Bringing my M15x Back to life (First post)

Discussion in 'Alienware M15x' started by Emb, Nov 25, 2018.

  1. Emb

    Emb Newbie

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    Hello NotebookReview community. Let me start off by saying I'm new here, and I greatly appreciate anyone's time spent reading this thread.

    First of all, I'm a desktop PC guy and always will be, but back in 2010 I ended up getting a great deal on an Alienware M15x, and I enjoyed using it for the first few years as a mobile alternative to some of my much bigger computers. After a while, I lost interest in using the laptop, and it sat for a number of years. Recently, I've got the bug to bring this thing back to life and give it a few new parts, which brings me to the entire point of writing this post. Understand that I come from the world of desktop mods, which [nowadays] encompasses using parts that are plug and play 99% of the time. After a little bit of research regarding GPU upgrades and maximum supported system memory, I'm realizing some of these things might not be as simple as they seem. I will post my system specs and try to organize my questions into a [somewhat] logically ordered list. If someone happens to swing by and drop some knowledge, it would be of great benefit.

    Current specs are a bit underwhelming and are as follows:

    M15x / Matte Black / 1920x1080 Panel
    i7 620m Arrandale
    PM55 Chipset
    4GB DDR3 Dual Channel @ 1066
    ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5730
    128gb Sata III SSD

    If any additional info is required I'm more than willing / capable of providing it.

    Question 1: Regarding system memory

    Is 8GB is really my limit here?

    The spec sheet for my CPU, as found on Ark.Intel, lists my CPU [Dual Core i7 620M] as having a maximum supported memory of 8GB. I've been reading around and finding threads where folks are claiming to run 16GB. Maybe this has something to do with other socket G1 Intel CPUs that were also available in that machine, and people are having luck with those other chips for their 16GB configurations.

    Normally, I'd just take a look at the spec sheet for the CPU, and just call it a day, but some people seem to be achieving some voodoo magic here. I think there was an extreme edition quad core that was listed at 8GB max, but users are reporting booting into windows and seeing the whole 16? Sounds interesting if it would actually work.

    So, I ordered 2x4GB DDR3 204-Pin SODIMMS for now. This will at least get me out of the dreadful 4GB Zone.

    Question 2: Regarding the GPU

    What are some good options in late 2018 for upgrading the GPU?

    What sort of hardware / software modifications am I in for?

    I hardly know where to begin here, and this section is my primary reason for making an account / thread, and it's occurring to me that changing out a notebook GPU =/= changing out an dedicated card on an ATX board. At least not always.

    I understand you need to be quite wary of the TDP on what card you want to install, and some require power supply mods. I'm not particularly interested in making too many changes, as I just ordered a replacement battery and power brick that just meet factory spec. I think some people end up getting a 250w brick, along with some other mods?

    I understand that you need a card with a compatible vBios (one that will work with Alienware notebooks, at least?)

    I understand some people find they need to modify their device driver in one way or another. I'm wondering if someone can point me in the right direction, if that's the case.

    Do these all meet a standard form factor? I'm totally unfamiliar with notebook graphics, and I'm worried that the thing won't fit in the little space in the laptop shell. I don't see many of the listings on Ebay / Amazon / etc containing physical dimension data, so I've been under the assumption that they all are roughly the same in that regard. (Example: Some are marketed only for, say, an M17x. Others will be listed as compatible with M15x, M17x, and a list of other Alienware / Dell models.) Moreover, do people just guess at the thickness they need for thermal pads on the replacement GPU? I guess you could re-use the original ones if they seemed like they were in decent condition, but I'd like to re-paste the CPU and clean things a bit while I have it apart.

    I'd love to try to give this thing a new graphics processor (maybe something with more than 1GB DRAM) but there's a few variables I don't understand quite yet.

    Question 3: Regarding Optical Drive / HDD Caddy Swap

    This one seems to require some additional disassembly of the laptop, but are people having any luck doing this? Sounds like an interesting little project, even if you did get forced into using SATA II, it would be nice to have the extra storage instead of the useless optical drive.

    This is probably the lowest on my to-do list, but it grabbed my attention when I heard the idea.


    Conclusion:

    If I wanted high horsepower, I'd stick to my desktops. For now, I just want to revive this old machine and have it running at reasonable temps - not looking to overclock this machine or push any limits. It's mostly just a spare machine I keep around that I can boot into a couple different operating systems with, depending on what I need to do in the moment. Then I go back to my desktop. I have all the respect in the world for folks who are into high performance notebooks, it's just not my bowl of cereal.

    3D applications and video rendering are not a big focus for me, but I'd still like to get this dinosaur GPU out pretty much more than anything.

    I remember as I kid, I thought Alienware was the coolest machine to own. They always had wild and wacky looking outer shells with high performance parts on the inside. As I've grown older and maybe just slightly wiser, I've found that Dell can slap a pretty hefty pricetag on these things. Whether you think they're overpriced or worth every penny, this computer holds a special place in my heart, and brings me back to when I was younger and RGB lighting meant it had to be a "fast" machine.

    It's disheartening when you read forums posts from all around the net, and folks just chime with with "just get a new computer," and "you can't swap notebook GPUs, they're directly soldered," and I'm literally asking about a board / card combo that uses MXM. I probably won't buy another laptop for years and years. They just aren't my thing, and I don't know very much about them compared to desktops, and other ATX form factor systems.
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Total plan:

    Ordered replacement 6 cell battery (mine would barely hold charge after all these years)

    Ordered replacement power brick (mine was frayed and wrecked)

    Ordered 2x4GB SODIMMS to upgrade from 4GB to 8GB RAM. (If I can, I'll add more, but currently it looks like this isn't possible. I'd love to be wrong about that though!)

