Do I Stay or Do I Go? New Hard Drive for Dell Opti. 745 or New Computer?
April 11, 2016 4:10 PM   Subscribe

The hard drive on my Dell Optiplex 745, 11/2006 vintage, failed. Is there any reason why replacing the drive and keeping this thing running for a few more years might be a penny wise pound foolish decision? If replacing the drive seems reasonable, what should I keep in mind as I source a new one? Details follow.

Hi Guys!

Given that (a) the computer ran essentially like new until the drive failed, and (b) it has features I would have to custom order for a new computer, my inclination is to simply replace the hard drive. Is there any reason why repairing it might be a bad idea?

The computer in question is a Dell Optiplex 745 with 4 GB RAM and a (dead) 80 GB hard drive; it is a 32 bit machine and was running on Windows 7 Ultimate.

The details on the hard drive as described on the original invoice are:

80 GB SATA 3.0 GB/S, Opti 320/745

This is the first catastrophic hardware failure of any computer in my personal domain. (And yes, the data was backed up, so this is more of an inconvenience than a functional catastrophe.) Although I have switched out things like mother boards and hard drives in the past, it has been a while (and I recall that screwdrivers may have been involved). That having been said, I have no reservations about taking this computer apart and replacing the drive.

However, I have not kept up on hard drive technology. What should I keep in mind as I source a new one. I probably should stick to a SATA type, yes? Or do I have options? I understand that solid state drives have become popular, but I also understand that they degrade more quickly and do not last as long as the disk / platter based drives.

As I haven't used half the 80 GB of the original drive, I don't think size is that big of an issue. (Note: my policy is not to store data on the machine that I do not regularly use or need. I am a little paranoid about security.)

Do you have any suggestions with respect to a parts vendor? I spoke to Dell, and was told they could sell me a compatible 500GB SATA drive for under $200. I also asked the service representative to price out a new machine, and the quote he came up with did not include much of what I asked for. Consequently I'm not confident in the information provided by the call center folks on the retail side. (If I buy from Dell, I'll try to go through its business solutions division.) Ages ago, I did some business with PC Connection, but no longer have a contact there.

As my luck would have it, this all occurred two days before I left on my annual hike around the desert Southwest. (I'm composing this SOS in the library in Moab, UT.) Consequently, I'll have spotty internet access until after I return home 4/20. But I thought I'd lob in a question, and check in as often as possible. If nothing else, I might be able to return home with a solid plan of action in mind.

As always, I thank you for all your help and suggestions!
posted by cool breeze to Computers & Internet (20 answers total)
I would just replace the drive with an SSD. I just bought a 250GB SSD on Amazon for < $70.

An SSD drive is dramatically faster than an HDD.

This is the model I got:

I believe it came with an adapter to fit in the older, larger drive bays.
posted by justkevin at 4:26 PM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

you can certainly spend $100 on a new 256GB SSD and the computer will feel peppier and run for a couple years.

honestly, we have 745s at work and we've spent the past 3 years getting rid of them whenever we come across them. We reuse machines after their primary deployment so these are already past their second useful life for us. i'd spend a few hundred on a new desktop w/ at least 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.
posted by noloveforned at 4:39 PM on April 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Sure, you definitely could replace the hard drive, but really this is a very old computer, nearly ten years. It's time has come. You can buy a much better computer than this for $300.

Could you clarify what the features that you really need are? Because unless there is something really expensive that you need, I don't think putting any more money into this old computer makes sense.
posted by ssg at 4:54 PM on April 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

This computer is 10 years old. Just buy a new one.
posted by k8t at 5:00 PM on April 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Absolutely replace the drive. You lucked out, the HDD is the only part of that computer that makes sense to replace. Think of it this way. If something else go out next month and you have to buy a new computer. You can save on your new system by buying one without an SSD and then moving this replacement over.

Replacing a Hard Drive in an Optiplex is super straight forward and tool less. As demonstrated on Youtube.

Pretty much everything is SATA these days. Dell's Tech Specs for the 745 show it does have SATA III. But SATA is backwards compatible, so that doesn't really matter.

Solid State drives have come along way and, in many ways, are considered more reliable than their platter based predecessors. No moving parts and all. The issue you'll run into is that the Optiplex case is configured for a 3.5" HDD and the affordable SSD's are all 2.5". However the the placement of the Hard Drive underneath the DVD drive in the Optiplex case means you can forgo a drive adapter if you want and just use a combination of the old HDD cage and the DVD drive to hold it place. Remember SSD's have no moving parts so it isn't as necessary for them to be locked into place.

