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Super-cheap NVMe fusion drive using Dell 7010 Q77 motherboard

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The promoted products:
  • Dell OptiPlex 7010 motherboards with Q77 chipset for $10 to $20 on eBay
  • PCIe x4 to M.2 adapters for $1 to $2 on AliExpress
I just upgraded my Power Mac G5 into a Hackintosh using an Intel® Desktop Board DQ77MK with a Xeon E3 1230 v2 processor. The build was so successful that I decided to clone it using my second Apple Power Macintosh G5 1.8 DP and my second nVidia GeForce GTX 770 reference card. I went back to eBay, but found out my British supplier of DQ77MK motherboards had sold all 100 of their £39 boards. I went looking for alternatives with the Q77 chipset and found thousands of Dell OptiPlex 7010 motherboards for sale for $10 to $20.

NVMe fusion drive
IMG_20190110_123110.jpg
Photo 1: My fusion drive: A 1 TB WD Caviar Green and a 128 GB NVMe SSD

The essential feature of the Q77 boards is one PCIe 2.0 x4 slot. Originally this had little use, but is now perfect for adding a NVMe solid state drive. 7-series motherboards are generally unable to boot directly from NVMe and BIOS updates are unlikely to exist for Intel or Dell motherboards. This is however not an issue as the the NVMe drivers can be added to a bootloader like Clover. Even better, and easier is to configure the NVMe SSD and a normal hard drive into a fusion drive under macOS. There are some complications in booting fusion drives under Clover. I have posted my experiences and instructions at the end of this guide:
The PCIe adapter needed is a passive card that directs the four PCIe lanes to the correct pins on the M.2 connector. These Chinese adapters are now 2 euros apiece including postage, but I ordered my for under $1. (You must search around AliExpress for the best deal on the same product.)

NVMe PCIe 3.0 x4 adapter.jpg
Photo 2: The $2 PCIe to M.2 adapter. This one lacks the heat spreader of the more expensive adapter.

The PCIe x4 slot on the Q77 motherboards is only generation 2.0, unlikely the PCI x16 slot which is PCIe 3.0. This is not really a problem, as few NVMe SSDs, apart from the Samsung 970 Pro, are able to fill the 4 GB/s capacity of a PCIe 3.0 slot. I ordered a 128 GB KingSpec NE-128 for €24,41. The drive promises 1500 to 1800 MB/s read speeds. Write speeds are lower, but the 256 GB model promises double the write speeds at 1000 to 1300 MB/s for €35,82 ($41,11). Most of the slower NVMe drives in this speed class only have two PCIe lanes, but the KingSpec NE-XXX uses all four, making it well suited for use in a PCIe 2.0 slot.

I believe Ivy Bridge processors still offer the best performance per dollar. (Apple seems to think so too, as they have not upgraded the Mac Pro.) I prefer Xeon E3 version 2 processors with hyperthreading and no integrated graphics. I ordered a Xeon E3-1230 v2 from AliExpress for €68,74. Now you can find them for €63,77 ($73,16).

When ordering anything from AliExpress, remember that it may take one month for the goods to arrive. Plan well in advance.

Dell OptiPlex 7010 motherboard

The Dell OptiPlex 7010 family comes in four different case styles. USFF, SFF, desktop and mini tower. All except the ultra small form factor have PCIe x16 and PCIe x4 slots. On the small form factor motherboard the PCIe slots sit next to each other, so it is impossible to use a double-width graphics card and a NVMe adapter without a PCIe riser. The desktop and the mini tower share the same MicroATX size motherboard. The difference seems to be, that on the desktop motherboard one of the four SATA connectors is not soldered in. Newegg offers a refurbished motherboard for $59.99 as "Dell Optiplex 7010 9010 Intel PC Desktop System Motherboard" listing the following part numbers: 773VG KRC95 YXT71 GY6Y8 KV62T W2F8G 0773VG 0KRC95 0YXT71 0GY6Y8 0KV62T 0W2F8G. A search on eBay with these keywords produces 92 listings. Another useful search is looking for Dell brand motherboards with a LGA1155 socket, but note that only the 7010 / 9010 motherboards have the Q77 chipset and the PCIe x4 slot.

The Dell Optiplex 7010 is highly hackable, see these guides:
Power Mac G5 upgrade
IMG_20190110_173751.jpg
Photo 3: My Power Mac G5 running macOS High Sierra. The fan assembles are still missing.

The Optiplex 7010 MicroATX motherboard is very similar to the Intel reference design for the Q77 chipset, the DQ77MK. I used the Intel board for my Power Mac G5 upgrade. In this build only the motherboard and the processors were removed, everything else stays original. The DQ77MK has two features that make it well suited to replace the G5 motherboard.
  1. It has two system fan headers that work in voltage regulated mode with 3-pin fans. These headers can control the original G5 fans down to 600 rpm with the proper settings in Visual BIOS.
  2. Intel Desktop Boards do no not need a POWER OK signal from the PSU. This makes it possible to use the original G5 power supply without modifications.
Sadly the Optiplex 7010 mATX motherboard lacks these features (I assume). Otherwise it would make a great G5 upgrade.
 
