Alienware M17x R3: Random screen blank + system hang

Discussion in 'Alienware 17 and M17x' started by brianfernandes, Aug 11, 2014.

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  1. brianfernandes

    brianfernandes Notebook Enthusiast

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    This is a 64bit system with Windows 7 SP1. I'm running with the latest NVidia drivers and the latest BIOS (A12) and Video Bios (70.24.2B.00.06, A01)
    RAM: 16GB
    HDD: 250GB SSD + 750GB SATA
    Graphics: Nvidia 580M with 2GB VRAM (no onboard card)
    Screen: 120Hz 3D

    Problem Description:
    This problem started a couple of months ago where my screen would go blank and the machine would need to be shut down hard. The keyboard lights would stay on, as would the fans, so it's not like the entire system powers down. Pressing caps lock or any other keys doesn't do anything so it's not only the screen that blanks out (backlight is off as well), the system does hang. There is no pattern to this, it could even happen pre-boot or after I have been using the machine for hours (details below).

    It happened infrequently at first, so I didn't pay much attention. The problem has progressively worsened to the point that I sometimes cannot even get the machine to start completely for hours. At the same time, sometimes it could work just fine for days at a stretch without exhibiting any the problem.

    Symptoms:

    The machine fails in a number of different ways:
    A) Before OS
    1) Start machine, hear 8 beeps repeatedly (rare).
    2) Start machine, hear 6 beeps repeatedly (very rare)
    In most cases, subsequent starts do not sound any beeps.
    3) Screen is blank on start - don't even get POST screen. The machine remains on though, but doesn't appear to be proceeding with the boot. No beeps though.
    4) POST screen appears for a few seconds, screen goes off almost immediately afterwards. Then same as #3.
    #3 and #4 could happen multiple times but after several attempts the machine would suddenly work (or exhibit other symptoms)
    5) While running the Dell diagnostics (from the F12 option) - screen would suddenly go blank when running the *thorough* memory or video card tests. I suspect the problem is not with the part that is being tested, but again the intermittent nature of the problem with the machine being on for a longer amount of time.

    Given that these problems are manifesting themselves before the OS is loaded, I don't think we have an OS problem here.

    B) OS Related
    6) At the "Windows did not start properly, what do you want to do" option, I press a key to prevent Windows from starting with a default. When left in this state for a few minutes, screen could go blank, system has to be hard shutdown.
    7) Just before the switch to the Windows is starting to the login screen, screen goes blank, system must be hard shut down. This is the most frequent manifestation of the problem.
    8) I am able to login - Desktop appears, screen goes blank in a few seconds or minutes - before I can actually do anything.
    9) Same as #7 but here, even though the screen is blank, windows continues to start. I hear the login sound, I can type in my password (blind) and windows starts. I can the run programs and even shut down cleanly (all blind, using keyboard shortcuts). If an external monitor is connected, it does not help, both screens remain blank.
    10) System works fine for an entire day (problem might occur a couple of times, but a restart keeps it working for hours), am able to shut down at the end of the day.
    11) Problem will manifest itself in safe mode as well.

    I have had the the graphics card head cleaned and heat paste reapplied for both the graphics card and the motherboard. The fans appear to be functioning fine and if I keep a temperature monitor open, neither CPU nor GPU appear to be overheating (unless something causes the temperature to suddenly spike to some very high value in a second before causing the system to crash). Even when gaming, the graphics card appears to be around 70 degrees centigrade.

    My best guess now is that the graphics card is bad, (I wish this system had an onboard card too) but I cannot explain the intermittent behavior at all. The suggested next step from Dell was - replace motherboard, graphics card and heat sink assembly and that seems rather excessive for me, if I were to do this, it is very difficult for me to even get an estimated cost out of Dell. I'm not sure if they can replace just one part and let me have it for a week to see that the problem does not recur else given the intermittent nature of the problem, the replacements might work for a short while and then the problem could manifest itself again.

    My original thread at Dell is here: Alienware m17x random hangs - screen off, system on - Alienware Forum - Alienware Club - Dell Community

    Sadly I'm out of warranty; being stuck with an unreliable $3.5K machine after just 2.5 years of use is extremely disappointing and frustrating, other than this the machine looks like it can hold its own for at least another couple of years.

    Any suggestions much appreciated.
     
  2. MickyD1234

    MickyD1234 Notebook Prophet

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    Hi there. The first lines tend to say it all :(.

    The 580m has been a notoriously bad card with multiple failures on machines. It seems that now they are getting to an age where even the good ones are failing. I see at least one a week currently!

    Dell's answer to throw everything at it is generally what they would do under warranty.

    The chances that it is just the NV GPU is high. It may have been overheating and you didn't know?

    You might find driver version 314.22 (NVIDIA DRIVERS 314.22WHQL) gets you some more life, it has worked for a few, but basically you need a new card. Had exactly the same happen to one of my (580m) machines, luckily in-warranty.

    Do you mind loosing 3D capability?

    Try a search for 580m failure - you should come up with quite a few - or check out my posts :D
     
  3. J.Dre

    J.Dre Notebook Nobel Laureate

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    From this description, I can think of three possible issues: RAM, GPU, or motherboard.

    I suggest taking out one memory stick at a time and restarting to see if the issues (or some issues) go away. If this doesn't work at all, then the issue is most likely the GPU. Given the fact that you're not experiencing BSOD's, I doubt it's the motherboard. As Micky said, the 580M is an unreliable GPU.

    Your best option is to find a GTX 680M on eBay and install it. The 680M is much faster than the 580M - 580M SLI performs about the same as a single 680M. It should be plug and play. :thumbsup:

    Dell Alienware M18X M17x Nvidia Geforce GTX680M Laptop Video Card CPCXD 680M 2GB
     
  4. MickyD1234

    MickyD1234 Notebook Prophet

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    @ J.Dre, unfortunately the 680m is NOT plug and play in an R3. 3D will not work and requires a modified drivers to install. The plus side is that on a 120hz model you don't have to mess with the bios to disable Optimus ;).
     
  5. J.Dre

    J.Dre Notebook Nobel Laureate

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    Even so, it's better than purchasing another 580M. Purchasing another 580M is borderline idiotic. :D
     
  6. MickyD1234

    MickyD1234 Notebook Prophet

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    That's for sure, unless 3D is a big issue and the card is cheap enough to be worth trying? The 680m appears to be the 'gold' class GPU for the R3/R4 :D

    Just for note to OP: Do not look at the 780m for an R3, you also get sound problems that need fixing with that card...
     
  7. Raidriar

    Raidriar ლ(ಠ益ಠლ)

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    EDIT
    Removed potentially wrong information
     
  8. MickyD1234

    MickyD1234 Notebook Prophet

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    Dunno if it can drive a 120hz display at boot though? It may have changed with the latest AMD cards but the earlier ones POST'd at 60hz and would fail the display (8 beeps) in a 3D model with no iGPU connected :(.
     
  9. Raidriar

    Raidriar ლ(ಠ益ಠლ)

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    Good point, I forgot about that. I thought the fix was to get the unlocked BIOS and disable IGPU/set to PEG only?
     
  10. MickyD1234

    MickyD1234 Notebook Prophet

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    Nah, that just bricks it - been there did that many moons ago!

    That's the fix for a 60hz display. Since the 120hz models are already setup to only use the NV, only the driver mod is needed to allow the install to complete. No optimus and no bios stuff :D
     
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