Install a DVD-ROM drive

DVD movies are recorded using MPEG-2 compression, so you should consider the options for decompressing the video. To get the best movie experience, you need to use hardware decompression. Some drives come with software for playing DVD movies, but unless you have a PC with a very fast CPU and oodles of RAM, the player can skip frames, causing jerky video playback.

Many advanced graphics cards have built-in hardware assistance for MPEG-2 decompression. Before you decide which DVD-ROM drive to buy, check your graphics board's manual or its manufacturer's Web site to find out if the card includes hardware-based decompression. If it does, you can save money by purchasing just the DVD drive.

For the rest of us, an all-in-one DVD-ROM drive upgrade kit is the best choice. These kits, such as the Creative Labs DVD Encore shown in this article, include a hardware-based MPEG-2 decompression board that can deliver DVD movies as effectively as stand-alone DVD players. Most boards include an S-VHS port as well - a big plus if you want to show movies on your TV.

With some variations, you should consider a DVD-ROM drive upgrade only if your PC has at minimum a Pentium II-400 processor and 32MB of RAM. A faster CPU and more RAM are even better. And don't forget that you'll need a good-quality sound card and speakers to get the most from the advanced audio of DVD movies.

the top down

Benefits: Play DVD movies, use DVD-ROM-based software, and read current CD-ROM and CD-RW discs

Cost: Bare drives $200-$300, upgrade kits with hardware MPEG-2 decoders $400-$600

Time required: 60 to 90 minutes

Tools required: Phillips screwdriver, needle-nose pliers, antistatic wrist strap (recommended)

Expertise level: Intermediate

Vendors: Creative Labs (, Pioneer (, Shintaro (

1 Start with a trouble-free PC

Installing the DVD-ROM drive, the MPEG decoder add-in card, and all the software will change your PC's configuration substantially. So before you start, make sure your computer hardware is trouble-free. Select Start-Settings-Control Panel, double-click the System icon, and click the Device Manager tab. If you see an exclamation point next to any of the device entries, select Start-Help, search for "hardware troubleshooter", and follow the directions to clean up any problems. Also, as before any upgrade project, do a full backup before you begin.

2 Install the decoder card

Turn off your PC, unplug it, and remove the cover.

Ground yourself, preferably with an antistatic wrist strap clipped to a grounded, metal object.

Find a free PCI expansion slot and remove the metal cover on the back of the slot.

Carefully slide the card into the slot, making sure it's firmly seated.

Secure it with a screw.

3 Install the DVD-ROM drive

PCs have primary and secondary IDE connectors on the motherboard. The best place to hook up your DVD-ROM drive is on the channel that serves the CD-ROM drive.

You should find a spare connector on the wide data cable. If not, use the cable that came with your DVD-ROM kit. If the secondary channel already has two drives (for example, both a CD-ROM drive and a CD-RW drive), connect the DVD-ROM drive to the free connector on the hard drive's channel.

Make sure the jumper on the back of the DVD-ROM drive is set to Slave (A). If special brackets are needed to mount the drive in your PC, attach them now.

Slide the DVD-ROM drive into your PC's mounting bay (B), and connect the wide data cable and the power cable to the rear of the DVD-ROM drive (C).

Make sure the coloured edge (usually red) of the data cable is attached to pin 1 on the DVD drive connector.

4 Hook up the cables

Connect the audio cable (included with the kit) to the rear of the DVD-ROM drive and the audio-in connector on the MPEG card.

If an audio cable runs from the rear of your existing CD-ROM drive to the sound card, disconnect it from the sound card and connect it to the audio-in connector of the MPEG card.

Connect an audio cable from the line-out connector of the MPEG card to the sound card's internal CD audio connector.

Disconnect the monitor cable from your PC's video card and connect it to the lower (external monitor) connector on the MPEG card.

Connect the video loopback cable included with your DVD-ROM drive kit to the MPEG card and to your PC's video card.

If you'll be watching DVD movies on a television set, connect the TV to the MPEG card. If your TV has S-Video input (for the highest quality), you'll need an S-Video cable (not included with most DVD-ROM drive kits). Otherwise, use the included 'S-Video to composite video' cable adapter. You'll also need a standard RCA cable to complete the connection to your TV. That's also not included with the kit.

If you have a stereo receiver or PC speaker system that can decode Dolby Digital Surround Sound, connect a cable (usually not included with the DVD-ROM drive kit) between the MPEG card and the stereo or speaker system.

5 Install the drivers and DVD-ROM drive software

Plug your PC back in and turn it on. Windows should detect the new drive and board and ask for the drivers. Insert the floppy driver disk (sometimes a CD-ROM) into the PC, and follow the on-screen directions.

After the driver is installed, install the DVD-ROM drive software that came with the upgrade kit. Details vary, so follow the directions included with the kit.

Finally, test to be sure your new drive will read both standard CD-ROM and DVD-ROM discs. If you have problems, turn off your PC and recheck all your connections. (With all the cables involved in this upgrade, it's easy to get confused.)

When you're sure everything's working correctly, power down your PC and put the cover back on the case. Pop in your favourite DVD movie, grab some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy the show.

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