Dimension 8200 Upgrade

Introduction

February 19, 2010

After the generally positive experience of building my new gaming rig in December 2009 I convinced my wonderful wife that she really needed a new computer (well I doubt I actually convinced her but she was nice enough to play along). After trying to put together an economy system using all new parts we switched direction and decided to see what it would take to update my old Dell Dimension 8200 which she had been using.

One advantage of updating the old system is we would not have to purchase a new copy of Microsoft Word (Anna does a lot of editing jobs). Plus we would not have to move all of her files.

My budget target for the upgrade was $150.











Legacy System Info

Back in the day this was a great gaming machine butI had bought a Dell Dimension 9100 to replace it in 2004. Anna was currently using the machine for email/web browsing. It was located in the kitchen and the kids had abused it (I think the true test of any product is how it holds up against a pair of toddlers). The curved cover that was over the lower front of the machine had long since been ripped off by the kids. The machine basically still worked aside from it was a bit slow and the fans were getting a little noisy.

The original video card that came with the system failed a few years ago. I replaced it with a spare AGP card the IT guy at work was going to throw away.

Here are the basic specs:
  • Dell Dimension 8200 (Ordered sometime in 2000 I think)



  • CPU: Pentium 4, 1.8GHz, Socket 478
  • MEM: 512MB PC800 RDRAM (two of four slots occupied)
  • GPU: TNT 2 Riva AGP Card (4x)
  • 850 Chipset
With the cheap replacement graphics card the system had a hard time with streaming video.

 

Components Research

CPU

If you looked at the official Dell technical documentation you could come to the conclusion that the motherboard supports 400MHz and 533 MHz front side bus. However it does not. From the web:
  • "If the PC has an 850e chipset [shipped after May, 2001], you can go to a 3.06, 533MHz FSB, 512K processor."
  • Also from the same thread: "The 8200 motherboard, part # 1T751 and 3T622 have the 850E chipset and 533MHz FSB, and part # 7G535 and 8G894 motherboards have the 850 chipset and 400MHz FSB."
Basically I found that I had a 400MHz FSB motherboard. Its possible to put 533 or maybe even 800 parts in the board because the sockets are the same, but the chips will not run at their full speed because the clock multiply is wrong. This meant I needed a 400MHz P4. (i.e. avoid the 2.4 GHz RK80532PE056512 533MHz FSB).

Also some other people said "the Dimension 8200 does not support 1mb cache processors, you need a P4, Socket 478, 2.80GHz, 400MHz FSB, 512K." That meant that whatever P4 I went with it could have a 512K cache maximum.


There seemed to be a lot of 2.4GHz 400 MHz FSB parts on Ebay. Even though some faster P4 processors would work, the slightly slower 2.4GHz seemed like it was a lot more available and cheaper.

For the upgrade processor I decided to go with the 2.4GHz 400MHz FSB RK80532PC056512. I got one off Ebay for $35 shipped.

MEM

The RAM in this machine is the somewhat oddball PC800 RDRAM. It never really caught on in the market and there is a interesting story of corporate shenanigans surrounding the development and licensing of this type of RAM. Back when it was still in regular use a few extra sticks of this memory cost more then an entire new system with normal DRR RAM. However now you can pick it up on Ebay relatively easily.

Some of its quirks:

  • Not that it matters for my 400Mhz system, but you need 40ns memory (not 45ns) when using 533 MHz bus. The 40ns memory is more expensive.
  • With RDRAM every memory slot needs to be filled with something otherwise the system will not work. If your motherboard has unused memory slots you will see what are called CRIMMs installed (see picture to the left). These are basically blank memory sticks that provide continuity to the circuit.
  • I read somewhere that every stick in the system has to be the same capacity otherwise there will be problems.

Since I already had two 256MB sticks I went with another matched set of two 256MB sticks for a total system memory of 1GB. I ordered these from an amazon store for $24 bucks shipped.

GPU

For the new video card I basically read the customer reviews at Newegg. It seemed like any 8x AGP card will auto revert to 4x if needed but I stuck with cards listed as 4x/8x because I was paranoid about compatibility.

I heard that BFG had a limited life time warranty so I decided to go with one of their cards, specifically the BFG Tech BFGR62256OC GeForce 6200 256MB 64-bit DDR AGP 4X/8X Video Card.


