Gaming upgrade to Lenovo T420 - eGPU, SSD and 16 GB RAM

Discussion in 'e-GPU (External Graphics) Discussion' started by coco49, Aug 30, 2016.

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  1. coco49

    coco49 Newbie

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    Hello All - warning this is long but I wanted to dump out my experience to y'all if it is useful.

    this forum and several like it were very useful when I embarked on my side project to take my T420 and make it a viable gaming machine for 2016... mainly to play Fallout 4 but I've found a few more titles I am enjoying that would not have been possible before. I hope this info reaches any T420 diehards or general laptop enthusiasts looking to squeeze new life out of aging hardware. Not sure I saved any money but it's been kind of fun.

    The eGPU is the key to my success but I found adding an SSD and more RAM also made a big difference. Anyway - runs Fallout 4 like a champ and my overall computing experience is dramatically enhanced.

    Original specs:

    T420 w/Intel Core i5 2540M, 2.6 GHz (although I find I constantly use it for gaming at the turbo 3.3 GHz and heat is not a serious issue)
    8 GB DDR3 1333 RAM
    Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics
    Toshiba 300GB OEM HDD
    win 7 Pro
    Basically a straight-stick later model T420 with the high end i5 CPU in their offering.

    Upgrades:
    EVGA GeForce GTX 950 (SC+ 'superclocked' edition) - $99 on NewEgg with rebate
    EXP GDC ExpressCard converter kit - $69 on sale
    Salvaged Shuttle power supply (250W, way overkill for the GPU card) $0
    Samsung 850 EVO SSD, 500GB (Ultrabay caddy install - primary boot and gaming drive) $149
    Edge Boost Pro mSATA SSD (not necessary but I found a deal to leverage my mSATA bay) $49
    16 GB (2x8) Crucial DDR3 1600 RAM $61
    win 10 Pro

    Note I never bothered with a case for all this, it just lives kind of tucked behind my monitor on my big office desk. A case may be my next add for hobby purposes only, serves no actual function.

    The eGPU bit was the part I had the most concern regarding and was actually almost the easiest. Ordered an EXP GDC converter kit with the ExpressCard connector, pulled the old ATX power supply out of a 15 year old pentium unit collecting dust in my closet, and ordered a GTX 950 as a good power-value card, and after installing drivers and one reboot cycle it was plug and play! I can even use dual monitor setup and leverage my desktop monitor and laptop dispkay together, though I rarely do so in fact and turn it off for gaming as I've read reports dual-monitor mode used in this fashion degrades performance.

    Just as a r/w bench, Fallout 4 runs in nearly ultra settings (a few items turned down to 'high' quality) consistently higher than 50 fps, and mins are never worse than 40, which is fine for me. I find at 'high' worst performance is in the low 50s. Win10 boots in like 7 seconds and it flies in every other mundane computing aspect.

    There you have it, I hope this may be of interest to some of you, I know I reviewed close to five years of posts on half a dozen sites and some YouTube videos as well before jumping into this project, which has been well worth it and added a ton of life to a laptop I love. When I'm home, it's juiced up with the eGPU; when I am on the road for work, it's my reliable business machine.
     
  2. vincentbihler

    vincentbihler Notebook Enthusiast

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    Hi !
    Could you tell me wich drivers you used and how ? Did you need optimus ?
     
  3. coco49

    coco49 Newbie

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    I used the nvidia drivers included with the card - Optimus was installed with that but it's not causing any issues, I deactivate the internal display to avoid reported speed hits with it in dual screen mode. Not that I noticed an issue, it was plug and play once I installed the GPU drivers.
     
  4. douirc

    douirc Notebook Enthusiast

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    what resolution monitor are you using and how did you turn off the laptop display? also, how did you connect the eGPU to the display? DP, DVI, HDMI?
     
  5. coco49

    coco49 Newbie

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    Connected GPU to monitor with a DVI cable; the monitor resolution I'll have to confirm when I get home, can't recall at the moment. Just used Windows display function to select the external monitor as sole video output.
     
  6. douirc

    douirc Notebook Enthusiast

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    thanks for the heads up. changed my Win 10 settings to display to external only and it worked like a champ. increased by fps performance 22%.
     
  7. atomek1000

    atomek1000 Newbie

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    If you want to upgrade even further just change CPU to one of i7. I have tested t420 with i7-2720QM and i7-2960XM and it was working fine. You will need to buy 90watt psu though as original 65w is not enough. 2960xm was a beast in t420 and quite frankly had temperatures lower than 2720qm.

    Anyways, thanks for the post, i was searching for succesful EXP GDC upgrade as i want to egpu too!
     
  8. coco49

    coco49 Newbie

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    So I've been looking at quad-cores in the t420 which runs hot with my dual core (high 80's C) on full turbo during a long gaming session but still very reliable, never any performance issues and other than the occasional dust clean the CPU is untouched from the factory. That said I don't even attempt the really demanding games - FO4 is the toughest load.

    Most of the quad-core i7 reviews I've seen in the t420 state the heat is problematic and that has given me pause given dual-core heat, but would love to hear any specifics you could share on your 2960XM install - did you turn off turbos or any other settings, use specialty thermal paste etc etc. The CPU is my last bottleneck on a completely revitalized machine.
     
  9. coco49

    coco49 Newbie

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    Last update - I bought a used 2720QM on eBay for about $50 and the new 90w PSU for about $15, worked like a charm in the t420 rig I have set up and performance is further improved. Heat is an issue, but I bought one of those $15 USB-powered cooling fans that connects to the side exhaust port and it really does keep the machine well below thermal throttling now (worst case with the fan is 80 C). So the total CPU upgrade was $80. The install was actually even easier than I expected. Lenovo really made a monster laptop with this system, the only possible thing I could do left is replace the original marginal laptop display with one of the IPS displays from a later machine - lots of guides online on that one. Given I only game with it at home 'docked' with the eGPU and use the external display, it's not much of a priority. I know eventually I will reach hardware limits and the lack of native USB 3.0 is a drag, but this machine should easily last me another couple years until some killer game comes along that REALLY forces me to upgrade. :)

    Given how easy the 2720QM was I should have tried the 2960XM like you did atomek1000...
     
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