Home > Articles > Hardware > Upgrading & Repairing

Dell proprietary (non-standard) ATX design

  • Print
  • + Share This

Dell proprietary (non-standard) ATX design

If you currently own or are considering purchasing a desktop system from Dell you will definitely want to pay attention to this section. There is a potential booby-trap waiting to nail the unsuspecting Dell owner who decides to upgrade either the motherboard or power supply in their system. This hidden trap can cause the destruction of the motherboard, power supply or both! OK, now that I have your attention, read on

As those of you who have attended my seminars or read previous editions of this book will know, I have long been a promoter of industry standard PCs and components, and wouldn't think of purchasing a desktop PC that didn't have what I considered an industry standard form factor motherboard, power supply and chassis (ATX for example). I've been down the proprietary road before with systems from Packard Bell, Compaq, IBM and other companies that used custom, unique or proprietary components. For example during a momentary lapse of reason in the early-'90s I had purchased a Packard Bell system. I quickly outgrew the capabilities of the system so I thought I'd upgrade it with a new motherboard along with a faster processor. It was then to my horror that I discovered that LPX systems were non-standard and due to riser card differences, there was virtually no interchangeability of motherboards, riser cards, chassis and power supplies. I had what I now refer to as a "disposable PC". The kind you can't upgrade, but have to throw away instead. Suddenly the money I thought I had saved when initially purchasing the system paled in comparison to what I'd now have to spend to completely replace it. Lesson learned.

In a similar experience, I remember paying over $950 to IBM parts for a replacement 114W power supply to fit my PS/2 P75 luggable which had a power supply failure out of warranty. The supply had a totally unique shape and a weird connector I had never seen before, and there were no alternative choices available from any other companies. The system wasn't even worth that much at the time, but I was using it for work and had no choice but to pay the price to get it replaced. And of course the replacement was the same relatively low output 114W unit, as there were simply no other versions available that would fit. Another lesson learned.

After several upgrade and repair experiences like that I decided never again would I be trapped by systems using proprietary or non-standard components. By purchasing only systems built from industry standard parts, I could easily and inexpensively upgrade, maintain, or repair the system for many years into the future. I have been preaching the gospel of industry standard components in my seminars and in this book ever since.

Of course building your own system from scratch is one way to avoid proprietary components, but often that route is more costly in both time and money than purchasing a pre-built system. And what systems should I recommend for people who want an inexpensive pre-built system, but one that uses industry standard parts so it can be inexpensively upgraded and repaired later? While there are many system vendors and assemblers out there, I settled on companies like Gateway, Micron and Dell. In fact those are really the three largest system vendors that deal direct, and they mostly sell systems that use industry standard ATX form factor components in all their main desktop system product lines. Or so I thought.

It seems that starting after September of 1998 Dell defected from the cause of industry standardization and began using specially modified Intel supplied ATX motherboards with custom wired power connectors. Of course they also had custom power supplies made that duplicated the non-standard pinout of the motherboard power connectors.

An even bigger crime than simply using non-standard power connectors is that only the pinout is non-standard, the connectors look like and are keyed the same as is dictated by true ATX. There is nothing to prevent you from plugging the Dell non-standard power supply into a new industry standard ATX motherboard you installed in your Dell case as an upgrade, or even plugging a new upgraded industry standard ATX power supply into your existing Dell motherboard. But mixing either a new ATX board with the Dell supply or a new ATX supply with the existing Dell board is a recipe for silicon toast. How do you like your fried chips, medium or well done?

Frankly I'm amazed I haven't heard more about this, since Dell is second only to Compaq in worldwide PC sales. I can only imagine that it is because they started using these non-standard boards and power supplies in late 1998, and most of those systems haven't yet come due for motherboard upgrades. However they are now passing 2 years old, which is about the time that many consider motherboard upgrades. That is why after discovering this information I wanted to make it well known, I figure by getting this information out as soon as possible I can save thousands of innocent motherboards and power supplies from instant death upon installation.

