Sunday, March 31, 2013


After the "reflow" of my P-7811FX I decided to start looking for its replacement. Initially I had debated building a desktop because of the cost but decided the portability outweighed the cost savings. Not being able to find a 17" laptop with a display comparable to my old laptop I stopped looking at the major laptop sellers and started looking at some of the boutique sellers. These tend to cost more due to their low volume, customization and services offered. During this search I came across an ODM (original design manufacturer) called Clevo who builds bare bones systems used by major companies such as Dell/Ailenware, Falcon Northwest, Hypersonic and VooDoo PC (HP). One of the lessor known companies that use Clevo bare bones systems is Sager.

Sager is known for building high end gaming laptops and while you can purchase one directly from them they are sold at the same price from multiple re-sellers who compete with each other by offering different customization features such as upgraded thermal compound, additional heat sinks, customized skins or even paint. Because laptops are so proprietary, and limited in upgradeability purchasing one is a fine line between what you need it to do and spending as much as you can afford. Adding the requirements for it to play games and the cost goes out of control.

The laptop that caught my eye and I ended up purchasing was the Sager NP 9370. I ordered mine built to the following specs:
• 17.3" Full HD LED 120Hz 72% NTSC Color Gamut Matte (1920 x 1080)
• Dual NVIDIA® GeForce™ GTX 680M's total 8GB GDDR5 in SLI
• 3rd Generation Intel® Core™ i7-3630QM Processor (6M Cache, up to 3.40 GHz)
• Genuine Microsoft Windows® 7 Professional 32/64-Bit Edition ( 64-Bit Preloaded )
• 16GB Dual Channel DDR3 SDRAM at 1600MHz - 2 X 8GB
• 750GB 7200rpm SATA 300 Hard Drive
• 6X BD-R Blu-ray Burner 8X DVD±R 2.4X +DL Super Drive
• Intel® Centrino™ Ultimate-N 6300 - 802.11A/B/G/N Wireless LAN Module
• Removable Smart Lithium-Ion battery pack (8 cell)
• Integrated Fingerprint Reader

This laptop on release last summer was the most powerful commercially made laptop available, since then it has been surpassed by at least one I am aware of and its even questionably a laptop. It is made by Clevo (9570), uses desktop components, needs two power bricks to power it, 2.5" thick and weighs in excess of 12lbs (not including the two huge power bricks).

After receiving my new laptop I installed another 8GB of DDR3 in the remaining two slots to bring the total up to 24GB. I also installed a 128GB Samsung SSD, both of which were from my old laptop.

Sager while being known for performance gaming laptops is not known for flashy looks and in some cases borderline fit and finish, this is reflected in the cost of their systems. I am fine with that because the performance of this system is incredible.

I could have purchased it with one GTX680 GPU and had a laptop capable of playing any current game at all but the most extreame settings. Instead I chose to spend the cash and get two of them in the system. This is overkill for anything but gaming but in my mind extends the useful life of the system.

The GPUS are under the fan/heatskink assemblies on the left and right sides of the laptop. They are the fastest currenly available mobile GPUs and are replaceable cards. The Quad Core i7 is cooled by the fan/heatsink assembly in the center.

The one glitzy feature that it does have is a programable backlit keyboard, which does everything from a standard color to disco lighting.

Up till now I have not been able to spend a lot of time with it, but I am very happy with what I have seen so far.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Laptop Repurpose

It has been quite a while since I posted last. I have been literally buried by work and during that period that after four plus years of faithful service, my beloved P-7811FX laptop decided to die. The P-7811FX was a loss leader built by Gateway exclusively for Best Buy. It had some bleeding edge features such as DD3 SDRAM, a 17" 16:10 WUXGA screen with a native resolution of 1920 x 1200 and a Labelflash DVD burner. This laptop was priced around  $1200.00, much less than comparable laptops at the time and probably much less than it cost to build. It apparently was only built for a few months and replaced with a new improved model that was actually a step down specification wise.

The problem with it was it had a design flaw which was basically a time bomb. Some of them failed within days or even weeks of being purchased, some like mine lasted much longer. The flaw was in the switching of the GeForce 9800M GTS video card. When the 3D side of the card was not in use and you wanted to play a game with the laptop it had issues switching, this required a software solution that forced the 3D card to work all the time. This created a lot of heat in a card which was notorious for running hot and cooked the motherboard.

This was a problem with nearly all laptops that used the GeForce 9800M GTS and is well documented on many fourms. There are only two fixes for this issue, one is to buy a new motherboard, knowing that it too will die really at anytime. The second was another band aid fix which is "reflowing" the motherboard.

Reflowing is where the solder on the motherboard is briefly melted to allow it to reflow. This fixes the problems created by the video chip overheating and cooling which develops stress cracks and cold solder joints at the chip to motherboard connections. These connections are much to small to solder with an iron.

There are businesses that do this work professionally as it is also a common problem with X-Box 360s. The cost for this service is anywhere from $100.00 - 200.00, with a very limited guarantee for the life of the work. Generally it is done with the following type of equipment which localizes the heat to just the GPU area.

I disassembled the laptop to the motherboard, wrapped all of it in foil except for the GPU and baked it in the oven. Before I did this the laptop would boot up but had a blank display, after reflowing it the laptop worked flawlessly. The problem is like I stated earlier this is a band aid repair and after 1.5 months of use it started to fail again.

Not wanting to discard the laptop due to a failed video card I started searching my options. There are some external video cards but they don't do what I want and aren't a very graceful solution. So I decided to repurpose the laptop parts and started searching for how I could do that. Again the solutions were extremely limited, laptops for one are very proprietary and secondly the mobile architecture they are based on is completely different than a desktop.

In searching for socket "P" motherboards I found that a couple different ones were made, the problem being "were made" as in they are no longer made. They were not common, not popular and very expensive. Finally I found a solution on Ebay in the form of an AOpen i45GMt-HD mini ITX board that was based on the socket "P" Penryn chip.

This board when it was still being built sold for a mere $309.00, I was able to get a new one along with an AOpen case designed for it for less than $70.00. This allowed me to use the 2.26 Core 2 Duo, Centrino wireless card, hard drive and optical drive from the P-7811FX. Unfortunately the board was built around DDR 2 memory so I had to buy some DDR 2 SODIM's.

The neat thing about this computer is its very small, the motherboard is 6"x6", it is completely fanless, the large heatsink came with the motherboard as well as a power brick to meet its 19VDC requirements. When it is on and running it is completely silent. It is able to display HD broadcast TV as well as receive HD radio.

Initially I had planned on putting the motherboard in my car as the basis for a carputer but because of the 19VDC requirements of the board it limited my power supply options. I am going to leave it as it is now and use it as a garage computer / file server.

Here is a shot of the front of it showing the optical drive from the P-7811FX.