Since you're only using 40 GB right now there's no need to pay for more GB's you won't use. But hard drives are trending up in size. If you search for 80 GB SSD's on amazon you'll get mostly 120 GB and up drives. I have both this Silicon Power Drive and this Samsung 850 EVO either would be a good fit.

Newegg is my go to for computer parts. But Hard Drives are equally cheap on Amazon.

If you need, to you can download the Windows 7 .iso from Microsoft as long as you have your product key. And then either burn a disc for the re-install or use a USB drive.

I've upgraded Optiplex 780's to Windows 10 with no issues. And a quick google search indicates that the same is true for the 745. So you may want to upgrade to 10 while you're at it.
posted by zinon at 6:32 PM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's a first Generation Core 2 duo. That's not quite at the end of its useful life, but it's close. A SSD update will definitely put a zip in its step, and since 120 gb drives are cheap, it's not going to hurt to try, but if small SSDs weren't really cheap, it really wouldn't be, and if you have the money you should upgrade.

Also, unless you have a really, really good reason, go to Windows 10. It's safer and often more efficient -- people have been doing ridiculous things like shipping Windows tablets with 1 or 2 GB of RAM and slow processors, and Microsoft has accepted that this is a thing they have to make work.
posted by wotsac at 6:38 PM on April 11, 2016

Please don't spend any money on a 10 year old computer. You can get a computer for $300 that will have 2-8x better performance in every benchmark.
posted by gregr at 8:23 PM on April 11, 2016

Wow, you have an Optiplex 745 that still works (except for the hard drive)? I saw a lot of those get junked at my last job because the motherboards failed. Hey, maybe you got lucky and got the one that will last for another five years!

But most likely you should replace it.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:19 PM on April 11, 2016

In best AskMe style: you have permission to break up with this computer and buy a new one.

That's to say, you could buy a SSD and it would get things working again a fair bit better than they were, but a new computer that isn't that expensive would provide you with things you don't even know you're missing from your current computer, and would set you up well for the next ten years.
posted by holgate at 9:21 PM on April 11, 2016

it has features I would have to custom order for a new computer

It might help if you clarify what you mean by this - what you described is a very standard but quite old computer. Do you have esoteric PCIe or firewire devices or the like? If not, upgrading to something newer is a better bet as even the slowest modern computers are going to be as fast if not significantly faster while using significantly less energy.

If you really want to stick with what you have, you can drop in almost any SATA drive and keep it going for a while. An SSD will help keep the system performance up.
posted by Candleman at 10:05 PM on April 11, 2016

Unless money is an issue, I think you should just buy a new computer.

If you really want to fix this geriatric Dell, I have a 250GB SATA Seagate drive you can have if you will mail me back a couple boxes of cookies (nothing fancy, just something that can be found in a supermarket) upon receipt. PM me if interested.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 12:01 AM on April 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

I understand that solid state drives have become popular

They're popular because they're fast as hell. If this computer is still doing all the things you need it to do, there is absolutely no need to replace it; stick a half decent SSD in it and call it done. Crucial's MX200 gets good reviews, can be had for about eighty bucks, and will give you three times the storage space you currently have and more speed than your old Optiplex can actually make use of.

When you do eventually decide to replace the computer, you can keep that drive and build a new computer around it. It won't be wasted.

but I also understand that they degrade more quickly and do not last as long as the disk / platter based drives.

Statistically, they actually fail less frequently than spinnies. When they do die, though, they tend to die completely. You don't get the typical spinny's warning period where more and more bad sectors start building up; one day your SSD is good as gold and the next day it's entirely unrecoverable. Well, maybe partially recoverable if you throw a lot of money at it.

As for degradation: you'd be hard pressed to see a stuffed-full, heavily-used SSD yield worse performance than a new spinny. It's certainly happened - I've seen a couple of Samsung 840 EVO drives return read speeds under 20MB/s on data that hasn't been rewritten for a very long time (Samsung has since released updated firmware to deal with that) but it's easily rare enough not to be a reason to avoid SSDs.

