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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | System Case | Drive Bays ]

Drive Rails and Brackets

In the 1980s and early 1990s, most PC cases used drive rails--thin strips of metal that interfaced drives to the case. Each drive that you wanted to mount into the case was actually screwed into a set of two rails. The drive-on-rails then slid into rail slots in the drive bays of the case, and the end of the rail either snapped into place or was screwed into the front of the case frame.

Newer cases, introduced over the last few years, have mostly done away with drive rails. Instead of mounting the drive on rails, the drive is mounted directly into the drive bays. This simpler design became more popular than designs using drive rails for many years. Some companies have now brought back drive rails with some of their models.

I don't like drive rails, for three reasons. First, they make assembly of the PC, or installation of a new drive, more time-consuming, since you have to screw the drive into the rails and then get the rails to fit into the case (which isn't always simple.) Second, they make it very difficult to align the front of CD-ROM and floppy drives with the front of the case. With direct mounting alignment is a snap--you just put the drive in, line it up and screw it in place. Third, the extra drive rails for bays that are empty when you first assemble the PC are very easy to lose. If a year later you want to add a new drive to the system, say a CD-R drive, you have to find the rails you put in a "safe place" 12 months earlier. Without them, you're stuck. For these reasons, I try to avoid cases that use drive rails, all else being equal.

Some folks do like drive rails though. The only advantage to them that I can think of, is of relevance only if you are someone who tinkers with your PC a lot, swapping drives in and out or moving them between cases. The rails make it much faster to move drives from machine to machine. In mass-manufacturing environments, the design can also save time due to division of labor, since one person can exclusively mount drives into rails or brackets, which can be intergrated into the main case frame quickly. This of course has little relevance to an individual PC builder.

Enlight uses drive rails and brackets often, as in this EN-6680.
In this view from the rear with the side panels removed, you can
see three internal 3.5" drive bays (middle front, middle rear, and
upper rear of case.) These bays are in fact snap-in brackets which
can be removed from the case frame for easier hard drive mounting.
The external drive bays (upper front) use drive rails (not shown).

Original image Enlight Corporation
Image used with permission.

Some cases use snap-in brackets for internal hard disks, sometimes called cages. These are a nice feature, because they let you remove the bracket, mount the hard disk, and then remount the bracket with the hard disk. Alignment is slightly more difficult than direct-mounting of the hard drive, but since exact alignment is not critical for an internal drive, this is not a major concern. In addition, the bracket is easier to work with than bending your arms to access the inner recesses of smaller cases. The only difficulty with this design is that once the entire system is installed, cables or other devices may make it difficult to remove the bracket for servicing.

Next: Drive Bay Sizes: 3.5" and 5.25"

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