Installing Windows 7 on a Dell GX240

At work they pretty much gave away a batch of vintage Dell GX240 desktop PCs: mine was a 1.7 GHz Pentium 4 machine from 2002 with 512 MBytes of memory and a 20 GByte IDE hard disk. I added a second bank of 512 MBytes of memory (133 MHz SD-RAM, 16 Euro from Zercom) and replaced the 20 GBytes hard disk with a spare 40 GByte hard disk. In the end, this Frankenstein machine is a hybrid between my old work machine (by coincidence I got my own machine back) and an old home hard drive.

Why install Windows 7 Release Candidate on an ancient machine?

Well, in my case the machine I am building will end up at my in-laws. They have a mild preference for Vista (they already have a Vista laptop). And it is claimed that Windows 7 actually runs better than Windows Vista on typical hardware – and there seems to be no reason why this wouldn’t apply to older hardware too – providing you can get the appropriate drivers. Additional reasons:

  • This machine doesn’t need to be blazingly fast: it is for E-mail, browsing, etc.
  • The machine meets Microsoft’s official Windows 7 minimum hardware requirements (1 GByte RAM, 1 GHz processor, etc). Maybe not the one needed to run the Glass user interface – but that remains to be seen.
  • Windows 7 RC is free – at least you can “test” it for free until June 2010. After than, the RC will automatically shut down the machine after every 2 hours of operation. So using a Release Candidate is a temporary solution. Windows 7 is expected to be released in late 2009.
  • I wanted to experiment with Windows 7 to see if I will put it on other machines as well. For Windows 7 features, see Wikipedia.

Installation basics

This post is only meant to document how to get Windows 7 installed on a Dell GX240. This may help others. And makes sure I don’t lose the recipe myself:

  1. Check the extra memory using the BIOS (F2). In my case I installed Windows while the machine temporarily had 768 MBytes of RAM. This worked fine.
  2. Download the free Microsoft Windows 7 RC .iso file and burn that to a DVD-R. The download takes a few hours (2.3 Gbytes).
  3. The machine “somehow” came with 2 identical CD-ROM drives. So I replaced one with an IDE DVD drive in order to install the Windows 7 installation DVD. In my case an old Philips DVD Recorder.
  4. I don’t think I changed the BIOS settings in any relevant way. Check that the CPU speed is “normal” rather than “compatible” (meaning slow). The Dell BIOS doesn’t seem to have any easy way to set the BIOS settings to safe factory defaults (other than removing batteries). Side note: the Dell BIOS is pretty fast at starting up.
  5. Installation went fine with 1 major and 2 minor exceptions:
    – the device driver for the Ethernet network controller didn’t load (this is a big problem as you want to connect to the Internet)
    – the device driver for the on-board AC97 audio didn’t load (problem solves itself later)
    – the device driver for the ATI AGP graphics card ran in VGA-compatible mode (not a big problem as it supports 3 or so resolutions, but not solved yet)

The Ethernet driver problem

I spent hours trying go get a device driver which would get me a working network connection. A wrong approach:

The motherboard contains a so-called Intel 845 chip set. Its South Bridge is known as ICH2, Intel 82801ba, and Brookdale. It contains an Ethernet controller.

As this chip is a complex chip, but from a well-known family, it was unexpected that Windows supports many of the peripherals on this chip (e.g. USB, PCI bridge) but not the Fast Ethernet network interface or Intel’s audio interface.

It turns out that the Ethernet on a Dell GX240 is handled by a separate 3Com Ethernet chip called 3C920. So the Ethernet interface on the Intel chip set is apparently not used. The 3Com chip is in turn compatible with popular previous 3Com chip called 3C905C-TX. So the trick is to manually install drivers for a 3C905. The answer how to find a driver for that chip for Windows 7 (actually Vista – but both work) can be found here:

I have Dell with integrated 3C920 on motherboard. After installing Vista, I could not get on net at all; IPCONFIG showed nothing configured. In Device Manager, it showed the NIC but it had NO driver loaded.

