Building a PC is kind of similar to solving a jigsaw puzzle. You need to first find the right compatible components. Then you need to know where all the components need to go and finally you need to figure how they would connect and interface with each other.
Majority of the PC components interface with each other via cables which begs the question, what are the cables needed for PC build?
Essentially, there are two types of cables needed for a PC build, data cables and power cables. Data cables carry the information to and from the connected components to the motherboard/CPU; and power cables, well, deliver power.
In the following text, I will talk in detail about the PC cables you may come across when building a PC.
List of Cables Needed for PC Build
The following is a list of all the common PC cables.
||Component it Comes With|
||Motherboard ATX Power Cable
||Power Supply Unit|
||CPU ATX-12V Power Cable
||Power Supply Unit|
||Main C13 Power Cable
||Power Supply Unit|
||SATA Data Cables
||Motherboard (Often 2 provided)|
||SATA Power Cables
||Power Supply Unit|
||PCIe Power Cables
||Power Supply Unit|
||Video Output Cables
||Monitor Power Cable
||Front Panel Jumper Cables
||Front USB Cables
||Front Audio Cables
||RJ45 Network Cable
Let us discuss each of these in detail:
1. Motherboard ATX Power Cable
PC building begins with installing your motherboard into the chassis. Motherboard requires a special power cable of its own, the 24 Pin ATX Power cable.
This power cable comes from the Power Supply Unit and attaches to the 24 Pin ATX power socket on the motherboard.
The exact location of this power socket can be found from the motherboard’s manual but in majority of the cases it is located on the top-right side of the motherboard.
When connecting the motherboard’s ATX power cable, you must pay special attention to its orientation making sure that the different notches line up. Often PC builders align this cable incorrectly.
2. CPU ATX-12V Power Cable
The next major component is the CPU which plugs into the motherboard’s CPU socket.
CPU also requires power. CPU receives its power from the ATX-12V 8 or 4 pin power connect found on the motherboard.
As such, all power supply units also come with 8/4 pin CPU power cable. This cable is used to power the CPU and it plugs into the CPU ATX-12V power connector on the motherboard.
Note that in many cases, like you can see above, power supply units provide both and 8 and 4 pin connectors. While all newer CPUs require an 8 pin cable, a spare 4 pin cable is provided for very old CPUs.
3. Main C13 Power Supply Cable
The main power cable, aka C13 power cord, connects the PC’s Power Supply unit to the electric wall socket.
Often times when a PC is not turning on at all, the issue lies with a damaged main power cable.
4. SATA DATA Cables
SATA is one of the two interfaces, the other one being PCIe, that is used to connect core components to your PC.
SATA interface is basically used to connect storage drives and optical drive (CD/DVD) to your motherboard. These include the SATA hard disk drives as well as the SATA SSDs.
All SATA drives require a SATA DATA connection and SATA Power connection.
The SATA Data cables have identical ends. They connect to the SATA slots on the motherboard on one end and to the SATA port on the hard drives on the other end.
A couple of these cables are provided with the motherboard, but if you want to add more than two drives to your PC, you may have to procure additional cables separately yourself.
5. SATA Power Cables
The SATA Power cables have 15 pin connectors and all SATA drives including the large 3.5″ Hard disk drives as well as the slim 2.5″ SATA SSD drives require a separate SATA power connector.
15 Pin SATA Power cables come from the power supply unit. They are included with the PSU. If you do not have sufficient 15 pin connectors, you can daisy-chain them – whereby one connector can be split into multiple power connectors.
6. PCIe Power Cables
The primary purpose of PCIe cables is to provide power to the very demanding dedicated graphics card.
The PCIe slot that the graphics card go into (the x16 slot) provides about 75W of power. However, high end graphics cards can require as much as much as 500W or more.
In order to cater to the high power demand of high end GPUs, PCIe power cables are used. These too originate and come from the power supply unit.
There are many types of PCIe power cables differentiated by their pin count. The higher the number of pins the higher the power supply capacity they have.
So you have:
- 6 pin – 75W
- 8 pin – 150W
- 12 pin – 600W
|6 Pin Cable|
|8 Pin Cable|
|12 Pin Cable|
|75W||1 x 75W||0||0||150W|
|75W||0||1 x 150W||0||225W|
|75W||2 x 75W||0||0||225W|
|75W||1 x 75W||1 x 150W||0||300W|
|75W||0||2 x 150W||0||375W|
|75W||1 x 75||2 x 150W||0||450W|
|75W||0||3 x 150W||0||525W|
|75W||0||0||1 x 600W||675W|
Many graphics card can require a combination of different PCIe cables. For instance, a graphics card with a power requirement of 375W would require 2 x 8 Pin connectors.
You have to make sure that your power supply is strong enough to supply the rated power and that it has enough PCIe connectors for the PCIe cables requires by the GPU.
7. Video Output Cables
Video output cables, as the name suggests, are data cables that take video signals from your PC to the your display device i.e. monitor.
There are many different types of video output interfaces and each of these interfaces have their separate video output cable.
These include VGA, DVI-D, HDMI, DisplayPort, and Thunderbolt. A typical PC can feature multiple video interfaces to make it compatible with wide range of monitors.
If you have a fairly old monitor, chances are that it will feature the VGA or DVI-D interface.
Newer monitors almost all feature the HDMI interface and thus have the HDMI cables included.
Video output cables are typically provided with the monitor. If a monitor has multiple input interface i.e HDMI, VGA, DP, it will not necessarily provide cables for all of the offered interfaces.
8. Monitor Power Cable
This is similar to the C13 power cable that connects the PC power supply unit to the wall socket (see #3).
Monitors also require a separate power source from the wall. This cable is also included with the monitor itself.
9. Front Panel Jumper Cables
Front panel jumpers cables connect to the front panel headers on the motherboard,
The front panel header is a set of power terminals that provide control for the following to your PC case:
- Power on
- Power LED
- Hard Disk LED
- Beep Code Speaker
In order to connect these terminals to the PC case, the front panel jumper cables are used. These are provided with the PC case.
When connecting these cables, it is important to refer to the manual so that you can understand the correct orientation of the power terminals. You do not want the negative end to connect to the positive terminal and vice versa.
10. Front USB Cables
Similar to the Front Panel headers above, the Front USB cables connect to the Front USB headers on the motherboard.
If your PC case has USB ports in the front, then it will also have the Front USB cables for connecting to headers on the motherboard.
Different USB header versions have different cables coming from the PC case. In other words, USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and USB 3.2 Gen 2 all have different headers and cables.
11. Front Audio Cables
Many PC cases have Audio Ports on the front as well. These can be used for connecting your mic or headphones to.
The cables for these audio ports on your PC case connect to the Front Audio header on the motherboard.
12. RJ45 Network / Ethernet Cable
Ethernet cable isn’t exactly related to PC building, but it is something that you see on many PCs that are connected to a Local Area Network / modem.
Ethernet cables connect to the RJ45 port on your motherboard. The application of these cables is often seen in offices these days, but if your home-PC does not have a WiFi and you want to connect to the internet, you will have to use one of these cables to connect your PC to the modem.
The cables mentioned above are the most common as well as critical for any PC builder to understand.
There are other less important cables such as the COMA or Serial Port Cable (which is more or less obsolete), thunderbolt header cable etc.
The bottom line here is that if you are ever confused with regards to cables needed for PC build, always refer to the motherboard’s manual.