[HOWTO] upgrading M4400 (RAM, CPU, SSD, BIOS)

NOTE: you can also view all the entries in this Q & A series

I received the following question on my previous post about upgrading a Dell M4400 laptop:

Q. Great J.D. Thank you.

I also have an M4400. I purchased it a year or so ago so that I could have a portable solution as I explore 3D graphics programs such as 3DSMax etc…Based on your above post (and a few others) I have purchased a qx9300 quad core processor, an Intel 320 Series SSDSA2CW120G3B5 2.5″ 120GB SATA II MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD), a WD Scorpio Black 500GB SATA II 7200 RPM hard drive, the newmodus second hard drive chassis and cable for cd drive, an external case for my old hard drive, OEM Windows 7 x64 (my currrent hard drive has Windows XP Pro), Arctic Silver 5, and an 8 GB memory upgrade. Phew!

My questions involve the order of the upgrades in order to isolate potential problems and (since I am a designer and not a computer geek) if I need to do anything regarding Bios updates, firmware upgrades etc before I start replacing any of the components on my laptop?

1) I am thinking that I will first upgrade the CPU and see how that runs. I noted that you added the Arctic Silver to the CPU and the video card. In some images, I have seen that Dell has heat transfer pads? Is there sufficient contact between the CPU and video card and the heat sink for just the Arctic Silver to make the contact (after cleaning up the previous goo of course)? Any tips here.

2) Then I was going to take out the existing hard drive and replace it with the SSD and load Windows 7 onto it using the CD drive while it was still in the bay. Any tips on this process?

3) Then I was going to load up the memory going from 4 to 8gb. Tips?

4) I was then going to put the second hard drive in the New Modus caddy and place in the optical drive slot. Tips?

5) Finally I was going to plug the optical drive into the external SATA connection and check that it works.

I really wanted to make sure that BIOS and firmware upgrades were completed if needed…and I have never done those before. Hopefully, Windows 7 will lead me through the system install process and it will all occur flawlessly.

Any tips and words of encouragement you can share J.D. would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for taking the time.

Best,
David

A. Hey David!
I will go ahead and do a quick rundown, then will do a more thorough one if needed.

Preliminary: use the right tool & take your time

Make sure you have an approriately size phillips screw driver. It is about the only tool you will need for this project!

Take your time, if necessary take a break and come back to it if something doesn’t want to work… sometimes coming back fresh will give you a new perspective on the problem. You don’t want to force anything or be hasty.

The preliminary step for most of the following procedure is to remove the bottom base assembly:
http://support.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/M4400/en/sm/base.htm#wp1185152
Once this is done you have full access to most of the components.

TIP: table of contents listing for the Dell service manual for the M4400
http://support.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/M4400/en/sm/index.htm

#0 Win 7/BIOS/Firmware
Win 7 should install easily on the M4400.

As for BIOS/firmware, yes please do make sure you have the latest M4400 BIOS (check Dell.com service/support area)
http://support.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/M4400/en/sm/bios.htm#wp1179839

And for your Intel 320 SSD you will also want to check and make sure you have the latest firmware.  I recommend doing this before you install Win 7 as sometimes an SSD firmware update will require wiping the drive…

Beyond the M4400 BIOS and the Intel 320 firmware, I do not believe you will have anything else to update (other than drivers once Win 7 is installed)

Difficulty: 3/5 (mainly just finding the latest versions and following the instructions)

#1 QX9300 CPU upgrade: For the CPU I feel the Artic Silver 5 (AS5) is sufficient. For the GPU, some users seem to reported a significant gap between the GPU and the heatsink. I’m not sure if the AS5 is sufficient in all cases, but it has worked okay for me. Difficulty level 4/5

NOTE: I might leave this until last, as everything else can be done (even installing Win 7) and then you can upgrade the CPU.

