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Hardware Hacking The hammer and tongs school of Overclocking. (NOT for the beginner and you assume all risks)


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  #1 (permalink)  
Old 24th November, 2007, 04:45 PM
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Laptop External Graphics Mod.

Hey,
I have an Acer Aspire 5633 WlMi with an intel 945GM chipset; ie 950gma internal graphics. I believe the chipset has a PCI express x16 slot, although of course there is no hope of retrofitting a graphics card internally, different models using the same components otherwise do have other graphics, ie nVidia 7900 go etc. So, i'm guessing that the PCI express slot is usable, and have come up with a plan. I'm not that much of a techie, so i thought i'd just run this past some pro's first. If I can buy a PCI express riser, with an 11cm cable then I could open up my lappy, plug that in to the slot, route it out of the laptop by slightly filing the keyboard edging or displacing the expansion slot on the side, and then connect to a decent graphics board on the outside, probably connecting that with another riser in a nicely made box so as not to damage the board by repeated unpluggings. Any thoughts or tips, or indeed knowledge of the layout of the grapevine motherboard would be appreciated. I can't find any information on the layout, so i guess it will be a case of open up, find out, then buy parts and do unless you guys can help out.

And, do you think using a graphics board with external power would probably be a good idea. I guess it would...
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Old 24th November, 2007, 05:12 PM
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I think that's gonna be a very difficult project, and it is doubtful if there is in fact a PCI-E 16x header or even socket on the motherboard. In my experience for the most part the graphics solutions are soldered to the motherboard, and aren't removable. However you might be lucky and find something.

If you do do it though, you are going to have to see how much power the slot can deliver, as modern GFX cards can draw a lot through the slot, as well as which you might need to supply additional power to the GFX card with a molex from another power supply, as I doubt the laptop power supply could handle it (and it certainly won't have any spare molex connectors) Then you would need to see about wiring it up, and building some sort of external enclosure for it. Also, if you cut holes into your casing it would essentially render the laptop useless as a portable machine. Anyway, assuming you did all of these things, you would need another external monitor to run off the GFX card since the laptop's own screen isn't designed to be run from anything except the built in GFX - they are usually wired onto the motherboard with ribbon cables.

I'm not saying it can't be done, and I am not saying it is not an interesting idea, however, the advantages of it are dubious at best.
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Old 24th November, 2007, 06:40 PM
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I would never put a downer on a mod if it was exciting enough and worthwhile, but I can't for the life of me see this working.
Although the chipset may support a PCI-E slot, it's highly doubtful there'l be an actual slot on the motherboard as due to the internal graphics there'd be no use for it, and considering the size of a slot it would get in the way hugely.
Even if there was one, a seperate graphics card would almost definately draw far too much power than your laptops brick can supply.....not only that but a seperate card probably needs it's own power source...and you won't get that from the laptops power brick.
I really hate to put a downer on a good idea but sadly this just isn't in my view at all feasable.
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Old 24th November, 2007, 10:28 PM
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I wasn't intending to build it into the power supply! As i said, I guess an external PSU would be needed... but that should be the simple part :-)

Intel's chipset details gives the distinct impression that there is a PCi express socket, so all I really need to do if that is so is get a lead from there out. As i said earlier, other versions of the same lappy have discrete cards, so ireckon surely they just use one mobo fits all approach, in which case the slot should be there :-)

I have some media buttons on one side that I don't really need, maybe i could just pull that bit off once i get it open, it's not like I ever used them anyway. Does anyone?

Maybe the idea is simple in my head and hard in real life. I guess if it was easy, someone would have done it. lol.

Well, if i do give it a go i'll get back t'yall with some photos.

If anyone has opened up an acer lappy with the 945gm before, id appreciate details of the existence and/or location of the PCi express socket! Or indeed any other advice.
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Old 24th November, 2007, 11:07 PM
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Welcome to AOA's Forums, Mathmo!