From another computer, I downloaded drivers for 3C905C from 3Com at: http://support.3com.com/infodeli/tools/nic/3c905c.htm

In Device Manager, I did “Update Driver” (only needed Diskette 1).

Seems to be working OK now. Hope this works for you!

So this link to 3com brings you to “EtherCD v5.4 Disk 1 of 2 for the 3C90x Adapter Family ” which is an .exe file which self-extracts to give a set of driver files. These can be put on a memory stick (yes, you need another PC for the download part if your network driver fails).

Then you go the failing Ethernet driver (right-click on Computer -> manage -> Device Manager. Then you find the failing network adapter, and ask it to load a new driver. You will have to manually direct it to the USB stick with the driver files. But once found, it will actually see that you have a 3C920. After the driver installs the network connection will automatically work again.

Extra benefits

Once you get the network connection running and let Windows update whatever it likes, it will actually load a more official Windows 7 compatible driver for the 3Com 3C920. And will also install the missing audio driver. Somehow it didn’t see the graphics card.

Startup time benchmark

So now Windows 7 is actually running on the machine, it is time for some benchmarking to see whether all this is worth the effort. After power-on:

  • in 10 seconds you see a static text “Starting Windows”
  • in 20 seconds you get an animation about “Starting Windows” just to keep you happy. [25 seconds]
  • in 50 seconds you get a login screen where you can type in your password. [45 seconds]
  • in 60 seconds (if you type fast) you see the desktop [70 seconds]
  • in 80 seconds (again if you work fast) you get an open Internet Explorer window connected to say www.google.com [120 seconds]

All times are measuring from first pressing the power button. For comparison, I added the green timings for a more modern machine: Intel Core 2 Duo E4300 @ 1.8 GHz with 2 GBytes of DDR2 memory and a 160 GByte IDE hard disk. Unfortunately, for this benchmark, it has several years of usage – and thus significantly more software being loaded at startup: mainly MSN Messenger, Microsoft Live OneCare, Microsoft OneNote, Internet Download Manager, Logitech SetPoint. But in any case most timings are comparable.

Windows “Experience Index” benchmark

Windows Vista and 7 have a built-in benchmark (Control Panel → System → Check the Windows Performance Index). On Vista it gives ratings between 1 and 5. On Windows 7 the range is extended to 7.9.

Windows 7 benchmark results

Windows 7 benchmark results

It benchmarks the CPU, memory subsystem, display subsystem and hard disk. It stresses that the performance of the overall system is determined by the weakest link: the overall system is rated based on the lowest score of any subsystem. A bit simplistic, but workable as a quick test:

Note that this is still using the VGA display driver.

Updating the BIOS

The machine came with BIOS revision A03 while the latest and last version was A05 (August 2002). Dell (still) provides this on their website in two different forms:

  • an executable called Bgx24005.exe that automatically makes an empty floppy disk bootable and copies the executable for flashing the BIOS to the floppy. I don’t recommend this route because one of the steps involves an executable that doesn’t run under Windows anymore.
  • an executable file  called gx240a05.exe that does the flashing. It needs to be copied onto a bootable floppy. Windows Vista and Windows 7 can format a floppy that is bootable, so this route is easiest.

Upgrading the BIOS may be important to install a modern AGP card (I am not entirely certain, but it certainly doesn’t harm to upgrade).

Upgrading the AGP card

Although the provided Rage 128 AGP 4x graphics board worked with Windows 7, it is treated like a generic VGA driver by Windows 7. This has a minor drawbacks:

  1. You cannot enable Windows 7’s Aero user interface feature. Maybe not a big deal. But we were installing a ridiculously new operating system (not even for sale yet) on a ridiculously old PC. So why not go all the way…
  2. The Rage 128, when treated as a generic VGA card, is slow. Especially if you run the display at higher resolutions: scrolling and screen updates are all handled by the main CPU.
  3. In theory, a modern graphics chip will be better at 3D games. But if you really care about gaming performance, you shouldn’t be refurbishing an old machine in the first place.
  4. A modern graphics card also has DVI-out and TV-out. The Rage 128 only has VGA out. DVI-out allows you to use a digital interface to the monitor. But I bet you can’t see the difference compared to an analog interface.