#2 Replace HD with SSD: This is very straightforward. Do make sure you have SATA set to AHCI in the BIOS for best performance results.
http://support.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/M4400/en/sm/hdd.htm#wp1180023
Difficulty 2/5

#3 Memory upgrade: Again, very straightforward. You should not encounter any problems and of course since you are going to be using Win 7 x64 you will be able to utilize all of it :-) I believe Dell has an extended memory/system test, so you could run that after you upgrade the RAM if you want to make sure it is fully functional (aka no errors/bad memory)
NOTE: if you have never replaced memory before, when you are taking the old memory out be careful to take notice when you release the locking tabs and the memory “pops up”. The memory will be angled and that is the same angle you want to use when full seating the new memory before pressing it down and engaging the locking tabs.
Difficulty 2/5
http://support.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/M4400/en/sm/memory.htm#wp1183815

#4  Replacing optical drive with new modeus: sometimes getting the drive into the new modeus bay can be a bit of a tight fit but take your time and you should have no difficulty.
http://support.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/M4400/en/sm/optical.htm#wp1181756
Difficulty 2/5

#5 Good idea.

PS hollar if you have any specific questions!

Best regards,
-JD

Follow up question from David:

Thanks JD. I reeeeeaaaaaallllllyyyyyy appreciate you taking the time to help me. Didn’t mean to rush you as we all have busy lives. Looking over the helpful directions you gave below, only two quick questions come to mind.
1) I believe you said you added Arctic Silver to the GPU when you were doing the CPU upgrade? If so did you use existing pad or somehow get a replacement?
2) How do I do a firmware upgrade (I am assuming that is something I do/install on the new SSD) without having it installed on the computer or having windows 7 installed on it?
Tx,
David

Howdy David,
No problem! Happy to help :-)

More preliminary tips:
+Use some small containers to store and separate the screws that you remove. It can make reassembly that much easier (and it stinks to lose a screw!)
+I use rubbing alcohol and a cotton cloth (something that won’t leave lint/residue behind) to remove the existing thermal paste… but you’ve probably already read the Artic Silver 5 (or comparable) installation instructions… http://www.arcticsilver.com/instructions.htm

#1 something I forgot: when removing  the fan assembly while you’re getting ready to remove the heat sink, it can be slightly tricky as it is a tight fit in the exhaust area, but just do some gently maneuvering (of the fan assembly) and you should get it out just fine.

#1 re: thermal pads or Artic Silver 5 (AS5)

Helpful link that has lots of photos:
http://forum.notebookreview.com/dell-latitude-vostro-precision/321950-m4400-as5-how.html

M4400 AS5 how to. 

M4400 AS5 how to.http://forum.notebookreview.com/dell-latitude-vostro-precision/321950-m4400-as5-how.htmlHere is what I did. First take the battery out and remove the bottom part like so. Then you have to take the fan off there are 3 screws to take out and unplug the fan connector.…

SUMMARY: there is rambling below, but basically I think you should be fine (especially if you have a late model M4400) with using only thermal paste [no pads].

As for me, I used Artic Silver 5 on both the CPU and GPU.

For me the CPU has run nice and cool but the GPU sometimes seems to run a bit hot. Sorry I don’t have any specific temps to report at the moment…

My theory is that either (a) the tolerances between the polished GPU surface and the copper heat sink are not very close [i.e. there is a gap] -or- (b) the polished surface of the GPU is making good contact with the heatsink but that the surrounding area of the GPU is not transferring heat and it may need to.

Thus, thermal pad might fill gaps better and it might also make contact with a large portion of the GPU chip/assembly/packaging…???

Some potential sources for thermal pads:
http://www.overclock.net/air-cooling/739561-thermal-pads-gpu.html

More info on the topic:

Are you talking about M4400 or E6400?
Two different TDP’s and cooling system’s,M4400 doesn’t use thermal pad’s except on the GPU’s memory module’s and northbridge,GPU and CPU core’s use thermal paste/copper heatsink….no pad in between.

