How to upgrade Dell OptiPlex 3020, 7020 and 9020 for gaming

We cover topics like GPU, CPU, RAM and PSU

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Today we are going to show you what is possible in terms of upgrading the graphics card, the processor, the power supply, and the memory of Dell OptiPlex in order to build a gaming desktop computer.

These days it has become somewhat popular to build a 1080p gaming machine from a refurbished desktop Dell OptiPlex 3020, 7020 or 9020. This DIY build saves a decent amount of money and runs some of the most popular games with very good FPS.

The popular approach is to use the Mini Tower (MT). Compared to the small form factor (SFF),  the OptiPlex MT has the space for a proper upgrade.

If you are interested, you can check the actual hardware difference between the Dell OptiPlex 3020, 7020, and 9020.

Ok. Let’s dive in and find out more about how to upgrade Dell OptiPlex’s 3020, 7020 and 9020 GPU, CPU, RAM and PSU in order to build a gaming ready machine.

Upgrading the Power Supply Unit (PSU) 

Out of the box all three MT models come with a standard (almost) ATX 290 W power supply. This parameter alone makes the x20 series popular among DIY PC builders. PSU change is a lot easier than in any of the newer series x40, x50,  x60, or x70.

dell optiplex 7020 power supply psu

Dell OptiPlex 7020 is using 290W power supply

Of course you have the option to leave the stock unit (which has no GPU AUX), but to accommodate a more powerful video card (one that draws more than 75W) a PSU upgrade is needed.

From the wattage of the power supply will depend the power of your video card, but in general – between 450 and 700 watts for GPUs up to RTX 2060

Dell OptiPlex 3020 Power Supply Unit (PSU) upgrade

To upgrade Dell OptiPlex 3020 power supply you need a standard ATX PSU and a 24 to 8-pin adapter cable. This is because Dell uses a proprietary connector (8-pin) to power the motherboard.

The chassis uses 4 screw mounting, following the ATX specs, so you will have no problem using any standard ATX PSU. Lengthwise you have the option to mount an even larger power unit – just measure before you buy.

The best power supply upgrade for Dell OptiPlex 3020:

  • Corsair CX 450M
  • be quiet! Straight Power 11 Platinum 550W
  • Super Flower Leadex III Gold 550W
  • EVGA 600 BR
  • EVGA 220-GA-0750-X1 Super Nova 750

Dell OptiPlex 7020 Power Supply Unit (PSU) upgrade

For your Dell OptiPlex 7020 power supply upgrade, you need a standard ATX PSU and a 24 to 8-pin adapter cable. The adapter makes possible to circumnavigate Dell’s proprietary 8-pin motherboard power connector

Similar to the 3020, the chassis uses 4 screws for PSU mounting, this makes all standard ATX PSU compatible with the 7020. Lengthwise you have the option to mount even a lengthier power unit – just measure the available space before you buy.

The best power supply upgrade for Dell OptiPlex 7020:

  • Corsair RM550x
  • be quiet! BN639 SFX L Power 600W
  • EVGA SuperNOVA 120-GP-0650-X1
  • Seasonic FOCUS GX-650
  • Corsair CX 750 W

Dell OptiPlex 9020 Power Supply Unit (PSU) upgrade

Dell OptiPlex 9020 is no different from the other two models in x20 series. To upgrade the 9020 you need a standard ATX PSU and a 24 to 8-pin adapter cable. This adapter cable is to transition between the proprietary 8-pin slot and the standard 24-pin connector of the PSU.

To mount the power supply you need 4 screws – this makes all standard ATX PSU compatible with the 9020. You have the option to mount even a lengthier power unit – just measure before you buy.

The best power supply upgrade for Dell OptiPlex 7020:

  • Corsair RM550x
  • Seasonic Focus GM-650, 650W
  • EVGA SuperNOVA 120-GP-0650-X1
  • Seasonic FOCUS GX-650
  • Corsair CX 750 W

Upgrading the Graphics Card (GPU) 

To build a viable gaming machine from the Dell OptiPlex 3020, 7020 or 9020 you need a dedicated graphics card upgrade. The type of graphics card you can use depends on the type of power supply you have.

In general, you have two options – either leave the stock PSU and use GPU with less power or install a high power PSU and slot a better video card.

To find out more about what’s your best options for GPU upgrade, read our dedicated article about Dell OptiPlex 3020, 7020, 9020 GPU upgrade.

Upgrading the Processor (CPU) 

intel core i5-4690, core i7-4770, and core i7-4790K

Intel Core i5-4690, Core i7-4770, and Core i7-4790K are all possible upgrade paths.

Dell Optiplex 3020, 7020 and 9020 support a wide range of CPUs. We are looking at processors that will provide good gaming experience with high FPS count.

Let’s get going.

