Monday, January 13, 2014

Dell Precision M6500 workstation overheating and running slow.

This is a sea kayaking blog but blog authors and visitors need to use some sort of  computer to access the Internet.  Please excuse a technology post!

For the last 38 months I have been using a Dell Precision M6500 workstation notebook. It works like greased lightening when editing and previewing large RAW files from my Canon 5D mk3 camera in Adobe Lightroom 5. I bought it because of great experience of three  Dell Precision M6400 computers I used at work, The M6500 was three years old in November 2013 and I wondered about extending its warranty. A quote from Dell offered 3 year on site pro support for £311. I thought about it too long and by the time I had made my mind up it was too late, as the offer period expired when the computer passed 3 years old. The reason I had not made my mind up is that in general  I do not buy extended warranties but this one did seem quite reasonable. Anyway, the computer had been trouble free for three years so...I suppose I thought I didn't need the warranty.

Exactly one week after the original 3 year warranty expired, the computer began to develop increasing problems, which rapidly worsened until it was almost unusable five weeks later. It began to slow down to a crawl, especially trying to do anything with big RAW files in Lightroom. The Windows experience Aero graphics score fell from 6.8 when the computer was new down to 2.8. The video drivers on the Dell site for the NVIDEA Quadro FX 2800M graphics card were rather old so I downloaded the latest (Nov 2013) drivers off the NVIDEA site.  I also updated to the latest Dell bios. Neither made any difference. The fans began to run all the time. The computer frequently and spontaneously rebooted. It suffered several blue screen of death episodes. On other occasions the screen would freeze and the mouse pointer locked up. I thought I might have a virus (as the symptoms seemed to have developed quite quickly). Scans with Sophos and Malware bytes revealed nothing and the problem persisted  even when the computer disconnected from the Internet. Suspecting overheating I installed ThrottleStop found the CPU and GPU were running at 95C. I decided to explore the computer's cooling system and used the online Dell service manual and dismantled the computer, which took about half a day.

This was how I found the CPU heatsink. The fine copper grille was completely blocked with dust. I suspect it built up slowly over the three years but as it built up, it gathered more dust increasingly quickly, which explained the relatively rapid and recent onset of symptoms.

This is how it should look. 

The CPU heat sink and grill fits in behind two other heatsinks and grilles which cool the graphics card and share the left hand fan. The graphics card also has another built in heatsink and fan on the right side. Its grille was similarly blocked but was even more difficult to get at and clean than the CPU heatsink and grille.

Once back together, the computer is running cool again at 50 to 55C, with hardly any noise from the fans. It is also working like greased lightning and the graphics score is back to 6.8.

It is a real pity that the whole computer (literally right down to the motherboard) needs to be dismantled to get at these heat sinks. It is not a great design. It is almost inevitable that other Precision M6500s will become affected. It took me about 7 hours plus a trip to Maplin for some Antec Formula 7 heat sink thermal compound paste to get it running again. It is not what I expected from a top end laptop. Perhaps they are built with a three year life expectancy for business but I am a private buyer and expected it to last longer.

Still I have avoided buying an expensive replacement so now I can afford to buy something else!





23 comments:

  1. Nice job. Good sleuthing. Much better than dropping a ton on a new laptop.

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    1. Thank you Nice, I am just deciding what to spend the money I saved on! :o)

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  2. Simple cleaning once a year will keep most everything chugging along. Heat is the killer of modern electronics, not the silicon itself. Have you ever cleaned your vacuum cleaner? It needs it too :)

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    1. You are right Anon but vacuum cleaner filters are very accessible. This was a strip to the motherboard job, not an easy task for many laptop users.

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  3. Oh dear Douglas, you really do need to get out paddling...

    (incidentally I had overheating problems, solved them by buying a new battery...old one had gone screwy)

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    1. Oh how I wish Mark, I will soon be reduced to posting about skegs! :o)

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  4. How did you remove the display assembly? The service manual indicates to remove the "wireless antenna cables". No mention of what screws. I have removed 4 screws, but the display assembly is still solidly attached to the computer.

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  5. Hi Paul I got stuck at that bit too. If you look at picture 14 in the service manual you will see the wireless antennae cables retained by alloy hooks. I just couldn't get them free of the hooks I thought the cables were too short. Then it dawned on me I had unattached them from the other side of the motherboard. I turned it over and pushed the cables through that gave enough slack to get them clear of the retaining hooks and pull them right through to the screen side of the motherboard. Once I did that the screen came off. I hope that helps. I found you really do need to follow the exact sequence in the service manual. Good luck.

