Rebuilding old Dell Optiplexes for home use is common, because Dell Optiplexes are so easy to get and cheap. But there’s a problem if you want to put an Optiplex board in a standard ATX case, whether it’s to make the computer look less corporate, or because you got the board cheap and don’t have a Dell case. Dell uses proprietary connectors. Not only that, the connectors aren’t even consistent across different models, even in the same generation. Here’s how to deal with that so you can do a Dell Optiplex case swap, and put a Dell motherboard in a new ATX case.
While Dell uses the standard ATX mounting holes in its minitowers and even its desktops, the front panel connectors are completely nonstandard, and sometimes the power supply connectors are too. Fortunately you can get adapters.
Why you would want to do a Dell Optiplex case swap
If you’re swapping a minitower case, the main reason to do it is for appearances, unless the case is really beat up. I can see swapping a case if the original case looks really bad. That said, if you want the computer to look less corporate and you have the budget, go for it. Or maybe you got a good deal on a surplus bare Dell board, and you don’t have the original case anymore.
The big advantage is with the desktop cases, which can only take low profile cards. If you transfer one of those systems can mount to a micro ATX or ATX case, you can put a full-size video card in it. You still only have two slots, but you gain the advantage of a spacious case that’s easier to work in, and you don’t have to overpay for a GTX 1030, GTX 1650 or GTX 1050 low profile card. You can use whatever card you want. While you may or may not save money in the end, you gain a ton of convenience, and probably performance too.
Just be sure to examine your desktop motherboard before attempting a case swap. If it doesn’t have expansion slots, you can’t do the swap. Only the boards that have two expansion slots are good candidates for a case swap.
Why put a Dell motherboard in an ATX case?
If you’re doing a budget build, the desktop motherboards are cheap. As in $30 or less. Even if you don’t use the whole system. The adapters so you can use standard components with them may cost more than the board. But even when you factor that in, the Dell board is cheaper than a comparable Asus or Gigabyte board, and much easier to find.
Problems with Optiplex case swaps
The problem is that Dell uses nonstandard connectors for the power button and the front panel. What’s worse is that if you rig up the power button to work and leave the front panel disconnected, you get an error message every time you boot complaining about that front panel.
And some models use a weird power supply connector too. That keeps you from using a standard off the shelf ATX power supply.
Fortunately, you can get adapters.
Also, Dell cases aren’t all interchangeable. The 90×0- and 70×0-series systems seem to use interchangeable parts, but those boards aren’t interchangeable with the cheaper 30×0 series. The connectors for the front panel are different. And I don’t know of adapters to change that. So if you’re doing a Dell case swap, it’s frequently easier to swap into a third-party case than a different model of Dell case.
Adapters to facilitate Dell Optiplex case swaps
To use standard off the shelf components with Dell motherboards, some hobbyists have devised adapters. Here’s a selection of Dell Optiplex front panel adapters. Be sure to get the right one for your board, as they aren’t all the same. They’re not cheap, at $25, but they’re much cheaper than replacing the whole motherboard. These adapters allow you to use standard ATX power buttons and power LEDs, and connect a standard USB front panel with audio while keeping the motherboard from complaining about lack of the Dell front panel.
Optiplexes of more recent vintage (those whose model numbers end in 40 or higher) have the front panel integrated. In those instances you have to make sure your case is deep enough that the board will fit. If it does, you just need a power button adapter.
You can get power supply adapter cables too. Just make sure to check your motherboard to see whether you need an 8-pin, 14-pin, or mini-24-pin version and order appropriately.
If you’re swapping from a desktop, the desktop backplate isn’t removable. Be sure to order an appropriate Dell ATX backplate to match your motherboard.
I recommend getting a Dell CPU fan, just in case the fan you have isn’t compatible with the mounts on the case. For your case fans, you can get a Dell 5-pin fan adapter.
Dell motherboard in ATX case
Once you have your adapters in hand, open up your Dell case and note where the connectors to the front case are. I recommend you unplug those and plug in the header boards before proceeding. That way you know how they go in. Then remove the board from your Dell case and remove the ATX back plate. Push the ATX backplate into the back of the new case, then transfer the motherboard to the new case and plug the case’s headers into the adapters. Plug the power supply adapter cable in if you need to, then plug in the power supply. Plug in your drives and your expansion cards, and you should be good to go. There you are. A Dell motherboard in a new ATX case.