Alienware M18X R2 upgrade (lazy and actual guide)

Discussion in 'Alienware 18 and M18x' started by kaza, Dec 14, 2016.

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  1. kaza

    kaza Notebook Consultant

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    I see many people have sold their Alienware laptops and got new Eurocom, Clevo etc. Well, I'm the lazy guy and thus I haven't sold mine Alienware M18X R2 Nebula Red yet. Initially it came with i7-3610QM CPU and AMD 7970M CrossfireX, 8GB RAM. After 2 years of using both GPUs have failed and I decided to get a replacement. It was difficult to choose a new GPU but now I have both Nvidia GTX 970M and 980M. Also, I got i7-3940XM CPU and 32GB RAM, SLI cable for future experiments.
    I think AW M18X R2 is really a nice laptop and despite of all other followed and newer models it should not be sold. So, I will do my best to upgrade its software and hardware parts taking in consideration the common sense and money factor. I don't work with AutoCAD or graphical software. I do web browsing, sometimes play MMO, watch and edit camera recordings etc. Just a semi-casual user. Usually I don't OC all the time, I don't buy the latest Extreme CPU right after its launching on the market or even after 1 year of it. If my 2 7970M GPUs were still working I continue play with them.
     
  2. kaza

    kaza Notebook Consultant

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    RAM upgrade.
    8 GB 1333 => 32 GB 1600 Corsair Vengeance. Lately I have discovered that my mobo doesn't work well with all 4x8GB RAM installed because it failed to pass the memory BIOS tests and started making BSOD or lost the audio occasionally. I phoned Dell's support and got the info that my motherboard's memory controller seems to be failed and buggy. I was advised to do what I have found by myself previously - work only with 3x8GB RAM, 24GB in total. With that amount of memory all the tests were finished OK and audio problem has gone also.
    By some reason I can't OC my RAM but it's not so important. If you do have some audio problems after resuming from sleep mode or occasional BSODs or "memory integrity fail" error, I advise you to install less RAM memory and find your own proper working amount.
     
  3. kaza

    kaza Notebook Consultant

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    CPU upgrade.
    I7-3610QM => i7-3940XM. This update seems to be logical because 3940XM is the last and most powerful CPU that you are able to install in AW M18X R2 based on chipset restrictions. Forget about possible BSEL mod, because on my experience this mod can limit your available RAM or other things if there will be no corresponding BIOS modification.
    3940XM is a little more hotter than my old 3610QM and thus I need triple-piped CPU heatsink. Currently I have only double-piped heatsink. Also, a good thermal compound is recommended. I was advised to use Gelid Extreme. I can't say it's fantastic because I don't like how fast it becomes solid, but, yes, it's better than Arctic Cooling MX-2. Don't use MX-4 because it also becomes solid very fast and less durable. Pay attention to the condition of your heatsink's pad surface - it should be like true mirror for better heat conductivity. If you like me have some scratches on it, polish it with a special metal polishing compound prior installing. You also will need a proper version of Intel's DPTF driver. Currently I'm looking for the best one. Don't install the latest (2012-2013 dated) from the official Dell's site because in my case this causes CPU errors - the system trottles with it.
    If you install Swick's A11 modded BIOS you will see some unlocked options and will be able to choose BIOS to control your CPU work and temps instead of DPTF. Personally, I decided to work with DPTF, just need to find a proper and actual driver.
     
  4. kaza

    kaza Notebook Consultant

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    GPU upgrade.
    AMD 7970M CrossfireX => Nvidia GTX 970M / 980M. I have decided to cancel my efforts with AMD because they suck. And I tired of this fact and faulty high-end AMD GPUs. Nvidia also had some bad sheeps in the past but there are only two brands on this market, so, the choice is simple.
    You need to install Swick's A11 modded BIOS prior installing 970M / 980M GPUs. In my case I had official A12 BIOS from Dell. So, I did this: A12 official => A11 official => A11 Swick's modded. In A11 Swick's make sure you disable the non-flex CPU support (thanks Mr. Fox for this info).
    So, all the steps:
    1. Install Swick's A11, disable non-flex CPU support.
    2. Install 970M / 980M GPU. You can use Clevo's heatsink backplate if you cut some angles and holes with a metal scissors. Also, you need Clevo's screws and x-bracket. You can use your old 100W GPU heatsinks from AMD cards.
    3. Download the latest Nvidia drivers for laptops, unzip. Modify the proper inf file - for Dell you need only one file (read here). Delete all the software from the installation set you don't want to install and install the drivers. Reboot.
    4. In my case 970M and 980M work without any throttling after this installation. 3dmark 11 scores are about 9800 and 12500 respectively. 970M working temps are 34 (resuming from sleep) - 70 (gaming) C - 74 (max gaming Temp ever reached). 980M temps are 36 (sleep) - 74 (gaming) - 76 (max gaming). IMHO 980M scores the temperature more faster.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2017
  5. kaza

