Upgrade Dell OptiPlex 745 Small Form Factor To Home Theater PC

2011-12-05 Updated

2011-12-03 Initial Post

I was able to get an older Dell OptiPlex 745 Small Form Factor desktop computer from work. Its ship date is May 2007, so it's almost five years old. I wanted the black, SFF design so I could put it next to my TV stand to replace the larger, silver-colored desktop mini-tower I had as my home theater PC (HTPC).

My idea was to replace the stock Toshiba Samsung TS-L462 CD-RW/DVD drive with a  Blu-ray drive so that I could play Blu-ray movies. I also wanted to install a new graphics card that had HDMI output so I could easily connect to my TV with one cable.

After some research I found that Dell uses the Panasonic UJ240 6x Blu-ray Burner BD-RE/8x DVD±RW DL SATA Drive and I could get one for around $100 (it looks like Dell had a part number, 08JG9M, for this, but I can't find it on Dell's site). I also decided to get the MSI N8400GS-MD256H graphics card. Neither of these upgrades went well. Here are some issues and how I got around them:

1. The MSI graphics card had a huge heat sink that would not allow the card to fit in a very confined space. The resolution was to get a graphics card with a fan since the fans made the heatsinks unnecessary and hence the entire card wouldn't be as wide. So I ended up getting a GIGABYTE card and it fit perfectly. Note: the card needs to be low-profile also; both cards included low-profile adapters.

2. The Panasonic drive had the same physical dimensions as the stock Toshiba drive, so I thought it was a drop-in replacement. Boy, was I wrong. The Panasonic uses what I later learned is a Slim SATA connector, which the Toshiba did not use. The Toshiba is an IDE drive so the carrier/tray that the drive is in had a small circuit board on the back that was basically a SATA to IDE converter. I thought that maybe I could take the internals of the Panasonic out and swap it with the Toshiba internals but after opening both drives up, I saw that they were totally different inside. So after some disappointment and thinking that I blew $100 on the Panasonic drive since I couldn't return it because I had broken the seal when I opened up the inside, NewEgg saved me with their BYTECC 18" Sata and Slim Sata Power 7+6pin Cable, for Sata Slim OD Model SATA-XP118 cable.

NOTE: I am not an electronics expert, so if you follow anything that I do, do so at your own risk. Anyway, what I did was cut the existing power connector that was going to the Toshiba drive and spliced the black and red wires to the black and red wires of the BYTECC Slim SATA cable. I took the Toshiba drive and the small circuit board out of the metal carrier/tray and put the Panasonic drive in. Everything worked out perfectly. The power connector from the mother board had an additional, orange, cable which I just left on the existing connector.

In summary, I learned that a small form factor computer is a pain to work with. Everything is compact and some parts are not standard sized. I was going to replace the floppy drive with a card reader/Bluetooth combo device from my existing Dell desktop but, nope, it wouldn't fit. The floppy for the OptiPlex is basically cut out on the bottom rear to make room for other components. The card reader was full-sized and didn't have the cutout at the bottom rear so it wouldn't slide all the way in.

Here are links to the Panasonic drive and MSI and GIGABYTE cards:

Below are some pics for reference. In some pics the Panasonic Blu-ray drive is on the left and in others it's on the right.

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