    Ordered a replacement SATA III SSD to replace the tiny 128GB disk.

    Flashed bios with A09

    This leaves the GPU and disk caddy, which I'm primarily concerned with the GPU swap. I'm not even opposed to changing CPUs if it meant I could use more than 8GB system memory. The chips for these machines seem to be reasonably available and affordable.

    Thanks to anyone who took the time to read this post. I tried to keep the rambling to a minimum, and I hope I didn't leave out any info. I think it's super cool that there's an active community around these legacy machines. I know mine still has a lot of life left in it.
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2018
  2. TheReciever

    TheReciever D! For Dragon!

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    1. 8GB is the limit when on a dual core, 16GB is the limit when on a quad core

    2. Best GPU is probably the 970m. The 980m works but temps are really high so most settle with the 970m.

    3. Dont know about the caddy, I never owned an m15x so not sure on that one.
     
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  3. zappie

    zappie Newbie

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    RAM u could go as hi as 16GB. Bios will only detect up to 8GB but windows will recognise 16GB. I slot mine 2x8gb DDR3 2133hz

    GPU stay away from GTX 7XX series too much hassle. GTX 970m seems to be the popular choice and pair it with i7-920xm which will need a 240watts power brick. Caution, with the pin-mod it will not charge yur battery and do get an original dell power brick or at least the correct plug head as I found out not only battery wont charge, cpu and gpu were throttled badly.

    Drive caddy for extra storage works and hardly any use for optical drives these days.

    Have fun and I hope it works out for u.

    Cheers!




    Sent from my Mi A1 using Tapatalk
     
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  4. Grant B Gibson

    Grant B Gibson Notebook Deity

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    RAM is limited to 8GB (dual core which you own) or a 16GB for a quad core. I don't know if people ever got 16GB actually working in this machine but I would assume so

    As for the GPU, skip anything that isn't a 960M MXM or higher, or a 8950M/M6100 or higher
    For a cheap upgrade, a 8950M/M6100 Firepro is neat, but I believe it does need fan control software. GTX 980M is the true limit, but it will be bottlenecked by your CPU and heat up quite a lot. a 970M is good though.

    A ODD caddy for a spare HDD seems easy enough, but all the SATA slots on this machine are SATA 2, no changing that.
     
  5. Arrrrbol

    Arrrrbol Notebook Evangelist

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    I'd recommend upgrading the CPU as well, you can get replacements for next to nothing nowadays. The 920XM or 940XM are the ones to go for and you'll definitely notice the difference going from 2 cores and 4 threads to 4 cores and 8 threads. The CPU is the main bottleneck of these older Alienwares so you are best trying to mitigate it as much as possible.
     
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  6. Raidriar

    Raidriar ლ(ಠ益ಠლ)

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    I ran a M15x with a 920XM, 16gb of ram, a GTX 970M, and a 512GB SSD for years. DDR3 is limited to 1333 speed, SSD speed limited to SATA II. Even though 920XM is an upgrade, it is still a tired chip coming up on almost 10 years of service.
     
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  7. robb41488

    robb41488 Notebook Guru

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    as stated above

    a 920xm or 940xm (roughly 150 on ebay)
    16gb of ram
    gtx970m ( roughly 400 on ebay)
    and a 220/240/250 watt supply (used ones as cheap as $40)

    will bring this laptop into the present

    i have mine setup with a 920xm, 8gb ram, and a 770m

    im looking to upgrade to a 970m to stay relevant but for another $300 but im hesitant as the cpu is definitly a limiting factor.

    playing destiny 2 with my 4 core cpu clocks at 20x i can definitely watch the GPU starve for data and my FPS will fall from 55 to 35
    anything higher than 21x causes a thermal shutdown after an hour of play
     
  8. Emb

    Emb Newbie

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    Thanks a lot for the replies everyone, I seriously appreciate it. :D You guys rock.

    Now I shall rev up that plastic money card and pay a visit to eBay. I'm a bit giddy to pimp out the CPU / Memory, and I'll grab a nice hefty power supply. Looks like I found a 940xm really close to my hometown. Guess I should have held back on picking up the 8GB So-Dimms, now that it looks like the system will support 16 with the CPU. Oh well. :rolleyes: I'm sure this old gal will benefit from a cleaning and some new thermal paste; from what I understand that CPU can be a little heat factory. Can't wait for the mail to arrive as usual.

    Once the system runs happy and nice I suppose I'll look into upgrading the graphics chip. Seems reasonably straightforward, and the search function on this forum is also proving to be extraordinarily useful. I'm curious how far off the beaten path of plug-and-play I'll end up while doing the graphics. Heatsync dimensions, vBios, modified drivers, oh my! Sounds like a fun time either way.

    I'll take out the optical drive and hide the second SSD in there while I'm at it. ~$8 for a generic 12.7mm caddy doesn't seem too outrageous, but we'll see how it fits. Maybe that will end up being a job for the Bridgeport mill.

    Again, thanks for so many great replies in such a short period of time. I'll post my results with a few pics asap.
     
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  9. ssj92

    ssj92 Neutron Star

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  10. Quikj

    Quikj Notebook Geek

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    Hello everyone, I'm doing something similar. My M15X has been running strong since 2010 and I love what a tank it is.

    I have a 720qm and the GTX 260m and would like to run a simulator that requires a DX11 card or higher.

    Would the GTX 680m be a plug an play solution? Would it work with my stock 150W charger?
     
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