So I ended up purchasing an NVidia 6200-based AGP 8x board for 40 Euro (MSI NX6200AX-TD256H). This has 256 MB of memory and an AGP 8x interface. Fortunately it worked in the AGP 4x slot (a bit of a gamble) after I upgraded the BIOS.

Note that you may have a hard time finding a board that physically fits inside the GX240: the mini-tower version of the machine has room for full-sized AGP and PCI cards, but the machine is commonly encountered as small form factor cases. These can only hold reduced height AGP cards (as the cards are mounted on their sides and some of that space is used by other components).

The resulting performance boost was enough to run Aero:

Windows 7 Experience Index after installing the Geforce 6200 board

Results of the built-in Windows 7 benchmark (with Geforce 6200 board)

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56 Responses to Installing Windows 7 on a Dell GX240

  1. pjk aust says:

    Thanks. I found exactly the same things happened with my gx240 – no nic driver, no audio driver. Thanks for the link. Here’s hoping that all goes well. Cheers

  2. Glenn says:

    Hi Peter,

    Dell does not allow me to download ‘gx240a05.exe’

    ‘Cannot download the application. The application is missing required files.’
    Maybe because there is no floppy on my Dell GX240 anymore.

    Could you email me the ‘gx240a05.exe’.
    That would really help me.

    / Glenn

  3. Glenn says:

    Hi again Peter,

    I found the ‘gx240a05.exe’ elsewhere.

    I hope your in-laws enjoyed your work.

    / Glenn

  4. Glenn says:

    BIOS for Dell OptiPlex GX240 can be found here:
    (Change the ‘x’ in fxp to ftp to download.)

    fxp://ftp.dell.com/bios/gx240a05.exe (This is the latest BIOS. From 8/16/2002.)

    Earlier versions available:
    fxp://ftp.dell.com/bios/GX240a04.exe
    fxp://ftp.dell.com/bios/GX240a03.exe
    fxp://ftp.dell.com/bios/GX240a02.exe
    fxp://ftp.dell.com/bios/GX240a01.exe

    / Glenn

  5. corvus says:

    Thanks a lot you help me and now my old machine is runing windows 7
    thanks

  6. Rob Traill says:

    I’ve tried installing Windows 7…basically a success other than the AC97 audio drivers.
    I can’t seem to locate any and even tried other vendors.

    I was puzzled by the following statement and how it solves itself later:

    “- the device driver for the on-board AC97 audio didn’t load (problem solves itself later)”

    Otherwise a very good guide.

    Rob

    • pvdhamer says:

      There was a problem loading the audio driver shipped with this version of Windows 7. But after solving the problem with the Ethernet driver, an updated version of the audio driver was automatically downloaded within Windows Update that solved the problem.

      Peter

  7. sM3e says:

    Thanks for the info, I’m upgrading a clients GX240 PC to windows 7 now, just waiting for my PART PE bootdisk to finish backing up all there personal files. I’ll let you know how it goes

  8. Pingback: Reinstalling Vista on a Toshiba laptop « Peter.vdHamer.com

  9. Tom says:

    Peter

    many thanks for this excellent guide, i didn’t want to buy a replacement for the good old family Gx240 as the kids have laptops now, but thought it would be worth a try installing Win 7 on it – only after microsoft compatability said it would work did i disover that Dell say it won’t.
    I only wish i’d found your website 4 hours earlier…

    Tom

    • pvdhamer says:

      You are welcome. I thought the posting would be of little use to others, but it actually gets more hits than any other page. Maybe it is just exotic enough to be almost unique.

      Peter

  10. Richard says:

    How long does it take for the sound driver to “correct itself”. 🙂

    • pvdhamer says:

      Richard: What happened was that Windows Update found an appropriate update for the sound driver. Installing that fixed the problem.

