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Alienware 17 R1 - Upgrade Plans and Suggestions?

page305

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Apr 10, 2020
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So glad I found a forum specific to AW laptops and my first order of business is to thank anyone that takes the time to respond or even read this post.

I plan to upgrade the RAM and CPU depending on what opinions I get here. The PC will likely be exclusive for home theater and game emulation purposes at this point.

I bought the RAM (2x8) already but am unsure the best ram slots to install to. The 2 on the keyboard side of the MOBO (facing up while in use) or the 2 on the underside of the MOBO (facing down while in use). After install do I have to do anything for the PC to recognize the upgrade and function? I currently have 4x4 installed from factory, so I'll be removing all 4 and replacing with the 2 upgraded RAM cards that I purchased. My Service Tag claims I have 4x4 at 1600 (Dual In-Line Memory Mod ule,16GB,4X4GB,1600,DDR3L ) but Speccy tells me I have 16GB at 798MHz.

I'm also considering replacing my CPU (currently have the 4700MQ). Not sure I want to do this as it's low TDP and the system runs very cool and quiet, which I love. Would upgrading this CPU be worth it or would I run into excess heat and noise? I'm likely not upgrading the GPU (780m) as I'm fairly happy with it and I can maintain the 3D function with it. Are there other cards that I could, hypothetically, use that would be an improvement and allow 3D to stay intact?

Anything I missed that the experienced guys think I should look into more? Is there a general opinion of the best BIOS for this PC?

Overall Current Setup before Pending Upgrades:
  • OS: Windows 7 64
  • GPU: Nvidia 780m (surprising still happy with it)
  • RAM: 16GB Dual Channel DDR3 @ 798MHz
  • CPU: Intel i7 4700MQ @ 2.4GHz
  • Display: 1920x1080x120Hz Nvidia 3D Vision 2
  • Motherboard: Alienware 04WT2G A00 with Haswell Chipset Rev 06
  • Drives: Samsung 500GB SSD and a WD 2TB HDD

Thanks so much for your time!
 

MattyB

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Welcome.
Don't worry, your RAM is working at 1600MHz. DDR means Double Data Rate so you can double what the software tells you.
The 780M was a great card but if you feel like upgrading then a 980M is excellent. Don't bother with an 880M. a 1060 or 1070 is also an option later on. I believe the 980M keeps the 3D function (could be wrong) but the 10 series cards definitely don't.
I would suggest a CPU upgrade to the 4910MQ. The extra cache really makes it zippier than the 4700. You can go for a 4930MX but if you're not going to overclock then there's no point. You'll usually get more heat with a faster chip so it's a trade-off you have to think about. I think the 4700 came with the dual pipe heatsink so there's no need to spend money on a new heatsink.
If you've never done a good cleaning then it will be worthwhile if you're willing to give it a go. The fans and heatsinks fill up with dust and fluff and really hurt thermals. The thermal compound on the CPU and GPU get baked and need to be cleaned off and replaced regularly.
Check online for an unlocked BIOS. It opens up additional options for you but if you're not having any issues with the machine I would suggest to leave the BIOS as you can get a bad flash and brick your machine.
 

page305

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Joined
Apr 10, 2020
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4
Welcome.
Don't worry, your RAM is working at 1600MHz. DDR means Double Data Rate so you can double what the software tells you.
The 780M was a great card but if you feel like upgrading then a 980M is excellent. Don't bother with an 880M. a 1060 or 1070 is also an option later on. I believe the 980M keeps the 3D function (could be wrong) but the 10 series cards definitely don't.
I would suggest a CPU upgrade to the 4910MQ. The extra cache really makes it zippier than the 4700. You can go for a 4930MX but if you're not going to overclock then there's no point. You'll usually get more heat with a faster chip so it's a trade-off you have to think about. I think the 4700 came with the dual pipe heatsink so there's no need to spend money on a new heatsink.
If you've never done a good cleaning then it will be worthwhile if you're willing to give it a go. The fans and heatsinks fill up with dust and fluff and really hurt thermals. The thermal compound on the CPU and GPU get baked and need to be cleaned off and replaced regularly.
Check online for an unlocked BIOS. It opens up additional options for you but if you're not having any issues with the machine I would suggest to leave the BIOS as you can get a bad flash and brick your machine.
I appreciate your reply. I learned quite a bit from it but already bought new ram. I will surely strip down to clean when I make the upgrades. Do you know which slots I should use? I know there are 4 in this machine.