If you've already fallen victim to this nasty circumstance, believe me, I feel your pain. I discovered this the hard way as well; by frying parts. At first I thought the upgraded power supply I installed in one of my Dell systems was bad, especially considering the dramatic way it smoked when I turned the system on, I actually saw fire through the vents! Good thing I decided to check the color codes on the connectors and verify the pinout on another Dell system by using a voltmeter before I installed and fried a second supply. I was lucky in that the smoked supply didn't take the motherboard with it, I can only surmise that the supply fried so quickly it sacrificed itself and saved the motherboard. You may not be so lucky, and in most cases I'd expect you'd fry the board and supply together.

Call me a fool but I didn't think I'd have to check the color coding or get out my voltmeter to verify the Dell "pseudo-ATX" power connector pinouts before I installed a new ATX supply or motherboard. You'll also find that motherboard and power supply manufacturers don't like to replace these items under warranty when they are fried in this manner due to non-standard connector wiring.

I spoke with one of the engineers at a major power supply manufacturer, and asked if there was a valid technical reason (maybe some problem in the ATX specification) that would require Dell to use unique connector pinouts. Of course the answer was that, no, the only reason we could imagine they did this is to lock people into purchasing replacement motherboards or power supplies from Dell. In fact what makes this worse is that Dell uses virtually all Intel boards in their systems. One I have uses an Intel D815EEA motherboard, which is the same board used by many of the other major system builders, including Gateway, Micron and others. The same except for the power connectors that is. The difference is that Dell has Intel custom make the boards for Dell with the non-standard connectors. Everybody else gets virtually the same Intel boards, but with industry standard connectors.

Table 21.7 and 21.8 show the non-standard Dell Main and Auxiliary power supply connections. This non-standard wiring is used on Dell systems dating from after September 1998 to the present.

Table 21.7 - Dell proprietary (non-standard) ATX Main Power Connector pinout (wire side view)

Color

Signal

Pin

Pin

Signal

Color

Gray

PS_On

11

1

+5V

Red

Black

GND

12

2

GND

Black

Black

GND

13

3

+5V

Red

Black

GND

14

4

GND

Black

White

-5V

15

5

Power_Good

Orange

Red

+5V

16

6

+5VSB (standby)

Purple

Red

+5V

17

7

+12V

Yellow

Red

+5V

18

8

-12V

Blue

KEY (blank)

-

19

9

GND

Black

Red

+5V

20

10

GND

Black

Table 21.8 - Dell proprietary (non-standard) ATX Auxiliary Power Connector Pinout

Pin

Signal

Color

1

Gnd

Black

2

Gnd

Black

3

Gnd

Black

4

+3.3V

Blue/White

5

+3.3V

Blue/White

6

+3.3V

Blue/White

At first I thought that if all they did was switch some of the terminals around, then I could use a terminal pick to remove the terminals from the connectors (with the wires attached) and merely reinsert them into the proper connector positions, allowing me to use the Dell power supply with an upgraded ATX motherboard in the future. Unfortunately if you study the Dell main and auxiliary connector pinouts I've listed here and compare them to the industry standard ATX pinouts listed earlier, you'll see that not only are the voltage and signal positions changed, but the number of terminals carrying specific voltages and grounds has changed as well. It would be possible to modify a Dell supply to work with a standard ATX board, or to modify a standard ATX supply to work with a Dell board, but you'd have to do some cutting and splicing in addition to swapping some terminals around. Usually it wouldn't be worth the time and effort.

If you do decide to upgrade the motherboard in your Dell system (purchased on or after 09/98)_then there is a simple solution, just make sure you replace both the motherboard AND power supply with industry standard ATX components at the same time. That way nothing gets fried, and you'll be back to having a true industry standard ATX system. If you want to replace just the Dell motherboard, you're out of luck unless you get your replacement board from Dell. On the other hand if you want to replace just the power supply, you do have one alternative. PC Power and Cooling now makes a version of their high performance 300W ATX power supply with the modified Dell wiring for about $110. Note that the internals are identical to their industry standard high performance 300W ATX supply (approximately $84), only the number and arrangement of wires has changed.

For the time being, I'm suspending any Dell purchase recommendations until they move back into the fold of true industry standardization. Fortunately others like Gateway and Micron have remained true to the industry standard.

© Copyright 2002 Pearson Technology Group. All rights reserved.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020