M18X R2 Rebuild/Upgrade Project

Discussion in 'Alienware 18 and M18x' started by Azther, Aug 27, 2021.

  1. Azther

    Azther Notebook Consultant

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    Hi there

    First and foremost, id like to give a huge thanks to @Maxware79 for selling me the final part i needed to complete this little project of mine. More on this later.


    I dont often post on here but figured id share my little rebuild/upgrade project ive been working on and share some insights ive discovered along the way. After getting an M18X R1 last year and upgrading that as far as i could take it (780m) i wanted to get an R2 next.
    So i kept an eye on ebay to see what would turn up, and found a Nebula Red r2 which i decided to bid on. Cosmetically it looked rather decent aside from some small chips here and there (see pics below), however i noticed it was running on intel graphics so assumed it was missing the GPUs which was fine.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    However when it arrived, turned out the whole thing had been parted out, leaving just the mother and daughter board with a broken wifi card and a msata ssd, basically enough to make the thing operate and function as a office machine. It also had some weird bootup behaviour which i quickly discovered was due to a dead cmos battery, once that was changed it booted normally.

    Also whoever parted it out did some weirdness with the cable management (the screen LED cable was under the left hinge and palmrest, and was threaded thru the hole where the GPU heatsink would of sat) it also had the wrong screws in it used in places which i promptly replaced with the correct ones. The battery also only had 20% wear on it, which surprised me.

    link to spare cmos batteries:
    https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/323266730201?ssPageName=STRK:MEBIDX:IT&_trksid=p2060353.m1438.l2649

    So i got to work finding the parts i needed (speakers/ODD cable/new wifi card etc) and installed those, i temporarily put one of my faulty 580m's in there from my r1 to verify the mxm slot was functional which luckily it was. The only nuisance part to sort out was the wifi card, it seems whoever worked on this previous had threaded the screw so badly nothing i tried could remove it.

    So i taped around the card and held a magnet nearby and used a hand drill (yep one of those ancient things) and slowly drilled out the screw, making sure the magnet was catching the shavings. Afterwards i used the magnet again to collect any stray shavings that might of gotten away.

    To secure the new card i used a rather ghetto solution of using a matchstick to wedge it in place long enough to test it thoroughly. Once i was satisfied i decided to put a small blob of gel superglue in place of the old screw, figured with this i could easily drill it out again if needed without having to worry about potential shorts from metal shavings.

    my ghetto wifi card holder:
    [​IMG]

    As far as the ODD cable was concerned, luckily i found a seller who was selling a faulty dvd drive with the cable included for 12 bucks or so, with that i simply reused the Blu ray drive i took out of the R1 i had (the R1 is using a HDD adapter in place of the original blu ray drive so no loss there).

    The lid hinges were also loose resulting in the screen wobbling, found out that this is a common occurrence from @Maxware79 . All thats needed is to remove the 2 small screws at the base of the screen assembly which allows the black piece on the lid to slide off, revealing the screws that allow the metal lid to be removed in order to access the hinge screws. Once all those were retightened it was good as new, no more wobble.

    Now to decide what GPU upgrade i wanted to go with, ultimately i decided on a Quadro P4000 after hearing how they are pretty much plug n play and very similar performance of a cross between a gtx 1060 and 1070.
    Id like to thank @Raidriar for his modded bios, which enabled me to force the machine to run in optimus mode which was a requirement for anything above a 9 series GPU. The GPU arrived promptly from china (probably the fastest parcel ive ever received, took under a week).

    taishan1980 is the user on ebay for those who also want to go down this route.
    https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/264330931952?ssPageName=STRK:MEBIDX:IT&_trksid=p2060353.m1438.l2649

    Pictures of GPU in Question, with the 580m bracket attached:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Please ignore the ram, i have already swapped that out with 4x 8GB HyperX :) the heatsink i bought had no electrical tape on it, so as a precautionary measure i decided to put some scotch 33+ tape around the die to prevent any possible contact between the heatsink and any of the exposed components. I also reused the X-Bracket from the 580m, which worked rather nicely. Again i used a small piece of tape to cover the contact points under the bracket just incase of a short (see pic above), Once installed it booted up no problem and worked perfectly in legacy mode.
    [​IMG]

    The drivers were super simple to modify, due to the quadros being used in a wide variety of laptops they only included the GPU code in the inf files, no vendor or subvendor at all, only thing needed was to change the string from 1BB1 to 1BB7 on all relevant entries. Once that was done, drivers installed no problem.

    I should also mention that in this case, since optimus is being used, the standard inf file needed to be modified rather then the dell/alienware specific one. A word of caution, dont ever use the FN + F7 hotkey. I decided to be curious and try it and it resulted in the laptop not being bootable, but to fix that you simply have to remove the cmos battery and short the pins. Plug the battery back in and hold ALT while powering the machine back on, this forces the diagnostics to pop up along with resetting the bios to default values again (the modded bios i used defaults to the iGPU luckily).

    Heres the GPU-Z Stats:
    [​IMG]

    Another thing i decided to do was remove the deteriorating rubberised finish on the palmrest, used WD40 to remove the rubber by scrapping it off. After i polished it with some Mothers VLR and a scouring pad to buff out any leftover rubber/marks. Not the best of finishes but im rather pleased with the results.
    [​IMG]

    The final part of this laptop i had to fix was the HDD connector and cable, which luckily a user on ebay was selling a bunch of the connectors in batches of 10. I simply took the latches off those and put one onto the existing connector to fix that (took picture before i decided to strip the rubber off the palmrest)
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    The HDD interposer however was a headache.
    I tried 2 supposedly brand new Interposers from amazon, both of which didnt work properly (one read the bottom-most drive, but only had 15-20mb/s read speed and full write speed and the other cable outright didnt detect the same drive at all) so id suggest avoiding those like the plague. Picture below of said cable:
    [​IMG]

    Thankfully @Maxware79 mentioned he had a spare cable for sale and he was kind enough to test it prior to sending to verify it worked on his machine, with his cable all 3 drives worked flawlessly.

    His original cable for point of reference, this is the one you need:
    [​IMG]

    Heres a pic of all the drives working, with the new cable in place. the 2 drives which are at roughly 250ish mb/s reads and writes are the mSata SSD and the middle connection on the cable which both run at Sata 2:

    [​IMG]

    Overall im very happy with this machine, im glad i was able to restore it to its former glory. As far as gaming is concerned its very similar to my 17 r4 with its gtx 1070, with the added benefit of the m18x specific features and the larger screen real estate.

    On a final note i decided to benchmark Cyberpunk 2077 on this beast, i know its not the latest and greatest hardware but im personally rather happy with it.



    P.S I also have replaced the keyboard, turns out the m18x r2 and the m17x r4 use the same keyboards. Used a Greek M17X R4 keyboard which has the same US layout, which is why it also has the symbols and the updated windows 10 key.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2021
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