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Mnky313

Precision M6700 (Re)Build and eGPU Setup

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Posted · Original PosterOP

How do I start this, well, I guess by saying that I know a laptop isn't really a 'build' per say, but I hope you understand why I classify it as one after reading this introduction. 
Backstory:
I have been interested in the older (2012-2014) Dell Precision laptops because of their still ok CPUs and upgradable MXM GPUs while having a ridiculous amount of built in I/O (the M6700 has 14 ports without the dock, 31 with the dock!). Another thing that peaked my interest was eGPUs for laptops, especially the idea of Expresscard, a port that external and therefore doesn't require the laptop to be disassembled in order to plug in the cable.  I have been browsing eBay for M6700s (because they are very similar to M6800s but I know there is a 120Hz panel for them and they are quite a bit cheaper than the M6800s) for a while now and finally found one that works perfectly for what I was planning. I was planning to upgrade the display, keyboard, CPU, GPU, RAM, basically the lot, but I found one listed for cheap that didn't have a display, RAM, Storage, Keyboard, and a few other things, (plus it had the 3D display cable & fingerprint reader installed, so I didn't have to buy them!) so I bought it.... (I attached some photos from the listing) and set about my plan to rebuild my new laptop.
The Plan:
(Some of this is already outlined above). I have a google sheets file that has a list of all the stuff I believe I'll need.  I started doing some research into upgrades people have done and discovered the K3100M in the laptop just wasn't going to be useful for just about anything, then I discovered the Firepro M6100, a $35 GPU that is basically a 960M.... (interesting as that's what my current laptop has) and added it to the list, then I discovered some cool things like the Precision (with a supported WWAN card) can do 4G LTE and added the card to the list. About a day or 2 ago I remembered that it also has Expresscard 2.0 @ 4.0Gb/s which doesn't sound like much, especially comparing it to thunderbolt 3's 40Gb/s but that meant I could do a simple undock and reboot to attach and detach the GPU, plus from what I've gathered the performance loss isn't that much and the laptop's CPU (an i7 3720qm) is actually better than my desktop's i5 4430... So the main plan is to buy all the stuff in Red, Orange, and Yellow in order to hopefully have a functioning eGPU setup with the 480 from my desktop.
Other Stuff:
There has been people getting eGPUs to work on M6500s and even the m6700 is listed under compatible laptops for the PE4C eGPU dock so theoretically if it works for that it should work for the EXP GDC dock as well.
This post (https://www.techinferno.com/index.php?/forums/topic/11256-14-dell-5430-rx-4808gb4gbps-ec2-exp-gdc-v84d-win10-unrealmitch/) shows benchmarks for an RX 480 over Expresscard 2.0 @4 Gb/s (though it's a latitude with a 3320m) with minimal performance loss


Edit: I guessed I should have mentioned that I don't have the laptop yet and that's why I don't have pictures of it, plus this post is a bit early as I'm not getting any of this until we get back from visiting family in another country, so there probably won't be updates until at least after the 27th of Dec...
 

M6700 Build.png

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Interesting project! I find people are scared to try eGPU's because they don't like the idea of tearing down their laptops. But like you'll be using. my thinkpad still has an expresscard slot. I actually ran some benchmarks, and I saw a 15% performance loss against an ATX gaming PC using the same graphics card. So it's really not as deal breaking as some people make it out to be.


*** Temporarily demoted to a 'Businessman Gamer' *** 

Lenovo Thinkpad X230t  [docked + eGPU] 
i5 3320m  ~  500gb ssd  ~  16gb  ~  Palit GTX680 4gb  

 

Spoiler

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Posted · Original PosterOP
1 hour ago, Ross Siggers said:

Interesting project! I find people are scared to try eGPU's because they don't like the idea of tearing down their laptops. But like you'll be using. my thinkpad still has an expresscard slot. I actually ran some benchmarks, and I saw a 15% performance loss against an ATX gaming PC using the same graphics card. So it's really not as deal breaking as some people make it out to be.

