Cable Key
IDE devices use a ribbon cable to connect to each other. Ribbon cables have all of the wires laid flat next to each other instead of bunched or wrapped together in a bundle. IDE ribbon cables have either 40 or 80 wires. There is a connector at each end of the cable and another one about two-thirds of the distance from the motherboard connector. This cable cannot exceed 18 inches (46 cm) in total length (12 inches from first to second connector, and 6 inches from second to third) to maintain signal integrity. The three connectors are typically different colors and attach to specific items:
  • The blue connector attaches to the motherboard.
  • The black connector attaches to the primary (master) drive.
  • The grey connector attaches to the secondary (slave) drive.

Along one side of the cable is a stripe. This stripe tells you that the wire on that side is attached to Pin 1 of each connector. Wire 20 is not connected to anything. In fact, there is no pin at that position. This position is used to ensure that the cable is attached to the drive in the correct position. Another way that manufacturers make sure the cable is not reversed is by using a cable key. The cable key is a small, plastic square on top of the connector on the ribbon cable that fits into a notch on the connector of the device. This allows the cable to attach in only one position.