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Move DELL guts to HTPC Case?

840 Views 10 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  VorpalBlade
It's so expensive to buy each component separately to build an HTPC, and so much cheaper to buy a Dell with all the promotions they have. I was wondering if anyone has bought a Dell and moved the guts to an HTPC case? I've been looking at upgrading my HTPC (1.6 Ghz! P4), but the cost of a motherboard/processor/PCI-e card alone puts me way over the Dell cost, plus I'd get an extra XP license.

Thanks for your comments!

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A few years back Dell was using several proprietary components (e.g. mobo and PSU) that made it (very) difficult to pair it with non-Dell components and/or fit then in non-Dell cases. This might be no longer the case, though (no pun intended :D).


I would check everything about Dell before you think its quite the deal it is. I thought the same as you until I went to purchase. Taxes and the ridiculous cost of shipping had my system dead even with what I wanted to have custom made. I went ahead and built the custom pc and for me it was the best option. I haven't had a single problem with it since I sort of knew what I was getting inside and out.

Ultimately, if you still find the Dell price to be too good to pass up I would call them and ask them specifically what you are getting. I don't know if this holds true anymore but I have seen many an ASUS mobo in an HP desktop as well as Dell (I think). Anyway, the point is you might fine you are getting high quality components after all going with the Dell.
my htpc is a 2.8 ghz HT server (sc420) that i got from dell for $309 shipped/taxes/delivered. There is absolutely no way you could have built this for less.

Dells are actually very quiet for the most part, and use a single ducted fan to cool the entire system. the coolinbg scheme is fairly well thought out. i would encourage you to consider placing the htpc inside a nice enclosure or built in cabinet, rather than replace the case...the cabinet will provide even further sound reduction (be sure the cabinet is ventilated!)

just my opinion of course.
Dell MB's are proprietary. You would have to rework the CPU cooling, IO plate, case connections, mounting would be different...........I don't think I'd mess with it.

If you don't mind the Dell case you can occasionally get unbeatable deals.

As far as their servers, I use a 400SC for my desktop PC which I think I got for less than $300 delivered. (2.8 CPU, 80 gig HD, etc). I did have to add an AGP video card.

Dell 400SC Server


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heartsurgeon, not sure what Dell you have but my 8200 sounds like a tornado! If you get a good enough deal, I'd look into watercooling it instead.
Originally posted by JP
I would check everything about Dell before you think its quite the deal it is. I thought the same as you until I went to purchase. Taxes and the ridiculous cost of shipping had my system dead even with what I wanted to have custom made.
Often they have free shipping (like now for example). What gets the cost out of hand is clicking the little option choices. Get a base configuration and you're fine.

Getting a Dell would be fine--just make sure you get one with an AGP slot. The cheapest units don't have them. But I don't understand why you'd want to change cases. Dell makes some of the quietest systems out there. You'd be likely to spend a lot of money and get a system that makes more noise (and you'd obviously void your warranty).

Good place to find Dell deals:


Edit: It looks like they have a model (4700) with a flat panel monitor and free shipping for under $500. It has PCI-e for video. I think that would work as an alternative to AGP, right? (Although it probably would require you to buy a new card, raising the cost.)

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Dell has switched all their desktops to PCI-E, so you won't find one with an AGP slot. If you go to support.dell.com you can find user manuals for all their systems that will give you the details on the mobo layout. That way you can find out out if the hole pattern in the mobo will match that of a standard ATX case.

Personally, I would caution against doing this. Dell motherboards and cases are designed symbiotically for cooling--everything is positioned on the mobo and in the case such that a single fan can cool the entire system without problems. If you move the mobo to another case you're going to have to carefully monitor the temps to make sure you're not cooking your CPU.

Also, keep in mind expandability requirements. I have a Dell Dimension 8400, which I've had for two months, and I'm already out of expansion slots. The firewire adapter takes one of the PCI slots, and my soundcard and HD tuner, took the remaining two. I had to remove the modem just to add the tuner. Good thing I don't ever need dialup. So If expandability is important, you'll need to stick to the Dimension XPS, which is definitely a non standard power supply and motherboard, so don't even consider moving that to another case.
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Originally posted by Jonathan DA
Dell has switched all their desktops to PCI-E, so you won't find one with an AGP slot.
But do the low end ones only have onboard video? When I posted originally about AGP I was forgetting about PCI-E. I was just pointing out for an HTPC you'd need better video.

I guess I would be a tiny bit concerned about PCI-E. In the MyHD thread there were questions about whether the MyHD cards would work with PCI-E. It probably would, but years ago when there was a new video card format (Vesa?) I had a backup program that ran through the parallel port (I said this was years ago! :D ) that would not work on Vesa machines until they did an update. Sometimes being an early adaptor is not a good thing.
Yes, the low end machines (2400 and 3000) only have integrated graphics, the 4700 and above have PCI-E slots.

I'm using a MyHD120 with a Radeon X300SE, which is PCI-E. When I first set up my system I was getting blue screens on a daily basis. I wanted to kick the system out the window. After uninstalling all the PCI cards, rearranging them so the MyHD card was in slot 1, the soundcard in slot 2, and the firewire in slot 3, then reinstalling all the devices with the latest drivers my problems have gone away. I did get one blue screen a few days ago after switching from file mode to antenna mode in MyHD. The bluescreen reported it was myhd100.sys that caused the error, but I don't know the root cause of the problem. It hasn't happened again so far and I record shows almost daily.

One thing that is worth keeping in mind is that the MyHD cards won't playback DVDs on HyperThreading processors. I use TheaterTek, so this isn't an issue, but if a person were trying to save money, or just wanted to use the MyHD's hardware for video scaling, you'll have to turn off HyperThreading in the BIOS on an Intel P4 system.
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Dell entry level PCs are cheap for a reason, the architecture and components selected are selected to keep their costs as low as possible and your upgrade and tweaking options are severly limited. If you plan to grow with this hobby and add more advanced functions and upgrade components you can do better by selecting your own components.

Let's say you are selecting a Dell system for 500-600. I won't even discuss the sub $400 deals - they just arent a good value for HTPC use.

So for 500-600 I would select a good motherboard with lots of integrated functionality like the Asus pr800-v deluxe with the IGP9100 chipset on it or similar. For $120 street you can get built in gigabit lan, onboard soundmax audio with dual s/pdif out and an integrated Radeon 9200 graphics accellerator and hyperthreading support. Add a P4 Northwood CPU, 528mb of ram and a 120gb drive and your should stil have a few bucks left over for some software - assuming you have a copy of windows xp already.

If you have no OS available, then OEM systems become more attractive from an initial cost standpoint, but you will probably be replacing the whole system within a year or two ias you add new htpc functions.

Good luck with your decision!
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