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Thanks for this report, Be interested to hear about the settings for the drive setup. Just to add the dell 7010's are often available on ebay UK as complete units at low cost - I bought a couple for £25 each delivered (with No HD, low powered processors and 2GB of ram).
 

trs96

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Dell OptiPlex 7010 motherboards with Q77 chipset for $10 to $20 on eBay
There is a huge supply of these boards on Ebay because they "part out" off lease business desktops and sell the CPU, Ram etc. instead of the whole PC. So yes, these are a great deal as they are mATX compatible and have a 24 pin power connector for your PSU. Just look at how much Asus and Gigabyte H or Z77 motherboards cost used. Many sell for over 200 dollars.
NOTE: You can also use the Optiplex 9010 motherboards for the same purpose. They tend to cost slightly more.
 
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trs96

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Here's the Dell Optiplex 7010 mATX motherboard if you'd like to see what it offers. These are as well built and reliable as the Intel, Asus and Gigabyte boards that I've used. A really good value.

Dell 7010 Mobo.jpg
 
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Thanks for sharing this Petri!. I was reading with interest your experience with your G5. I was recently given two Apple Power Mac G5’s that had been kept in storage. One an original late 2003 DP 1.8 GHz and PCI X, and the other a late 2004 DP 2 GHz PCI X.

8C190548-7A82-4426-92E8-16D7BA1CD2EB.jpeg


Sadly I think the years of damp cold storage haven’t been kind to these two. But I’ve salvaged 2 excellent cases and a 600 W power supply. Before reading this post I had already stripped out and cleaned the 2003 case and was planning a build with it.

465C74F7-4733-42D2-9C61-D20730DEB2D0.jpeg


I left the PSU enclosure inside the case with ideas about mounting a smaller modern PSU. A 240 W PSU from a HP6300 SFF May mount sideways onto the rear fan guard with the plug sideways, I’ll let you know!.
But after reading this excellent post, I realized I could save myself a lot of G5 Hackintosh woes. By finding an Optiplex 7010/9010 motherboard, which there are several on eBay and less than $20.
So I decided to strip the late 2004 as by your post, just remove the motherboard and processors until I have this.

9601F84D-6A38-46CD-A5B1-A4870780B486.jpeg


Just a couple of questions though, which way did you mount your board?. Looking at the photo that trs96 kindly posted of the motherboard, would it need a an extension to connect the power?.
 

trs96

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Here are the conversion cables needed to adapt your 4 pin fans to fit the 5 pin fan headers on the Dell motherboard.
https://www.ebay.com/itm/5Pin-to-4Pin-Cooling-Fan-Connector-Adapter-Converter-Cable-for-Dell-PC-Laptop/303033549967?epid=15027597367&hash=item468e35048f:g:Z1cAAOSw5bxcQXgK:rk:7:pf:0

They can also be purchased from Chinese sellers if you're not in the USA. Those will cost much less. Shipping times will be longer. They do work, but the PWM fans I've connected to these are not regulated and behave more like 3 pin fans. Maybe someone can figure out how to resolve this. I've used some low noise adapters to slow the CPU fan speeds.
1548263184537.png
 
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Thank you sir, helpful as always!. I was hoping to include the original fans with this build, so many to choose from!.
Have been reading BoomR and eelhead excellent guides for connecting the front IO also.
Trying to avoid cutting these cases too. I’ve seen several Hackintosh with the G5 case with the rear panel cut open across the internet. To me it’s looks ugly, I’d prefer to keep them intact and original.
 
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trs96

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Thank you sir, helpful as always!. I was hoping to include the original fans with this build, so many to choose from!.
Have been reading BoomR and eelhead excellent guides for connecting the front IO also.
Trying to avoid cutting these cases too. I’ve seen several Hackintosh with the G5 case across the internet. To me it’s looks ugly, I’d prefer to keep the intact and original.
I'm also working on a new improved version of the Optiplex 7010/9010 guide. Will be posted hopefully before the end of this month. Will be for a clean install of High Sierra or Mojave. This looks like an interesting project. Will be best if you start a new build thread in G5 Mods section for others to follow.
 
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Thank you trs96, I'll be looking forward to that guide!. Yeah I'm excited about this one, uh two projects. I'll start a new thread on the G5 Mods, maybe people will chime in with their experiences and ideas.
 
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I'm also working on a new improved version of the Optiplex 7010/9010 guide. Will be posted hopefully before the end of this month. Will be for a clean install of High Sierra or Mojave. This looks like an interesting project. Will be best if you start a new build thread in G5 Mods section for others to follow.
One last question guys!. Can you point me to the PCIe X4 slot from this page taken from the Optiplex 7010 technical guidebook. Is it number 10?, the PCI-e x16 Connector (SLOT1). Or Number 13?, the PCI-e x16 (wire x4) Connector (SLOT4). It will help knowing what to look for on eBay.
optiplex_7010_technical_guidebook_motherboard (dragged).jpg
 
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