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    1. NB picture 14 in the screen removal section of the service manual!

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    2. It turns out that Adobe Reader X in which I was trying to read the manual was not showing the Flash movies due to the warning "To view the Flash technology content in this PDF file, please install the required version of Flash Player". I tried to solve the warning, couldn't find the answer. So, I downloaded the Zipped HTML version and used Chrome/Firefox to read the documentation and the Flash files appeared. Your answer indicated that something was visible. Thanks...

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  6. I've just done the same clean on mine as the display had started playing up regularly. I suspect it's due to the graphics card heating up. I found the same dust through the same areas. Cleaned and it's like new again. The whole procedure took me less than an hour. Although I do have some experience with this.

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    1. Excellent result, and yes it would take me less time the second time too! :o)

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  7. Your post is really good providing good information.. I liked it and enjoyed reading it. Keep sharing such important posts.
    Ssd prices

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  8. Hi Doug...Awesome info, and helped me immensely. My M6500 was running VERY hot. It wasn't blue screening, but still very loud and hot on the bottom. I dis-assembled and cleaned the heat sinks (looked like a dryer lint trap). Now it's running quiet and cool. Only issue now is the keyboard doesn't work. I'm using a USB keybd now. Did I miss something putting it back together? I didn't think there was anything as it plugs into that slot in the front. Anything on the bottom that I could of missed plugging back in. real pain taking this apart as you know.

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    1. Hi PP glad the overheating is fixed. Sorry to hear about the keyboard. Mine did not work either when I first reassembled the computer. It probably is worth going back over the service manual and repeating the disassembly/assembly. Good luck :)

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    2. That's good to hear that it's an assembly issue. I figured that's what I was going to have to do, but dreaded taking apart again. Thanks for the response.

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    3. I hope your keyboard revives. Have you tried updating to Windows 10 yet? You lose bluetooth, firewire and the card slot but otherwise it runs really well.

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    4. Yes. I updated to Windows 10 a couple months ago. It does run very well. The only issue I had was the display would go black after logging in. It was an issue with an audio driver if I remember correctly, uninstalled and all has been fine....still no luck on the keyboard. Just tried tear down again.

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  9. Hey guys,

    You don't need to dismantle the laptop. I do the cleaning with break cleaner and compress air. First remove the fan panel then blow up dirt by the heat sink entry so the dirt will go out by the fan, Second clean the dirt with break cleaner then ending with the compress air ( always do it by the air sink entry and block the fan from turning to avoid invert voltage ).

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  10. Thanks anon, sorry for delay in reply, I have been ill. The M6500 which I (and I presume the others above have) does not have a removable fan panel. So unfortunately your method (which I use successfully on my wife's Toshiba notebook) does not work on this particular Dell model.

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  11. FWIW, that should have been kept up with. You can clean out the heatsinks just by removing the service cover and hitting the heat fins with a duster can. You actually do not have to tear down the laptop to get to them. Just remove the service cover that you have to remove to get to the hard drives; I suspect that was what Anonymous was referring to. I also have been keeping an M6400 going all this time. It has been a great laptop!

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    1. Thankyou Kimberly, yes removing the service cover on the M6400 works a treat, unfortunately myself and several of the other posters have the M6500 and that has a different chassis and case and it has no service cover. Having cleaned it thoroughly at the first strip down I have subsequently managed to clean the fan and heatsink grid with a partial strip down and using colleen tf spray which I have had since the late '70s though it is now banned. Acompressed air spray and and a vacuum cleaner is not enough to shift the dirt. You are right these have been great laptops but don't let Windows 10 near them. I lost my bluetooth, SD reader USB ports and proper control of the high end graphics card after the upgrade. I have just replaced mine I priced up the current Dell precision workstation against a 2016 MacBook Pro with equivalent hardware. With Dell's 30% off sale it was £300 cheaper than the Mac but this time I have gone for Mac. My desktop computing started with a CP/M superbrain in 1981 and I have used PCs with DOS since 1983 (XT) and windows since 1985. I have used Macs since 1884 (classic) so have been ambidextrous for 3 decades! :o)

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    2. Spoolchicker! Colcleen TF spray!

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