    kaza Notebook Consultant

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    DPTF driver.
    A few hours ago I have found the latest and proper DPTF driver (version 8.1.10605.221, Nov, 2016) for the system. Here is it.
    Also, the latest Intel Chipset Driver has version 10.1.2.77 (Aug, 2016). Make sure you have updated it before installing DPTF. Currently I'm using Intel(R) USB 3.0 eXtensible Host Controller Driver version 1.0.10.255 (Feb, 2014) because I have not found any newer working version. And Intel Management Engine Interface (July, 2012) which was installed directly via Windows Update. Also, Windows Update has installed me some interesting update "Intel - System - 6/28/2016 - 14.35.1.69" which, I'm sure, is important for all the present work.
     
  6. Tulius

    Tulius Notebook Consultant

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    What about the 980M SLI GPU cooling? In my case since I upgraded my 780M SLI for a 980M SLI my gpus cooling does not work properly and I had to resort in install the HWInfo program to solve this problem. Would this DPTF driver could solve this problem?
     
  7. kaza

    kaza Notebook Consultant

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    I have not installed SLI so far. Because I have only 1 x 970M and 1 x 980M. In your case, what do you mean by saying "cooling not work properly"? I assume you are talking about fans. Currently my left (primary) GPU fan starts to spin after GPU reaches 64 C.
    When I had 2 x 7970M right fan always started to spin with some delay, it's normal thermal policy for AWs, as I think. Maybe updating Compal sensor driver / FW may help to solve this. Or BIOS modification.
    DPTF basically corresponds to CPU thermal behaviour. For example, unproper DPTF version have caused my 3940XM to lower its clock on all cores to 800 MHz (8x multiplier).
    BTW, HWinfo is not so simple. There are some cons and pros with it. In a few words - I don't recommend to use it all the time. You will just ruin your fans soon and that's all. It will not give you more than 3-4 C of additional cooling corresponding to native AW BIOS fans cooling. If you have properlly installed all the heatsinks, cleaned fans and used good thermal compound, and your GPUs are alive, you don't need to use HWinfo. Yes, you can create custom fans profile (up to 4000+ RPM) but for a single 970M / 980M you are more than ok with stock AW BIOS profile. Max T under load for these cards is about 69-79 C which is not too much, I think. 7970M was a bit hotter. And I think average temperature 70-74 C under high gaming load for 9xxM is not bad at all.
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2017
  8. kaza

    kaza Notebook Consultant

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    Tulius, do you have throttling with your 980 SLI BTW? I was said to restart the laptop to see the throttling. I did and still nothing. Clock and memory are constantly at their maximum boost levels under highest gaming load. I have not installed Prema's vBioses. I have not disable Boost. My stock vBios let me to OC. I don't use Optimus.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2017
  9. HonkyPonky1972

    HonkyPonky1972 Newbie

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    Hello, thank you for this guide.
    I have a question for you. What OS you have installed? I read that 980m + M18x R2 + W10 causes the death screen. It is so? There is no solution, perhaps with modded vbios (Prema) and modded drivers (J95)?
    Thank you.
     
  10. kaza

    kaza Notebook Consultant

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    Hello and welcome! Windows 7x64. I have heard about some problems with Windows 10 and screens, yes. I used to work with Windows 7 on this laptop, so, I just have not upgraded... yet. IMHO, modded drivers will not help you with the issue. By modding the driver you just add one string (like 13D7.0550.1028) to the proper inf file and that's all. And as to modded vBios, I have not faced the issue that caused me to install any modded vBios yet. I advise you to ask @Mr. Fox about Windows 10 & dead screens. I'm sure he knows more about it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2017
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