Author Topic: Laptop-splosion  (Read 111 times)

Spectere

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Laptop-splosion
« on: February 02, 2018, 12:53:21 AM »
Let me preface this by saying that in all my years fixing computers--both personally and professionally--not to mention using them, I've never run into anything like this happening in otherwise normal circumstances.

So I ended up getting a new work laptop recently. I was using a Dell Precision M4800, a truly fine piece of kit. Drop-in dock-compatible (sorry, E-Port Replicator Docking Station compatible. Silly me), plenty of ports, solid build, 15.6" laptop with numpad...honestly, that system is the only reason I'm typing this on a Precision 7710. I'd never used a workstation class laptop and was quite impressed (the 7710 is quite nice, too, aside from when Windows decided to fuck things up for a while, but I can't exactly blame Dell for that).

My new work laptop is a Precision 5510. Or, should I say, was a Precision 5510. Yeah. It kind of let its magic smoke out spontaneously. I put the CPU under a mild load and then all of a sudden it went dead and the smell of fried ICs filled the air.

Yeah. Holy shit. Last time I smelled that was on a hard drive that got hit with a lightning strike (through the PSU, into the 4-pin Molex power socket, then all over the PCB).

That's not the type of failure that happens when a board simply has a delayed QC failure. That's what happens when the manufacturer fails to properly regulate voltages and current. In a system that essentially has a bomb inside of it (a Li-Ion battery that cannot be easily removed, since some idiot decided that an ultrathin laptop would make a great "workstation"), that sort of failure mode suddenly goes from an inconvenience straight into the "fucking scary" category.

Even if we overlook the fact that my laptop literally burned itself up after only two weeks of use, something that hasn't happened to even the cheapest laptops I've bought, this thing has some of the worst ventilation I've ever seen. It has an extremely difficult time cooling the quad-core processor and dedicated GPU because some bozo at Dell decided that venting from the thin slit near the hinge assembly was a great idea. I can only guess that they were copying the MacBook, but here's the difference between the Precision and a MacBook: the Precision is in a plastic case while the MacBook's chassis is basically a giant heatsink.

It's not even good plastic, either. On my 7710, you'd expect there to be a bit of flex on the lid due to it being a large 17.3" laptop with flexible plastic and, sure enough, there is a tiny bit of flex. What truly boggles the mind is that there's significantly more flex on the thinner, smaller 15.6" 5510. I'd say it's at least a quarter inch of flex. I was shocked by how cheap that ~$3000 laptop feels.

Oh, you know the best part about it? It lacks a numpad. My $700 Inspiron 5570 has a numpad, yet they couldn't manage to figure out how to get one on the expensive, "workstation class" Precision 5510. I guess it's just too small...oh wait, the Inspiron 5570 and my old Precision M4800 are also 15.6" and they had numpads. Hmm.

I mean, having to suddenly take my M4800 back and reimage it did get me off work early for a change (I usually work overtime, not undertime) but losing a bunch of unpushed git commits doesn't exactly put me in a great mood, and the fact that Dell refuses to let me pop the NVMe SSD out of the system to pull my data off of it seriously irritates me. I can understand why removing certain components could throw off their investigation into why their "workstation" failed so quickly, but the SSD? Really? Ugh.

At the very least, Dell enterprise support is far better than their home support. Small comforts. Hopefully the replacement I get doesn't fail the same way. :/
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Spectere

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Re: Laptop-splosion
« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2018, 09:24:49 AM »
Just received word that the freshly-repaired laptop is on its way to me. Hopefully that one will be a bit less volatile.

I still have concerns over the design of the Precision 5510, obviously. I definitely don't think it's a well-designed system, and I think that calling it a "workstation-class" laptop is laughable. At best it should have been classified as a thin XPS and limited to a dual-core processor. I'm not convinced that it can handle the heat thrown off by a quad-core, let alone a quad-core and a dedicated GPU.

When the system arrives I'll put it through its paces and see if it can actually manage to run under load at under 98C with the fans going full blast (the previous one couldn't, but the aforementioned Inspiron 5570, which is far cheaper and also has a quad-core processor, stays at a consistent 70C under load with the fans on).
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Bobbias

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Re: Laptop-splosion
« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2018, 03:51:46 PM »
I havent had any laptops over like 800 bucks so I don't have any experience with anything resembling workstation class.
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Spectere

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Re: Laptop-splosion
« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2018, 08:05:21 PM »
I've worked extensively with three Dell Precisions. My old one at work is an M4800, the one I use at home is a 7710, and the new one at work is a 5510. The M4800 (15.6") and 7710 (17.3") are both big, thick systems with very good thermals. They generally will run at 60-70C with a heavy load with above-normal ("turbo") clocks for extended periods of time with no problem. It even takes a lot for the fans to even start making noise. The only time I've ever heard the fans spin up on my 7710 were when I was doing a BIOS update (which forces the fans to full speed), and the only reason I hear them on the M4800 is because that system runs Gentoo, so that's pretty much on par for the course.

The 5510 tries to keep its fans from spinning up, but it does so by aggressively throttling down the processor. When the fans spin up to full speed, the system can only manage to keep a loaded processor down to 85C, which is definitely above what I'd consider a comfort zone. What gets really bad is when you close the lid.

