We’ve had a Dell Precision M90 laptop kicking around here for a fair while now with faulty Quadro FX 2500M graphics output. When the machine is powered on, the laptop’s LCD remains blank although the backlight is obviously powering up. If an external screen is connected, a picture is displayed at the POST screen but it is overlaid / disrupted by strings of what look like dots, commas or exclamation marks.

Since the machine is out of warranty and what we clearly have is a faulty graphics card, the question is now – why?

On extensive searching of the web, it seems that this problem is common to many of Dell’s high-end laptops with discrete GPUs and to date there does not seem to be a solid fix from Dell other than to change the graphics card (which may again fail) and update the machine’s BIOS to alter the fan’s duty cycle in the hope of reducing the thermal load.

This post and selection of comments on popey.com gives a little insight with people who have had warranty exchanges on their Dell laptop graphics cards reporting repeat failures later on. One interesting comment mentions the possibility of the components expanding significantly due to the heat and coming into contact with one-another where they shouldn’t causing an electrical short. Having looking at images and diagrams of the graphics card installation which attaches to a socket in the face of the motherboard, I’d be inclined to agree that it is a possibility.

I will hopefully know more once I have dismantled the M90 and gone fishing inside.

10 Responses to “Dell M90 with dotty graphics”
  1. Jay says:

    Hi there,

    Did you have any luck with your fishing trip?

    I have a Dell M90, bought in 2007…and the warrenty ran out on 22nd May 2010…and hey presto, the computer has died on me last night – literally less than 2 weeks after the warrenty expired – thats a bit fishy isnt it?

    I have the same screens as you describe – the windows loading screen has vertical lines in bands of 4 – a blue colour.

    I doubt Dell are going to want to help out now that the warrenty is gone…

    Any advice?

    Kind regards
    Jay

  2. ninjaneer says:

    As far as I could glean from research on the web, it appears to be an overheating issue with the GPU RAM.

    The story goes that excessive heat cracks the solder pathways between the RAM and the board. If you ascribe to that line of thought then you may not be too surprised to hear that some people heat these GPU boards up in a last-ditch attempt to re-melt the solder and re-make the circuits. I can’t really say whether that has any real probability of success and it wasn’t something we tried.

    In our case, we took the soft option of acquiring a new GPU board.

  3. Alex says:

    Well for anybody else who comes across this post with the same problem;

    Drumroll please

    I DID manage to re-flow the solder on the board by baking it.

    Stripped it down and removed the thermal plate from the top of the GPU, put it in at 200 degrees Celsius for about ten minutes and then just left the oven door open so that the card could cool for about an hour.

    The Dell M90 in question is now sitting on the desk beside me working perfectly.

    • ninjaneer says:

      Congratulations Alex!

      It’s nice to hear first-hand that it can be done although I’m not sure I’d have the nerve to try it.

      Of course, you’ll have used your ‘spare oven’ rather than the one you cook food in, right? 🙂

    • Ronny says:

      Alex, I followed your advice.
      My problem started after the M90 was 4 years and 5 months. read blocks appeared, and nothing more than VGA @ 256 colors were possible, higher resolution or greater color depth gave a black image.
      the same if it was the internal, or external display.
      I’ve took the graphics board out of the M90, removed the heat pipe and sink.
      Put it in an oven at about 200 degree C for about 10 minutes and let it cool down to room temperature in about one hour. Remounted the hear pipe and sink, and put it back into the M90.
      And….. It worked as it should be.
      At this moment I can’t see no problems, it is now under test.

      thanks for the input

    • Coyote__77 says:

      I write you to thank you Alex,

      I have 2 M90 computers one with a nvidia FX1500M and the oter with a FX2500M
      after 2 years the FX2500 GPU dead with same symptoms
      after about 4 years of intensive usage the FX1500 dead, same thing
      impossible to load graphical drivers : crash , only simple vga was working under windows xp
      dell assistance told me the fx2500m card cost is 660€

      I have put in Hoover 200° 10 minutes graphical cards as you said and now all 2 computers works perfectly
      I have reinstalled seven and all 3D graphical tools.

      BIG BIG thanks from France

      Coyote

  4. Hi, I use the same computer Dell M90 for 3D CAD and Product Design.

    I also have the same fault. I would like to try this, but I did not know how to remove the graphics card from the aluminium block and heat-pipe assembly.

    Did you put the whole card in, with heatpipes and radiator assembly. Or is there a easy way to remove? I could not find any screws and the aluminium bracket seemed very firmly fixed!

    Kind regards,
    John B

  5. ed says:

    How about underclocking the GPU with Coolbits/RivaTuner and verify with i8kfangui?

    The FX1500M allegedly seems reliable probably because it ran in the M90 at “only” 256MHZ

    Underclocking might solve the issue permanently?

    PS. My M90 has not arrived yet from ebay so I cannot verify the above!

    • ninjaneer says:

      Thanks for the idea!

      I’ll see how it works with the 2500M: It does get pretty hot even with basic stuff.

      I can’t quite get my head around why Dell never offered a BIOS update that just cranked the fans up passing say 60’C on the CPU or GPU sensors.

  6. Niteen Gohil says:

    Can somebody be kind enough to give a step by step instructions in seperating the card from the heat pipe and sink assembly please.
    Thanks

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