Info Dell Optiplex 9020mt upgrade limitations + final result (10/10 would not recommend)

Remeca

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This is just some information for people thinking about upgrading their Optiplex 9020 mt, or who are thinking about buying one for a budget gaming PC, and are looking for information on what will fit. Before I started, I swear I read every forum post on the internet and every Optiplex upgrade video at least twice, so I thought I knew what I was working with. Well, I ran into a couple of problems anyone looking at these should be aware of, that didn't get much or any mention. First, the well known limitations:

1) 8 pin motherboard power plug. You have to buy an adapter to use any PSU other than the stock 290W. Regular ATX PSU drops in though.

2) No GPU longer than 10" (250mm) without removing the hdd cage.
(not exactly true, see item 1 below)

3) Not much you can do about cable management, especially with a non-modular PSU.

4) Proprietary front panel connections (isn't worth the headache of trying to put into a new case.)

5) Proprietary fan headers on motherboard. Adapter needed to use any fans besides the stock CPU and system fan.

I was prepared for these things. I wasn't prepared for everything else :

1) The front panel wires are very short and take an almost direct route to their plug, which is on the other side of the GPU. If you leave the hdd cage, the GPU needs to be around 9" (228mm) to allow room for these cables behind it. They aren't long enough to go around through the cage, or over it, and the plug is too close to the GPU to go under it.

2) Double wide cards may or may not fit. Mine is 43mm wide (2.2 width slot), and it wouldn't fit between the RAM and the front panel plug. I had to shave the excess plastic off the plug to get them both to fit at the same time. I would say no cards wider than 36mm, if you're not comfortable shaving plastic off the front panel plug. It is also very close to the primary SATA ports, but didn't have to be modified in my case.

3) If you're using a double wide GPU with a backplate, or any 2.2+ card, you can't remove the RAM without first removing the GPU.

4) If you want to keep the HDD cage and get a new PSU, it either has to have enough 90 degree SATA plugs for what you have in there, or you have to keep using the 6pin power cable from the motherboard that has them, as the side panel will not go on with a standard SATA plugged into a HDD in the cage.

5) If you remove the HDD cage, you can't secure a 3.5" HDD in the hanging bay, as the wires from the front panel prevent it being fully inserted so the screw holes line up. Mine is just resting there, and the SSD is just hanging out until I figure out my final mounting solution for them.

6) If your GPU has a shroud rising above the backplate, you won't be able to use the standard Dell expansion card holder clip thing, you'll have to switch to screws.

I think that's it. I'll post more if I remember more, or if anybody has questions. I would not recommend this route for a "budget" gaming rig, as I ended up spending as much as I would have buying new components with similar (and better) specs, and am now pretty much fully upgraded, it isn't worth the time or trouble going any further.

Specs before:
Optiplex 9020 mini tower
i7-4770 4c8t 3.4 Ghz
14GB DDR3 1600
R7 260x (ran with SATA adapter from original PSU)
500GB 7200rpm HDD
Dell 290W PSU

What I added:
Kingston A400 240GB SATA SSD
EVGA 500W 80+ PSU
Saphhire Nitro+ RX 570 8GB


Here are some pictures:

Clearance between Ram and backplate:



The front panel plug is the one behind the blue SATA. It had to be shaved at the top or it won't fit at the same time as the graphics card. It also has to be plugged in first.



The entire rats nest.




Thanks for reading, hope this helps people understand all the problems and limitations they can run into trying to upgrade even the tower version of one of these prebuilt enterprise machines.
 

SamirD

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Great info! Thank you for posting about it as I always heard about potential issues, but have never seen them documented as clearly or detailed.

One suggestion for mounting your ssd is to simply use a 5.25 to 2.5 adapter in the top 5.25 bay (or even move the dvd drive there if the power supply will allow it. Then you don't have to worry about the drive mounting.

For those reading and not minding to go back a generation to the 3xxx or 2xxx series of processors, that motherboard does use a normal 24 pin power supply, but does still have the same length limitations for a gpu. I have 3x of these systems and aside from power plugs for the gpus and length limits, I haven't had any issues.
 
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Remeca

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That's a good idea for mounting, hadn't done it yet because despite the picture, its mostly full of excess PSU cables at the moment. After I zip tie them all there should be room though.
 

ohio_buckeye

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If you are really cheap, a little double sided tape on one side of the ssd works too. As far as securing the 3.5 inch drive, I think they may make a 3.5 to 5.25 bay adapter. They used to anyway.

https://www.amazon.com/Drive-Mounting-Bracket-Adapter-Metal/dp/B0094D8UGU

In fact, you could probably put the ssd on top of the hdd. For the sata cable, could probably get right angle cables and use to give room under the card. Just make sure to get them long enough.

https://www.amazon.com/StarTech-com-Right-Angle-Serial-Cable/dp/B005S0X2XO/ref=mp_s_a_1_7?keywords=right+angle+sata+cable&qid=1579143109&sprefix=right+angle+sata&sr=8-7

What I might consider is move the optical drive up a spot. Or get a blank for the case front and remove optical all together. You can get a portable USB optical for a few bucks if you really need one.

But move the optical up, hdd in the bracket I showed above, and put it below optical. I would say take ssd, put it where 3.5 is. SSD is light. Hold it into that bracket with just one screw if you have to. For wires, I would say cable ties are your friend. But this is a good case for having optical drive removed so you can try to stuff some of the wires in that bay.