Thanks! Yeah, I always loved the idea of eGPU because of convenience (yeah, I know, sounds a bit backwards), considering the M6700 has 2 2.5in sata bays and an mSATA ssd port there should be plenty of storage space (and if I need more, I could replace the ODD with a HDD as well.)  this means instead of going somewhere just to realize I forgot to copy something I was working on or forgot to install a game, I can just have all my files and games on one machine, that can be simply undocked and taken with me. Some of the arguments against eGPUs I've seen are mainly focused on that "you're spending $200+ on a gpu, why only use it to 80% of its potential?" and my answer to that is because I'm already using it to 80% of it's potential because my CPU is bad anyway XD. Oh @Ross Siggers, your Thinkpad is 3rd gen as well, so you should have Expresscard 2.0, what dock are you using? If you're using the EXP GDC 8.0 could you send a screenshot from GPUz I can't find anything on if V8.0 does 4Gb/s (PCIe 2.0 x1) or if it is limited to 2Gb/s (PCIe 1.1 x1).
Edit: A few more questions, What CPU does the 'ATX Gaming PC' have? Is the 15% performance loss exclusively because of Expresscard/eGPU or is it because of CPU Bottlenecking?

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@Mnky313 Same situation with storage here; I have an ssd in the normal drive bay at the moment, but I also have an mSATA should I want a second internal ssd. I'd only be losing my WWAN card, which is basically obsolete in this day and age. I also have the matching Lenovo Ultrabase docking station, which has a 1tb drive for when I'm at my desk. That's what has all my games on it, because i never game on the go.

 

An eGPU worked out really well for me initially, because I had a spare graphics card laying about, so the setup cost was ridiculously small. Essentially the cost of a laptop power brick, and the EXP GDC adapter itself. I also make the same argument regarding performance; For the most part, people who consider this kind of setup aren't going to be the sort that have a high end laptop in the first place, it'll be people using laptops more like ours. The adapter I'm using is indeed the Beast v8.0, although I'm not using it right now because the GTX680 is fried :( I can throw in my original AMD card and take a look for you though! Off the top of my head I can't remember the bandwith and I don't have a screenshot of my GPU-Z to hand.

I do however have screenshots of the brief benchmark I ran when I first set it all up. I ran Unigine Superposition as my test program, and the 'old desktop' was a build of mine from back in the day. You can see the specs in the screenshots. Not representative of a modern gaming PC by any stretch of the imagination, but it was A. the rig the graphics card came out of and B. the most similar tower I had to compare to.

 

The laptop integrated graphics result is just there for laughs really. It was painful to sit through. The eGPU one is done through an external monitor, because of both the higher resolution, and the extra bandwidth this frees up.

 

 

30581310_10155663156291871_1168094185249570816_n.jpg.6dbb7a4c8936390664ba364163049c3a.jpg

30581310_10155663156291871_1168094185249570816_n.jpg.b5f1ee5b2ad3226ec8ecdf9a0e0f5424.jpg


*** Temporarily demoted to a 'Businessman Gamer' *** 

Lenovo Thinkpad X230t  [docked + eGPU] 
i5 3320m  ~  500gb ssd  ~  16gb  ~  Palit GTX680 4gb  

 

Spoiler

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Posted · Original PosterOP
23 minutes ago, Ross Siggers said:

@Mnky313 Same situation with storage here; I have an ssd in the normal drive bay at the moment, but I also have an mSATA should I want a second internal ssd. I'd only be losing my WWAN card, which is basically obsolete in this day and age. I also have the matching Lenovo Ultrabase docking station, which has a 1tb drive for when I'm at my desk. That's what has all my games on it, because i never game on the go.