PSU

Given that the machine was approaching the decade mark in age I decided to replace the power supply. I thought that as long as I was at it I would get a decent power supply which could be potentially re-used in the next system.

I wanted something that was decently efficient (85%) and the Antec PSU in my new gaming system looked like a quality item when I installed it. I ended up going with the Earthwatts series Antec EarthWatts Green EA-430D Green 430W Continuous power ATX12V v2.3 / EPS 12V 80 PLUS BRONZE Certified Active PFC Power Supply.

Mouse+Keyboard

This is the one item Anna actually asked me to get. Newegg had a deal on a USB keyboard plus mouse for $22.

Fans

I bought an updated CPU cooler from the Ebay guy I got the new P4 CPU from. Everything I had read said the faster processor would probably need more than the integrated case/cpu fan assembly of  the stock Dell.

I also ordered some random sized fans from Newegg. My plan was to put at least one extra fan in the case in addition to replacing the stock case fan by the CPU, which had been making more and more noise over the last year.

Parts Buy

Component
Description
 Source Cost
CPUBFG Tech BFGR62256OC GeForce 6200 256MB 64-bit DDR AGP 4X/8X Video Card Ebay $35
MEM Dell Dimension 8200 8100 PC800-45 45ns RDRAM 512MB (2X256MB) Rambus RIMM Amazon$23
GPU BFG Tech BFGR62256OC GeForce 6200 256MB 64-bit DDR AGP 4X/8X Video Card Newegg $32
PSU Antec EarthWatts Green EA-430D Green 430W Continuous power ATX12V v2.3 / EPS 12V 80 PLUS BRONZE Certified Active PFC Power Newegg$50
Mouse
Keyboard
 Microsoft Comfort Curve Value Pack - OEM Newegg $22
 Fans Antec 761345-75092-9 92mm Case Fan
Scythe DFS922512M-PWM 92mm Case Fan
 Newegg $10
 Air Duster
  Memorex - Air Duster 2 Pack (Unscented)    Item #: N82E16882889021 Newegg $10
 Thermal Grease
 Arctic Silver Ceramique Thermal Compound - OEM Newegg $5
 Heatsink Grease Remover
 Arctic Silver ACN-60ML (2-PC-SET) Thermal material Remover & Surface Purifier - OEM Newegg $8
    
   Total $195

One of the air duster cans was broke when it showed up (sprayer head was shattered). As a longshot I complained to both Newegg and Memorex. Newegg sent me a free replacement. Memorex said the would send a replacement if I sent them the invoice.

Putting it All Together

I assembled all the cleaning supplies, anti static wrist strap, the parts and a six pack of beer and started the project around 7:00PM on a weeknight. I took one break to help put the kids to bed but worked pretty much straight through until 1:00AM.


Everything went basically pretty good. I made one change at a time to make sure each piece worked before moving on to the next item.

Cleaning

The first step was a complete cleaning of the case with a vacuum, air duster cans, and some 409.

One handy adjustment I made to the shop vac was to put a 1/2" piece of rubber hose in the end of the vacuum hose, secure by duct-tape. The smaller vacuum hose made it easier to suck out the dust in the small corners of the case.




Case Rework for Power Supply


I started off with replacing the power supply as I figured that would be a nice, easy confidence builder. The external facing panel of the stock Dell power supply and the Antec upgrade were different. I had expected this as a lot of people on the web had mentioned this.


I used a tin snips to cut out a large square area for the new power suppy. I thought about filling down the rough edges but instead I just thought I would tape over them with electrical tape. It looks cheesy but I was worried about creating metal fillings that might fall down onto the motherboard and wreck havoc. Plus this is an old system and we are not too concerned about looks.

I can confirm that the Dimension 8200 uses a standard ATX power supply pin out. The 24 Pin connector on the Antec supply was backwards compatible with the older, smaller 20Pin plug. The last 4 pins snap off and I wire tided them back to the cable. The 4 pin CPU power connector plugged right in.

One item I verified before turning on the supply was the -5V connection on the header. According to pin-outs listed on the web regular power supplies have a -5V in connected to the header (or so I thought). The Dell power supply had this pin depopulated. It turned out the new Antec supply also had the pin depopulated so there was no issue. I would guess this is now standard with newer power supplies.


Memory and Video Card

Next up was the memory . I removed the placeholder CRIMMS from the extra memory sockets and installed the used memory I won on Ebay. On a restart the BIOS recognized the adjusted memory and in the Windows system information display it showed 1GB total. Success.

