No matter how much a Desktop PC case changes over the years, it seems like there’s always one thing you can rely on: the 5.25” expansion bay. Whether you’re talking about a full-sized ATX desktop case, a minitower desktop, or even a small Home Theater PC (HTPC) you’ll find at least one 5.25” bay in every desktop case on the market. Sure, most people use these bays for DVD or Blu-ray optical drives, but what else can you do with all this space? The answers might surprise you.
The truth of the matter is that there are an almost limitless number of accessories available for installation inside the 5.25-inch expansion bays. In the interest of time (and sanity) I’ll focus on the devices that our editorial staff believes will be of most interest to average consumers. This list includes, cooling fans, speakers, card readers and I/O ports, removable drive enclosures, fan controllers, and bay adapters.
One of the first things that I add to every single desktop build in my home office is additional case fans. The two worst enemies of desktops are heat and dust. Overheating components are the first ones to fail, and over time high temperatures cause some desktop parts to wear out faster than they would if they were just a few degrees cooler.
The StarTech.com dual fan hard drive cooling kit ($18.99) provides maximum airflow for hot-running hard drives, and also provides additional cooling when used as intake fans on your desktop. Whether you use these fans to prevent overheating failures and extend the life of a hard drive or just use it to intake cool air to your desktop, these fans are great.
The fan unit mounts in any free 5.25-inch drive bay, and the hard drive is mounted directly behind it using the supplied 3.5 inch to 5.25 inch adapter brackets. Fresh cool external air is drawn into the case through a removable, cleanable filter and blown directly over the hard drive by two quiet running fans.
StarTech 5.25″ Drive Bay Hard Drive Cooler Features:
• Extends hard drive life and reliability
• Featuring new black bezel for today’s systems
• Fits into a standard 5.25″ drive bay
• Hardware mounting kit provided for 3.5″ hard drives
• Includes power splitter cable to draw power from your PC without reducing the total number of existing power connectors
• Uses two high-efficiency, ultra-quiet cooling fans
Case speakers are one of those “love them or leave them” accessories. You’re either the kind of person who wants basic speakers installed on your desktop so that you can hear system sounds or audio without connecting external speakers, or you’re the kind of person who insists on quality external speakers for listening to movies and music.
The StarTech.com internal speaker PC speaker system is a great solution for companies and schools who want audio capabilities for their desktop PCs without the clutter of external speakers. The internal speaker unit mounts in a 5.25″ PC drive bay and includes cables and a special internal to external backplate that allows an external connection to the sound card. A swivel mechanism also allows the sound to be directed to the left or right.
StarTech Black Internal 5.25 Inch Bay Speakers Features:
• All connection cables included
• Built-in 10W stereo amplifier
• Front-panel volume control and headphone jack
• LED power indicator
• One-year warranty
The audio quality of these internal speakers is perfectly acceptable for system sounds or some basic audio needs, but we’re basically talking about the same sound quality you can get from good laptop speakers: lots of highs and some midrange, but almost no bass. The StarTech speakers are priced at $38.99.
Card Readers and Ports
As more and more people use digital cameras we find ourselves constantly needing to transfer our photos from memory cards to our computers. Card Readers are perfect for this task because they allow us to take the memory card right out of our camera, plug it into the computer, and transfer the images in a matter of seconds. These devices also usually feature additional I/O ports, such as extra USB, Firewire, or eSATA ports so that we can connect other accessories directly to the front of our desktop.
My personal favorite card reader is the nMEDIAPC ZE-C128 ($21.99). This all-in-one USB 2.0 Card Reader with USB/IEEE 1394/e-SATA Port/HD Audio ports is one of the first accessories (after case fans) that I add to every desktop I own. The ZE-C128 easily fits inside a 5.25” drive bay and supports the latest flash card specifications: CF 4.0 (DMA mode), SD1.1/2.0 (SDHC), MMC4.1/4.2, MSPro parallel mode (4-bit), and xD 1.2.
The reader supports all e-SATA external hard drives, supports hot-swapping and plug-and-play function, and allows slot-to-slot read/write operation. This card reader is also USB bus powered so no external power connection is required. All internal cable connections on this driverless card reader use direct connection to motherboard onboard ports.
For those people who like to bring the card reader with them, StarTech.com’s 3.5” bay multi-panel ($24.99) gives you a removable flash card reader, plus two USB 2.0 ports, all in the same bay.
