Windows 9-1-1: When You Can’t Connect Your New Digital Camcorder

Every day, one of us goes out to purchase one of the stunning new digital cameras and camcorders – many of which feature a special connection called IEEE 1394 (also called Firewire on a Mac) – only to discover there is no obvious way to connect them to their Windows PC. This happens not just with cameras, but with external drives and some of the other types of today’s hottest equipment.

But before you throw up your hands and take the purchase back, understand that an additional purchase, one far cheaper than a whole new PC, should get you up and running with that great new camera. The cost can be as low as $10-15 and usually about 10-15 minutes of your time. Compare that to your time spent camera shopping and this extra investment is a breeze.

While many Windows PCs today come with IEEE 1394 ports, not all do. Budget systems are the most likely not to come with the necessary hardware, but you can find systems in all price ranges that still don’t offer the technology.

Yet, as long as your PC was manufactured in the last three or four years (older ones may be able to handle the addition if you can download an update to your BIOS, or the programmable part of your motherboard), you should be able to add an IEEE 1394 adapter to give you the needed ports to connect cameras and other IEEE 1394 devices. An adapter is a special printed circuit board that installs to one of the available expansion slots located on your PC motherboard. This means you have to go inside the PC to install the adapter. Even if you have never gone inside the case before, the job isn’t too difficult. You just need to follow instructions and pay attention to detail.

The very first thing you need to do is check the package for the new camera or other IEEE 1394 device. Under System Requirements, you may find exactly what you need to add the port to the PC. If not, you may be able to go on the Web to find the specifics for this device; a visit to the manufacturer’s Web site may do the trick. Next, you need to get the adapter. You can order these online at just about any place that sells computer hardware but most consumer electronics stores sell them, too. Before you purchase, however, read the details on the box or the Web page. Be sure the adapter is compatible with the version of Windows you or your gift recipient runs. This is important.

If the camera is for you, you also have the job of installing the adapter. First, read the directions carefully: they aren’t just box filler and some offer critical tips you’ll need.

Next, follow these basic steps to install the IEEE 1394 adapter while remembering what the adapter documentation says:

1. Shut down your Windows PC.
2. Remove the power plug from the back of the PC (turning it off is not enough because a certain amount of power continues to flow into the system when it is off).
3. Remove your PC case cover. Different cases open up in various ways. Most have one to four retaining screws holding the cover in place; you must remove these screws to slide the cover off. Your PC manual should detail how to do this.
4. Look but don’t touch (see Step 5). Locate an open PCI slot in your PC. Often, these are white or blue in color, and there are often between three and seven of them, some of which are already occupied by other devices. This is where your adapter will install.
5. Don’t touch anything inside the case until you ground yourself. A great addition to your PC toolkit is a grounding wrist strap, available at any consumer electronics store. This is designed to prevent a static electrical charge being carried from you to the electronics inside the case. But if you don’t have one, touch both hands to the metal sides of the case before you
6. If there is a faceplate that covers the spot where the slot you’ll install the adapter meets the back of the PC, remove the faceplate. Some push out while most require you to remove a screw. You likely won’t need the faceplate again but keep the screw so you can finish installing the adapter.
7 Following printed instructions, remove the IEEE 1394 adapter from its box and then set it down carefully on top of the box.
8. Ground yourself again. Also be careful not to touch anything else.
9. Pick up the adapter and locate its connector edge. This is usually gold with “teeth” that match the design of the PCI slot where you install it.
10. Insert the adapter firmly and evenly into its slot. Do not apply heavy pressure but do not leave the adapter only partly inserted or it will not work.
11. Once the adapter is in place, take the screw you removed with the faceplate and use it to screw down the adapter in the same screw hole where you removed the faceplate.
12. Eyeball your work once more to make certain everything appears fine.
13. Replace the cover and reconnect the PC power before you restart the PC.
14. Windows should automatically detect the new hardware when it starts up but you may need to insert a disc that came with the adapter; follow on-screen instructions.
15. Once Windows installs support for the adapter, you can connect the camera.

IEEE 1394 devices, like its cousins that use the Universal Serial Bus (USB) port, are called “hot plug” devices. This means they should always be installed with Windows up and running. Follow the camera directions to install the camera – or other device – and you should be good to go.

Here’s something else to consider: if you plan on giving an IEEE 1394 camera or other device as a gift, try to determine if your recipient has an IEEE 1394 port already. If not, you may want to spend a few extra dollars to buy the adapter and include it with your gift. This way, the recipient’s excitement over the cool present won’t be tempered by frustration. Remember: even adults can behave like an unhappy child who gets a fantastic new toy only to find out Mom or Dad doesn’t have the right batteries to run it.

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