Guide on how to upgrade the Alienware m15x

By Kris Verbeeck

Final update: one of our customers purchased the card for his m15x. Here's what he reported: "Okay, I've been benchmarking and playing some games with friends for a few hours now.
ATI Tool does not get the temperatur higher than 86°C. Mass Effect 2 @ highest details went well, too. So did Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 and Crysis Warhead(Both not over 90°C). Only BattleForge at almost max. settings(95°C) and Furmark benchmark software(that hairy donut thing) went to 97°C(I stopped it at 97°C.). The full story is here.
Not sure what to make of all this.. His experience with Furmark confirms what we saw with GPU Caps: the GPU is tressed to the max. However, his gaming experiences show more or less acceptable results, albeit by no means "lowish". So, there you have it. The cards are offered "as is", you now have all the info that we do.
In addition, it would seem that the DVI port is not functional.
Updated February 15th 2010

I little while back, we introduced a new service that allows some of our readers to send in their notebook for us to check what their replacement or upgrade options are. People owning a notebook we have no experience with and that live acceptably close to us (Belgium) can send in their notebooks. Sending the notebook is on the account of the potential costumer, sending it back is on ours. We can toss everything and the kitchen sink at it, substantially increasing the chances on success, and will list the replacement and/or upgrade options. This service is free off charge and does not imply a purchase obligation.

One of our readers, Martin, had a m15x gathering dust after the 8800GTX decided to tank and decided to take our offer...

In the end, Martin decided to use his notebook in the integrated graphics mode and not to take a new card. As a direct result of this, we did not go through with modifying the heatsink as Martin preferred not to damage it.

 


I'm not one to keep a gazillion boxes of all the electronic gear I ever bought around but I must admit it makes perfect sense in cases like these. Martin obviously kept the original box of his Alienware and was smart enough to use it for shipment. As MXM-Upgrade does not take responsibility for damages during shipping, Martin's approach deserves a wide following: make sure the notebook is secure and well protected against shock and the often horrible handling by postal services.

Nothing fancy about popping the hood but you better memorize where the long and short screws go. The short ones are denoted by green and the long ones by red in the picture but please verify for yourself. You don't want to run a long screw through any off the stuff that is beneath the lid.

The internals exposed. The CPU heatsink/fan combo to the left, GPU heatsink/fan combo to the right. By evenly distributing these two thermal loads the manufacturer has avoided having a machine that runs hot on one end and is cool on the other (like the entire m5xxx series). Also visible: Robson memory, wireless card (3 antennas, so no el-cheapo implementation) And an additional antenna lead, non-attached that does God-knows-what and leads God-knows-where. HDD caddy.

To remove the GPU assembly, set the 4 captive screws on the heatsink loose and remove the 2 screws holding the fan down.

You may want to detach the fan cable before yanking the fan out,

 

 

The heatsink assembly should come easily now, even though ageing of the thermal paste may "glue" the parts together a bit.

This, in all honesty, is a bit sad. After going through the trouble of making a thermally balanced design and after adding the cost of a dual fan setup the best heatsink they can come up with is this Lilliputer thing? I know space is at a premium inside notebooks but this is... well, as I said, sad.

Needless to say this adds emphasis to the need to keep your notebook and heatsinks dust free.

The HE 8800GTX exposed. Note that provisions for mounting a Type IV card are available (green circle). You will need to remove the red circles to remove the card.

Can't see much off a difference? That's because it's not there. A board carrying a 8800GTX, 9800GTX or GTX280 looks identical. A few component changes, mainly around the DC/DC converters to accommodate lower voltage/higher current, that's it.

The only real difference: the 8800GTX is equipped for SLI, our GTX280 is not... The footprint is there, the connector is not.

The bracket of the 8800GTX needs to be transferred, which can be easily done as it is not held back by glue or adhesives.


10734 on 3DMark06? Not shabby! Now for the bad news. Not surprisingly, the tiny heatsink is stressed badly. GPU Caps integrated 3D testing made the GPU hit temperatures above 100 degrees Celcius. Keep in mind these tests were performed under 22 degrees ambient. The unit would already have shutdown on a sunny porch.

More pointers to the system being on the edge can be derived from the power consumption. The power brick was seen pulling up to 125W from the grid. As I did not want to destroy Martin's PSU, we made no direct consumption measurements but with an assumed brick efficiency of 90% it is mere 7,5W removed from it's design limit. Maybe the 90% is a tad optimistic and so the headroom may be higher, but I believe it is fair to say the notebook does not have too much juice left under these conditions.

Driver installation.

The notebook came with Windows 7 installed and we had considerable trouble getting drivers to work. So for your convenience we have uploaded them on our own servers. As we have no ambition at becoming the Web's new driver download page, we will distribute a link to those who purchase one of our cards.

Conclusion.

Actually, we can not recommend performing this upgrade. The system runs too hot, is too close to it's limits. For those who want to risk it anyway, we'll be happy to sell you the card. If needed, we can even help you throttling down the card a notch in order to gain at least some headroom. But in the end, you're on your own with this one. Thermal shutdowns can be expected, as well as a limited life expectancy.

Update: Seems some people have been able to do the upgrade while keeping the temperatures more or less in check. Whether it has something to do with a mistake we made, or the system bios update they did we don't know. And as this is third party info, we do not guarantee it's accuracy.

For this reason, this card in this notebook only comes with a 30 day DOA warranty, not our regular 1 year safety net.

Need further info?

The below link may only be used for the Alienware m15x notebook. The buyer acknowledges by clicking the purchase link that he or she only receives a 30 days DOA warranty.

Your purchase includes the actual card and shipping (registered regular postal service for EU, DHL for US, Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, Turkey and Switzerland). If you need a specific quote for your country, please contact us. Premium thermal paste is included.

GTX280 MXM HE 1GB card for Alienware m15x - US shipment - 450€ GTX280 MXM HE 1GB card for Alienware m15x - EU shipment - 500€
 

While we haven't tested it yet, we assume that our GTX 260 cards will work flawlessly in this machine. The formfactor is identical, the source is identical... Both produced on 55nm, the GTX 260 will has 112 shader units versus 128 for the GTX 280. Together with a slightly slower core speed, this should reduce power consumption enough to keep the unit cool, or at least cool enough.

We assume the same limitation applies when it comes to the DVI port, though.

The below links may only be used for the Alienware m15x notebook.

Your purchase includes the actual card and shipping (registered regular postal service for EU, DHL for US, Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, Turkey and Switzerland). If you need a specific quote for your country, please contact us.

Not looking to win any performance contests? Then the 9800GTS might be something for you. The DVI limitation applies.

 
Alienware m15x 9800GTS Type HE

250€