This is a very interesting project! Would you be crazy to try it? How to put this diplomatically.........? It would be a better idea to spend the extra ~~$700 for a laptop with a discreet Vidcard already built-in to the booger for gaming next time. Not to mention a lot easier, neater and more elegant, from an engineering standpoint. But not cheaper, that's for sure!
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Old 24th November, 2007, 11:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mathmo View Post
I wasn't intending to build it into the power supply! As i said, I guess an external PSU would be needed... but that should be the simple part :-)

Intel's chipset details gives the distinct impression that there is a PCi express socket, so all I really need to do if that is so is get a lead from there out. As i said earlier, other versions of the same lappy have discrete cards, so ireckon surely they just use one mobo fits all approach, in which case the slot should be there :-)

I have some media buttons on one side that I don't really need, maybe i could just pull that bit off once i get it open, it's not like I ever used them anyway. Does anyone?

Maybe the idea is simple in my head and hard in real life. I guess if it was easy, someone would have done it. lol.

Well, if i do give it a go i'll get back t'yall with some photos.

If anyone has opened up an acer lappy with the 945gm before, id appreciate details of the existence and/or location of the PCi express socket! Or indeed any other advice.
I'm not so sure making up your own external power source for the card would be simple....it would have to be connected to the laptops power circuitry anyway so the card switches on properly and at the right time.
Your right in saying they probably use the same general board - but if a laptop has onboard then they will probably make a line of boards that don't have the slot, it would reduce costs for a start. Anyhoo, no laptops have graphics cards attached using a standard desktop form of PCI-E slot - simply because it is too big. a PCI-E slot is about 1cm tall....having one in a laptop would add 1cm to it's thickness which would make all laptops very fat! Like Favu said, the vast majority are an integrated, soldered part to the motherboard, although occasionally smaller 90-degree slots are used for ease of manufacture.
My other concern is where the card will go, you certainly won't fit it inside the laptop and you couldn't just leave it dangling around either, you'd have to make some sort of case for it that not only houses it but allows it to cool properly.
Lastly, you'd have to hack up your LCD too, so that you could connect your new card to the screen. Again, I think this would be a big job, and there'd be a high risk in every single aspect of this of permanent damge to your laptop...

I'm not trying to dicourage you here from being creative and having a good idea.....but one thing you have to understand is a laptop is put together in a completely different way to a desktop and uses completely different parts. Changing a graphics card on a laptop isn't simply a case of plugging it in to the PCI-E slot and then simply hooing it up to power.....if it was that easy people would do it all the time.
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Old 24th November, 2007, 11:35 PM
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I was thinking more; plug the card in somehow, power it (figured that bit'd be easy, just an appropriate psu) and then run to an outisde monitor.
And building an enclosure to cool it would be fine, I mean, if I've already got a psu in there, then just rig up a couple of fans like I would in a desktop. I wouldn't need that to be portable cause the lappy should still run on onboard graphics when the however jury rigged port is turned off. So any large box with appropriate fittings would work just fine.

Admittedly I think you guys are probably right on the actual presence of the slot though... maybe I'll open it up and see, but i dont fancy soldering onto the mobo when it's inside the case, and taking it out would be way more effort than it's worth.

guess i'll open it up, cause if there's any kind of actual slot there, I 'should' be able to rig up a connector by cannibalising aforementioned riser cable;

Any ideas on powering the graphics though? I figured it was just a case of putting enough juice thru the molex, probs from a desktop psu, so it wouldn't need power from the PCi port? Is that not the case? as if it is, i would be truly screwed regardless would i not!
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Old 25th November, 2007, 02:26 AM
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I've never seen a PCI Express slot on a notebook board.

The chipset may well support the slot, but that doesn't mean there is one on the board. It's just a feature available on the chip, if needed.

Also, the video card doesn't just draw power directly from a PSU's 12v rail. It also draws power from the slot. So, using an external PSU is unlikely to solve the power issue.

