Dell Dimension XPS T450

Table of contents

  1. Configuration
  2. Changes and upgrades
    1. BIOS update
    2. Battery
    3. SCSI controller and HDD
    4. Network card
    5. Zip drive
    6. Sound card
    7. Fan
    8. Voodoo3 3000
    9. CPU
    10. RAM
    11. Operating systems
  3. Photos
  4. History

Configuration

Component Original Current
Processor Pentium III (Katmai) @ 450 MHz Pentium III (Coppermine) @ 850 MHz
Memory 128 MB SDRAM 768 MB SDRAM (3x256MB Micron PC133 DIMMs)
Video Card 3dfx Voodoo3 3000 AGP 16MB
Hard Drive None Fujitsu 73 GB Ultra160 SCSI 10K RPM (MAN3735MP)
SCSI Controller None Adaptec AHA-2940UW UltraSCSI PCI
Sound Card Yamaha XG 64V (Integrated) Creative SoundBlaster Live! 5.1
Network Card D-Link DE-528 10BASE-T/BNC 3Com EtherLink XL 10/100 3C905C-TX
Modem 3Com/US Robotics WinModem 56k
DVD-ROM Hitachi GD-5000
CD-RW Sony CD-RW CRX230ED
Zip Drive None Iomega Zip 250 MB

Setup with an Eizo S1721 LCD (with internal speakers!)

Boot Video

That 10,000 RPM hard drive sounds great. Make sure you turn up the volume!

Changes and upgrades

The configuration of this system has been rather heavily modified since I first got it.

I wanted to keep my changes fairly period-accurate. Most of the changes I made were options directly from Dell during the lifetime of the T-series.

BIOS Update

The system came with BIOS version A05. Aside from the fact that I always like to be running the latest BIOS, I would need a at least A06 to support my planned upgrade to a Coppermine Pentium III. Upgrading to A11 went smoothly.


Battery replacement

Surprisingly the CMOS battery seemed to be working, but I replaced it anyway. It's a standard CR2032 3 volt watch battery. Easy replacement.


SCSI Controller and hard drive

Most of these systems shipped with IDE hard drives, and this one was no different. I had the seller throw it away to save on shipping costs.

On eBay I was able to easily get my favourite SCSI controller: the Adaptec AHA-2940UW. It's only my favourite for nostalgia value as the Dell Dimension XPS D266 we had when I was a kid had one of these controllers. It's a great controller though with both 68 and 50-pin connectors internally as well as an external HD68 connector.

Finding a 68-pin SCSI hard drive at a reasonable price is not nearly as easy. They're relatively rare since most servers used SCA and the 68-pin was mostly for high-end workstations. With a bit of patience, I found one at a decent price on eBay: a Fujitsu 73 GB at 10,000 RPM.

Lastly I needed a 68-pin cable, and ideally not one with 8 connectors as many of them have. I found a great mesh-wrapped single-drive cable on eBay that was probably used to connect to an SCA backplane.

To get the HDD activity light on the front of the system to show SCSI disk activity, you need to connect the LED pin headers on the card to the motherboard's SCSI headers. It has four pins, but only two are needed. I used a spare CD audio cable. Works great!

Before installing any operating systems, I upgraded the BIOS to 2.20. I don't know what changed since version 1.32 (I think that's what it came with) but I always like running the latest BIOS.


Network card

The system came with a D-Link DE-528 10BASE-T/BNC which as the name suggests is only 10 Mbit. This won't do, and besides, my favourite network card is the 3Com 3C905C which I immediately swapped in. This is a 10/100 card with support for Wake-on-LAN and PXE (network) boot with the built in ROM. Unfortunately neither WoL nor PXE booting are working. I don't know why and I gave up on it. (Yes, I have the WoL cable connected to the motherboard).


Zip Drive

Zip drives were optional hardware on these systems and this one didn't come with one. I was able to easily get an IDE Iomega Zip 250MB drive on eBay. The IDE drives are much faster than parallel.

I'd love to get an external SCSI drive but those are really expensive. Fun fact though: the external parallel drives are actually SCSI drives with a parallel-to-SCSI controller.


Sound card

The system has a Yamaha onboard audio chip. It's ok, but nothing to get excited about. Something to get excited about is the card I had back in these days: a Creative SoundBlaster Live! 5.1. I installed this, and disabled the Yamaha card in the BIOS so the OS doesn't even see it.

Dell removed the Yamaha onboard audio soon after the release of the T series, so many later models don't have it at all.

Interesting to note is that the Sound Blaster Live! was a configurable option from Dell, but they sold an inferior model. It didn't support DirectSound or EAX. You can spot these in the wild by avoiding the part numbers SB0200 and SB0203.