 

An eGPU worked out really well for me initially, because I had a spare graphics card laying about, so the setup cost was ridiculously small. Essentially the cost of a laptop power brick, and the EXP GDC adapter itself. I also make the same argument regarding performance; For the most part, people who consider this kind of setup aren't going to be the sort that have a high end laptop in the first place, it'll be people using laptops more like ours. The adapter I'm using is indeed the Beast v8.0, although I'm not using it right now because the GTX680 is fried :( I can throw in my original eGPU card and take a look for you though! Off the top of my head I can't remember the bandwith and I don't have a screenshot of my GPU-Z to hand.

I do however have screenshots of the brief benchmark I ran when I first set it all up. I ran Unigine Superposition as my test program, and the 'old desktop' was a build of mine from back in the day. You can see the specs in the screenshots. Not representative of a modern gaming PC by any stretch of the imagination, but it was A. the rig the graphics card came out of and B. the most similar tower I had to compare to.

 

 

 

 

30581310_10155663156291871_1168094185249570816_n.jpg.6dbb7a4c8936390664ba364163049c3a.jpg

30581310_10155663156291871_1168094185249570816_n.jpg.b5f1ee5b2ad3226ec8ecdf9a0e0f5424.jpg

RIP the 680 :(
Yeah, I'm in the same boat of 'I want a higher performance laptop but financially it doesn't make sense' I could buy a laptop with comparable CPU and GPU (7700hq is a bit better, 1060 Mobile) for $1150 but that's a lot of money when I could spend <$100 on a dock, PSU, and have very similar performance, the only place I take my laptop is school and over to friend's places/vacation, which I wouldn't need an eGPU at school (I could use the Firepro 'basically a 960m' for stuff there), and I could just take the dock + PSU if I needed the extra performance. The other solution is a lot cheaper, but again is less performance: I could buy a 980m MXM card to slap into the Precision, but these run $300+ and again, it's much better financially to run eGPU with a GPU I already have, plus then I'd need better laptop chargers (I still might, Idk is 130W will cut it under intense load, but I hope so as I have 2 of them...), which for some reason aren't cheap (like really?! $45 for a used charger!) added a bunch of comparisons for userbenchmark (Passmark results are very similar)
If you could test it with another GPU that would be helpful but don't feel rushed, I'm not planning on ordering anything for 3+ weeks...

edit: I forgot to mention that for your setup there might be a bottleneck, userbenchmark reports the 3320m having ~15% better single core, but the Phenom II having 78% multicore, I would say at least a bit of that 15% performance loss is CPU related, probably not all of it though...

480 v 1060m.png

960m vs m6100.png

980m vs 480.png

7700hq vs 3720qm.png

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12 hours ago, Mnky313 said:

I'm in the same boat of "I want a higher performance laptop but financially it doesn't make sense" I could buy a laptop with comparable CPU and GPU for $1150 but that's a lot of money when I could spend <$100 on a dock, PSU, and have very similar performance. The only place I take my laptop is school, over to friend's places, or on vacation. I wouldn't need an eGPU at school and I could just take the dock + PSU if I needed the extra performance.

Especially in my case, coming from a laptop which had an okay CPU but trash onboard graphics, the price vs performance of an eGPU was impossible to beat. I take my laptop to work, so my setup lives on my desk at home, I just plug the express card in when I dock the laptop. 

The only inconvenience I've seen is that to detect the GPU properly you have to do a fresh boot, windows doesn't support hotswapping such devices, obviously. And being a laptop, I tend to leave it sleeping a lot. But that's not a huge issue.

Quote

The other solution is a lot cheaper, but again less performance: I could buy a 980m MXM card to slap into the Precision, but these run $300+ and again, it's much better financially to run eGPU with a GPU I already have. Plus then I'd need better laptop chargers (I still might, Idk is 130W will cut it under intense load), which for some reason aren't cheap (like really?! $45 for a used charger!)

Power consumption for an 980m MXM card shouldn't be drastically higher, it's still running through a bastardized PCIE slot after all; the power limit should be pretty low. But yeah prices on those MXM format unicorns is frankly ridiculous, it was a good idea, but has been dying out for years really. 

