Other Dell-Related Upgrade Information

compiled by Robert Hancock

What about upgrading the system motherboard?

Well, the first concern is the power supply. The Dell power supply uses a non-standard type of connector to connect to the motherboard. So you'd need a new standard ATX power supply to be able to use a standard ATX motherboard. Secondly, the connector for the front panel buttons and LEDs on the case is nonstandard as well. That would have to be rewired to connect to the corresponding connector on the new motherboard. A DellTalk user has contributed some information on the pinout of this connector if you want to attempt to rewire it, it's available here. There are some motherboards that use a compatible connector, such as many Tyan motherboards. They have 2 more pins than the Dell board (18 instead of 16), so you need to plug the connector from the case into the leftmost pins with the right pair of pins on the motherboard unconnected (those are apparently not connected to anything on the Tyan boards).

If you could get a motherboard for a later Dell model, that might be an upgrade option, but Dell reps have stated that it's their policy not to sell motherboards other than the one the customer's machine is supposed to use.

It may be easier to just get a new case and power supply. One attractive option might be to get a new case from Palo Alto Products (now part of Flextronics), the people that make the Dell cases, and attach the Dell plastic bezel to it - I don't know if anyone has tried this, it would depend on the position of the actual buttons on the front panel circuit board for the Palo Alto case being in the same place as the plastic button fingers on the Dell bezel. I believe the ATCX Convertible case is the one that corresponds to the Dell case. However, I don't know if they sell to the general public, their business is mainly geared towards large manufacturers. Of course, if you don't care about having the Dell front on it, you can use pretty much any ATX case you want.

Does upgrading the system void my Dell warranty?

I quote from Dell's warranty as listed in my XPS R's Reference & Troubleshooting Guide:

Dell warrants that the hardware products it manufactures will be free from defects in materials and workmanship. The warranty term is three years beginning on the date of invoice, as described in the following text.

Damage due to shipping the products to you is covered under this warranty. Otherwise, this warranty does not cover damage due to external causes, including.. servicing not authorized by Dell.. and problems caused by use of parts and components not supplied by Dell.

This warranty does not cover any items that are in one or more of the following categories: .. accessories or parts added to a Dell system after the system is shipped from Dell.. accessories or parts that are not installed in the Dell factory..

Clearly, the warranty does not cover the extra parts added to your system, nor does it cover any damage caused to the original parts caused by installing new ones. However, the warranty wording does not appear to void the warranty on any original components simply because other parts were installed. Coverage could only be denied if it could be shown the part failed as a result of the new part. So, if installing a new processor burns out your motherboard, Dell does not have to pay for the replacement. However, if you install a new processor and your CD-ROM drive later breaks within the warranty period, Dell has to replace it, unless the new processor somehow caused it to fail.

(Of course, this is based on my interpretation only. I'm certainly not a lawyer. However, this seems to agree with statements by Dell reps as well.)

Note that if you call for tech support on your system after upgrading the processor, the tech support representative probably would be within their rights to ask you to reinstall the original processor to eliminate that as a source of your problem before continuing troubleshooting or sending warranty replacement parts. For this reason you may want to keep your original processor after the upgrade.

How can I upgrade the power supply? Do I need to?

With most upgraded system conditions a new power supply shouldn't be necessary in my opinion, the original unit should suffice. In particular, a processor upgrade alone is probably not a reason to upgrade it, the Coppermine Pentium III and newer Celeron processors often use less power than the original processors do.

Some Dell machines come with different-wattage power supplies. The L-series comes with a 145W unit, which is pretty small, but it's probably enough to power anything you can put into its upgrade-limited case. Most other Dimension systems come with 200W power supplies, except for the Pentium 4 machines which use a 250W unit.

Some people scoff at the supposedly puny 200W rating of the Dell supply on many Dell machines. I would advise people to read this AnandTech article which discusses power supplies. This focuses on AMD Athlon based systems - some Athlon processors draw very large amounts of power compared to Intel processors, so those systems provide a good stress test for a power supply. One important number they point out is a supply's rating for maximum combined power on the +5 volt and +3.3 volt lines. The Dell supply has a rating of 140W for this. However, some of the 250W and 300W power supplies AnandTech reviewed are rated at less than this! In their conclusion, they point out, "It is interesting to note that the power supplies with the highest overall rating (400W) couldn't even boot our second test system while some of the 250W units came forward with 95% ratings. This is living, breathing evidence that a power supply's overall rating doesn't directly determine how good of a unit it is."