      That typically happens in a matter of days, but you can manually trigger Windows Update to check for updates (via Control Panel, System or via webbrowser and http://www.windowsupdate.com).

      Hope this helps, Peter

      • Richard says:

        It does help and forgive me denseness, but once update is there do I have to manually install or does it do it by itself..also if I do install manually where is driver located. Really appreciate your help 🙂

      • pvdhamer says:

        > do I have to manually install or does it do it by itself

        Once the update process starts, it works automatically. It may be required to shut down the PC and restart again (you may get a request to do so, it can’t hurt to do so).

        > Where is the driver located?

        Hmmm. I am not sure what you mean because the I don’t see how a literal answer would help you. But OK: Windows device drivers are simply one or more files with executable code typically stored in locations like C:\Windows\system32\drivers. Even advanced users normally don’t need to go to such directories, and Windows tends to mildly hide such directories to protect them.

        What you may may and what might be helpful: how can I see that the driver needs to be updated or whether the update was successful?
        Go to the Windows 7 Device Manager (using e.g. the procedure in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Device_Manager#Windows_7) and find the device for “sound”. Once you get to the actual driver (instead of a folder-like thingie) right click on it and select Properties. This gives information about version numbers and even the actual file names (which I insisted you didn’t need to know). The version number should change when Windows Update replaces a driver by a newer version. Searching on the driver’s description on Google should lead to a lot of information in case you need to do things in some super-manual way.

        Note that I no longer have access to the system described in the posting. So I probably can’t be of further help.

        Peter

  11. Richard says:

    This is directed at other guys on the site, trying not to bug Peter to death, I am VERY frustrated, no driver has come yet whether I manually initiate updates or let them happen naturally I have people breathing down my neck about no sound (I have 20 of these same machines to deploy, we are a non-profit so we get hand-me-downs). Can anyone else share their experience in a successful installation of the driver? And Peter I do appreciate your help just trying no to become a pain. Thanks in advance to anyone who can provide some insight.

    Cheers,
    Richard Anderson

    • pvdhamer says:

      Richard: thanks for explain a bit of the background. Some thoughts even though I have no Dell anymore as reference. I made the system for in-laws, but took pity and bought them a new computer.
      * you want help from others. Good idea. I can tell you that this page gets 15 hits per day (including yourself).
      * it might help if you indicate exactly which audio driver version you have. Then others can tell you whether you are up to date.
      * Windows Update (control panel somewhere) can tell you what updates have been installed. The feature is called “Views installed updates”
      * is the audio device driver doing fine? Device Manager > Sound… and it will say it it thinks it is functioning properly.
      * audio on a PC can be muted at various levels. In the bottom right of the screen there may be a sound icon. Right Click > Volume Control Options
      Apologies if I don’t get the instructions exactly right (I am typing this on a Win7 machine rather than a WinVista machine)
      Good luck!! And readers: please help Richard out. It is good for your karma…

  12. Richard says:

    I have a favor to ask, can you look at the device properties, locate the files, zip them up and send to me, any guys who has the sound working please? I am at my wits end, tried every driver on the net I could find. It would mean a lot and good things will happen to whomever can do this for me.

    Thanks very much,
    Richard

    rdanders9466@yahoo.com

  13. Richard says:

    Got it working, bloody sound was turned off in BIOS…LOL *sigh*

  14. keith says:

    OMG!!!! Finaly a good resource!! Dude, did you know how long it took me to get my pc working with all that crappy no connection shit? I have been searching th net for the friggin solution for a whole frigging day!!! Im so tired its 4am, but what a relief to see that my new windows 7 ultimate is working when i upgrade from windows xp and i can’t believe how fast it is for a ancient machine! :)) Dude thanks !!!!

    • pvdhamer says:

      You are welcome. If you solve a next “friggin” problem in the future, please help others by putting the solution online as well 😉

  15. bert says:

    Thanks a ton, that was a quick and easy fix for the ethernet drivers!!

  16. andy parry says:

    Thanks Peter!