Looking further into the BIOS you mentioned. How would I know which unlocked BIOS is right for me or what source is trustworthy? What changes as a BIOS versions get updated, are they important changes? If I do update do I have to update one per version (V1, V2, V3 etc etc) or can I jump to most recent (V1 directly to V15 for example)?

What causes a flash to go bad?

Thanks again Matty!
 

MattyB

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If I'm only going to put two new sticks in then I like to use the two spots under the keyboard. It makes it easy to upgrade later.

BIOS upgrades are a tricky situation. I always try to upgrade each version one by one. The rules is to never go more than 3 versions higher than your current one so if you're on A01 then you go to A04 then A07, etc. NEVER jump higher than 3. Some updates are important and some are just small tweaks. Another rule is that if your machine is running perfectly then there is no reason to flash a new BIOS. Some upgrades are actually designed to make your machine run slower. You shouldn't need the unlocked BIOS for a 980M upgrade.
I'm not sure what causes a bad flash. Software can do strange things sometimes. Make sure your battery is charged up in case of a power failure.
 

page305

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If I'm only going to put two new sticks in then I like to use the two spots under the keyboard. It makes it easy to upgrade later.

BIOS upgrades are a tricky situation. I always try to upgrade each version one by one. The rules is to never go more than 3 versions higher than your current one so if you're on A01 then you go to A04 then A07, etc. NEVER jump higher than 3. Some updates are important and some are just small tweaks. Another rule is that if your machine is running perfectly then there is no reason to flash a new BIOS. Some upgrades are actually designed to make your machine run slower. You shouldn't need the unlocked BIOS for a 980M upgrade.
I'm not sure what causes a bad flash. Software can do strange things sometimes. Make sure your battery is charged up in case of a power failure.
I guess I'll be holding off, I don't even have a battery in it (have to buy a replacement still). Is there any benefit to an unlocked BIOS if I keep the stock 780m (which I'll likely do, don't know why this old card is still so good to me)? I just realized you are the same guy with the painted laptops I commented on, what's the "ranger" model all about?
 

MattyB

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There really isn't a benefit of flashing unless you plan on upgrading. The 780M was a great card and they did me very well for years and years.

Ranger was the name given to the 17 R1. Many of the Alienware machines were actually given a name even though Dell didn't advertise them with one. The 18 was called the Viking and the M18x was the Avenger
 

Sh00tingNinja

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There really isn't a benefit of flashing unless you plan on upgrading. The 780M was a great card and they did me very well for years and years.

Ranger was the name given to the 17 R1. Many of the Alienware machines were actually given a name even though Dell didn't advertise them with one. The 18 was called the Viking and the M18x was the Avenger
Hey there friend :) I've seen you in most all of the comments. I've been reading paragraphs and articles and have had very little results to success in answers to upgrading my Alienware 17 r1 and you have answered a ton for me just by helping others. I was wondering do I need a higher power supply for a 980m or the 10's since I have a 240 volt and if I needed a higher voltage what would be compatible and does model matter?. and what is the 3D setting you were referring about or does it not matter to game play? Also does my 60hrz screen prevent me from upgrading anyway?
 

MattyB

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Hello. The adapters are measured in Watts and the 240W adapter should be enough for your 17 but if you're using one of the higher end CPU's (i7 4900/4910/4930/4940) then you may want to grab a 330W adapter. Personally I'd go for the 330W just to be sure.

