Alienware 17 R4 GTX1080 in game random Stutter & Freeze

Discussion in '2015+ Alienware 13 / 15 / 17' started by alexnvidia, May 6, 2017.

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Does your AW17R4 GTX1080 suffer from stuttering when playing games?

  1. Yes, I have the OC vBIOS

  2. No, I have the OC vBIOS

  3. Was stuttering so I downgraded to old vBIOS

  4. Was stuttering but I manage to fix it

  5. No, my stuttering is still persistent

  6. Yes, stuttering even with old vBIOS

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  1. alexnvidia

    alexnvidia Notebook Deity

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    Hi all,

    I'm starting this new discussion as there are quite a number of us suffering from this issue. Just to be clear, i recently got my laptop replaced with the 7820HK GTX1080, cpu core temperature differential problem is still there by about 10C but that's not the main issue. I noticed during gaming, after 10min or so, the game will start to stutter and freeze for almost 1 sec, then continue then stutter again then continue as normal and so on.. when the game starts stuttering, it will continue to do so frequently.

    As pointed out by several of the members here, the temps are within range (61C for GPU, 80C for CPU), no overheating, no overclocking, all settings default. Using the latest Nvidia driver. The system is also repasted and thermal pads changed to fujipoly 11. all contact points for every thermal pads triple checked. SSD is Toshiba running at over 70C.

    The laptop came with the new OC vBIOS. Firmware was updated to the latest K1.09.

    My previous laptop, 6820HK GTX1080, exact same condition, repasted, repad, latest nvidia driver, OC vBIOS, latest firmware had absolutely no random stuttering and freezing in game issue.

    Main Objective
    To fix the stuttering issue, you basically need to seal all the gaps for the components that deliver power to the GTX 1080 and the GDDR5X. The power delivery (PD) components and GDDR5X are detailed in the picture i attached below.

    How to detect the problem?
    Make sure you have the OC vBIOS installed. Fire up GPUz and HWinfo, let them run in the background. Start a very CPU and GPU intensive game like BF1, play it straight for 30min to 1 hour. Depending on your laptop condition, you might see the stutter happening after 10-15min, or it could be as long as 30min. when the stutter starts, it will freeze the game for 1 second or less, sometimes the game audio will freeze as well, and it will continue to do so frequently, randomly, every 10-15 seconds. Exit the game when you are satisfied with the horrific result.

    Open up GPUz check whenever the stutter happens, the GPU load will drop to 0% and PerfCap Reason will register VRel, which stands for voltage reliability.

    So the stuttering has absolutely something to do with DC power delivery to GTX1080. from my own investigation, it seems like the power delivery circuit is the culprit, possibly overheat due to the extra 30W power required by the new vBIOS.

    Cause of the problem
    this is definitely a manufacturing issue. in a mass production facility, they can't customize each heatsink thermal pads to cater for each motherboard. All the thermal pads and heatsink came out from the same assembly line. because the heatsink is so wide, massive and it's made out of copper, it's very difficult for them to mass produce them to meet tight tolerances. for high end systems with GTX1080 with OC vBIOS, the margin for error is even smaller.

    If you are one of the few lucky ones, you will have a system that is stutter free from factory. If you are not one of the lucky ones, you need to put in some work to fix this issue.

    performing this is like doing a repaste, you simply shouldn't be doing it in the first place and expect a fully functional laptop out of the box. but in reality, this is not the case. a repaste is almost mandatory with such high end system and for the unlucky ones who have stuttering issue, a customized repad to fit your heatisnk to your motherboard is also mandatory.

    Again i can't stress enough, downgrading the vbios is only a quick fix that ignores the underlying problem with your laptop's power delivery (PD) components cooling system. Playing games and stressing the laptop with the old vbios will highly likely shorten the life of your laptop because the PD components are already operating at temperatures exceeding their specifications.

    And no, despite how many times you repaste or repad, if you are following the standard guide to repaste and repad, it's equal to not fixed in the first place.

    How to fix the problem?
    Apply thermal pads to the PD components and GDDR5X so it will seal any gaps and make proper good contacts with the heatsink. This might sound easy for the experienced ones, but they are actually not. It requires a lot of time and patience (it took me 3 attempts to get it right) and extreme attention to details. My guide is NOT the standard fix because all heatsinks are not created equal but you can use it as a reference. i've simplified the methods for those who are lazy to read my findings below.

