Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower (MT) Computer (BIOS flash / Linux / Windows / Upgrades)

This mammoth blog post about the Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower (MT) Computer, covers many topics and includes ‘how to’ instructions.

Warning: You follow any ‘how to’ instructions or actions mentioned in this blog post at your own risk.

Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower Computer

This blog post will continue to be updated until I stop using the 380 computers.

If the 380 is of interest to you, this is a blog post to bookmark and then to occasionally check whether it has been updated.

Last updated: 10th July 2019

Rear of a Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower Computer

Contents:

  • How to change the boot order
  • Unable to access BIOS (Incompatible video controller)
  • How to flash the Dell Optiplex 380 MT BIOS
  • How To Install Linux Mint from a USB memory stick
  • Linux Mint 19 Tara Xfce
  • How to increase the Xfce desktop font size when using a Nvidia driver
  • How to Install Steam on Linux Mint Xfce
  • How to install the Dell Optiplex 380 MT Windows 7 64-bit network driver
  • F1 2015 with a E7500 2.93Mhz CPU and a Nvidia GT 710 graphics card in 2018
  • Review of the Dell Optiplex 380 MT computer
  • How To Add a Second SATA Hard Drive in a Dell Optiplex 380 Mini-Tower Computer
  • Mini FAQ
  • July 2019 general thoughts and update

Note: I originally wrote the draft for this blog post in 2018. I’ve since made further additions to the post, which I mark with the month and year.

Introduction
I purchased two Dell Optiplex 380 MT computers second-hand via eBay in 2018. Neither of them came with hard drives and only 2GB of RAM and a Core 2 Duo EE7500 at 2.93GHz CPU in each machine. In addition, the eBay seller had installed an awful graphics card in each machine.

Inside a Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower Computer

Inside a Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower Computer

I’m keen to see what I could do with a 380, such as gaming and work use, and along the way write some ‘how to’ instructions to help others.

I started writing the draft blog post for the 380 back in 2018 and I published the first edition of the blog post in June 2019!

I hope you find this blog post helpful.

The specs of a system I used in mid-2018:

  • Dell 0HN7XN motherboard
  • Motherboard Audio is Realtek ALC269VB
  • Motherboard network connection is Gigabit BCM57780
  • Intel Core 2 Duo E7500 @ 2.93Ghz socket 775 CPU
  • 4GB DDR3 RAM
  • Nvidia GeForce GT 710
  • 160GB Western Digital hard drive

As you can see there are areas for improvement, such as CPU and hard drive, which I will blog about in the future.

Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower Computer PSU

Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower Computer PSU

How to change the boot order

  1. At boot press the F2 keyboard button to access the BIOS/setup.
  2. Now you can enable devices and change the boot sequence.

Unable to access BIOS (Incompatible video controller)
If you’re unfortunate enough to see the error below when trying to access BIOS, there should be a way to temporarily resolve the issue.

Incompatible video controller. Vesa function 0x4f02 returned AX = 14f

Incompatible video controller. Vesa function 0x4f02 returned AX = 14f

This occurred on both my computers when I had a graphics card installed in the PCIe slot and I was using bios version A01. The solution was to remove the card, and connect directly to the VGA graphics supplied by the motherboard.

This enabled me to access the BIOS and afterwards I reinstalled my graphics card. However later I updated the bios to version A07 and now I can access the bios configuration with a graphics card installed.

How to the flash Dell Optiplex 380 MT BIOS

This motherboard in my two Dell Optiplex 380 MT computers is a model 0HN7XN with a G41 chipset. The screenshot was taken when I was running the A01 bios version and I was able to upgrade both to A07 using the instructions below.CPU-Z screenshot mentioning 0hn7xn motherboard

Warning: You can cause hardware failure when flashing a BIOS. Also flashing a BIOS is a risky process and you shouldn’t interrupt the process.

  1. Prepare a memory stick with FreeDOS using Rufus.Rufus FreeDOS screenshot
  2. Download the latest BIOS from Dell. i.e. A07 which is 0380-A07.exe at the time of writing.
  3. Copy the bios application to the memory stick (for convenience I renamed it).Dell Optiplex 380 MT PC Bios Files on a USB Stick
  4. Make sure the 380 is powered off and insert the memory stick.
  5. Boot to the USB memory stick. *
  6. At the dos prompt, type in the name of your bios application.FreeDOS command prompt
  7. When prompted, press any key to replace the BIOS.
  8. If you wish to proceed, confirm you want to replace the BIOS.

* If you’ve not configured the BIOS to boot to the USB memory stick, you can press the F12 keyboard button at boot to select the USB option.

Both my computers were running the A01 BIOS and usually I don’t upgrade a BIOS unless I really have to, but I decided to move to version A07.

