Hello all here at T|I, I have good news!
OK so it's a lon,g story, I'll try to make it short but I want to give as much informations as possible so it can help anyone interested about such project.
The story is how to go from this (stock 675m):
To this (MSI GTX 1070 MXM):
I used to be a gamer when I was younger, then I worked a lot and had no time to play. I came back to gaming last year, and noticed my 2012 M17X R4 was not really up to date for gaming, so it needed to be upgraded. Before you try to do the same, you must be sure you have pretty good knowledge of computer hardware and software, because you may brick your laptop or your GPU in this process, be careful!
In order to get a MSI GTX 1070 MXM fully working on a Alienware M17X R4, you need:
- unlocked BIOS
- the 120 Hz screen
- UEFI boot with GPT partition
- find a MSI GTX 1070 MXM
- dremel the chassis
- mod the heatsink so it can fit the GPU
- make good BIOS settings so you can boot with the new GPU
- install driver with modded .inf
- fix GPU throttling issue
OK, let's go for the big upgrade, step by step.
Eveything you need to know is here: https://www.techinferno.com/index.php?/forums/topic/1516-m17x-r4-unlocked-bios-versions/ Thanks to svl7 for this great share!
120 Hz screen
You can find it on Ebay, for example here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/162380820165?_trksid=p2057872.m2749.l2649&ssPageName=STRK%3AMEBIDX%3AIT
It's required because pascal GPUs need EDP mode to run. The nice thing is there is one LVDS connector in M17X R4 motherboard, even if you have a 60 Hz screen, so you can make the upgrade.
It's pretty easy to install, but you may have no boot issue with it, like I had. This is when I had to install unlocked BIOS so I can set graphic settings which let laptop boot with the 120 Hz screen. From what I remember, required setting was "Primary display" to PEG, see here:
GPT partition and UEFI BOOT
I had MBR partition, and since I'm using my laptop for working I didn't want to reinstall everything. I used a very nice tool to convert my system SSD parition from MBR to GPT called EASEUS Partition Master (they also provide partition and data recovery tools for years, maybe you already know this company): http://www.easeus.com/partition-manager-software/convert-mbr-to-gpt.html
They offered a discount so is cost me around 30$ to convert without having to reinstall, which is cheap for the time and all datas it saved me.
Then, you just need to make sure your boot options are set to pure UEFI, which means Load Legacy option ROM is disabled, here in the BIOS:
I noticed it can't be disabled if you're running a GPU which vbios doesn't have UEFI compliant driver. If this is the case, you'll get the "can't detect MXM card GOP driver" error like this:
Once again, thanks to svl7 you can fix this using vbios with UEFI driver for your GPU: https://www.techinferno.com/index.php?/forums/topic/2079-m14x-r2-m17x-r4-m18x-r2-uefi-fast-boot-secure-boot-gpu-issues-solved/ This is not what I did, I just enabled integrated graphics again (it's UEFI compliant), so I can disable Load legacy option. Then I could put the 1070 in, and boot successfully. With this option enabled, I had 8 beeps "GPU not recognized" error at boot, stuck with no POST like a loser.
GO BUY A GTX 1070 MXM
Here too, you can get headaches. It's expensive, and hard to find. I searched a lot, and I can give you a few advices. For me, you have mainly 3 choices:
- contact Lee James Wood, who is member of this forum and very serious seller: https://www.techinferno.com/index.php?/profile/3501-lee-james-wood/
You can also check his website: https://store.alezka.com/en/ and his Ebay store: http://stores.ebay.com/woodzstack666?_trksid=p2047675.l2563
I must say I contacted him, and at one point I had no answer, so I contacted another seller. But he explained me it was because for some reason he didn't received notification from the forum so he didn't knew my message, and missed the sale. But even he was not the seller, he gave me some advices which were really helpful when I was stuck with 8 beeps no boot problem because of the Legacy mode yesterday. Thanks a lot man, maybe you missed this sale but I'm sure you'll get lot of others since you're so helpful, thanks again!
- go buy directly from China, where you can find it much cheaper. You have one chinese marketplace to rule them all: it's called taobao: https://world.taobao.com/
Problem is if you don't speak chinese, you may have trouble just to get their chat software working, it's same kind as alibaba trade manager for those who knows. So buying from taobao is like entring an unknown area, sellers there mostly only speak chinese, some don't want to sell out of China, so it's really weird to buy from there. But prices are really interesting, for example around 3000 Yuans (410$) for a GTX 1060 MXM, and around 4900 yuans (665$) for a GTX 1070 MXM. If you're looking for a cheap pascal MXM GPU, this may feel like heaven:
-instead of trying to learn chinese, find a way to make dropship. There are lot of companies for taobao drophip, like Yoybuy for example.
I found a russian MSI forum member whose nickname is Onside182, his name is Andrew and I made the deal with him. He knows Taobao sellers, so he dealt with that for me. He was serious and helpful too, and you can chose to contact him on russian forum: https://forum-ru.msi.com/index.php?action=profile;u=1111063 (you must be registered there to see his profile), or just contact me so I give you his email address, he'll deal for your taobao order and you can pay him with paypal.
