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Alienware M17X R3 FirePro M6100 Upgrade - Success

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TL;DR installed a FirePro M6100 into my Alienware M17X R3 running Windows 10 21H2 with the latest AMD drivers.


So the original Radeon HD 6870M in my M17X R3 started throwing a Code 43 error and, while recognized in Device Manager, would not work. I looked around and didn't like my options; all the proven replacement MXM cards were just too expensive for what little performance they offered. I then stumbled on the FirePro M6100 on eBay. I didn't find anybody online who had successfully swapped the M6100 into the M17X R3, but as it worked on Sandy-era Dell Precisions (M4600, M6600) of the same vintage, I suspected I could get it working on my machine too. To be sure, the M6100 is very slow by today's standards, but it still beats the HD 6870M, and it only costs $30 USD on eBay. Most FirePro M6100's for sale have vBIOSes that are flashed for use in iMacs, but I managed to find one harvested out of a dead Dell Precision (already with a Dell vBIOS).


Physical installation was straightforward. I followed steps 1-8 in this guide. DDU'd the display drivers, set Primary Display to PEG, disabled the iGPU, etc, before doing the swap. Some minor points of note:


- You will need to swap the HD 6870M X-bracket onto the M6100. The stock X-bracket on the M6100 will NOT work with the stock M17X R3 heatsink. The size is the same, BUT the stock HD 6870M X-bracket has raised standoffs attached to the ends of the bracket, that protrude beyond the height of the GPU, for the stock screws on the heatsink to thread in. The FirePro X-bracket's screw threads are FLUSH with the GPU - you will NOT be able to secure the heatsink to the X-bracket. See pictures for more information (be VERY careful when prying the X-bracket off the back of the MXM card lest you damage the traces).


Size comparison: M6100 on the left, HD 6870M on the right. Note how the M6100 die is bigger.



The stock M6100. Note how the screw threads on the X-bracket are flush with the GPU PCB. This is incompatible with the stock screws.



X-bracket standoff height comparison. Note how one is taller than the other! You will need the taller one.



M6100 with HD 6870M X-bracket installed. Note how the screw standoffs protrude beyond the GPU PCB!



- The M6100 die is bigger than the HD 6870M die. You will need to peel off the black tape on the surface of the heatpipe contact area.


After installation, the laptop had no display but beeped 8 times, which according to a forum post indicated LCD failure. I know the display worked fine before, so I shut off the laptop, removed the battery, then removed the CMOS to clear it. After doing so (and reinstalling the CMOS) it gave 5 beeps (CMOS failure code). So I cleared the CMOS a second time, after which the laptop successfully booted to BIOS with a working display.


Unfortunately it BSOD'd immediately while trying to boot into my prior installation of Windows 10 Enterprise 21H2. Undeterred, I clean installed Windows finally managed to boot into Windows desktop. Windows Update automatically installed Intel Graphics drivers for the HD 3000. I installed the latest HD 8950M drivers from AMD's website, dated June 23, 2022. They installed but threw an Error 207 upon installation. In Device Manager the FirePro M6100 was recognized as a HD 8950M and threw an error saying 'This device cannot find enough free resources that it can use. (Code 12)'. The HD 3000 still seemed to be in use.

The solution is simple. Right click on the HD 3000 and disable it in Device Manager. Then boot into BIOS and change the 'Primary Display' setting to PEG. Then reboot into Windows and now the laptop will use the HD 8950M (verified in Device Manager).


Everything seems to work! Temperatures seem fine - around ~50 degrees Celsius at idle. The fans spin at ~30% and are quiet enough. I encountered no stability issues, crashes, BSODs, or artifacting.


I believe I may be the first in the world to have posted documentation of a FirePro M6100 swap into an M17X R3. Of course this is a rather pedantic and frankly meaningless observation given the near-obsolescence of this machine.


In summary:



- No need to mod .INF files

- No need for physical mods to heatsink

- Works on latest Windows 10 21H2. I didn't test but I'm confident it would work in Windows 8.1, 7, and probably even XP

- Runs cool. Idles at ~50 degrees Celsius, fans are fairly quiet


- dGPU permanently on, iGPU permanently disabled

- Awful battery life as a result


Relevant Specs:


16 GB DDR3-1600

17.3" 1080p 60HZ screen

Windows 10 IOT Enterprise 21H2

Originally equipped with HD 6870M from the factory, now running a FirePro M6100 recognized as HD 8950M in software


Let me know if you have any questions. Unfortunately the machine is already sold so I can't run any further benchmarks. Thanks for reading and hopefully this helped you.





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On another note, it's a shame how the Notebookreview forums and Alienware Arena forums are both now dead. When I first started doing research I was quite confused why all my old NBR bookmarks wouldn't load. Thank goodness people backed up all of the NBR forums, but it just isn't the same without the rest of the old posts being easily searchable.

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Nice job! I still firmly believe these laptops can work with 980M/970M also M5000M/M4000M but need vBIOS or BIOS mod. 


Personally the 8970M and 880M have been the fastest GPUs I've gotten working in these. 8970M has gotten quite the boost over the years thanks to drivers. If of course you were thinking of getting a faster GPU. 



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