Recently I bought an eBay special - a small, powerful laptop to carry around on my photographic trips and on holiday so that I am not carrying too much weight (particularly as hand-luggage). It's a Dell XPS M1330 laptop, some three years old with performance enough for Windows 7 and some older games and plenty of storage to keep track of my photographs and videos and the odd movie to watch.
However it has one extra feature that is not so good though - a high-performance graphics chip that gets very hot and is known to fail. This problem affected a number of laptops of this age - notably those fitted with the nVidia GeForce 8400 GS or 8600 graphics chips. There were plenty of stories in the press too about law suits, overheating laptops and motherboard failures affecting laptops from Apple, Dell and HP. So why did I choose this model?
Here's why: It has more than enough power for coping with work and web surfing, it weighs less than 2kg and has an excellent 13in 1280 x 800 resolution screen. Battery life is good and the reviews were all very positive. Further, before I bought the laptop, I found out that you can significantly improve the cooling capability of the laptop with a simple modification that costs a few pounds and takes less time to complete than it took to write this article. I won't go through the actual steps here, but instead will refer you to the excellent guides on the Notebook Review forum. In a nutshell the computers cooling components are taken apart, cleaned up and re-assembled but this time with an additional copper shim to help the transfer of heat from the Graphics chip (known as the GPU) to the outside air.
And how successful was the modification? Well, I tested the laptop by playing one of my favourite games, Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven to make sure that the laptop was pushed hard to force up the temperature of the GPU. With the ambient temperature of the room at a steady 20 degrees Celsius I monitored the GPU and CPU temperatures using a program called RealTemp which is capable of recording the temperatures of the graphics chip and the CPU cores to disk every five seconds. I ran the tests before making the modification and again afterwards and the results recorded were impressive. When playing Mafia before making the modification the GPU temperature reached a maximum of 87 degrees Celsius. While not reaching the maximum temperature of the chip, it nevertheless means that the laptop will heat up over time because the heat generated in the chip ends up being dispersed through the chip to the motherboard and then to the case, rather than being taken away from the chip to the outside air by the heatpipe. After making the modification and replaying the game, the maximum temperature only rose to an impressive 68 degrees Celsius. That's a drop of 19 degrees Celcius with no other changes made - no artificial cooling, no change in ambient temperature. I even drove the same route within Mafia.
Here is a graph showing the results:
On the left of the graph I played Mafia without modifying the cooling. The short gap in the results shows where I made the change. The increase at about 15:20 is where I started to watch a DVD. At 17:15 I started playing Mafia. As you can see, the temperature does not get as hot as before, so all in all a very successful modification that will hopefully mean I have no cooling issues with this laptop. Certainly I have noticed that the fan does not spin up as often and the laptop stays cooler longer.