Add a case fan to a Dell Optiplex

Dell Optiplex minitowers aren’t really designed with adding case fans in mind. But with a little creativity, you can install one inexpensively, and without making it too terribly much louder either. Here’s how.

With a power adapter, an 80mm fan, and some zip ties, it’s possible to add a case fan to a Dell Optiplex. The opening in the side panel is in just the right place for even a small fan to make a difference.

How can an 80mm fan make a difference in a Dell Optiplex?

The opening in the side panel sits right over the expansion slots. If you have a video card, that’s where you need the extra cooling the most. I found that adding an 80mm fan to that opening reduced my video card’s operating temperature by 5 degrees. So when I allowed the card to adjust its speed automatically, this meant it could turbo boost much longer.

Not bad for a modification that used salvaged parts and took 10 minutes. Even if you don’t have the parts laying around, it’s probably a $10 project.

There are some people who advocate case mods to accommodate larger fans. This will be more effective, but there are trade-offs. Most of the mods I’ve seen involve removing the drive cages, which means you’ll have to put your drives in the 5.25″ bays. And if you don’t have the tools, the tools cost more than the computer. My way is less elegant than theirs, but it’s much cheaper and faster.

What you need

This project is quick and simple. You need four things (12 if you count the zip ties individually):

Adding the fan to the side of the Dell Optiplex

Add a case fan to a Dell Optiplex
Here I’ve secured a case fan to the side panel of a Dell Optiplex with zip ties and hooked up a power adapter cable.

To add your fan, shut down your Optiplex, then remove the side panel. Position the 80mm fan over the vent so that it’s blowing inward. This forces cool air down onto the cards and pushes warm air out the back. Push zip ties up through the vent into the holes on the card. Then add a second zip tie to the end, cinching it down. We use zip ties as a nut and bolt. The advantage is the zip ties are thin enough to fit through the grill without modification and they don’t transmit sound. Cinch them down tightly to prevent vibration, then cut off the excess with a pair of side cutters.

Connect the adapter to a free SATA connector, then plug the power from the fan into the adapter.

Add the panel back to the side of the system, then power the system back up. That’s it. Quick and easy.

These 80mm fans do make some noise, and they won’t spin down, but the extra airflow can permit the other fans to spin down to compensate.

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