    Great resource and has allowed me to keep an old XP machine is use with win7.

    Have you (or anyone else using this resource) found any video drivers that can be used to gain a higher resolution? i can’t get higher than 1080 x 768 at the moment.

    Many Thanks and keep up the awsome work!

    • pvdhamer says:

      You are welcome. The popularity of this posting indeed took me by surprise. The posting describes how I installed an alternative video card. I don’t have more information (the machine got replaced by a new machine after a year or so).

    • Ed says:

      Not sure you still need this answer, but if you’re running the 32 bit version of Win7, the Dell Rage 128 video drivers for XP that came with the system will work and should get you back to the resolution you had prior to upgrade. (Note that if you didn’t have it before, it’s unlikely you’ll get it now, and that you may also need to find a driver for your monitor that also supports the higher resolution depending on what Win7 loaded.)

      If you installed 64 bit Win7, you’re on your own…

  17. mark nevin says:

    i cant seem to load a game running (starters 0rders) i am using windows 7 and i am on a dell optiplex gx240 wondering if i can load an updated driver or do i need to purchase a new graphic card!!

    please advise

    thanks

    • pvdhamer says:

      Starters Orders 4 claims “The game requires a screen resolution of 1024×576 or above.” Check if you can reach that. If not, get a new graphics card. I cannot help you further as I don’t do gaming and don’t have the Dell GX240 anymore.

  18. mark nevin says:

    it says 1024 x 768 that is screen resolution, it’s when i load starters order 4 or 3 it goes to load then does nothing after that so it does not have to ablity to load the game

    i know you dont know anything about games or dont have dell but any help would be brillant

  19. pvdhamer says:

    The game supplier writes “Buggy or out of date video card drivers are the cause of the vast majority of problems with Starters Orders 4.”

    The ancient video card in the Dell is almost as “out of date” as it gets. Try getting a local (smallish) PC store to install a new graphics card (if you can still find one for an AGP slot) so that they install the driver for you (assuming you need help) and you can get your money back if it fails.

    Can’t help further:
    * essentially the Dell is “crap” by modern standards. So if you win some money at horse racing, “invest” in a new PC 😉
    * there is no direct evidence that the problem is related to the graphics card
    * you don’t seem to have a specific error message that you can look up in Google.
    Good luck! Fine if you post the outcome here, but this is all I can do. Maybe someone else out there can help.

  20. Rojan says:

    hi there, can anyone help me, how to increase or upgrade my DELL OptiPlex GX420 (A05 bios) RAM 256mb to 512mb or higher? pls!
    whenever i put my 512mb RAM it always dump memory, (BlueScreen Error)

    • pvdhamer says:

      Without further information, I doubt people can help much. Some thoughts:
      1) right type of memory? Should be 133 MHz SD-RAM
      2) are you adding a 2nd bank of 256? Then try both modules separately.
      3) does the BIOS see the extra memory? Does the BIOS have a memory test function? If not, boot from a floppy or CD-ROM (Hiren’s BootCD) that contains a simple memory test program?
      4) was the memory used? Did it work in the previous PC? Or did you get it for free from someone else who thought it was broken?
      5) are the settings in the BIOS “safe”? There is probably a setting to reset everything to factory defaults.
      6) try removing the battery for a while (coin-shaped silver thing). This resets the CMOS memory.
      But again, I doubt I can really help you. Peter

  21. James says:

    Hi guys,
    I’m trying to install Windows 7 on a GX240, but the ethernet driver isn’t installed. So I downloaded the file that this guide has linked to, but can’t run it as I’m on Windows 7 64bit and don’t have access to any lower OS’s.

    Is there a zip file containing the files that extract out of the .exe this guide has linked to? (3C90X1.EXE)

    Thank you.

