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Early Dell M170 Laptop Buildlog (Highschool, ~2006)

Updated: Aug 27, 2020

This was a laptop I think most didn't understand at the time, and the specific reason why I'm a Dell fanboy to this day. I'd originally got a Dell Inspiron 9300 back in 2004 as my first laptop from my parents. This was a beast, but was marketed as an Inspiron, so it came with some average-yet-capable components (GeForce 6800 Vanilla and a Centrino chipset) and pretty reserved mid-2000's style. The Centrino was such an awesome specification, essentially it was a trifecta requiring a Pentium M motherboard and CPU, along with an Intel Wireless-G chipset for wifi, so you'd get great battery life and top notch (802.11G) wifi combined with some legitimate performance at the time. It even came with a 1080P+ 17" (or WUXGA) screen, at 1920x1200 resolution... in 2004! This is also from the Techpowerup Forums alongside my desktop gallery. Here's the post.

The whole reason this was such a cool build is because it was a 'modular' laptop, meaning it incorporated normally non-interchangeable parts like a GPU (through the use of the new MXM slot standard back then), in part through necessity as the same chassis was used by the Inspiron (consumer), Latitude (professional), and XPS (gaming) lines at the same time, with main variations incorporating case/trim colors and GPU models (GeForce parts for the consumer, Quadro for the professional, and GTX-based high end GeForce parts for the gamer). The motherboard could be flashed to any of the aforementioned models' BIOS versions, to accompany the power and configuration mods that came with the different GPU's and in the case of the XPS series, also included RGB lighting around the case you could control through the BIOS (on the lid under the XPS letters, front speakers, and rear fans).

Now check out this true blast from the past. A 4:3 LCD, an Altec Lansing sound system I spraypainted from cream to black, a 250GB Fantom external HDD, an 80GB iPod Video, a 5.8GHz cordless phone, a really early Razer mouse, and the most ancient looking webcam and mic ever. Brought together by that amazing M170 case modded Inspiron 9300.

The only components lacking in the Inspiron series were the really boring silver+cream trim case, and the GeForce Go 6800 GPU- which on its own was neat, but at the time there was a GeForce Go 6800 Ultra and in the next generation even a GeForce Go 7800 GTX in the modular slot that allowed for GPU interchangeability through a universal form factor. I mean, 2004... we had modular mobile GPU's in laptops, come on. Golden age of laptop technology if you ask me. But I will say with the advent of eGPU's and insanely efficient CPU architectures and fabrication processes, along with tablets that sometimes outpower fullsize desktops thanks to Apple innovations recently, we're in the renaissance age currently.

I found some ultra-low-res pictures of when I evolved it to its final form, a much more modern looking black-and-silver theme across all the components on my desk.

Below are its humble beginnings, with the stock Inspiron 9300 trim, complemented by the era appropriate Razer v3 phone with an amazing/hilarious Marine Corps logo background as I was about 3-6 months away from joining the Marines at the time.

Here are the case mods in all their 1.3MP 2005 digital photo glory:

One of the most interesting and awesome parts of the GPU upgrade was the fact that the GeForce 7x00 series introduced a completely new, modern architecture that GPU's use to this day. Instead of Shader Pipelines which were traditionally used by all GPU's up until that point, and were a really easy point of reference in terms of understanding how much more power your GPU had than another model's by simply looking at how many pipeline units and vertex shading units each had (the higher the number was usually the winner by that point when it converted to performance... especially if you were comparing Nvidia to Nvidia or ATI to ATI). It was kind of like when people used MHz as a point of performance reference for CPU's at the time (although with massive differences in architecture efficiency from stuff like Intel's Pentium 4 Netburst architecture- which was *awful*, and AMD's Thunderbird and later Athlon XP architectures which were far more efficient and much lower effective clock speeds, lending to the fact that they used pseudo-MHz-equivalent performance numbers in their models such as the Athlon XP 3200 being the counterpart to Intel's P4 at 3.2GHz).

So the Go 7800GTX part that became available for the XPS M170 series wasn't just a healthy bump in performance from the previous generation's Go 6800 Ultra (I believe something like ~30-50% more performance), it introduced a fundamentally different GPU architecture that ATI was adopting at the same time. It replaced Shading Pipelines which something called 'Unified Shader Units' which were more versatile graphic renderers that could take on any job that previously required dedicated shading units if the pipelines weren't capable of handling a specific task themselves). These eventually became known pretty colloquially in the modern day as 'CUDA' cores for Nvidia, or GPGPU (General Purpose GPU) units capable of handling code that normally CPU's would only be able to handle. This is where all the performance you get if you get into cryptocurrency mining, or password hash cracking, or other processor-intensive tasks come from. When applications that take advantage of GPGPU cores are written and compared to standard x86 CPU based versions, you'll see massive advantages in performance upwards of 100x even when using pretty meager modern graphics cards.

System Specs:

  • Processor- Core Duo 2400 1.83ghz dual core w/667mhz fsb

  • RAM- 2gb DDR2-667 dual-channel

  • Graphics Card- Nvidia Go 7800GTX

  • Case- XPS M170

  • Display- 17" WUXGA with Brightview

  • So far the only step I've done is the case mod because I need money for the rest of the hardware. The specs RIGHT NOW are-

  • Processor- Pentium M 740 1.73ghz w/533mhz fsb

  • RAM- 1gb DDR2-533

  • Graphics Card- Nvidia Go 6800

Performed Mods:First and foremost this was an Inspiron 9300 before. But I am converting it to a full XPS Gen2/M170. My case is the biggest mod so far. I replaced the back cover, bezel, center control cover, and palmrest from the 9300 to the XPS. Only thing I haven't converted is the lighting system because according to Dell "the 9300 motherboard does not have any light controllers or connectors" so I'm buying some cheap small blue LED's where the real ones are supposed to go. I've also flashed the BIOS from 9300 to XPS Gen2. It was successful but I didn't buy the 130w power supply it needed yet so I reflashed it to 9300 because it took down my performance a huge amount since it thought it NEEDED a 130w supply with the XPS Gen2 BIOS.

For the future hardware mods, I'm going to get the 7800GTX first, then the Core Duo (because it's a Yonah core so it might not be compatible with my 478 motherboard, I'm not sure) and then the RAM.

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