See, the 5510 has a vent on the back near the hinge assembly. Normally, the hot air would blow up and along the screen (which is problematic in and of itself, but whatever). However, when the lid is closed, the hinge is so large that the air doesn't have many places to go. It hits the hinge and is forced down. This causes the system to absolutely bake, easily hitting temperatures in the upper 90s (it was at a sustained 97-99 at one point, which is in the "fucking scary" bracket, IMO) and causing severe throttling.

So, basically, it's not safe to use this system on a desk with a docking station plugged into it. Considering that's how I use it, what bloody good is this goddamned thing?

I might be able to mitigate the problem by 3D printing a stand for it to lift the hindquarters of the laptop (printed in PETG, since the temperatures that the laptop reaches will very likely cause PLA to soften!) up to hopefully give the thing enough a bit more breathing room, but I suspect that's only going to help it so much. A cooling pad won't really help, because in this case it's less about getting cool air into the laptop and more about getting hot air out of it.

The part that I really think is inexcusable is that the Inspiron 5570 that I keep yammering on about is a mid-range consumer grade laptop that has none of these issues. Its thermal design is significantly better than a laptop that's marketed for high end professionals (think CAD, drafting, etc...stuff that requires a dedicated GPU and fast CPU) and really isn't any thicker or heavier. Since it runs at much lower temperatures (70C under a heavy load with the lid open or closed), that laptop spends far more time at boosted clock rates than the workstation laptop; the only two catches is that the screen is a crappy, washed out TN panel (1080p, though!) and that it only has an integrated GPU. Totally ass backwards.
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Bobbias

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Re: Laptop-splosion
« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2018, 04:03:19 PM »
Yeah thats some horrible design right there.
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Spectere

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Re: Laptop-splosion
« Reply #5 on: February 12, 2018, 10:15:58 AM »
I've been stress testing the replacement unit by compiling webkit and, not surprisingly, it's hovering at 89-96C with the lid open. I don't even dare close the lid after what happened last time. It's throwing a lot of hot exhaust up onto the screen, which I'm sure is good for it.

Apparently this shares a lot of design elements with the ultra-thin XPS 15 (because, again, "ultra-thin" and "performance" totally go hand in hand). That system throttled because Dell didn't bother adding heatsinks to the voltage regulators. Considering the thing that most likely blew up my first 5510 was poor voltage regulation, resulting in an overvolted CPU, yeah. Probably the same issue here! Plus, the section along the top of the 5510 (which is where the VRMs sit on the XPS, and IIRC that's where they are on the 5510 as well, judging by my quick look at the board) gets crazy hot under load. I wouldn't be surprised if one of them overheated and failed. The question on my mind is, of course: "when is this going to happen again?"

What a fucking piece of garbage. I'm seriously in disbelief that I'm going to be stuck with this goddamn thing for the forseeable future. I told them that they'd be a problem. I told them that this would happen. I even gave them a quote for a Precision 7510 (roughly 1kg heavier and 12mm thicker) that was both cheaper and offered a more powerful package, but noooo. Never mind the fact that these laptops are going to be sitting on developers' desks for 99% of their lives, so the claim of improved "portability" (the 7510 is still pretty light despite being 1kg heavier) is dubious at best.

Style over substance. That's literally what this is all about.

I might be slightly irate.
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Bobbias

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Re: Laptop-splosion
« Reply #6 on: February 12, 2018, 07:33:34 PM »
God damn, how the hell do companies fuck design up that bad. I'm sure somewhere there was some guy who saw that and was like "wtf, that's fucking awful, are you trying to make a bomb?".

Why am I asking rhetorical questions? My company pulls retarded shit day in, day out, so I should know better than to question how a company can be collectively stupider than the dumbest person who works there.
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Spectere

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Re: Laptop-splosion
« Reply #7 on: February 13, 2018, 08:45:06 AM »
Yep, pretty much. There's a lot of dull tacks at my company, too, and it's amazing how much they're capable of bringing the entire place down with them.

In this case I guarantee that the entire motivation here was to chase the MacBook Pro. And sure, aesthetically it kind of does. The problem is that the MacBook Pro has several inherent design features that the Dells lack. For one, in the stupidly portable 13" models, the CPU is limited accordingly. There's nothing more powerful than a dual-core in there, and it uses integrated video. Mine has an i5-7267U (3.1GHz, 3.5GHz boost, dual-code, Hyper-Threading) and was able to do video transcoding across four threads and the system never really got too hot despite the CPU being effectively maxed the entire time. The 15" models can have a quad-core CPU and dedicated GPU, but aside from having the advantage of the entire case being a giant aluminum heatsink (which makes a pretty big difference in all of this!) I've never dealt with one, even under heavy load, that felt like it was running too hot.

Not to say that Apple are thermal saints, because they certainly aren't (the iMac Pro is a hilariously bad idea--look at its specs and form factor to see why--and the first generation Intel MacBooks ran stupidly thanks to having an excessive amount of thermal paste), but I'd say they did things right on the modern MacBook line at the very least. They certainly did a hell of a lot better than Dell in this case.
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