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Help me determine laptop video card upgrade options

Hello,

I have an alienware m17x r2 with two ATI mobility radeon HD 4870 graphics cards (1gb each)

One of the two cards comes up in device manager as device cannot start (code 10) even though the latest drivers are installed (many years old, this is dellienware specific, i can't just go to ATI and download the latest)

anyway, i'm sure one of the two cards is bad, so i want to upgrade both.

currently, just scrolling pages like msn.com, scrolling is so choppy it takes 1-2 seconds for the screen to even catch up.  sometimes just typing is delayed.  even with nothing else running, virus scan clear, hitman pro clear, malwarebytes clear - basic video runs like garbage

i've taken the machine apart completely, blew out dust, cleared fans, re-applied new thermal paste, it still runs like garbage.  one of the two cards has to be bad

the current driver installed for each card is:
provider:  ATI
version:  8.763.0.0
date: 08/10/2010

so my question for points here is - what are my upgrade options for video cards?  i'd like the budget to be under $200 or so but i need to know for sure it'll work (the cards will fit, will be functional in crossover/sli/paired mode, and drivers will be recent/update able)

so what do you guys think?
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FocIS
Asked:
FocIS
1 Solution
 
Dr. KlahnPrincipal Software EngineerCommented:
I suggest continuing to look for a problem somewhere other than in the video cards.  To me, the issues that you have described point at a problem somewhere else in the system.  In particular, my own experience is that delayed response to typing is not a problem in the video hardware.

Disable the antivirus and re-examine the system.  If Norton is installed, that is likely to be a problem all by itself.

Get a copy of Microsoft Autoruns and see what is being loaded into the system at startup.  It's not uncommon to see the Adobe preloader and twenty to thirty other unnecessary things going in behind your back at startup time.

Then, after you have chased that problem to ground, replace the problem video card with an identical used one from ebay.  The 4870 is a very capable card even in the laptop version and two of them is, imo, supernumerary.
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Frosty555Commented:
This particular laptop DOES have a removable graphics card, and as you can see in this YouTube video, it is theoretically possible to replace it with something more modern (in this case, a GTX 780M).

However, the graphics card is NOT considered a user-serviceable part. Laptop graphics adapters are not standardized, you will need a specific make and model made for this particular laptop. It may not be easy to find, probably won't be cheap, and a more powerful GPU that generates more heat might cause overheating issues that could damage the laptop.

Upgrading is probably going to be expensive and difficult and I would only attempt it as a last resort.

This alienware laptop has an internal Intel HD Graphics that is built into the CPU, as well as the discrete GPUs. Some forum posts suggest you can toggle it on and off with FN+F7 (or if your keyboard is different, some other combination). There are also power options in Windows and options in the BIOS for Hybrid Graphics that you should explore, and you need to have an AC adapter connected in order to use the discreet adapter. Check all these things and make sure you are using the graphics adapter you think you are.

Aside from that, I agree with DrKlahn that you NEED to rule out any potential software issue before you make the jump to replacing the GPU. It's not unheard of for the GPU to be bad, but if it was I would expect crashing, freezing, and bluescreens, not the "laggy" behavior you are describing. I would go so far as to suggest you try re-installing Windows just to completely rule out a software issue as  your problem before you start looking for replacement hardware.
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nobusCommented:
install speedfan, and monitor the temperature of the cpu, disk, and video
http://www.almico.com/speedfan.php
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FocISAuthor Commented:
@DrKlahn - you're right that i need to take a closer look at autoruns and disable some stuff, but being that at idle i'm using 3gb of 8gb ram, and 1% cpu thru all 4 cores, i may have overlooked some of the startup things

that said, i re-applied the driver and the 2nd card appears normal again in device manager and things seem to be a lot less choppy... but the question remains, if i want an even better set of graphics cards, which ones specifically fit in this machine?

@frosty555 - i know it sounds hard, but i've had the machine completely apart and back together, it's not hard for me at all.  i didn't realize this machine had anything to do with an onboard intel graphics, i'll look into that

@nobus - installed speedfan just now, it sees both gpu's but all it can monitor from them is the voltage
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nobusCommented:
that means there's no temp sensor on them, starnge
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FocISAuthor Commented:
@nobus - that or the drivers are so old they don't support it?  

this is part of why i'd like better cards - the driver hasn't been updated in over 4 years
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nobusCommented:
try to feel if one is hotter than the other
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FocISAuthor Commented:
the more recent choppiness seems to be better by reinstalling the same driver last night - although the choppiness would happen right after a cold boot, not hot, fans automatically still at minimum

i do notice that if i dont blow out my fans monthly things will get noticeably slower

disregarding the current state of these two video cards, what are the upgrade options for this machine, preferably with a modern card with drivers that are still being updated?
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nobusCommented:
i would first test each out separately (so take one card out)
eventyually, test them each in each slot
as for upgrade options, here they say NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M VGA  
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVdxBnGMXGQ

here a GTX580   www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNGnOU_Ky-8
here a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M  http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/answers/id-1783439/alienware-m17x-upgrade-video-card.html

here an article on the best options :  http://forum.notebookreview.com/alienware-17-m17x/750427-alienware-m17x-r2-gpu-best-upgrade-options-gtx-680m-7970m-questions.html
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FocISAuthor Commented:
sorry for the delay in responding, this answer was chosen as it was the only one to specifically reference a working upgrade (as asked) rather than troubleshooting the existing cards
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nobusCommented:
tx for feedback
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