Linux Mint 19 Tara Xfce on the Dell Optiplex 380 MT
I wanted to try my favourite Linux OS on the 380. To help with performance I opted to use the Xfce desktop environment. I installed Broforce via Steam and enjoyed playing two player local co-op.

How To Install Linux Mint 19 Tara from a USB memory stick

Warning: All data will be deleted on the USB memory stick. 

  1. Download your preferred Mint here.
  2. Insert a memory stick into your computer.
  3. Download and run Rufus.
  4. From Rufus choose the option ‘Disk or ISO image’ from ‘Boot selection’.
  5. Select your linux iso image.
  6. Click ‘start’ when ready.Rufus Linux Mint screenshot
  7. If required, you might be prompted to decide on a download.Rufus Download required screenshot
  8. Choose ‘Write in ISO image mode’ and select ‘OK’.ISOHybrid image detected
  9. Then decide whether to wipe all data on the memory stick or not.Rufus data destroyed message screenshot

How to Install Steam on Linux Mint Xfce (valid in 2018)

  1. Open a terminal window.
  2. Type sudo apt-get update and press enter.
  3. Type sudo apt-get install steam and press enter.
  4. Agree to the download.
  5. From the menu, run Steam from the Games section.

Unfortunately I found the desktop font size too small, but this was easily fixed. The dpi wasn’t correct for my output from a Nvidia graphics card to a television.

How to increase the Xfce desktop font size when using a Nvidia driver (valid in 2018)

  1. I opened NVIDIA X Server Settings via the ‘System’ menu.
  2. Under the ‘X Server Display Configuration’ I clicked ‘Save to X Configuration File’.
  3. I then typed sudo xed /etc/X11/xorg.conf and entered my password.
  4. Under the monitor section I disabled an option and set a DPI as can be seen in the screenshot below.

    terminal xorg configuration edit screenshot

    terminal xorg configuration edit screenshot

  5. I saved the file and rebooted the computer.

How to install the Dell Optiplex 380 MT Windows 7 64-bit network driver

  1. I visited Broacom’s website page ,and then clicked on the NetLink 57xx (x64) link and then downloaded win_k57-15.6.0.14.zip.
  2. I moved the zip file to the 380 using a USB memory stick.
  3. Extract the files to the 380’s hard disk.
  4. From the ‘Start’ menu, I selected ‘Control Panel’.
  5. I then clicked on ‘Hardware and Sound’, followed by ‘Device Manager’.
  6. Find the ‘Ethernet Controller’, right click and select ‘Properties’.Ethernet Controller listed in Device Manager screenshot
  7. Select ‘Update Driver…’.Ethernet Controller Properties
  8. Then select ‘Browse my computer for driver software’.How do you want to search for driver software screenshot
  9. Browse to the folder location for the driver and then select ‘Next’.Browse for driver software screenshot
  10. Hopefully the ‘Broadcom NetLink (TM) Gigabit Ethernet’ driver is installed and you then select ‘Close’.Broadcom Netlink Gigabit Ethernet driver installed screenshot

You hopefully should now see the network device listed in ‘Device Manager’.Broadcom Netlink Gigabit Ethernet listed in Device Manager

F1 2015 with a E7500 2.93Mhz CPU with GT 710 graphics card (Windows 7) in 2018

Accompanied by 4GB RAM and a GeForece GT 710 graphics card in mid-2018, I decided to try out F1 2015 on Microsoft Windows 7. https://store.steampowered.com/app/286570/F1_2015/, which I got for free via Humble Bundle. The minimum system requirements listed on Steam didn’t give me high hopes for using the Core 2 Duo, but I felt the graphics card would help.

With all the video settings set to low, I tried out a time trial and quick race, and whilst my performance was bad, the computer’s wasn’t! The game ran well and even though I need serious practice to improve my skills, the game play was smooth and enjoyable.

Review of the Dell Optiplex 380 MT Computer (written in 2018)

This mini tower PC is larger than some similar HP Compaq models and the inside of the case seems quite spacious. Not needing a screwdriver to open the case, is a nice touch.

From the BIOS to build quality, picking up one of these machines, if for a cheap price, I suggest looking to install a quad core CPU. At the time of writing, the machine is suitable for Windows 10 use.

The computer is best paired with a graphics card and CPU, to take it to the next level, even if you’re opting to use a cheap card, such as the Nvidia GT 710.

This computer, with the right upgrades shouldn’t be viewed as just a computer to browse the web and check emails, but could easily be deployed in a small business environment today, be used for low performance gaming or even as a media server, if the sight of the large computer isn’t an issue.

How To Add a Second SATA Hard Drive in a Dell Optiplex 380 Mini-Tower Computer

I wanted to install a solid state drive in my girlfriend’s 380 computer, but keep the old mechanical hard drive and the CD/DVD drive. Thankfully this is possible, as the 380 supports three SATA drives.