  22. Ulysses says:

    Hermano gracias por la aportacion nos haz salvado la pc a muchos. por mi parte todo quedo arreglado con tu post GRACIAS

    • pvdhamer says:

      Computer-generated translation: Brother thanks for the contribution we make pc saved many. For my part everything is fixed with your post THANKS

  23. Ed says:

    GE6200 is a good choice for Video Card; it won’t overtax the 250 watt GX240 Power Supply as many others will. BIOS A03 is sufficient for the GE6200 to run. A03 will also allow a CPU upgrade to 2.8 GHz P4 (SL7EY about $30 used on ebay). A04 or higher won’t recognize the higher speed CPU. Dell CPU upgrade instructions are here:
    http://support.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/opgx240/en/ug/upgrades.htm#1107422

    I also recommend plugging in a USB ThumbDrive and setting up readyboost if you have a USB 2.0 card in your system. (I added the USB card several years ago when I upgraded RAM and my video card) and am able to take advantage of ReadyBoost for the cost of a $6 USB stick.

    While I wouldn’t go out and buy this system new today, I had an extra Win7 license sitting around from my family pack purchase; and for the $36 upgrade investment (for the CPU & thumbdrive), it’s a great machine for the kids that would have otherwise sat around taking up space. Thanks for the idea…

  24. ccheatham says:

    Thank you SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO Much. You are a life saver:)

  25. David Galazyn says:

    I just installed Windows 7 and Service Pack one on four GX240 everything is great except the Audio Driver Problem. I bought a 5 pack of Geforce 5200 low profiles and they work fine. Thanks for the site!

  26. Aleric says:

    I have a problem that maybe some1 here can help me with. I have this Dell Optiplex GX240 and when I try to put Windows 7 on it, it comes up w/ a message saying that a driver is missing and i need 2 load a cd w/ the driver. It doesnt tell me wat the driver is at all. Im wondering if its a driver 4 the motherboard or something. Any help wuld b greatly appreciated, or advice, or wat i shuld download 4 it.

  27. shahid says:

    very good

  28. nambinina says:

    J’ai un problème sur win 7.le pilote graphique du dell GX240 n’est pas compatible avec win 7.que faire

  29. totalizator says:

    For further reference: the fastest CPU you can get running with GX 240 is Pentium4 2,8GHz 400 MHz FSB (it has to be 400!) model SL7EY. I got mine for $11,80 from eBay (free shipping!) and with GeForce 4 MX 440 (low profile), 1GB RAM (max) this old piece of hardware is a speed daemon not worse than a modern PCs when it comes to a home tasks like web browsing with Flash, YT, movies etc.

  30. Dan the man says:

    Hey there I ran into your post when I was searching drivers for a dell optiplex gx240 I ran into this problem and updated the driver yet I the internet still doesn’t seem to work I restart computer and still nothing. when I go into device manager I have to go under other devices to see what is wrong and it says ethernet controller does not have updated drivers. Idk I may be doing the process wrong. when I try to update manually it always says there are no files found which is kinda strange considering it’s there can you please help.

  31. pvdhamer says:

    Sounds like you are on the right track. Download the required drivers using another computer, move the files using a USB stick, install the drivers via Device Manager. Presumably the drivers have a readme file on how to install them. Or Google you way out of whatever driver installation problem you ran into. Note that I don’t have the GX240 anymore myself, so I can’t check anything.

  32. Kev P says:

    Came accross your article while trying to sort network card issue on Gx240 with windows 7 loaded

    Downloaded files and saved onto USB stick
    Executed files causing them to extract onto memory stick

    Went to device manager update driver from specific source selected root of USB stick all sorted and working

    Windows update sorted everything else

    Now for a
    GX270 & GX280

  33. Erick says:

    i got my dell gx240 updated with windows 7, the problem i have is that my resolution
    is unchangeable , i need another graphics driver but i tried a few and it tells me that its not compatible , wondering what graphics driver worked with you .. thank you

    • pvdhamer says:

      If the info is not in the article, I really wouldn’t know. The article is 3 years old and I believe the PC has been trashed. Success.

  34. lokesh says:

    sir, plz help me to install audio drivers for my pc dell optiplex gx420 drivers for windows 7
    plzzzzzzzzzzzzz

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