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M17x R2 7970m CrossfireX Ultimate Installation and Tweaking Guide

Discussion in 'Alienware 17 and M17x' started by sangemaru, Jun 7, 2013.

  1. sangemaru

    sangemaru Notebook Deity

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    Hello all,

    I am now a proud owner of a pretty much awesome m17x R2.
    Nebula black, with the specs in my sig.

    I have edited this post to serve as a Tweak Guide for m17x R2 users interested in unlocking the full graphical potential of their machines. You may find some parts of the following instructions useful even if you don't intend to use crossfire'd 7970m cards.

    Why should one do this? Well, for starters, the m17x-R2:

    - Supports Nehalem i7 Extreme and is capable of cooling it, thus leading to truly impressive performance results even so many years after release;
    - Supports up to 16GB of DDR3-1333 RAM. If 16GB sticks ever become available it would be interesting to see if it can take 32GB;
    - Has what I consider the best laptop display ever - 1920x1200, 17.3" Wide-Gamut RGB-LED;
    - Supports 7970m CrossFireX in a GREAT way :thumbsup:;
    - Is a bit more compact (although just as heavy) as the other Alienware alternative, which may be important for some (such as myself);
    - Has pretty much the best build quality I've ever seen in a laptop;
    - Bling®-ready :D;
    - Good sound quality;
    - Lots of ports.

    This Guide is intended to be used all the way. I have managed to set up my own machine to perfection, with full feature access (HDMI with sound working, perfect Fan control working, hibernate/sleep working, overclock and overvolt as well as underclock and undervolt available, etc). Some parts of this guide may not work for you, but I am reasonably sure of their success rate. Should you follow this guide, providing there are no caveats for you, your end-result should be a machine meeting the standards of perfection :D Which cannot be said about many other machines.

    I don't really have a camera nor the mood to do a full picture guide, so those of you hoping for visual references should head on to this handy teardown guide. You only need to go as far as removing and re-seating the video-cards.

    Also, I suck at formatting walls of text :) If any one of you can find it within the goodness of his heart to make a more visually-pleasing layout for the following guide, please do so and share it with me and you will receive the much-appreciated position as a contributor in the credits :D

    Enclosed, is a brief synopsis of expected performance as benched with 3dmark11:

    AlienHack's score: P10049
    Nospheratu's score: Firestrike P8337; 3dmark11 P11449
    Batfuse's score: P8870
    My score : P9810
    Trome71's: FireStrike P8333; 3dmark11 P11716

    For comparison, the average i7-extreme overclocked 7970m crossfire-equipped m18x machine scores about this much: P11198 (oh look, slower than nospheratu's m17x hehe).

    Keep in mind that synthetic benchmarks don't reflect the gaming performance, which for most games will be identical even with the faster sandy/ivy cpu's.

    Without further ado:

    STEPS:

    1. Requirements:



    - Two 7970m cards. WARNING. CHOOSING THE WRONG CARD WITH THE WRONG VBIOS WILL RENDER YOUR MACHINE NOT POSTING AND YOU WITH A USELESS CARD. As far as I am aware of, Clevo cards have no restrictions, whereas Dell cards are restricted to being released with vBios versions up to and including 015.021. 015.022 vBios cards are not supported (the machine will fail to Post) nor can they be downflashed (Attempting to do so will brick the card). There HAVE been reports of users getting 015.022--firmware cards and having them compatible, but unless the seller allows you to return the cards, you can't figure out which one would work and which won't.
    I have not attempted nor do I know of anyone to have used a different manufacturer card (such as MSI), although I don't see why it wouldn't be possible.

    - A modded PSU is not strictly required. Nospheratu, AlienHack and myself have all had success using crossfired 7970m cards in tandem with Extreme Series CPU's, even heavily overclocked on both. Although there is evidence that you would not want to push the overclock too high in order to not degrade de PSU too fast (Nospheratu has experienced lowered stability over time at very high overclock levels), you don't exactly have to worry about power-related shutdowns either. Thus, decent-quality stock 240W Dell PSU's are quite sufficient. This is true even in a context like AlienHack's, where he is currently limited to using very high voltage (1.1V) on one of his cards.