Also whenever you upgrade gpu, many times nvidia for example has mini versions of some of their cards. You might look into that as well when you upgrade which may help.

For example

https://m.cdw.com/product/zotac-gaming-geforce-rtx-2060-super-mini-graphics-card-gf-rtx-2060-supe/5738477
 
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Remeca

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I have one right angle SATA. I'm definitely not spending any more money on this, although those products would make it much easier. I'll probably move up the optical drive, make something to make the hdd fit, and put the ssd on top, or on its side, we'll see. I have to tie up the power cables first, which is gonna take awhile.
 

ohio_buckeye

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The sata cables should only run 5 or 6 bucks. But may hit up some friends. They may have some laying around. Then just run those off the board to give clearance on your card. If you could get the drives up top, you may be able to remove the bottom cage for bigger graphics cards to fit.

But you are right, these systems aren't made for what you're doing. If I was on a tight tight budget it might be a consideration though.
 

Remeca

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I already removed the bottom HDD cage. The bottom picture shows the entirety of the inside of the case. I could go a little longer, maybe 12", but any longer than that and it's blocked by the front panel wires which can't go over or under the GPU.
 

ohio_buckeye

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At least the good thing is you've got enough CPU to get a better card to hold you over until you get a full build later. I know in my wife's office, there's a Dell optiplex of some kind that I got from work for 50 bucks with an i7 3770. Has 8gb of ram, but I've got more I need to install. Added a 500gb ssd. For office work it flies. I've got my own system, but I've wondered at times if a decent gpu was put into it what it could do.
 
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SamirD

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At least the good thing is you've got enough CPU to get a better card to hold you over until you get a full build later. I know in my wife's office, there's a Dell optiplex of some kind that I got from work for 50 bucks with an i7 3770. Has 8gb of ram, but I've got more I need to install. Added a 500gb ssd. For office work it flies. I've got my own system, but I've wondered at times if a decent gpu was put into it what it could do.
I've got basically a twin of the system you got from work (same price too), except with an i5-2500. I upped the ram to 16GB and it's a nice little machine. I have some gpus so I plan to put one in it and see what it does--should work great for accelerating all the high-res pdfs I'm looking at.
 

Remeca

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Remounted the SSD and HDD, moved the optical to the top and put them under it. Did my best to cable manage, it isn't great, but I think the airflow is about 90% better. It would have been a lot easier without the 8 pin adapter.

This mess was half crammed up above the optical drive:


Mounted drives:


The final result:
 
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ohio_buckeye

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Good deal. Probably about as good as you can get with that setup. But the good thing is you have a decent CPU and a good amount of ram. You can focus next probably on a better gpu which can be carried to a new build later on.
 
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Remeca

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That is the better GPU heh heh. I only got this PC in August, and threw in a cheap R7 260x. I was still only getting 30fps on low-medium at 1080p in 3 year old games. Now I'm playing modern games 60fps (vsync) in mostly ultra 1080p. Before August, most of my PC gaming was done on a Dell Precision M4400 (Quadro FX770M, Core2Duo 2.66ghz, 4gb ddr2, hdd only.) I'm good for a couple of years now. Next time I buy/build a PC, it's going to be all new.
 
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Remeca

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You could easily pair up an rx 580 or something with that and get a nice boost in performance. In fact, if buying used I think a RX 470/570 can be found under 100 on eBay. That would be a nice boost.
That's a Sapphire Nitro+ RX 570 8gb in it right now. I bought used on ebay earlier this month, for closer to $190CAD after taxes and shipping (parts are expensive here.) I went with a more expensive 570 instead of a cheaper 580, partly because I like Sapphire's AMD cards best, and partly because it has a quite abit higher stock core and memory speed than other 570s. Also RGB is important.
 
These old systems are still viable for gaming.
Built the grandson his first computer using a
Dell 660 motherboard
I5 2500
8 gig Corsair ram (max supported)
Zotac GTX 1060 6gig
Antec 500 watt basic (SeaSonic Built)
1tb WD caviar.
256 gig sata ssd .
Gamdias E1 mini tower for led bling
Aerocool shark 120mm exhaust fans 83cfm 26db for cooling
24" Samsung Led 1080p monitor
Logitech MX 620 mouse / Wave keyboard
windows 10 pro

Case was a cable management nightmare . finally got everything behind the motherboard hidden with lots of zip ties.
Hard dive cage was different from online and picture and would only fit 1 hard drive, not 2 as specked. so ssd had to go behind motherboard as well.
Painted the power supply to match color of case interior.

Not a gaming monster but a cheap alternative that plays most games @1080p high, Rainbow Siege Six and Rust were his first installs after setting up steam.
Rust runs fine with a mix med/high settings 50-75 fps
 

86zx

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I had a dell 3020 Sff pc I took the motherboard out and put it in a normal case got a 8 pin to 24 adapter and just disconnected the front panel and have had no issues other than on start up it says front panel disconnected you just hit f1 and your good to go. I had a EVGA gtx 770 didn’t have any limitations due to it being a normal case
 

Remeca

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I think I've seen guys do stuff on the front panel where they actually took the front panel piece that had the USB ports etc and removed that, plugged it back in and hid it in the new case.
Yeah, that's doable, but pretty hatchet job. You'd be losing half your USB 3.0 ports and headphones and mic jacks to the inside of your case, unless you rigged up some kind of extension. I'd rather put the effort into making the original case look better. I've thought about painting the silver grill black, and maybe putting a small window in the side.
 

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