The aftermath of a failed upgrade

In Depth - A merciless lens pointed on the hot topics, passionate and detailed retrospectives, reflections beyond the appearances When, several months ago, I decided to upgrade my laptop with a more performing processor, I never thought that some time later I would have been forced to go back on my steps: the system was going well, everything worked as it should with no problems of sorts. And yet the idyl with the X9100 CPU has lasted just three months, whereupon the PC has started to misbehave forcing me to put hands on several internal components, to waste time and precious money in useless purchases before I was persuaded that in the end the upgrade had been a failure.

At first, I was saying, the CPU behaved remarkably well but soon I’ve experienced what is the most clear sign of the fact that something is wrong with the hardware: the PC has started to shut down unexpectedly during particularly intensive computing sessions – with video games and 3D emulators, above all. And if the PC didn’t shut down, the performance of the aforementioned video games and emulators was substantially reduced. At this point I’ve attepted to rationally evaluate the situation, surveying any possible culprit and going on by exclusion.

The first suspect of my survey was the integrated cooling system for CPU, GPU and motherboard chipset, in particular the fan devoted to eject the heat generated by the aforementioned components. Before the upgrade the fan worked in a different manner, I thought, and maybe the new processor forced it to an overwork that in the end damaged it in some way. So I’ve purchased an original replacement from my usual digital stuff dealer (eBay), I’ve pulled apart the cooling system, I’ve reassembled everything applying a new layer of thermal paste and I’ve crossed my fingers.

Acer Aspire 6935G - internal view

Results: zero, the PC was still shutting down discouraging me and preventing the most intensive tasks of my computer tool – video games, but the “trivial” transcoding of a DivX video file in DVD format too. Ruled out the cooling system, my suspects focused on the memory chips: after all the unusually high temperatures (100° and even beyond!) recorded by the sensors were related to the motherboard, and maybe the two DDR3 memory banks with 2 GB each didn’t keep up with the higher frequencies the X9100 CPU forced on the front-side bus (FSB) for the communication with the Northbridge (1066 MHz against the former 800 MHz).

I have used Memtest86+ to confirm that something was really wrong with memory: before the forced shutdown the tool generated many errors between the first 5 and 10 minutes of the test. So I went on eBay again, I spent other money to purchase two DDR3 RAM banks by CORSAIR – better to be on the safe side, I thought, and pick a brand that is always a guarantee – I replaced the old banks and ran the Memtest86+ test again. The errors were gone but the PC was still shutting down within the first 10 minutes of benchmarking.

Memtest86+ - failed test

At this point I started to turn my attention to the CPU, even if indirectly: thinking that the issue was the bigger amount of heat generated by the system on its whole, I’ve purchased a cooling mat equipped with fan made by Targus. The on-line reviews weren’t very encouraging – a few more dissipated degrees than a barebone laptop – and my gullible hope to solve the problem soon showed to be misplaced because the PC continued to shut down even though it was placed on the cooling mat.

The mat has been later adopted for good because of the comfort to be able to use an inclined keyboard even on the laptop, while the next step in my troubleshooting efforts has been replacing the X9100 “Extreme” CPU with a new Core 2 Duo – a T9900 processor, with the same 3.06 GHz frequency but with a lower maximum TDP. It was my last, useless purchase (255 €): the performance was horrible and the PC shut down as usual, so I couldn’t help but surrender and put the laptop’s original CPU back: a Core 2 Duo T6400 at 2.00 GHz.

T9900 - before throttling T9900 - after throttling

The nefarious effects of the automatic CPU thermal throttling after playing Mirror’s Edge for some minutes

Luckily for my flimsy finances and my heart, the downgrade operation has solved the overheating issue and the PC has returned to be functional: 1 GHz less powerful but better than nothing. As you can see in the lower right corner of the two following screenshots, full loading the CPU hasn’t the same devastating effect on the temperatures recorded by the several PC sensors – HDD, GPU, CPU core 1 and core 2, overall CPU, motherboard – anymore.

T9900 - hot CPU T6400 - cool CPU

I still have to understand the reason why the system held the X9100 CPU just for a few months before developing this bizarre hardware “idiosyncrasy”, and at this point I don’t even care anymore: the lesson of this painful story is that I have lost any faith in the opportunity to make a substantial hardware upgrade to a laptop, I will advise anyone against the practice and I will patiently wait to be able to afford a kick-ass desktop to tinker as I wish.

P.S.Yes, Sir Arthur is back blogging. Let’s hope it will last 😛


  • Lanie

    Dude, you can’t simply put in a CPU with a different FSB frequency and voltage specs. An X9000 or T9500 would have done fine.

  • Tom

    Yeah. What he said. What a n00b.

  • You know, I usually do my research before tinkering with my own hardware. And I’ve underestimated what an issue could have been a more powerful CPU for my laptop’s chipset, even though it should have been more than enough to handle it.

    That’s the story: laptop specs are bullshit, better not to tinker with them.

  • some bleh

    Just because chipset is compatible doesn’t mean its compatible with the laptop. The power supply and motherboard is designed to supply a certain amount of power, a CPU with better FSB and increased voltage demand is likely not to work. Its not just the heat.