    - You will obviously require a CrossFireX cable :)

    - If you can't get your hands on proper 7970m X-Brackets, you can make due with mutilating the brackets of your previous cards to serve as base, by separating the four corners of the X-Bracket from the middle. I have had success using this method, though I obviously do not recommend it. I currently use two intact 7970m X-Brackets.

    - If you're going to pull off such a mod, I heavily recommend maxing out the configuration of the machine for bling purposes :cool: This means Extreme-Series CPU (though you will be served pretty well even by 720qm/740qm/820qm/840qm with the ability to moderately increase the potential of those CPU's using bclk overclock, slight overvolt and increasing TDP limits in ThrottleStop), 16GB of DDR3 DRAM, 1920x1200 RGB-LED screen, hybrid HDD's or SSD RAID or SSD + large HDD combo. If you're going to spend the hundreds of $$$ that this machine requires for being awesome, might as well go all the way :D

    - Prepare, in advance, a USB stick preloaded with FreeDOS and the AMD 7970m modded vBios pack provided by svl7 over at TechInferno. This is an absolute requirement. Do not avoid this. There are very big chances that your cards may require bios reflash to work in your machine, and not having access to these vBios'es will cripple you and ruin your experience. (Alternatively, you can try the experimental vBios extracted from AlienHack's ES card, which helped fix a few compatibility problems in some cases)

    - Note: svl7 has modified the 022 vbios to offer native overdrive functionality without other software tweaks. I recommend you attempt to use them before other vbioses:
    View attachment Dell 7970m - 015.022.000.001.000000.C42904A1.119 - OverdriveMod - UV 0975v.zip
    View attachment Dell 7970m - 015.022.000.001.000000.C42904A1.119 - Overdrive Mod_1050v forced.zip

    - Have a screwdriver set designed to be used with small screws. A magnetic screwdriver would be very recommended.

    - Have a non-capacitive thermal paste handy - I recommend Prolimatech compounds, even though I currently use Ceramique.

    - Have some extra thermal pads of 0.5mm and 1mm sizes available.

    - Remove all GPU drivers (AMD or nVidia) prior to beginning the procedure - you don't want to have to reinstall windows. If using AMD cards, use the AMD Cleanup Utility. DO NOT USE THIS UTILITY ON WINDOWS 8. Your other option is removing the drivers from the control panel, then restarting into safe mode and using Driver Sweeper.

    - Have prepared the Catalyst Mobility 13.11 beta driver, HwInfo64 and RadeonPro.


    2. Hardware Installation:


    - Remove the power cable, all peripherals and the battery. Open the screen and hold the power button for around 15 seconds to completely drain the machine of power. Ground yourself previously by touching a grounded metal object. If you can, use anti-static gloves when working inside the machine.

    - Remove the three screws under the battery (this will allow you to remove the palmrest/touchpad), followed by the bottom cover. Make sure you keep the screws somewhere where they won't be lost, and also keep them organized separately in order to not confuse them. Be advised that there will be a lot of screws to remove. Once the bottom cover is removed, also remove the two screws positioned near the display assembly, to the left and right edges of the bottom cover portion under the screen assembly (this will allow you to remove the bezel providing the power button and gains you access to the keyboard).

    - Gently pry away the palm-rest/touch-pad segment. Lift it carefully without ripping away the connector leading to the motherboard. Gently release the connector. Make sure that the two gum-pieces on either side of the palm-rest do not fall away and become lost. They may fall easily and you should keep them by your side.

    - If you do not plan to do maintenance on the CPU, removing the wi-fi card antenna cables or the large cover between the keyboard and motherboard is not required. This is good, because it's a hassle you don't need. at the moment.

    - Tilt the screen back and gently pry away the bezel containing the Alien-head power button. This part is also connected to the motherboard using a cable. Make sure to carefully detach it first.

    - Unscrew the five small black screws keeping the keyboard down. Gently lift the keyboard up and away from yourself, and then tilt it forward, but not too far. There are two cables linking it to the motherboard - a smaller one on the left side and a larger one near the middle. Gently pry these away as well.

    - Installing the cards is pretty straight-forward. Remove your existing cards and the thermal pads on them. The cards are held down by two screws on either side of the width of the card, and you can remove the cards with their heatsinks equipped in one go.