Processor (CPU) upgrade for Dell OptiPlex 3020 

Dell Optiplex 3020 comes with an Intel H81 chipset supporting a wide variety of CPUs – from a dual core Celeron to a 4th gen Core i7. However, the best CPU to upgrade your OptiPlex 3020 is the 4th Gen Core i5 4690. This model makes the most sense when building a gaming machine from this OptiPlex model.

Currently most refurbished desktops from the 3020 series come with either Core i3 4130 or Core i5 4570.  The 4570 is fine, and we suggest you keep it and lower your cost down. The 4130 is a Core i3 dual core model and it is not so great for gaming.

You can even find Dell OptiPlex 3020 listings with Core i7 4770. However, prices are inflated, thus making them not suitable for an entry-level budget gaming machine.

Although there is almost no difference (in terms of gaming) between the 4th gen i5 and i7 you will have a performance boost with the later model. If you have the money or find a bargain for either i7 4770 or i7 4790, go for it.

Dell OptiPlex 3020 CPU upgrade options:

Model Cores (Threads) Frequency Turbo
Core i5-4570 4 (4) 3.2 GHz 3.6 GHz
Core i5-4590 4 (4) 3.3 GHz 3.7 GHz
Core i5-4670 4 (4) 3.4 GHz 3.8 GHz
Core i5-4690 4 (4) 3.5 GHz 3.9 GHz
Core i7-4770 4 (8) 3.4 GHz 3.9 GHz

Processor (CPU) upgrade for Dell OptiPlex 7020 and 9020

OptiPlex 7020 and 9020 are the same, and there is no difference between them in terms of processor capabilities.

They both use Q87 chipsets on their motherboards.

The best processor for Dell OptiPlex 7020 and 9020 upgrade is Intel Core i5 4690 – it is a fast and reliable CPU that is on par with i7 4770 in many games. There will be no visible bottlenecks with GPUs relevant for the purpose of 1080p gaming. We are talking about video cards up to GTX 1070 and even GTX 1080.

Core i7 4790 is also a possible option but currently the prices are so inflated that it doesn’t make sense. The performance difference will be minuscule for the premium price you are going to pay.

Finally, you can slot your OptiPlex PC with Core i5 or Core i7 4th gen K processor.

To max your system, get a Core i7 4790K (4.0GHz base, 4.3GHz boot) and pair it with RTX 2060. There will be a bottleneck with some games on 1080p resolution. However, upgrading to 1440p will be beneficial. The 1440p display will help alleviate bottlenecks since there will be more load on the GPU.

Although the system is maxed in terms of CPU capabilities, the performance boost in games over the 4790 will not be substantial.

One thing that is going to happen for sure with the Core i7 4790K is a hotter chassis. Expect between 15 to 20 degrees more than the 4790. It is a good idea to replace the CPU cooler if you opt for a K processor.

Keep in mind that Intel Core i7 4790K does not come cheap even as a second hand option.

If you wish to squeeze the system even more and overclock the 4790K, it is not possible – the x20 series motherboards do not come with any overclocking capabilities.

Another viable option for upgrading is to use Xeon. Xeon E3-1230 v3 is a great alternative to the 4th gen i7 and an upgrade over the i5 due to the additional 4 threads. Very often this model will be cheaper than an i7.

The next good option is E3-1271 v3 – 300 MHz on top of E3-1230 v3 and slightly better TDP than the i7 4790 since it doesn’t have an iGPU.

Some Xeons don’t have integrated graphics unlike the Core i7 and i5, so you will need a stand alone GPU.

Note: Before you do any CPU upgrade – update the BIOS to the latest version.

Dell OptiPlex 7020 and 9020 CPU upgrade options:

Model Cores (Threads) Frequency Turbo
Core i5-4690 4 3.5 GHz 3.9 GHz
Core i7-4770 4 (8) 3.4 GHz 3.9 GHz
Core i7-4790 4 (8) 3.6 GHz 4.0 GHz
Xeon E3-1230 v2 4 (8) 3.3 GHz 3.7 GHz
Xeon E3-1270 v2 4 (8) 3.5 GHz 3.9 GHz

Upgrading the cooling

Sometimes different combinations of CPUs and GPUs may generate more heat than usual inside the OptiPlex. In that case, to maintain a healthy system temperature, you have to increase the airflow inside the case as much as possible.

To do so, install an intake fen at the front side of the case. You have two options. Use a 92 mm fan and keep the drive bay, or install a 120/140 mm and remove the bay.

While the first option does not require any additional case modding the second one is possible only if you remove the OptiPlex drive bay.

In terms of cooling capabilities the 140 mm fan is the best solution.

Keep in mind that intake fans need additional power. The easiest solution is to use a Serial ATA power splitter and draw the power from the SATA cable.