    Before doing anything, start a graphics intensive game like BF1 and play for 30min or more to check if you have any stuttering issue. If your experience is good, you are one of the few lucky ones. If you experience stutters as described above, proceed to the steps below.

    Just a disclaimer, i'm not responsible if you messed up your laptop because you don't know what you are doing in the first place. and changing thermal pads, like doing a repaste, might or might not void your warranty.

    With that out of the way, let's start!

    1. Disassemble your laptop according to the alienware 17 R4 service manual. Apply arctic cooling thermal pads to the PD component location and GDDR5X. if you are using stock pads, skip to no.3

    2. once the pads are applied, DO NOT apply thermal paste. place your heatsink onto the motherboard and screw down all the tension arms. (you are not supposed to assemble the system at this stage and do not power on)

    3. unscrew, remove the heatsink. Thermal pads that are making good contacts with the heatsink will imprint the component shape onto the pads. this is the easiest way to spot gaps. those pads without component imprint will need additional pads. you can add 0.5mm pads on top of it, or 1mm pads if the gap is very big. to determine what thickness you need, you need to screw the heatsink back to the motherboard and visually inspect the problematic areas now.

    4. after applying additional pads, screw the heatsink back to the motherboard, visually inspect all the PD components again, wiggle the pads a little with a tweezer to see if it moves. if it is moving, you still have a gap.

    5. remove the heatsink and visually check for PD component and GDDR5X imprints making sure all pads have imprints on them. dell original pads might be difficult to check for imprints because some of them return to shape once pressure is removed. But fujipoly pads do not return to shape so it's very easy to tell. however, be extra careful when reusing fujipoly pads because it can be difficult to tell if those imprints are new or old. i've since changed my recommendation to arctic cooling thermal pad or stock thermal pad.

    6. when you are done making sure all pads have PD and GDDR5X imprints on them, you can apply thermal paste and assemble the system.

    7. test running graphics intense games like BF1 and enjoy stutter free gaming experience.


    Update 29/5/2017
    After one week of testing and gaming, I'm happy to report that the stuttering issue is now a thing of the past. I've played BF1 continuously for 2 hours, Far Cry Primal for 2 hours straight, non of them had stuttering or freezing issue. I have changed nothing but the thermal pads, making sure they get optimum contact with critical components. Moving on to the last major problem with this laptop, CPU core temperature differential issue, and i'm testing several fixes at the moment.

    Update 21/5/2017

    Due to popular demand, I'm adding a picture of the motherboard with description on the areas you need to pay special attention to fix the suttering issue. The ones circled in RED are VRM, YELLOW are Chokes, and GREEN are GDDR5X. The problem can affect both brand new system and those who upgraded their vBIOS to the OC vBIOS released by Dell. I hope this helps all those who suffered from in game stuttering.

    Update 19/5/2017
    After extensive testing with the OC vBIOS, playing BF1 more than one hour straight several sessions, i'm happy to report that in game stuttering is no longer present. i will try it with other games and play for a longer period when i have time, but as of now, stutter with OC vBIOS has been fixed.

    For those experiencing this issue, i strongly urge you to check the power delivery circuits on both the CPU and especially the GPU. because of the higher power requirements of the OC vBIOS, the tolerance for error is a lot less and power delivery components must be cooled properly in order to sustain the 180W+ power required to feed the GTX1080.

    For those who want a quick fix, you can always downgrade the vBIOS which will fix the stuttering issue too, BUT the underlying problem is still there. the power delivery components are not cooled properly and even if you can get away with 150W+, those components will not last long because they are not properly cooled in the first place and heat is the no.1 enemy of electronics components.


    Update 13/5/2017
    the in game stuttering problem is very real and it's a hit or miss issue.
    I personally have a 6820HK which had no stuttering issue whatsoever even with the OC vBIOS.
    Now i own a 7820HK that came with the OC vBIOS, having bad stuttering after 5-10min playing a game.
    @DeeX , i remembered reading some of the post by iunlock cautioning owners not to upgrade to the new OC vBIOS or else it will cause a lot of in game stuttering. so this issue is real even for team LHz.

    Now the good news. I have managed to prolonged the in game stuttering to almost 30 min or longer before the first symptom appear. before that, it was about 5-10min with the exact same game.