Fan swap

The original fan worked, but it was loud. It sounded like the bearings were shot. There's no fixing that.

The system takes a standard 92mm fan with 3-pin connector.

I originally bought a be quiet! Shadow Wings since they're nice quiet fans. The problem is that the fan mount in the case is not standard. (See below). It's a plastic box that the fan clips into, and the Shadow Wings is not a perfect square of a fan; it bulges out a bit, just enough so it won't slide into the holder.

I then purchased a Arctic F9 Silent since it looked square. Works fine!


Voodoo3 3000

When I bought this system on eBay I didn't know what it would come with for a graphics card. The rest of the system specs were modest, so I figured a TNT or ATI XPERT. I actually bought a GeForce 4 Ti to install in the system. I was so pleasantly surprised to find that it had a Voodoo3 that I scrapped plans for an upgrade and kept the Voodoo3.

As mentioned, I love an updated BIOS. But one thing that bugged me about the Voodoo3 3000 was that the card showed up on boot as a Voodoo3 3000D. My searches confirmed my suspicion that this meant "Dell". Fortunately the card is identical to a normal Voodoo3 and updating the BIOS with a normal one makes this go away.

Before After

I've noticed this card runs hot. There's not software-readable temperature sensor so I can't give a number, but the heatsink is hot to the touch. Enough to make your hand recoil. And that's not even when gaming, just when sitting at the desktop. I searched around and this is a known problem and you can find videos of aftermarket fan installations. But it seems stable, so I'm leaving it as is.


Processor upgrade

This system shipped with a Pentium III @ 450 Mhz, hence the system model name of T450. I used this CPU for a few weeks, and it was all right, but I wanted better performance.

This motherboard uses a Slot 1/SECC2 processor interface which was introduced on the Pentium II and lasted for about half the life of the Pentium III. This motherboard also only supports a 100 MHz FSB. So when shopping for processors, I needed a Slot 1 100 MHz processor.

Since Pentium III transitioned to Socket 370 and a 133 MHz later in its life, it's hard (read: expensive and rare) to find high-speed Slot 1 100 MHz PIIIs. This system would support up to a 1 GHz CPU, but those are going for > $900 on eBay...

There are Slot 1 to Socket 370 adapter cards, but that's not interesting to me.

I found an 850 MHz CPU on eBay for $20 shipped which was far more reasonable. This nice thing with Slot 1 is the CPU just pops right into the slot like a PCI card. The heatsink was already installed on the CPU, so I didn't even have to thermal grease anything.

The funny thing is that the BIOS decides on the system's model based on the CPU. So after the CPU upgrade, the system identifies as a T850r instead of a T450. The r suffix indicates that this is a Coppermine processor in Slot 1 configuration. A Coppermine Socket 370 would appear as plain T850.

Before After

Memory upgrade

The system came with 128 MB of RAM which is insufficient. I got two 256 MB Micron PC133 DIMMS which are exactly what I had back in the day on my Pentium III system. Easy install and they work fine. This system will take up to 768 MB, but I didn't see the need to max it out right now.. I changed my mind and got one more matching DIMM to max out the system at 768 MB.


Operating Systems

Picking an OS for this system wasn't easy, so I went with three. I wrote a whole blog post on triple booting Windows NT 4.0, 98, and 2000 which is not quite as straight forward as you might imagine.

At one point I did install Windows XP, but I've never been an XP fan and it holds zero nostalgia value for me, so I got rid of it. I have the system defaulting to booting into Windows 2000. Windows 98 is only installed for playing Command & Conquer: Red Alert which is the only game I played back in the day that didn't work on NT/2000.

Windows NT 4.0 is installed just for fun. I have period-accurate software installed like SQL Server 7, Visual Basic 6, and Office 97. To use USB in Windows NT, install the Inside Out Networks USB driver provided by Dell. Without this, my USB mouse had strange behaviour.

Windows 2000 has a bunch of period-accurate software that I enjoy:

Since I still buy audio CDs and neither my desktop PC nor MacBook Pro have optical drives, this system still gets regular use ripping my CDs to FLAC and backing-up on my NAS.

Tip: You can get the logo and "Support Information" to show up by adding the OEM files to your system/system32 directory.


Photos

Back of system

Inside

I removed the CPU air duct for the photo.


History

The Dimension XPS T series was the successor the Pentium II D series. The most visible change is the front bezel being redesigned, but the rest of the chassis is the same. The motherboard is also the same Intel 440BX board.

The XPS line in the 90s had a bunch of variations:

M Pentium MMX
D Pentium II
R Pentium II with T-series bezel
V Pentium II with T-series bezel
T Pentium III
B Pentium III with RDRAM and i820 chipset

I found this ad from a magazine back in 1999 that shows some standard configurations and prices.