    - You have the option of reusing the Dell stock pads or replacing them with your own. Depending on your original heatsinks, you may require different sizes of thermal pads. Moving from a pair of GTX-285m cards, my heatsinks require me to use 0.5mm pads on the vRam chips, 1mm pads on the VRM's, and I also use the fatter pads (around 5mm) to cool down the mosFET's. Other users have reported needing 1mm pads on ram and 0.5mm on VRM. Either way, when preparing the cards, make sure that after you screwed the heatsink down nice and tight, you check the contact between heatsink and RAM, as well as VRM's, and also core contact.

    - Another consideration is that the screws may fail to provide proper core contact. This is true when moving from 285M cards to 7970m cards, in which case you will have to carefully pry away the C-Clips (washers) of each individual heatsink screw, remove the screws from the heatsinks, and then re-attach the C-Clips to the screws. This will allow more pressure of the heatsink on the cards and not force you to purchase different heatsinks and/or screws. Make sure you check whether or not you get proper core contact before doing this, because if it is sufficient, doing this mod may result in excessive pressure and the cracking of your GPU core.

    - Once you've attached the heatsinks to your new cards, gently seat them in and screw them down.

    - Installing the crossfire cable is slightly tricky, because the connector for the second card is placed underneath the heatsink itself, and the heatsink will exert some pressure on the connector. Make sure you curve the cable to provide enough room for the heatsink to seat, while not exerting too much pressure on the connector of either the cable or the card.

    - Before doing anything else, if you've not been extremely careful about not touching it and moving it by mistake, I recommend gently disconnecting and reconnecting the LCD cable to the motherboard. The connector to the right needs to simply be pushed in until it clicks and stays even. The connector to the left requires you to gently pull up the metal rim, seat the connector flush against the socket and gently push down the metal rim until it clicks closed. Be advised you're not pushing on the rim perpendicularly, but aim to have it rotate into position. This is to avoid confusing relating to failure to display on the LCD.

    - I recommend connecting back the keyboard and power module but not screwing them down, and attempting to boot the machine. If you see the AlienHead logo, you're golden. If not, attempt to boot the machine while connected to a secondary display though VGA output.

    - If you fail to get VGA output as well as LCD output, you're in a bit of trouble. First, you will have to test each card individually in the master (left-most) GPU slot, and see if either of them boots. If you have one card that boots and one that doesn't, use the non-booting card in the Slave slot. You will attempt to flash it with different vBioses until you find one that works or you're forced to replace the card. The main body of this guide will assume that the cards booted correctly, with troubleshooting being done on a case-by-case basis in the rest of the thread.

    - Follow most of the above steps in reverse in order to put your machine back together and move on to the software configuration. :)


    2. Software Installation:


    - Once your system posted, there is one more potential hiccup: it is possible for the machine to start with an incompatible card in the slave slot, and so long as drivers for the cards are not installed, you may even boot into windows. However, the card will be listed as "unable to start" in the device manager, and with drivers installed the system will freeze at boot. Obviously you should try every single vBios you can get your hands on in order to make it work, but if it fails and the card is simply incompatible, you will have to replace it.

    - In this phase, you will also attempt to flash undervolted (preferably Dell) vbioses. This would not be a concern so long as you had access to a properly modded 330W PSU - the procedure of which has been outlined by imsolidstate on his own website. Otherwise, I recommend keeping the cards at stock clocks at the lowest stable voltages possible. Your aim should be in increasing your CPU overclock potential and keeping your PSU as healthy as possible. You are forced to flash these vBioses for undervolting because while it is possible and easy to increase your voltage and core clocks from software, it is mostly impossible to undervolt from software. Having a lower-voltage vbios equipped will allow you to tweak upwards from software should you feel the need to, while also having a low voltage option accessible, as well as keeping temperature and power consumption low and increasing the lifespan of your machine. I personally use a Dell 0.975V vbios on both cards.
    Nospheratu has devised a pretty easy method to make an Adaptor to provide the 240W ID signal while using any unmodded PSU. You can find his post here.

    - After your machine boots into Windows, install the Catalyst Mobility 13.11 drivers with all options. Restart the machine, then install HwInfo64 and RadeonPro if you haven't done so already. Catalyst Mobility 13.11 = Frame Pacing Driver and it works great in the m17x-R2, and every AMD user for whom it works ok should use it.