The higher wattage external power supplies are pricey, but that's because not many laptops/media PC's have such high power draw. There is one that Small Form Factor PC builders use, that's 330W from an external brick, which is crazy. Also crazy expensive and hard to get.

If you want to use one with an eGPU and go all out, you might wanna look at the DELL DA-2. It's a 230W brick, and it plugs into that 8-pin connector on the side of the EXP GDC, next to the DC barrel connector. The barrel limits you to 150W TDP maximum cards, but using the 8-pin gets around that for truly beastly cards. I didn't strictly need it, but I got one anyway. The DA-2 is originally designed for use with DELL small form factor office computers not laptops, hence the different connector and fairly high power rating. 
 

Quote

edit: I forgot to mention that for your setup there might be a bottleneck, userbenchmark reports the 3320m having ~15% better single core, but the Phenom II having 78% multicore, I would say at least a bit of that 15% performance loss is CPU related, probably not all of it though...

Possibly? My testing wasn't an exact science, and when you start talking about the nature of workloads, single or multi-core, you start to get far more technical than these results were intended to be xD Superposition is a GPU-focused benchmark, but it's not that old so I would assume it's coded for multi-threaded CPU loads.

Speaking of CPU's and beastly old Phenoms, it's worth noting one more thing; The eGPU setup was far, FAR more power efficient than the desktop I was comparing it to. That may not matter if you're not paying your own utilities, but it's a big enough difference to be worth noting.

**EDIT**
I actually have a build thread for an eGPU case. But because the GTX680 that was kinda in limbo... is now permanently dead, I may be shrinking the dimensions down before I fabricate. Because that was one big bitch.

despite me not updating it, I figured it might be interesting to you.


*** Temporarily demoted to a 'Businessman Gamer' *** 

Lenovo Thinkpad X230t  [docked + eGPU] 
i5 3320m  ~  500gb ssd  ~  16gb  ~  Palit GTX680 4gb  

 

Spoiler

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Posted · Original PosterOP
1 hour ago, Ross Siggers said:

Power consumption for an 980m MXM card shouldn't be drastically higher, it's still running through a bastardized PCIE slot after all; the power limit should be pretty low. But yeah prices on those MXM format unicorns is frankly ridiculous, it was a good idea, but has been dying out for years really. 

The higher wattage external power supplies are pricey, but that's because not many laptops/media PC's have such high power draw. There is one that Small Form Factor PC builders use, that's 330W from an external brick, which is crazy. Also crazy expensive and hard to get.

If you want to use one with an eGPU and go all out, you might wanna look at the DELL DA-2. It's a 230W brick, and it plugs into that 8-pin connector on the side of the EXP GDC, next to the DC barrel connector. The barrel limits you to 150W TDP maximum cards, but using the 8-pin gets around that for truly beastly cards. I didn't strictly need it, but I got one anyway. The DA-2 is originally designed for use with DELL small form factor office computers not laptops, hence the different connector and fairly high power rating. 

Yeah, the 130W adapters I have are the chargers I got for my Inspiron Gaming, I was talking about using them the charge the precision, not for the eGPU setup, I already planned to buy one of those DA-2 Adapters to power the GPU, the internal Firepro card draws ~75W where as the 980m draws ~100W that's what I was referring to about the laptop without eGPU drawing 130+ Watts, thinking about it now I wonder if there is a way to adapt the DA-2's connector to a normal Dell barrel jack because they are a lot cheaper than 240W bricks for laptops. (I'm in class, so Ill finish this response when I get home in 90 minutes or so :). )

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I don't think the DA-2 can be adapted to a single barrel. At least, it's not something I'd try and do without decent experience wiring high powered parts. There are loads of separate wires inside the lead, I would be sketched out personally, but I can give you a picture of the pin-out on the back of the brick if you'd like. I was only confident enough to shorten the cable on mine.