The Crucial MX200 I recommended above uses free space on the drive in a different hardware mode, to implement a very-high-speed cache; if you've not even managed to fill an 80GB drive in ten years, I seriously doubt you'd ever see your 250GB MX200 even break a sweat, especially since your speed bottleneck is actually going to be the Optiplex's own SATA controller.

You have more RAM in that box than is usable by 32-bit Windows; if you have to do a new install anyway, I recommend going 64-bit unless part of what you use it for relies on old DOS programs; unlike the 32-bit flavours, 64-bit Windows won't run 16-bit code natively.
posted by flabdablet at 10:13 AM on April 12, 2016

Please don't spend any money on a 10 year old computer.

Normally I would rate this as excellent advice, but I think SATA will remain supported by new motherboards, controller cards and enclosures for at least another five years; you really will be able to take any 2.5" SATA drive you buy for your existing machine and drop it straight into a new one.

SSDs are also very lightweight, physically speaking. If your Optiplex case doesn't have an obvious mounting for a 2.5" drive, it would be quite safe and secure just stuck to some suitably flat surface with double-sided foam tape.
posted by flabdablet at 10:19 AM on April 12, 2016

Or if that's too rough for you, adapters are $3.
posted by flabdablet at 10:26 AM on April 12, 2016

Oops, wrong size. Try $3.38.
posted by flabdablet at 10:35 AM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Final thought: if you're thinking about buying an SSD now and transplanting it into a new computer later, the Samsung 850 Evo drives will go a fair bit faster than a Crucial MX200 if the computer's SATA controller gives them the breathing space to do so. You can get the 120GB version for $70, but it looks like poor value compared to the 250GB at $88.

Note that the 850 series uses a different storage chip technology to the 840 series and is not susceptible to the slowdown issue affecting the latter.
posted by flabdablet at 10:53 AM on April 12, 2016

Seconding a lot of what was said here. You can absolutely buy an SSD. If you keep the machine, buy an SSD. Don't buy a mechanical hard drive. You can keep it and connect it to your next computer, whenever that is.

That being said, an Optiplex 745 might not even be running a Core 2 Duo CPU, which is really, really old and slow. You might not be able to run full screen YouTube videos for example. You could buy something refurbished (no warranty) that's significantly faster for something like $100 to $125. Obviously, buying a new computer is also an option.

Also, Mrs. cnc and I were married at Sand Dune Arch in Arches. Pop in for a quick visit for us!
posted by cnc at 1:11 PM on April 12, 2016

my 745 is sitting right next to me as i type this. approximately a year ago i upgraded the ram (2gb->6gb) and replaced the hard drive with a ssd for a little north of a hundred usd. i run a fairly lightweight linux desktop and expect to get at least another year or so out of this setup, barring some other sort of hardware failure. maybe more. this is my everyday computer, and i am a webdev. (i remote into my imac for issues that are not germane) it's perfectly fine.
posted by lescour at 5:27 PM on April 12, 2016

So, ordinarily my advice for a computer of this vintage when literally anything else dies on it would be to get a new computer, but hard drives are probably one of the few parts that makes sense to replace if everything else is still humming along fine. I definitely Nth the recommendations for an SSD, as it will give you a noticeable performance boost.

The other nice thing about going for the replacement drive is that you can just as easily unplug the drive and stick it in a newer computer if you do end up upgrading (assuming you either keep with a desktop or buy a USB 3 to SATA drive enclosure if you get a laptop), so it's not like you're blowing money down the drain by doing this.
posted by Aleyn at 9:58 PM on April 12, 2016

Hi Guys!

A belated "Thank you!" for all your input.

I'm back from my travels; replaced the hard drive (went with a SATA platter drive as it's fast enough and I like the fact that platter drives give some warning when they die as opposed to none); and am back in business.

As several of you observed, a hard drive can always be repurposed, and as I'm reassessing my system needs and set-up here, I decided to simply replace the part for now. Among other things, I'm in the market for an inexpensive laptop for basic functionality (grown up work, no gaming) when away from the mother ship.

Regardless, it took 30 seconds to get the old drive out (with a mini-tower there were no other parts to move out of the way); 30 seconds to get the new drive installed; and hours to run ~5 years of Windows 7 updates (I'm holding off on Windows 10 until at least the first service pack).

(As an FYI: PC Connection was as easy to work with as I remembered, and the Fedex charge was more expensive than the drive.)

Thanks again!
posted by cool breeze at 12:41 PM on May 5, 2016

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