    - Open the start menu, type regedit and open the registry editor. Select the uppermost first option (Computer), press CTRL+F and write EnableULPS. For each entry found (EnableULPS or EnableULPS_NA) change its value from 1 to 0. This will disable the ability of the OS to shut down the secondary card when not in use. If the ability to shut down the second card is something you absolutely require - to your detriment - then do not do this, but keep in mind that the rest of this tweak guide requires this step for multiple functionalities. After this, restart the machine.

    - You have the option of entering BIOS and looking for the USB PowerShare functionality. If you keep your machine on a USB-powered cooling pad (As I do and recommend), it might you off that the fans of the cooling pad keep spinning while the machine is sleeping. I personally also hate having USB mouse light on. Disable this feature if you want to not have to unplug your USB devices to keep them powered down when sleeping.

    - In Windows, open up Catalyst and temporarily Disable CrossFireX. This will allow the HwInfo64 sensors to properly read clockspeed / voltage / temps / etc. for both card. Open HwInfo64 and configure it. Under the Fan Respin Period I recommend using 1000ms. After that you can minimize HWINFO and re-enable Crossfire. Set HWINFO on auto-start minimized with windows. Keep in mind that when restarting windows, you will have to open the fan control tab in HWINFO on startup each time. You can bypass this requirement by using hibernate or sleep modes, which will remember your fan speeds properly when resuming. ULPS disabled is required for proper usage with HWINFO (when enabled, if the second card shuts down, HWINFO will lose fan control ability as well as sensors over the second card and you will have to turn off HWINFO, disable crossfire, re-start HWINFO and re-enable the fan control settings and then re-enable crossfire all over again. This is why I recommend disabling ULPS). In addition, click configure in the Sensor Status panel and increase the scan interval to 10000 (or higher, if you feel comfortable) and click set. Keep in mind this will increase the time between sensor reading from whatever value you have set up all the way up to 10 seconds (at 10000ms) or whatever value you set it to, thus the changes in fan speed will now trigger with more delay. On the other hand, this will free up valuable CPU time that you really don't want to lose in CPU-intensive applications (especially since the performance drop with the scan speed too high can be up to 15% on the CPU)

    You should now have available: HDMI (without sound on Clevo, fully functional on Dell cards), Crossfire, Sleep/Hibernate, and plenty of overclock room for the CPU with ThrottleStop as well as custom independent Fan Control settings for each of the main three components (CPU / GPU1 / GPU2) :) The amount of headroom is subject to vBios limitations on gpu voltage. Nospheratu has succeeded in using the ASUS GPU Tweak utility to undervolt and clock-control the cards. This is conditional on having run MSI Afterburner (recommended versions are 2.2.4 - 2.3.1) with the -xcl flag once prior to trying the utility. If afterburner freezes your system, make sure ULPS is disabled and try running a game, alt-tabbing out of it and running afterburner immediately. If it is successful, restart your machine and you can then use ASUS GPU Tweak. Visit the link for complete details on how to configure ASUS GPU Tweak.

    All that remains to be done now is:


    3. RadeonPro Tweaking: - I'm not sure whether or not RadeonPro tweaking is still of any use now that the frame-pacing driver is out. Needs to be tested.


    - You can use RadeonPro with most of the instructions here to lower CrossFireX-specific microstutter and generally increase gaming performance.

    - Select the "Global" profile and edit the following (push the Save Changes button in the bottom left-most corner of the application window after each change):

    - Under the "Visual" tab, do whatever tweaks you wish (i recommend Antialiasing "Enhance application settings" and Anti-Aliasing filter set to "Edge Detect"). Set Vertical Sync Control to "Always On".

    - Under the "Advanced" tab, disable "Force Triple-Buffering (OpenGL)" and set the Flip Queue Size value to 0 or 1 (determines the amount of frames that will be rendered in advance). Tweak the rest to your heart's content.

    - Under the "Tweaks" tab, set Vsync control to Driver Default, set Display refresh rate to 60, uncheck Triple Buffering, Check Dynamic Framerate control, set Keep up to 58-59 fps and save.