 

There are other similarly powered chargers that use the barrel style connector already though, I simply highlighted the DA-2 because the EXP GDC has a port specifically for it. For my small form factor PC build, I actually ended up getting an HP power brick, that pushes 230W through a barrel connector(p.s. the DA-2 is actually 220W, my mistake). The part number for that is 609946-001 if you want to check it out.

Also bear in mind there are different styles of DC barrel for power, higher power uses a beefier connector. I've not entirely fathomed this bit out I'll be honest, it's a minefield when you're not using the charger with it's intended device...

 

I had no idea MXM cards drew so much power, over 100W through the PCIE style bridge sounds wrong. The x16 slot you'd find on an ATX motherboard can only supply 75W. Above that additional power cables to the GPU are required.


*** Temporarily demoted to a 'Businessman Gamer' *** 

Lenovo Thinkpad X230t  [docked + eGPU] 
i5 3320m  ~  500gb ssd  ~  16gb  ~  Palit GTX680 4gb  

 

Spoiler

⠀⠀⠀⣴⣴⡤
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Posted · Original PosterOP

 

1 hour ago, Ross Siggers said:

I don't think the DA-2 can be adapted to a single barrel. At least, it's not something I'd try and do without decent experience wiring high powered parts. There are loads of separate wires inside the lead, I would be sketched out personally, but I can give you a picture of the pin-out on the back of the brick if you'd like. I was only confident enough to shorten the cable on mine.

 

There are other similarly powered chargers that use the barrel style connector already though, I simply highlighted the DA-2 because the EXP GDC has a port specifically for it. For my small form factor PC build, I actually ended up getting an HP power brick, that pushes 230W through a barrel connector(p.s. the DA-2 is actually 220W, my mistake). The part number for that is 609946-001 if you want to check it out.

Also bear in mind there are different styles of DC barrel for power, higher power uses a beefier connector. I've not entirely fathomed this bit out I'll be honest, it's a minefield when you're not using the charger with it's intended device...

 

I had no idea MXM cards drew so much power, over 100W through the PCIE style bridge sounds wrong. The x16 slot you'd find on an ATX motherboard can only supply 75W. Above that additional power cables to the GPU are required.

yeah, I figured you couldn't easily adapt the DA-2, but as for the barrel jack power supplies, if I need one, ill probably just buy a dell 240W one, but I'm hoping I don't (though the TDP of just the CPU/GPU combined is 120W so....) as for the MXM slots, according to the Mobile PCIe Wiki page you can pull 200W from a 3.0B slot, which is a ton, though type b is usually only on high end and larger machines, from what I've found 15 inch machines usually only have 3.0 type A which is limited to 55W, even then most cards have a TDP of 100W or less (except maybe higher end 10 series cards, the 1080 in some of MSI's high end laptops apparently can draw 195+ Watts...). And with barrel connectors, yeah they are kind of hit or miss, you have to not just find one that has the right connector, but the right voltage and polarity, the HP one you sent actually looks like a good option, its the same 19.5V and outside negative polarity while being like 1/2 the cost of the dell one, though I've heard of dell laptops refusing to charger because they detected it's not a dell charger (based off the sense pin in the middle of the Dell ones).  Another discovery I just found is that there is a brick used for the old alienware laptops that is 330W but uses the same connector and voltage, part number is XM3C3.

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Posted · Original PosterOP

So, the listing was legit (or at least I think, everything looks right, none of the connects look damaged or anything, and it even has the smart card (both slot and contactless).  Minor scuffs but boots fine on external display and has the correct CPU/GPU... here are some pictures of it and comparison to my Inspiron gaming.

IMG_20181206_185533.jpg

IMG_20181206_185546.jpg

IMG_20181206_190710.jpg

IMG_20181206_190740.jpg

IMG_20181206_190758.jpg

IMG_20181206_190806.jpg

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