Saturday, August 13, 2022

Dell XPS 8940 Failures

 A couple of months ago I bought a new computer, my old one was 5+ years old and getting long in the tooth. My last couple of machines have been Alienware systems and I have been very happy with them. This time around I went with a Dell XPS 8940, it was a good deal with an Intel i7-11700 and an Nvidia 1660. Initially I was pretty happy with it, performance was good, it was noticeably faster than my previous system and was considerably quieter as well.

Then the freezes began. It did not happen often, maybe once a week. Unfortunately it was a hard lock, so the BIOS error logs showed nothing and neither did the Linux logs. I ran diagnostics on the machine multiple times and everything checked out fine every single time. My tech intuition started to buzz that this was not a typical hardware failure. So I did what every good Tech does, I went out on the internet and Googled it. Sure enough, this was a known issue with these machines. The issue started with BIOS version 2.4 when Dell implemented vulnerability patches to the BIOS, since then they have released 4 BIOS updates and none of them fixed the issue.

I implemented every suggested fix and then waited to see if the system locked up again and sure enough, it did. By this time I was outside of 30 days, so no money back guarantee for me. Other owners had went through the process of having hardware replaced with no good results, so I figured this was a non starter. The lockups happen rarely enough that it did not bother me too much, it was more of an annoyance than anything else, so I lived with it. However eventually I decided I had paid good money for this system and I should have something that works, so I decided to replace the motherboard so I could get on with my life.

I needed to replace the motherboard, but along with that comes a new case and power supply. for the motherboard I choose the ASUS TUF Gaming B560M-Plus, this supported the CPU and had some nice BIOS options and reviewed on Amazon pretty well. For my case I picked the Zalman T6 ATX Mid Tower, frankly the case is the least important part of a computer, so at less than $50, I was in. It is not a great case, but it has good air flow with nice fan placement and plenty of room on the cable side to hide all my bad cable management. I decided to replace the memory as well, the Dell stock memory was running at  an anemic 2333 Mhz and I figured I might as well bump that up to 3200. So I grabbed a Corsair Vengeance LPX 32GB (2X16GB) DDR4 3200 memory kit. Finally, for the power supply, I went with a Thermaltake Smart 500W 80+ White Certified PSU, again, not the greatest PSU ever made, but Thernaltake makes a decent product, and it was a massive upgrade from the Dell 360 Watt PSU I had. I took the free shipping on all of these item, in spite of that, I had everything within a week of ordering.

On Thursday night after work, I gutted the 8940 and transferred all of its hardware to the new case and motherboard. The process took me about 2 hours and the system booted on the first try. The only mistake I made was I connected the hard drive LED backwards, fortunately I had not put on the side panel yet, so that was a quick fix. Otherwise this was a pretty nearly flawless process. I am a bit unhappy that I had to spend another $320 to get this thing going the way I wanted, but I expect over the next 5 years this new and improved system will serve me well. When it comes time to replace it, someone please remind me to just buy the fucking Alienware.