a motherboard
How to install a case fan
How to install a CPU
How to install RAM
How to install a graphics card
How to install an SSD / HDD
How to connect your system panel connector and case cables
How to put your case back together again and connect your peripherals
How to install Windows 10

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Who am I?

Katharine Castle

Hardware Editor

Katharine writes about all the bits that go inside your PC so you can carry on playing all those lovely games we like talking about so much. Very partial to JRPGs and the fetching of quests.

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