There were 3 display options available for the 17 R1. 1600x900 (60Hz), 1920x1080 (60hz) and 1920x1080 (120Hz 3D). The 980M will work fine for any of these displays but you're best to have the 120Hz display if installing a 1060 or 1070. To utilise the 3D display you need the Nvidia 3D glasses and a supported game. I have never actually used this feature though. The 60Hz display has a matte finish which is better for reducing glare but it also drowns out the colours compared to the glossy 'true-life' 120Hz display. The 120Hz also requires an Nvidia card to run it so you lose Optimus mode (no Intel integrated graphics) and if your GPU dies then you cannot use the laptop.
You can still upgrade to a 980M with your 60Hz but you'll need a modded driver, which isn't too hard to sort out.
 

Sh00tingNinja

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Hello. The adapters are measured in Watts and the 240W adapter should be enough for your 17 but if you're using one of the higher end CPU's (i7 4900/4910/4930/4940) then you may want to grab a 330W adapter. Personally I'd go for the 330W just to be sure.

There were 3 display options available for the 17 R1. 1600x900 (60Hz), 1920x1080 (60hz) and 1920x1080 (120Hz 3D). The 980M will work fine for any of these displays but you're best to have the 120Hz display if installing a 1060 or 1070. To utilise the 3D display you need the Nvidia 3D glasses and a supported game. I have never actually used this feature though. The 60Hz display has a matte finish which is better for reducing glare but it also drowns out the colours compared to the glossy 'true-life' 120Hz display. The 120Hz also requires an Nvidia card to run it so you lose Optimus mode (no Intel integrated graphics) and if your GPU dies then you cannot use the laptop.
You can still upgrade to a 980M with your 60Hz but you'll need a modded driver, which isn't too hard to sort out.
Thanks you so much :3 you are a great person for taking the time to help people like me out because I personally dont wanna spend $2,000 on a new laptop especially during this covid mess. This will add 5-6 years of lifespan to my computer!!!!
 

MattyB

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Happy to help anytime. If you decide to go ahead then I can easily mod the driver for you and put it in a Dropbox link or you can use a guide or YouTube video to try to do it yourself. You also need to make sure your GPU heatsink has 3 pipes. The 2 pipe heatsink will not cool the card enough. You'll also need new thermal pads (1mm pads will do) and new thermal compound.
980M's are available on eBay (mostly from China). Quality can vary.

Here is a good guide on how to mod the .inf in the Nvidia driver
 

Sh00tingNinja

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Jul 28, 2020
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Happy to help anytime. If you decide to go ahead then I can easily mod the driver for you and put it in a Dropbox link or you can use a guide or YouTube video to try to do it yourself. You also need to make sure your GPU heatsink has 3 pipes. The 2 pipe heatsink will not cool the card enough. You'll also need new thermal pads (1mm pads will do) and new thermal compound.
980M's are available on eBay (mostly from China). Quality can vary.

Here is a good guide on how to mod the .inf in the Nvidia driver
that would be great if you dropped boxed it. If you did that for me that would be 1 less problem I would have to deal with :) considering if nvidia does monthly updates for their drivers. I guess im ordering the card first XD I just put a 1tb SSD in and installed windows 10.
 

Sh00tingNinja

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Joined
Jul 28, 2020
Messages
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Happy to help anytime. If you decide to go ahead then I can easily mod the driver for you and put it in a Dropbox link or you can use a guide or YouTube video to try to do it yourself. You also need to make sure your GPU heatsink has 3 pipes. The 2 pipe heatsink will not cool the card enough. You'll also need new thermal pads (1mm pads will do) and new thermal compound.
980M's are available on eBay (mostly from China). Quality can vary.

Here is a good guide on how to mod the .inf in the Nvidia driver
sorry this is a bit late. just saw something catching my eye. will I need to change my factory fans if I get 5 pipe gpu heatsink and 4 pipe cpu sink?
 

MattyB

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You shouldn't have to. There should be a sticker on the fan that either tells you the Dell part# or the CFM rating. I'm pretty sure the 17 had the higher output fan which was 10 or 11 CFM. There was a weaker fan available that was only 3 or 4 CFM. Can't remember the exact numbers.
 
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