    One way to get an idea on a laptop like Dell, is see what upgrade options you can choose from when purchasing the laptop. If they offer a particular CPU for an extra $100 when purchasing a certain model of laptop, its likely that laptop model is designed to work with that CPU and its ok to upgrade it yourself.

    In general the only upgradable things on a laptop though are RAM and HDD. Years ago nvidia bragged that graphics were upgradable but that fell through and only worked on a couple very expensive models from vendors like alienware.

  • Just because chipset is compatible doesn’t mean its compatible with the laptop. The power supply and motherboard is designed to supply a certain amount of power, a CPU with better FSB and increased voltage demand is likely not to work. Its not just the heat.

    This. I thought the motherboard could have handled it, and so it did for three months. I still have to figure out why it didn’t crash screaming fire, at this point, on day one….

  • DM0407

    And upgrade your browser!(and OS)

  • jeffmd

    I should add however that it COULD be just heat, but it is to late and you probably damaged the cpu.

    The fan is only one part of the cooling system, if the cpu runs like 10-20c higher, it was probably overwhelming the plate and heat pipe transfer system. These systems needs to be small and compact so the system is equipped with one that handles the bare minimum of the factory configuration.

  • Enshi

    Yeah heat being heat, laptops are considered a heat sensitive environment much like a rack. Most of us, have probably seen the classic dust-bunny clogged laptop at some point. Those are worst case. But if you’re pulling out say a 50w processor, plugging in a 65w job. And the heatpipe is only rated for a max of say 55. You’re screwed no matter what you do. Now you’re overheating every other component. Thing you have to remember with upgrades to laptops is, there’s a lot more that can go wrong. And at worst case the mfg., used the bare min they could get away with to ensure it wasn’t a crash box.

  • And upgrade your browser!(and OS)

    Sure… When I’ll have the time 😛

    I should add however that it COULD be just heat, but it is to late and you probably damaged the cpu.

    Dunno, I think the CPU is just fine (the T9900 behaved exactly like the X9100). The sure thing is (and I forgot to mention it in my post) that I damaged the laptop’s battery: it now lasts the gargantuan time of 15 minutes before drying all the energy up XD

  • jack

    Power component failure. higher frequency cpus need “clean” power. Which your laptop probably provided until the components degraded due to heat and reaching their limit of power supplied. Once you introduce noise into the voltage supplied you can experience the issues you had. Which is probably why the lower freq cpu still works is more noise resistant to power fluctuations.

  • Galane

    I upgraded my old Acer Aspire 5315-2153 from a 1.73 Ghz Celeron 530 Core 2 Solo to a 1.66 Ghz Core 2 Duo T5500.

    Despite the slightly slower clock speed, the front side bus and RAM are clocked higher. That plus the larger caches and dual cores make everything run faster.

    Unfortunately it’s saddled with an Intel integrated graphics chipset that was old when the laptop was new.

    Other upgrades, swapped the 80 gig HD for a higher RPM yet more energy efficient 500 gig and swapped out the pair of 512 meg SODIMMs for a pair of 1 gigs and popped a dual layer DVD burner in place of the CD-RW/DVD-ROM.

    Of course I never paid anywhere near retail for any of the bits, even the laptop itself was a one day Walmart special.

    With the new CPU, I could easily Hackbook this Acer, which is a very popular model for exactly that after a CPU upgrade.

  • NJ

    Hey, you should use Throttlestop to reduce the voltage of the X9100. That will make it use less power and run cooler (like 10-15 degrees cooler). Also use some good thermal paste like the Arctic MX4.

    But, yeah, if the laptop worked fine for a few months, something has been damaged – most likely, an inductor or capacitor has overheated and lost its effectiveness – if the T6400 still works fine, the X9100 + Throttlestop set at a lower voltage (well below the default, plus maybe even a bit underclocked, to 2.8 GHz for example) should work, as well.

  • S

    I do believe when Acer did this laptop with faster CPUs they had heatsink and fan setup capable of dissipating more heat. I’m curious if that would help, I’m tempted to fit a Q9100 to my 6935G. Do you know if 4GB is the max supported memory? I’ve seen some sources saying 8Gb. Thanks, the articles were informative and have made me think twice and harder about upgrading. 🙂

  • Yes, the North Bridge of the laptop’s chipset (Intel Cantiga PM45) supports 8 GB of RAM at max (2 modules with 4 GB each)

  • Zakas

    Hey Arthur, what type of x9100 you had? C0(SLB48) or E0(SLGE7) , because there is a big difference between them in temps and volts.

  • Well, right now I don’t know/remember and I can’t check it out. I don’t think it would have made some difference by the way, considering that the issue was likely with the higher CPU TDP compared to the stock processor’s one (44 W vs. 35 W).

    Right now the computer is going as strong as it could go, I’m able to play a pretty fluid Diablo III experience and I really don’t think about CPU upgrades anymore. My next upgrade will be in form of a new, powerful desktop PC (yay, finally!)…

  • Zakas

    I’m thinking to upgrade from T6600 to T9900 cpu, on Ebay 180euro… My laptop is Acer Aspire 8735G. T9900 seems much better, but it will be a big difference for games? Is worth it?

  • No, it isn’t worth it. If you need/want a more powerful CPU, don’t waste your time on useless and dangerous upgrades: buy a new computer instead.

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