Switch cables
However, the third SATA port needs to be enabled during BIOS. Then you need to consider boot orders, as there is no hard drive boot order (at least not in the A07 BIOS), so you might need to change the cables around at some stage. i.e. After cloning the old drive, I switched cables.

Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower Computer Sata Ports

Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower Computer Sata Ports

Where to place the drive?
In the 380 I was using, there were two available power cables for the SATA hard drive, one dangling just below the CD/DVD drive and the other below the old mechanical drive.

Hard Drive in a Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower Computer

Hard Drive in a Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower Computer

I didn’t want to buy another blue caddy, so instead placed the SSD into a 2.5” to 3.5” bracket and squeezed it into a slot just below an empty 5.25” slot. Yes, I could have purchased a 5.25” bracket, but for me, the above option was cheaper.

Please note: I’m not suggesting you put a hard drive in the same small bay as I did.

Upper Bays in a Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower Computer

Upper Bays in a Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower Computer. The arrow points to where I fitted a SSD.

Update July 2019 – In another 380 MT computer, I was able to fit an old mechanical SATA hard drive into the small bay below the 5.25″ bay.

Please note: Again I’m not suggesting you place a hard drive in this small bay! I’m only telling you what I did.

Sata Hard Drive in a Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower Computer

Sata Hard Drive in a Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower Computer

Update July 2019 – I own two 380 MT computers and in one of the PCs I have now purchased another caddy and placed a second mechanical hard drive in the low bay area.

Hard Disks in the Lower Drive Bays of a Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower Computer

Hard Disks in the Lower Drive Bays of a Dell Optiplex 380 Mini Tower Computer

Configure the BIOS

  1. Boot into the BIOS by pressing F2 at start up.
  2. From the menu, select ‘Drives’, and then the sub-menu ‘Drives’.
  3. Place a tick in the SATA-2 box, then select ‘Apply’.
  4. Select ‘Exit’.

How to setup a new hard drive in Windows 10
Depending on the hard drive you’re using and how you want to use it, you might need to configure the hard drive within, your operating system, such as in Windows 10.

Below is an example (written in 2018) of initialising a hard drive that hasn’t been setup with partitions.

  1. Right-click on the Windows icon and select ‘Disk Management’.
  2. When prompted with the ‘Initialize Disk’, option, select ‘OK’.
  3. In the bottom area of the screen, select the new hard drive, right-click and select ‘New Simple Volume…’.
  4. Click ‘Next’ on the first screen of the ‘New Simple Volume Wizard’.
  5. Set the size you wish to use,
  6. Choose the partition type, name and whether to quick format.

Want to clone your old hard drive?
If you’re cloning an old mechanical hard drive, to replace it with a SSD, you should read my instructions here.

Misc hard disk thoughts
The old 380 MT is an okay computer, but I don’t like the blue caddy situation or the fact there are only three SATA ports. Anyway, the computer is now booting with a solid state drive. Next project… replacing the Dell 380 CPU.

Mini FAQ

Q. What graphics card can I use in a Dell Optiplex 380 MT?
A. All I can write about is those cards I’ve used and so far that are the Nvidia 8400 GS and GT 710 cards. However the heat sink on the 8400 GS I used had been modified to allow it to slot into place. The GT 710 is considerably smaller and easily fit. I don’t recommend using a 8400 GS in 2019 and beyond.

Q, What is the PSU wattage in a Dell Optiplex 380 MT?
A. The wattage on the PSU supplied with both my computers is a 255W PSU. I found this wattage enough to run a Nvidia 8400 GS or GT 710 graphics card, accompanied by a SATA hard drive.

Q. What graphics card is suitable for light gaming with the stock PSU?
A. My girlfriend’s Optiplex 380 MT uses the 255W PSU with a Nvidia GT-710 and plays games such as Company of Heroes, Red Alert 3 and Terraria.

Q. How many SATA ports are on the motherboard?
A. Unfortunately there are only three SATA ports on the motherboard.

Q. What is the CPU socket type?
A. The socket type is a 775.

July 2019 Thoughts and general update

My girlfriend and I are still using the Dell Optiplex 380 MT computers. One of the computers now has a Core 2 Quad 9400 CPU and is being used as a main computer. The other 380 PC still has a Core 2 Duo E7500 CPU and is being used as testbed PC. I like the fact that the RAM is DDR3 and the only thing I don’t like currently, is that there are only three SATA ports and not four on the motherboard. Below is a photo of the testbed PC just before I fitted a third hard drive and disconnected the DVD drive.

Dell Optiplex 380 MT Testbed PC July 2019

Dell Optiplex 380 MT Testbed PC July 2019

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