What an overheated Dell XPS taught me?


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Jun 26, 2019
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Whatever I am going to write now happened within the last two days.

It all started with an experience. While holding my Dell XPS laptop (2012 model) running Windows 10 in my hand, I found that it's base is abnormally hot. The next thing I did was to install a CPU temperature monitor software. I found that the temperature was 70 C and after opening Edge and browsing through a couple of websites, the temperature jumped to 80 C after which the CPU was throttled and the temperature dropped back to 70 C.

I had never really cared about CPU temperature before, but then I remembered something that happened recently. There was a time during early years of the laptop when I could play even heavy games like Moto GP and NFS without any issues, but of late, even games like Asphalt had become unplayable during to heavy frame drops. I got the feeling that something is not right. A CPU cannot be this hot.

After reading through the websites and forums, I came to know about a couple of solutions. One was to clear the air vents around CPU fan and other was to reapply thermal paste. Since I do not have any thermal paste with me at home, I decided to started to do some cleaning instead.

For that, I needed to disassemble the laptop completely for the first time all by myself. Not that I had done opened my laptop before, but it was for minor tasks like replacing the hard disk or RAM. Nevertheless, I made up my mind to go for it. Now, Dell XPS L502X model had a very peculiar design, and it's disassembly itself is tricky. But, thanks to YouTube videos, I did manage to disassemble it. I found that a thick layer of dust was deposited on the inner side of the air vent near the fans. I quickly cleaned it and blew some air through it to make sure that everything was clear. I started reassembly process, and tightened all the screws. And when I pressed that power button after completion, the laptop failed to start.

Thanks to Louis Rossman's videos, I got scared. What if I damaged one of the chips? Did I miss to plug in any of the cables? To double checked, I opened the laptop once again and I found the culprit. There was a cable running from the power button to the motherboard. It was a FFC (Flexible Flat Cable) and at it's end, it has a plastic tightener glued to it for solid contact with the connector. And the plastic tightner was missing. The cable's contact with the motherboard was loose and it could not connect to the motherboard.

I knew that either I needed to purchase the cable or the entire palm rest set to which it was attached. Next day, I first called Dell out of warranty service center. The customer care representative politely replied that since my system is around 9 years old, hence, Dell doesn't provide any support. When I asked whether Dell can provide me with spare parts, he was quick to reply that Dell stops manufacturing spare parts after 5 years because with time, it becomes very difficult to manage so many older models. He was not wrong, but I gave him the feedback that Dell should provide spare parts for longer duration of time, because we do not purchase 2000 dollars laptop to only discard it in 4 to 5 years and computers cannot be treated as use and throw devices. I also told them that perhaps they could standardize designs and specifications of some parts like touchpads and keyboards to ensure availability of spare parts over longer duration of time.

Next, I called a local vendor and he asked me to share pictures. But, he was not sounding that confident. At that point, I was about to give up. I even started browsing Dell's website to purchase a new system, when an idea striked me. I opened my laptop once again and tried to read any details about the cable and it read 'AWM 20696 E221612 80 C 30 V. I searched on amazon and found a match after an hour of searching (search results were not good). I checked a couple of other things like type A vs type B, pitch and number of pins. Mine was type A with 12 pins and a pitch of 0.5 mm (which I measured using a scale!). I added it to cart and was about to place the order, but it showed that it would take around 10 days to ship. I could not work without my computer and so decided to look for other alternatives.

While looking at the cable, I realized that the cable is not the issue, the connectors at the end are. I use scissors to cut the end portion and used sand paper to rub of the insulator. Suddenly, the copper strips were again visible. I then glued small pieces of sticky notes on the terminals to make it thick and voila, it fit tightly. I reassembled PC and it turned ON!

Next, I ran the CPU temperature application, and it showed a minimum temperature of 48 C and a maximum of 70 C. I was elated. Next, I ran NFS and it ran perfectly without any frame drops or throttling, The fan increased it's speed, I could hear it, but CPU temperature never crossed 80 C and performance was awesome.

I learned few lessons which I thought I should share with people.

1. The first lesson I learnt is that we should be very careful while dealing with jumpers and cables, especially on older laptops. You can get parts, but it's very difficult to get those cables.

2. The second lesson I learned was obviously about the importance of CPU temperature control and the whole idea of performance and power optimization.

3. next, I learned that whenever we buy any electronic gadgets, we should confirm from the vendor as how long it would be supported and whether they provide any exchange offers on it's end of life. These are important buying decisions. And if we are using any laptop after it's end of life, it's very risky. If anything happens, then we will have very limited options.

4. I also leant about FFC cables.

5. After seeing the mother board, I understood for the very fist time as what OEMs actually do. Building a laptop is very different from assembling a desktop. It requires designing motherboard from the scratch, setting BIOS settings, and finally optimizing drivers. This also intrigued me to check Intel's NUC and I understood their appeal. While it's very difficult to assemble a laptops because we cannot find all the miniature parts required like we do during standard desktop assembly. Intel's NUC provides us those miniature parts assembled in a small form factor. So, in a way, they are a competition to laptops and not desktops!

Hope my experience will help someone someday. As far as I am concerned, I am relieved!
Jun 9, 2021
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Thanks for this article. May this article helpful for many people around the world. I must appreciate your effort and then you share it with us in detail... God Bless...

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