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How To Install a PCI Card
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Your computer contains all the required circuits to operate as designed but it does not contain every possible function that it is capable of performing. This is where the add-on comes in. You can add functions to your computer by installing an additional circuit card on the motherboard. These circuit cards increase the functionality of the computer. They are called cards, boards, adapters or controllers but all these terms mean basically the same thing.

How To Install a PCI card in your PC

For those people without computer or electronics experience, the task of opening up their computer and installing circuit boards may seem like a daunting prospect. However the job is really not that hard. If you follow the instructions below and are very careful, you may be surprised at how well you do. If you would really rather not take on this job, then have a professional do it for you.

First some history:

In 1984, IBM marketed its PC AT. At that time the CPU, memory, and I/O bus all shared a common 8MHz clock. This I/O bus became known as the ISA (Industry Standard Architecture) bus. ISA was a 16-bit interface, which meant that data could only be transferred two bytes at a time. More importantly, the ISA bus only operated at 8 MHz and typically required two or three clock signals to transfer those two bytes of data. This was not a problem for devices that were inherently slow (i.e. COM ports, printer ports, sound cards or CD-ROMs), however the ISA bus was too slow for high performance disk access and display adapters.

If your computer is old enough, you may look inside on the motherboard and see ISA slots. They are typically black in color.

ISA Slot

When the ISA bus became mature, other architectures were developed. It was finally the PCI bus that successfully brought the needed characteristics to market. Looking on your motherboard inside the PC, the PCI slots are typically white in color and are shorter than the ISA slots.

32 Bit PCI Slot

Dimensions of the 32 Bit PCI Slot

PCI Express

In 2004, a new bus was introduced, the PCI Express. Do not confuse a PCI card with a PCI Express card. There are several versions of PCI Express with varying slot sizes.


What you need is an empty PCI slot in your computer. There are usually a few PCI slots on the computer motherboard that line up with some brackets on the back of the computer. The motherboard is the largest circuit board in the computer and contains all the required functions for the computer to operate.

Computer Motherboard

To install a PCI card, turn off and unplug the computer. Before handling the PCI card, discharge static electricity from your body by touching a grounded part of your computer chassis. Remove the computer case/cover with a screwdriver and find an available PCI slot. You will want to avoid static shock so work in a room with relative humidity of more than 50% and on a floor without carpeting.

Remove the bracket that matches up with the PCI slot. After orienting the card properly (one end has a gap on the edge) carefully push the PCI card firmly into the PCI slot avoiding touching the components on the PCI card. Some cards are more difficult to insert than others so keep trying but without using excessive force. You can try rocking back and forth just slightly from end to end and if one end goes in, the other end should follow.

Insert the bracket screw, and replace the computer cover. You can then reconnect your computer and turn it on. If your PCI card came with an installation disk or CD-ROM, insert it and go through the installation process.

PCI Card for PC

Always check before you buy your PCI card to make sure you have the proper system requirements that match the PCI card's specifications. For example, the PCI card may need Windows 2000, ME, or XP so if your computer is running Windows 98 you have a compatibility problem. Check inside your computer to make sure you have an empty PCI slot to accommodate the card you are thinking about buying.

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