Mine’s similar to Pitrs81 with the P8600 cpu in it using any bios apart from A13.
http://forum.notebookreview.com/dell-latitude-vostro-precision/292245-precision-m4400-owners-lounge-232.html

Some people have recommended a copper shim between the GPU and the copper heat sink:

There is no thermal pad between an M4400 GPU & it’s copper heatsink – just thermal paste, and in my case – a whole bunch of air.
The ONLY reason I copper modded my GPU is as I’ve stated before, there is almost no contact – an air gap in other words – between my GPU die & it’s copper heatsink.
If the factory heatsink made full contact with the GPU die, I would have just used paste, and would not have needed to use a copper shim to ensure contact.

http://forum.notebookreview.com/dell-latitude-vostro-precision/292245-precision-m4400-owners-lounge-232.html

One more take on the pads/paste debate:

The newer M4400 have paste. The first M4400 had pads. I changed the pads against paste and it improved temps about 5°C during idle and about 10°C during load! Perhaps the pads are easier to install, but they performe very bad! Dell should get rid of them!
http://forum.notebookreview.com/dell-latitude-vostro-precision/321950-m4400-as5-how-2.html

Sorry to not have a more definitive answer here, BUT if you use a high quality thermal paste and follow the instructions you should be okay. I have been okay and so have a lot of other people. You should at least be fine to get continue using Windows etc. and then using temperature monitoring software to monitor your CPU/GPU/system temps… then if you noticed an issue you could re-evaluate your thermal paste solution…

#2 How to update Intel 320 series firmware (rough summary)
http://downloadcenter.intel.com/Detail_Desc.aspx?agr=Y&DwnldID=18363
I don’t remember if I’ve updated a 320… but the basic procedure I’ve used for other Intel SSDs is to download a bootable ISO (image) from Intel with the firmware update and the updating software/program on it. Burn the ISO to a CD. Boot from the CD and run the firmware update… it will give you some prompts etc. so it is fairly straightforward.
TIP: you may have to temporarily change the SATA mode to ATA/compatibility mode in the M4400′s BIOS options in order for the Intel firmware update CD/program to see your SSD, then set SATA mode back to AHCI in the BIOS when you have finished updating the firmware and have rebooted.

Best regards,
-JD

UPDATE FROM DAVID!

On 10/6/2011 4:13 PM, David Pinning wrote:

Hi JD,
Thank you again for taking the time to help me out.
After a busy day, I just completed step 1. I flashed the BIOS from A13 to A25.
Which version are you using? Is it something to keep up with periodically?
Next I will attempt the Firmware upgrade of the SSD. I’ll report back on that.
Best,
David

Hola David,
Good job on flashing the BIOS!

I believe I am running A22. Will have to check next time I boot up the M4400…

Generally it’s a nice idea to stay appraised of BIOS updates, you can generally read the changelog for each release and see what’s new… if it’s minor stuff, or stuff that doesn’t apply to you, then of course it’s fine to skip [or as some people say "if it ain't broke don't fix it" ;-)]

Yes, please do let me know how the SSD firmware update goes!

Best regards,
-JD

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3 comments

  • Stevan

    Are you actually able to use the Sata ii drive at its rated transfer rate with the m4400? I thought that m4400 was sata i? I ask because Im about to upgrade as well!

  • Stevan

    Did you, or anyone else see a graphics performance decrease after upgrading to windows 7 x64 from xp32? I even noticed a degrade when i went from 4gig of ram to 8 as well. Perhaps ram timings?

    • J.D.

      Hi Stevan,
      I have not noticed and graphics performance decreases going from 32 bit XP to Win 7 x64. If others have had performance issues hopefully they will post and let you know.

      As for your guess about RAM timings, that definitely seem like a potential culprit. You may want to use a free utility* (like CPU-Z or similar) to check your RAM timings when using the 8 gigs, http://www.cpuid.com/softwares/cpu-z.html
      Then you could see if they are up to par :-)

      *b/c I can’t recall if the Dell M4400 BIOS lists memory timings or not…

      Sorry for not answering your SATA question earlier. But you are right that the M4400′s ICH9M-E/M SATA controller only supports 3GBs transfer speeds. However, 6GBs drives do function just fine with the M4400. Of course if your drive is fast enough then you may hit the SATA controller bottleneck (so you’re not getting their max potential) but they still seem pretty darn fast anyway ;-).

      Best regards,
      -JD

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