Next up was the video card. I uninstalled the legacy drivers from add/remove programs and then deleted the display adapter from the device manager. A quick reboot and install of the drivers and it worked fine.

There are some programs on the web that auto-clean all old video drivers from your machine to make sure the install of the new drivers goes smoothly. I have never needed to do this plus I have read those programs can occasionally completely hose your windows install. I opted to skip this step.


Bent CPU Pins

Next up was the CPU. By this time it was 10:00PM and I had already had a few beers. In retrospect I should have started with the CPU first but I managed to get the job done. I started off by undoing the clips on the stock heat-sink. After they were removed the heat-sink came write off the CPU, leaving most of the thermal pad on the heat-sink. I unlocked the ZIFF lever and the old 1.8 GHz CPU came right out.

The CPU looked clean but I used some of the Arctic Silver thermal compound remover and surface prim

er on it anyway just to be sure.


When I went to put the new CPU in it would not seat correctly. One corner was not dropping in. Everything I had read said you never, ever need to apply any pressure for the chip to fit into the socket (i.e. hence the name of the socket: Zero Insertion Force ZIF) 

I pulled the chip back out to take a look and found there were a few bent pins in one corner. After a few minutes of prodding the bent pins with a small flat screwdriver (and swearing) I got them straightened out and the chip just plopped in easy.

CPU Heatsink Adjustments

The next problem was the heat-sink assembly was not compatible with the Dell socket. This is probably Dell's fault as they have lots of proprietary items in their towers. What I ended up doing was taking the fan off the new heatsink assembly and jury rigging it onto the stock heatsink with some wire. It didn't look like as much of kludge as it sounds.

I also had to switch the fan connectors between the old fan and new fan. They were both three wire connectors but the plugs were different. I used a bench power supply to test the old and new fan black and red wires to make sure they really were ground and 12V respectively.


I connected the third white wires but I don't really think the new fan was compatible. The stock Dell fan has a thermal sensor circuit (see picture to the left) built into the fan and the white wire is the feedback to the motherboard. On the new fan the white wire was the PWM input to control the fan speed. I hooked it up anyway (two inputs connected together is not going to hurt anything).




Case Fan Adjustment

I removed the stock Dell case fan assembly and the fan was easy to take out. The standard 92mm fan I ordered fit right in.

Given that I was making significant changes to the thermal design of the stock tower I decided the best way to make sure nothing would overheat was to open up the case a bit. I got out the cordless drill and put several 1/2" holes in the rear of the case over the new video card.



I also put in a big hole for a new fan in the front lower part of the case which was the only open area left. I also removed a drive bay cover in the front top of the case to let more air in.

Even with all the extra fans the system isn't that much nosier. I could go back and see how things work without the additional fan in the lower front but think I am going to leave it as I have not gotten any complaints from Anna.
 


The Final System

So it all basically worked out a lot better than expected. I thought at least one of the major components would not work at all. The interior of the case is a bit more crowded but I think with the increased ventilation it should be fine. I guess the real test will be this summer after the case is a bit dustier and warmer.














Epilogue

Previous Fan Failure Detected

One minor problem that came up after replacing the stock Dell case fan was the BIOS would always report a "Previous Fan Failure" message on boot up and pause until the F1 key was pressed. After a little web research I found this was a common problem if you replace the Dell Case/CPU fan (that plugs into the motherboard) with an alternate fan.

The Dell motherboards monitor the thermal signal and maybe even the current draw of the fan to determine if its working or not. Unless there was a way to replicate both the thermal signal and the fan load this circuit is always going to report a fault.

I discovered that one unusual way to fix this problem is to go into the BIOS setup and disable the "report keyboard errors" function. That seems to also disable the fan failure pause on boot up. You will still see the error message briefly but the system won't stop booting at least.

Performance Boost

Anna really likes the rebuilt machine. Subjectively she said its 2x to 3x as fast but I never did any before and after testing. Before the upgrade the machine could not even stream NetFlix movies. After it was completely smooth full screen.

BFG Warranty

BFG requires you to register within 30 days of invoice to get their warranty. I went to the site, registered, and filled out their forms but I could not complete the registration. I filled out a web form for tech support. They sent me an email saying they completed the registration but I would have to send proof of purchase. I forwarded the Newegg invoice following their directions and I think it worked. Still need to check into it.

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