+5 volt and +3.3 volt are the power lines which are used almost exclusively by the motherboard, CPU, and expansion cards, while most hard drives, CD-ROM drives, etc. primarily make use of +12V power. The Dell 200W power supply is rated at 6 amps at +12V. The ratings of the 250 to 400W supplies in AnandTech's tests ranges from 7 to 16 amps.

The article mentions that Palo Alto cases tend to come with Delta Electronics supplies, so it's possible the Dell supply is made by them as well, though I'm not sure. The Delta Electronics supplies were well rated in AnandTech's tests.

As well, when the magazine MaximumPC asked Dell employee David Zucker to comment on the question, "Aren't OEMs just being cheap when they spec 200 watt power supplies instead of 300 watters?", he gave the following reply:

There are specifications for how much maximum power the processor will have, how much the memory system will have, how much the motherboard itself will have, and how much for each PCI slot. If you added all that up, it would be above 200 watts. That's where you get your consumer or your reader saying, "Hey, they don't know how to design boxes." But we're not saying, "Hey, we're just going to take the average and go send it out there and, hopefully, 90 percent of those units will be okay." No, we want 100 percent of our users to have no power supply problems. So that's our goal--100 percent of the people who buy our machines will not have power supply problems from an under-specification of the power supply. We use practical measurements. We don't use typical measurements. We actually look at the maximums and then start working in realistic design criteria. These things are designed for 200 watts of sustained power. There's also peak power consumption and there's processor efficiency calculations that have to go into effect.

We believe we're doing the right things when we design the power supply to meet the needs of 100 percent of our users. And we have data that shows that we're not getting any phone calls about inadequate power supplies.

All this goes to show that for the majority of people, you really shouldn't need to upgrade your power supply. However, if your system is heavily upgraded with combinations of the following: multiple hard drives (especially 7200 RPM models), power hungry video cards (like the Voodoo5 and original GeForce - not so much the GeForce 2, much less the GeForce 2 MX), extra drives like a CD-RW or Zip drive, lots of RAM, many connected USB devices without their own power supply, or many additional expansion cards in general, it may be wise to upgrade the power supply.

Motherboards on Dimension machines prior to the Pentium 4 use a nonstandard power supply connector, so just any ATX power supply will not work. If you attempt to plug one into the ATX-looking connector on the motherboard, it will probably damage the motherboard, power supply, or both. The only company that makes a compatible power supply that I know of is PC Power & Cooling, they make a 300W supply called the Turbo-Cool 300 Dell that is supposed to fit any Dell machine made after September 1998 (and probably some before that). It currently costs $109 US. A bit steep for a power supply, but it's not much more than the regular model they sell, and they do seem to make quality supplies. It has a 3-year warranty on it. Apparently the fan on it is a bit noisier than the one on the Dell supply, but not drastically so.

This page has an adapter in the OEM Replacement section, part number DellCv, which adapts a standard ATX supply to the Dell motherboard. Or, if you want, you can try creating your own adapter - the Dell service manual for the XPS R has info on the pinout of the Dell connectors, see pages 18 and 19, and the standard ATX pinout is available on The PC Guide in the power supply section.

The Dimension 8100 uses a nonstandard connector as well (which is not the same as the connector used on older systems). However, Dell's other Pentium 4 machines seem to be using standard connectors, so you could presumably use a standard ATX supply if you wanted. (My comments above about not needing a bigger power supply unless your machine is unusually loaded are valid for the Pentium 4 systems too, however.) The motherboards and power supplies use the ATX12V connector which was recently added to the ATX specification in order to provide more 12-volt power to newer motherboards. If you replace the power supply, the replacement should have the ATX12V connector as well. If this connector is not connected, the system may not work properly.

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