Upgrading the Memory (RAM) 

Upgrading the RAM of the Dell OptiPlex 3020, 7020, and 9020 is somewhat straightforward.

All three systems are limited to 8GB DDR3/DDR3L 1600 MHz per slot, and require 1.35V CL-11 NON-ECC memory. Double density RAM and mixing vendors is not supported.

The officially certified model is the Crucial certified OptiPlex kit, but you call use all kinds different Vendors. The important bit is to use a 1600 MHz CL-11 memory.

Memory upgrade for Dell OptiPlex 3020

The best possible memory upgrade for the Dell OptiPlex 3020 is two sticks of 8GB DDR3 1600 MHz each. OptiPlex 3020 motherboard has only two DIMM slots – limiting the maximal possible amount of RAM to 16GB.

Memory upgrade options for Dell OptiPlex 3020:

Model Serial number Size Frequency CAS latency
Corsair Vengeance CMZ16GX3M2A1600C10 16GB (2x8GB) PC3-12800 (1,600 MHz) 10-10-10-27
Kingston HyperX Fury KHX1600C10D3/8G 16GB (2x8GB) PC3-14900 (1,866 MHz) 10-10-10-30
Samsung M378B5173QH0-CK0 4GB (1x4GB) PC3-12800 (1,600 MHz) 11-11-11-28
Crucial CT2K102464BD160B.M16 16GB (2x8GGB) PC3-12800 (1,600 MHz) 11-11-11-28

Memory upgrade for Dell OptiPlex 7020 and 9020

The best possible memory upgrade for Dell OptiPlex 7020 and 9020 is 2x 8GB DDR3 1600 MHz, or 4x 4GB DDR3 1600 MHz. OptiPlex 7020 and 9020 motherboards have four DIMM slots – this makes it possible to upgrade the system with up to 32GB of RAM. Keep in mind that 7020 supports 32GB of RAM only with BIOS update. Most likely you will buy the system already updated, but be sure to check the BIOS version just to be on the safe side.

Memory upgrade options for Dell OptiPlex 7020 and 9020:

Model Serial number Size Frequency CAS latency
Corsair Vengeance CMZ16GX3M2A1600C10 16GB (2x8GB) PC3-12800 (1,600 MHz) 10-10-10-27
Kingston HyperX Fury KHX1600C10D3/8G 16GB (2x8GB) PC3-14900 (1,866 MHz) 10-10-10-30
Samsung M378B5173QH0-CK0 4GB (1x4GB) PC3-12800 (1,600 MHz) 11-11-11-28
Crucial CT2K102464BD160B.M16 16GB (2x8GGB) PC3-12800 (1,600 MHz) 11-11-11-28

Upgrading the storage

The best storage upgrade for Dell OptiPlex 3020, 7020, and 9020 is a 120 GB SSD for the OS and 2TB HDD for your media and games. You can also use 1TB SSD for storage drive if you happen to find one cheap.

Can I use PCIe to NVMe M.2 adapter for booting Windows?

No, you can’t use PCIe to NVMe M.2 adapter on Dell OptiPlex xx20 series to boot any OS. Although there is a BIOS mod you can do to force NVMe support, it is a complicated setup.  In the end you won’t see any difference between the SATA SSD and the NMVe drive boot drive.

One thing you can do is use M.2 add-in-card with NVMe/SATA drive for storage and reduce the cable clutter inside the case. 

Upgrading the case – case transplant

Upgrading the x20 case is not so straightforward because Dell uses many proprietary connectors in their OptiPlex models.

The back fan on Dell OptiPlex 3020/7020/9020 uses a nonstandard 3-pin connector. Your new case fan will not work with this connector. Removing the original fan will also give error on boot. One solution is to power the case fan from the PSU and mount the old OptiPlex fan somewhere else. However, if you don’t want to use the old fan you can skip the error by pressing the f1 key.

Another thing that will give an error is removing the front temperature sensor. Keep it in your new case and it will be fine.

The third issue you will most definitely face is the power button proprietary connector on the motherboard. There is a solution to this problem but it requires some jumper magic. There are videos on YouTube on how to fix the problem.

The lack of original front panel I/O will also throw an error. You may keep it and tuck it somewhere in the new case.

One easy solution to all these problems is to buy an adapter kit , but this will increase your PC budget with another $20.

Gaming performance

Below are some gaming benchmarks made on upgraded OptiPlex 9020 system, paired with different GPUs. The CPU used is i5 4690. Expect to see similar results with 3020 and 7020.

Running Counter-Strike: Global Offensive on i5-4690 @ 1920x1080, High Settings

Running Fortnite Battle Royale on i5-4690, 8GB of RAM @ 1920x1080, High Settings

Running Battlefield V on i5-4690, 8GB of RAM @ 1920x1080, High Settings

Running Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on i5-4690, 8GB of RAM @ 1920x1080, High Settings

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