Alienware 18 - Surprises

Hi, I bought my Alienware 18, as a birthday present to myself in September of 2013. The local TigerDirect (back when they had stores in Illinois), had ordered it for a customer who backed out on the deal. It had the original I-7 4700MQ, 32gb of RAM and twin 2gb GDDR5 GTX 765 video cards. It had a “deployment date of July 2013.” As laptops go it was huge even for 2013 but the screen was perfect, and it ran photoshop/Blender and the virtual world (Second Life/Opensim that I use almost daily. It ran almost non-stop since the day I bought it. Not a single parts failure and upgraded the software a few times with zero problems.
Yesterday, I decided to upgrade it. I figured I might be able to upgrade the memory, possibly the graphic cards, and replace the single mechanical drive. It had, two drives, one mechanical and one SSD, an MSata, so I thought. I went online ordered a replacement drive and opened her up.
To my surprise, it didn’t have an MSata drive. It had a WD Black SATA mechanical drive and a Samsung Evo SSD stuffed into the one drive bay.
So, here are my questions. 1). Can I go ahead an add the MSata SSD as the boot drive, while keeping the other two drives (replacing the mechanical with another SSD)? 2). Since I almost never used the optical drive can it be replaced with another device - a multi card reader would be most helpful? 3). Is there any way to increase RAM past the 32gb already onboard and have the system recognize it? (I still have the original BIOS.) 4). Can the optical drive be replaced to install something more useful, like a multi card reader or even another SSD? I don’t see a point yet to replace the CPU or GPU as they are still adequate for my needs.
Thanks
 

MattyB

Moderator
Mar 19, 2012
3,096
125
Adelaide, Australia
Hey. The 18 sure is a massive laptop.

The mSata port was mostly used as a cache to accelerate a slower mechanical drive. They usually only came with a 32gb or 64gb mSata but it depends how it was originally configured. Some 18's were configured with 4 x 256gb SSD's in RAID 0 with the 4th drive used instead of an optical drive.
1. Yes, you can definitely use the mSata as a boot drive. They are usually a little slower than a 2.5" SSD but not by much. To do this you are best to remove all other drives from the machine before installing Windows and then install the SSD's.
2. You can grab an SSD/HDD caddy to install another storage drive. Just search for one on ebay and you should find one that fits your machine. Not sure about other devices working in this bay but it's possible
3. The system will only recognise up to 8gb memory sticks so 32gb is the max.
4. Same question as 2, I think

If you decide to upgrade the CPU then you are limited to 4th gen mobile processors. The 4930MX and 4940MX are the best ones you can get and are fully unlocked for overclocking. If you have no desire to overclock then the 4910MQ is the best choice as it's basically the same as the MX chips but not unlocked.

For a GPU upgrade you have lots of options. The 18 was released with the 700, 800 and 900 series Nvidia mobile cards and also the AMD R9 M290x, in a single card config or SLI/Crossfire. All of these cards will work without the need for a modified driver if the system BIOS is right up to date. Anything higher like a GTX 1060 or 1070 or Quadro cards will need a modded driver to run. Some guys have even had success with certain Quadro RTX cards. MXM style cards are still quite expensive though. A single 980M will be a massive improvement from your dual 765M's. Stay away from the GTX 880M though, these are terrible cards.
 
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Hey. The 18 sure is a massive laptop.

The mSata port was mostly used as a cache to accelerate a slower mechanical drive. They usually only came with a 32gb or 64gb mSata but it depends how it was originally configured. Some 18's were configured with 4 x 256gb SSD's in RAID 0 with the 4th drive used instead of an optical drive.
1. Yes, you can definitely use the mSata as a boot drive. They are usually a little slower than a 2.5" SSD but not by much. To do this you are best to remove all other drives from the machine before installing Windows and then install the SSD's.
2. You can grab an SSD/HDD caddy to install another storage drive. Just search for one on ebay and you should find one that fits your machine. Not sure about other devices working in this bay but it's possible
3. The system will only recognise up to 8gb memory sticks so 32gb is the max.
4. Same question as 2, I think

If you decide to upgrade the CPU then you are limited to 4th gen mobile processors. The 4930MX and 4940MX are the best ones you can get and are fully unlocked for overclocking. If you have no desire to overclock then the 4910MQ is the best choice as it's basically the same as the MX chips but not unlocked.

For a GPU upgrade you have lots of options. The 18 was released with the 700, 800 and 900 series Nvidia mobile cards and also the AMD R9 M290x, in a single card config or SLI/Crossfire. All of these cards will work without the need for a modified driver if the system BIOS is right up to date. Anything higher like a GTX 1060 or 1070 or Quadro cards will need a modded driver to run. Some guys have even had success with certain Quadro RTX cards. MXM style cards are still quite expensive though. A single 980M will be a massive improvement from your dual 765M's. Stay away from the GTX 880M though, these are terrible cards.
Thank you.
I got all of the drives working. Since I'm using this as an opensim grid server, while I rebuild my regular server it should be adequate. I don't think the CPU upgrade would be worth the bother for this application. I will look into the 980M as the next upgrade. But I have to admit the Quadro RTX might suit my needs better...