I think you can get PCI Express to ExpressCard adaptors, for notebooks. These allow external use of PCI Express cards. But, I don't think you'd find one which would work with a x16 video card.
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Old 25th November, 2007, 05:40 AM
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Laptops do not have the same slot layout as their desktop counterpart. They may not even put a motherboard with the laptop PCI-E slot in a computer ordered with onboard graphics.
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Old 25th November, 2007, 07:19 AM
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I thought I saw a USB external card adapter for Lappys somewhere. It looked like an external drive. Maybe it was not usb. I do remember seeing it before though.
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Old 25th November, 2007, 08:12 AM
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It's been my experience that laptops which support a PCIe video card do so via a docking station, and the video adapter is built into the docking station. There's no 'slot' or 'socket' per-se for you to plug into, and even if there were, you aren't going to pull signals at that frequency out 11" using ribbon cable; i.e. this is NOT a trivial engineering exercise.

That being said, if you're feeling adventurous, I'd be looking for that laptop's external bus (where it plugs into the docking station) and then seeing if you can sus out what's where. That's probably going to be your best bet.
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Old 25th November, 2007, 12:46 PM
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yeah, i've got a definite no port from a guy whos opened one up before, so i guess that's the end of that one

there are external solutions already; usb and expresscard, but think of the crippledness of a x16 card running through the single express lane in the expresscard slot, or even worse through usb. I cant imagine getting better performance than with the internal. well, maybe by expresscard. but usb; no chance
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Old 25th November, 2007, 02:06 PM
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Hi, Mathmo, welcome to AOA!

This certainly is an interesting mod. I'm not really much of a hardware modder myself, so I'll leave that to other guys.

However, I would still opt for an external solution. I'm not sure how feasible this mod is going to be [it could work for all I know!], but I'm not sure whether the advantages are going to be worth the hassle.

If you can get it done, then please, by all means, show us! This would definitely make a great addition to the Chop Shop!
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Old 25th November, 2007, 05:00 PM
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sadly as i said its a no go; no socket on the mobo means seriously fiddly soldering inside the case. the actual pci express lines are there unused, but to use them; well... I'm not going to fry my lappy for it, and my hand isn't that steady. plastic case+soldering iron = :-(

I've been looking at external cards, but they're so expensive. like, at magma you can get an expresscard-pci converter thingymajiggy but for $600, plus then at least $200 on a graphics board, if not $300 that makes simply making a new desktop to play games on sound worthwhile and cheaper, nearly.

watching the asus gx station tho. I still think doing the same thing but soldered to my pci express port would probs work out better than these expresscard quick cuts, but my laptop's motherboard is too cramped to solder inside the case. In two years when i replace this lappy i may crack it open and see what i can do... once it's expendable!

Shame really. would have been fun to do this I think.
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Old 29th November, 2007, 01:08 PM
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Aw~ Never mind!

You have a very creative mind, however. I'm sure you'll write some great articles for us soon! !

Stick around, do another mod and let us know of your genius!

;D
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Old 1st December, 2007, 10:12 PM
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What raphael said!
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Old 12th December, 2007, 03:42 PM
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There may also be a PCI Express Mini Card socket in the machine, but that'll only have a single PCI-e lane. That's much the same as the ExpressCard socket...
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Old 19th December, 2007, 01:28 AM
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Asus gained lots of brownie points back in January when they demoed their XG Station. (The unit was essentially an external video card for your lappie). Well, now they're getting even more props 'cause thanks to the guys at 4Gamer, who got the chance to crack one open, we now know that the unit is upgradeable. Inside sits an ExpressCard-to-PCIe adapter board with a default Nvidia GeForce 7900 GS. Swipe the 7900 with any other PCIe video card and bam, instant video upgrade for your lappie.

VR-Zone : Technology Beats - ASUS XG Station; Discrete GFX For Notebooks
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Old 19th December, 2007, 11:17 AM
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Problem is that ExpressCard is effectively a 1x PCI-express socket with added USB2 on it. AGP 1x and PCIexpress 1x are pretty similar in their throughput at about 250MB/sec. So, think of the graphics card you're planning on using, and then imagine it on a AGP 1x motherboard...
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