Let's make some room inside
Yeah know it's bad, but honestly I don't care about chassis integrity when it's time to get overkill Firestrike score. So yes, you have to dremel the chassis to make some room so the MSI GTX 1070 will fit in. First, you need to disassemble the whole laptop, so you can get the motherboard out:
You need to remove little sides on the MXM connector, so the card can fit in. Before
You must get a modified MXM connector like that:
Then you also need to cut part of the chassis, here is the result:
Now, you can install the card:
MOD the GPU heatsink to improve cooling
Here you have 2 ways: keep stock heatsink, and mod it so it can fit as explained here: https://www.techinferno.com/index.php?/forums/topic/10982-m17x-r4-gtx-1060-upgrade/#comment-155003
Or build a custom made heatsink. This is what I did, I ordered this heatsink with the GPU: https://world.taobao.com/item/540331819333.htm?spm=a312a.7700714.0.0.ZzDuN1#detail%201%20sortie%20sur%20le%20cot%C3%A9%20ok%20et%204%C3%A8me%20stripe%20pour%20cpu%20ok
It was designed for a MSI computer, but it can be modified for the M17X R4 since copper stripes are soldered horizontally. You need to unsolder it, and solder the copper stripes and radiator from stock heatsink instead. You also need to cut off the part which must cover the CPU heatsink, which is not useful. This way, you have a more efficient heatsink, because it was designed for pascal GPU:
Soldering heatsinks is crap, when you heat one side, you can easily unsolder the other side by mistake because all heat will be transmitted everywhere very quicly. The trick is to put side you don't want to unsolder in water, and heat the other side where you want to unsolder with a torch. But I warn you: soldering this stuff is a real nightmare.
With my modded heatsink (which is so ugly and crappy I can't even make picture of it for now), I reached 72°C max while benchmarking, which seems to be pretty good temp. Right now writing on forum, GPU temp is at 55°c.
Spend some time finding the good BIOS settings
You'll have to try out some settings, and you may have no boot issues, black screens, and many errors. You'll feel very lonely at this time, I know. But searching forums saved me most of the time! If you're in trouble, just search and ask
You can boot? Well you still have to wait a little until it works!
Once we're here, we can boot with the GTX 1070 inside the laptop, and it appears as something like Microsoft basic display in Windows device manager. So we need to download official driver from Nvidia, extract it and mod the .inf file. I used this howto: http://null-bin.blogspot.fr/2015/08/how-to-modify-nvidia-notebook-driver.html
There are many others, it's well documented on the web.
Lines I added are those ones:
%NVIDIA_DEV.1BE1.057B.1028% = Section408, PCI\VEN_10DE&DEV_1BE1&SUBSYS_057B1028
NVIDIA_DEV.1BE1.057B.1028 = "NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070"
Then it just installed fine after disabling Windows driver signature enforcement of course. I could even install whole Nvidia Geforce experience stuff.
The GPU POWER LIMIT throttling issue
OK so you think it's installed, now it's over, after all those countless hours searching, testing and tweaking our good old M17X R4? Of course you launch a benchmark, and now you notice another problem. GPU core frequency is good, then it goes low, then it goes high again, then low again... GPU is throttling. I went into HWinfo, and noticed GPU power consumption was going higher than 110W, then I had GPU throttle, it went down around 50W, then it went up again, and so on... I searched and found nothing. I thought it was because I only have 240W PSU and I must change for a 330W one. Then and angel appeared and said to me "Hey, man, this must be a BIOS setting related issue, just fix it". So I went in the BIOS again, and I noticed this setting called "adapter warning". I just disabled it, and now it's running fine. When checking, I can see I still have POWER LIMIT message, but it doesn't slow down GPU frequency, no throttling anymore.
This is the funny part where the 2012 laptop kicks ass to BGA craps
Yeahhhhhhhhhhhh!!! We can say we made it, the MSI GTX 1070 is working in the Alienware M17X R4:
Now, please have a look at this latest Alienware 17 R3 (BGA crap) Firestrike result: http://www.3dmark.com/fs/8941795 Yeah I know, this is serious expensive hardware we have here: a 6820HK CPU and a GTX 1070, such Alienware laptop must cost around 2500$, no? Of course, my poor old laptop cannot not beat this beast, what do you think?
Here is benchmak I just made today, with little OC, it's not optimized at all: http://www.3dmark.com/3dm/19201328
Ladies and gentlemen, on the left we have my 2012 M17X R4, and on the right a brand new 17 R3: http://www.3dmark.com/compare/fs/12289770/fs/8941795
To finish, before I can go at last trying to play GTA 5 at maxxed out settings, here are some links which were very useful, and can help if you want to make such mods.
MSI 1070 in Alienware ranger by loafer987: http://forum.notebookreview.com/threads/msi-1070-in-alienware-17-r1-ranger-success.797893/
German Alienware forum with huge CPU and GPU heatsink mods: http://alienware-forum.de/index.php/Thread/7254-AW-17-R1-CPU-Heatsink-Pipe-Mod/
Zotac BOX GTX 1070 MXM in Alienware 17: http://forum.notebookreview.com/threads/alienware-17-r5-gtx-1070-mxm-3-1b.800137/
I hope sharing all those informations helped M17X R4 owners to keep faith in this old good laptop. I'm pretty sure it can also handle a GTX 1080 by the way, if someone is willing to try (I can't be the guinea pig for the next step) it would be nice