The portable 7-in-1 card reader lets you transfer music, pictures, and other data to and from your favorite flash media devices without having to connect them to your computer. Plus, just eject the removable reader from the bay and take card-reading capabilities wherever you go! Accepts the seven most popular formats:
• Compact Flash I/II
• IBM Micro Drives
• Smart Media
• Secure Digital
• Memory Sticks
• MS Pro cards
With no need for an external power adapter, the compact removable reader is perfect for lightweight travel. Eliminate the hassle of physically connecting every digital device to your computer, and enjoy card-reading capabilities anywhere.
Removable Drive Enclosures
Removable drive enclosures are perfect if you need to transport large files between your desktop and another computer. At the push of a button you can eject an entire hard drive from your desktop and plug it into another computer via USB. These removable drive enclosures come in versions that support both 3.5-inch desktop drives and 2.5-inch notebook drives. Our editorial staff usually prefers the 2.5-inch versions because the removable drives are smaller and easier to transport.
Perfect for large volume data offloads, external storage, or a simple way to swap storage between your notebook and desktop computers, StarTech InfoSafe 3.5″ Bay Removable 2.5″ SATA Drive Enclosure (SAT2510U2REM) is the ideal addition to any desktop.
Simply install the provided drive bracket & bay into any 5.25″ bay, or alternatively install 3.5″ bay in available floppy bay on host computer, and have the convenience of removable storage that will save you the time of having to fasten/unfasten the drive should you need to use it elsewhere. For added mobility, eject the 2.5″ drive enclosure and connect to any other computer or via USB for instant external drive storage. You can also purchase additional 2.5″ enclosures (SAT2510U2S) to have multiple storage devices or multiple users sharing same system. The StarTech InfoSafe enclosure is priced at $57.99.
StarTech InfoSafe 3.5″ Bay Removable 2.5″ SATA Drive Enclosure Features:
• 3.5″ insertion bay has durable aluminum top and sides
• Aluminum 2.5″ hard drive enclosure with plastic end caps
• Compatibility with both PC and Mac systems
• Hot-swappable; plug ‘n play
• Includes 5.25″ drive bay bracket, 3.5″ insertion bay and removable 2.5″ SATA hard drive enclosure
• Insert and remove 2.5″ drive enclosure at the push of a button
Status Displays and Fan Controllers
Fan controllers might not be anything new to gaming enthusiasts, but most average desktop PC users have never even heard of a fan controller and don’t have the slightest idea what these devices do. Well, as the name suggests, fan controllers allow you to take control over the cooling fans inside your desktop. Specifically, knowledgeable computer users rely on fan controllers to keep their desktops cool under heavy use, and keep them quiet when the desktop is idle.
Gaming enthusiasts were among the first to use fan controllers back in the days before liquid cooling when high-end video cards and overclocked processors needed banks of 80mm case fans for cooling. All those fans running on high sounded like a small jet engine in your office. At full speed, multiple case fans can easily produce enough noise to be heard across a room … or across a house.
A fan controller allows the user to change the fan speed from slow and quiet to max speed with the turn of a knob. The best fan controllers allow for independent control over multiple fans so that you can turn three fans down and still keep one fan running at full … or any combination of power levels.
You can see the rear of the fan controller here. In this
The Zalman ZM-MFC2 is one of the newest (and in my humble opinion one of the best) fan controllers and status displays currently on the market. The ZM-MFC2 features a real-time display of power consumption, four sensors for temperature monitoring, monitoring and control of one PWM fan and three standard case fans, an alarm system to notify failure of any of the fans, and each fan’s operation status is indicated with animated propeller images on the LCD. The ZM-MFC2 is priced at $69.99.
Drive Bay Adapters
Although there are many, many accessories available for 5.25” bays, from time to time you will run into devices that require the smaller 3.5” expansion bay for installation. The StarTech.com 3.5-inch to 5.25-inch adapter brackets allow 3.5-inch drives hard drives to be mounted in standard 5.25-inch drive bays. It works with 3.5″ IDE, SATA, SCSI, or SCA drives and includes screws to mount the drive. Honestly, there isn’t a lot to discuss here, a bracket is a bracket … and this one works perfectly fine for installing 3.5-inch devices inside a 5.25-inch bay. The StarTech adapter bracket is priced at $4.15.
At the end of the day, it’s not how many 5.25-inch bays your desktop has … but what you do with them that matters. Sure, you can load your new desktop with two DVD burners and a Blu-Ray drive, or you can just use one optical drive and use all those extra bays for accessories that might just make your computer more fun and functional at the same time.
While there is virtually no limit to the number of accessories compatible with the 5.25-inch expansion bay, some people will find some devices more useful than others. If you find any products you think we should have covered in this article, feel free to mention them in our discussion forums.