    The problem lies with the thermal pads covering the power delivery circuits, VRM, FETs. Again, for those who followed iunlock's guide blindly, you are in for a nasty surprise. i must stress here again, NOT ALL HEATSINKS ARE CREATED EQUAL. iunlock's guide is more of a reference, which doesnt really tell you more than what alienware service manual is already showing and i learn it the hard way. ALWAYS adapt the thermal pads according to the heatsink you have.

    For both my 6820HK and 7820HK system, following iunlock's guide on the thermal pad thickness meant some of the VRM, FETs are not covered with thermal pad, leaving a gap, some as tiny as 0.1mm which can be very difficult to spot, and some as big as 1mm. I'm afraid there is no other way than to be patient and take time to visually inspect and test every single power delivery circuit thermal pad contacts.

    i even noticed gaps between the GDDR5X under the GTX1080, the ones which iunlock recommended 0.5mm, but in actual fact you need 1mm pads and the factory pads are sized 1mm as well. Also there are gap for the GDDR5x to the right of the GTX1080, the top chip which is right under the heatpipes. because of the heatpipe shape, it will not make contact with the top memory chip at all. by just sealing the gaps for the GDDR5x, i was able to prolong the stutter to 30min!

    obviously i wasn't happy because stuttering is still present after 30min gaming, so disassembled and check again. I had to open and check my thermal pad contacts 3 times and every time i opened and inspect, despite my best effort, the next time i open i still find gaps, some of which are not visually apparent. I found a crude way to test the physical contacts which is more or less helpful. when the heatsink is attached firmly, use a tweezer to wiggle the thermal pads a bit. if it can freely move, you have a gap problem. this was how i caught the gap on the 4 tiny VRM on top of the GTX1080. Visually it was a perfect seal, but little do i know the gap is so tiny it can't be seen easily but when pushed with a tweezer, the thermal pad actually moved!

    for the bottom VRM and FETs under the GTX 1080, those iunlock recommended 1mm or 1.5mm, some i have to use 2mm depending on the gap. and if you noticed from iunlock's guide, he recommended to leave the factory white 0.1mm pads on top of the CPU side as it is. to the far left of the white pads is another small white pad which makes absolutely NO contact at all with the choke underneath. you need to use at least a 1mm pad for that.
     

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    Last edited: Nov 23, 2017
  2. alexnvidia

    alexnvidia Notebook Deity

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    @iunlock , you repasted many systems with the GTX1080 and i'm very sure you have come across this issue. Care to share with us your thoughts and experience and how to resolve this problem?
     
    Vasudev likes this.
  3. Teknobry

    Teknobry Notebook Consultant

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    I've been working away and noticed this when gaming using hotel wifi. I put it down to dodgy wifi even though ping seemed good. I'll see if it happens again now am home.
     
  4. Zer0K

    Zer0K Notebook Geek

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    The problem is in vBIOS (because the service center can not help me, I tried everything possible). Before updating the system was stable (6820HK GTX1080).
    The temperature of the system components (with temperature sensors) does not affect the problem in any way.
    Reducing the load on the graphics card helps (Prey 2017):
    120 fps there is a problem
    75 fps there is no problem.
    The support service refused me to replace the motherboard (I can not transfer the warranty), but noted that only this is can help :(
    P.S. I replaced the SSD with Samsung 960, of course it did not help.
     
    Last edited: May 6, 2017
    Vasudev likes this.
  5. Zer0K

    Zer0K Notebook Geek

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    Now I installed the old version of Vbios, this did not solve the problem completely (but the problem partially disappeared) :(
     
  6. alexnvidia

    alexnvidia Notebook Deity

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    how long does it take for your games to start stuttering? let's say battlefield 1
     
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  7. Zer0K

    Zer0K Notebook Geek

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    5-15 minutes
    In the old version of Vbios, the frequency of the video chip is reduced to 500 MHz at this moment. Maybe it's still overheating?
     
  8. alexnvidia

    alexnvidia Notebook Deity

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    your symptoms are a bit different from mine. my game start to stutter after around 10-15min but the GPU speed is not reduced. it's running at full blast 1.9GHz+ and temps are good at 63-65C.

    if your gpu speed reduced so much, it must be throttling, possibly overheat
     
  9. Zer0K

    Zer0K Notebook Geek

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    in the new version of Vbios symptoms like your system
     
  10. Morker

    Morker Newbie

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    Hello

    I have exactly the same problem you have the vbios stock?

    Alienware 17 r4 I7 7820HK 1080....
     
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