Bake your graphic card back to life!
I bought my Dell XPS M1710 in January 2007, so it’s three years old now. Except some overheating issues, which I solved by cleaning the fans and applying Arctic Silver thermally conductive compound, I didn’t really have any major issues with this laptop. If you want more information about letting your XPS run cooler, please follow this link.
A few days ago strange things started to happen. During the boot up of the system, random pixels and stripes appeared, even at the BIOS screens. The Windows loading screen was normal but then a final screen with pixel distortion came up and the screen turned black. I had to shut down the system by holding the power button. Some browsing on the internet with my desktop pc confirmed my fear: my graphic card was fried. Apparently this is a common problem with Dell’s gaming rigs which are terrible at heat management. Some forums report problems when the laptop is only one month old. I guess I am lucky it worked for 3 years.
As my warranty is expired, my first reaction was to search for a new graphic card on eBay and other second hand sites. The graphic card in my system is a Nvidia 7950 GTX and they are being sold on eBay but at crazy prices! No way I’m going to pay about 300 euros for a second hand card that gives me absolutely no guarantee about how long it will work before frying again.
Then I found some forums about people putting their graphic card in the oven and baking them alive! The idea is that due to constant heating and cooling of the card, tiny cracks start to form in soldered contacts. Baking the card melts the solder, restoring the contacts. I thought “What the hell, I’ve got nothing to loose. My laptop is worthless now anyway.”
I disassembled the XPS, took the graphic card out and removed the heat sink. For detailed disassembly instructions for the XPS, please follow this link (Dell XPS M1710 Service Manual) and read my other article. I used some aluminum foil balls as a support system and baked the graphic card at 200 degrees Celcius. After 10 minutes I shut down the oven and let it cool down for another 20 minutes without touching the card.
One thing I forgot to do was remove the plastic foil around the GPU core. I thought it would be heat resistant but after the baking process the foil had shrunk and burst. I removed the foil which covered tiny electronic components and some left over hardened heat conductive compound. I cleaned the core with rubbing alcohol and some paper towels. I had to use quite a lot of rubbing alcohol and apply some power rubbing the tiny electronic components so I had little hope that the card would ever work again. Then I reassembled the whole thing and with thumping heart I pressed the power button.
The difference was immediately visible: no more random pixels! I had to press F1 to continue because I had removed the CMOS battery when removing the palm rest. After that Windows booted up just fine! I have rebooted the system a few times and have run some graphic intensive software and everything is still working! No one knows how long it will keep working but if it fails, I’ll just bake it again!
As a proof, here is a video explaining the process and a demonstration of how the bootup looked before and after!