    - Set RadeonPro to autostart minimized. If a specific application requires further tweaking, create an individual profile for that application to meet your specific demands using the above tweaks as a starting base. Make sure that you can mostly if not always sustain a framerate near to the value defined next to the Dynamic Framerate option. I don't recommend using settings that will push your framerate under 45fps. Lower details if you have to. The 7970m crossfire may be the second/third most powerful dual-gpu laptop solution at the present moment, but there's still games and settings that may tank your performance, and you will require the absolute highest possible contribution from your CPU in order to not be bottle-necked in certain games. I have found that an extreme series processor running 24/24/24/24 multipliers with TDP/TDC settings of 80+/62 will remove pretty much any CPU bottleneck in most games. Just make sure you can cool it (which is why I also recommend a cooling pad such as the Notepal U3).


    This concludes our regularly scheduled program for the complete awesome machine that is the Alienware m17x R2 :D

    Credits go to Nospheratu (for being the first person to join the bandwagon of this thread and the first to achieve success, as well as providing tons of information regarding many of the instructions above, AlienHack for much the same reason only slightly delayed, Pau1ow, Meaker, svl7 @ TechInferno and Mr. Fox for being general founts of wisdom without whom it would have been much harder to build up the above guide (even if they don't know it :D). imsolidstate and StamatisX for being pioneers into the realm of PSU modding as well as being some of the people doing early experiments on this crossfire possiblity (along with svl7). Honorable contributor mentions go to flingin and others I will add here on a case-by-case basis (which means I soon as I remember them :D).

    And of course, myself for being generally awesome.
     
  2. AlienHack

    AlienHack Notebook Evangelist

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    My friend I am on the same boat. I have ordered 1 7970 m but I am not sure if installing it in the r2 is going to be a hassle free experience. ..
    Maybe we could help each other with info on how each one managed tried to install the cards
     
  3. sangemaru

    sangemaru Notebook Deity

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    Sure thing :) As far as I know, just one card should be pretty easy to do, just make sure the heatsink is properly fit. It's once you get to 2 cards and the power consumption starts spiking that problems start :)
     
  4. AlienHack

    AlienHack Notebook Evangelist

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    So the r2 bios has no problem recognising the 7970 from the start? Because upgrademonkey has a warning saying that 7970 is plug and play only on r3-r4. On r2 it needs a slight mode they say (something about flashing a vbios)
     
  5. sangemaru

    sangemaru Notebook Deity

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    Afaik, some are plug and play, and some need to be flashed with the RjTech vBios (although other vbioses have reported working). I know there's a huge vbios pack over at techinferno: Downloads | Tech|Inferno

    I'm not sure if the rjtech version is in there.

    EDIT: Regarding Raid-0 issues, I've found that by setting Raid enabled in BIOS but not making the disks part of an array allows the user to install windows to one of the disks without hassle, and then use the Intel Rapide Storage Technology application to create the Raid-0 array from within windows. Wish I knew this last night :(

    At least I now have proper raid-0 :)

    EDIT2: I believe upgrademonkey cards are Clevos which only work in R2 when flashed with RJTECH vbios. Dell cards should work stock.
     
  6. AlienHack

    AlienHack Notebook Evangelist

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    That's very important piece of information. If that's true then maybe I should cancel my upgrademonkey order and try to find a dell card
     
  7. sangemaru

    sangemaru Notebook Deity

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    I doubt it's that relevant. Re-flashing vBios is easy, and as far as i can tell all clevo cards flashed with rjtech vbios work well. From what I've been reading on techInferno, while Dell cards do work stock, they sometimes have stability problems. I think it's the same either way :) worse case scenario, your order from upgrademonkey doesn't work properly and you rma the card.
     
  8. AlienHack

    AlienHack Notebook Evangelist

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    Yes but if the card doesn't even get recognized and the system doesnt boot how will I vbios flash? A blind flash is not the easiest thing to do.

    Where did you order your cards from and when do you await them to arrive?
     
  9. sangemaru

    sangemaru Notebook Deity

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    I ordered them from the marketplace here (merchant is Riri-Fifi). They should be arriving sometime next week. I don't think he has any more at the moment, but cards pop up in the marketplace from time to time.
     
  10. Alienware-L_Porras

    Alienware-L_Porras Company Representative

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    I guess you were missing this.
    LINK
     
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