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Upgrading an HP Laptop: Some Quick (and not so quick) Questions.

Last response: in Laptops & Notebooks
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July 17, 2012 2:47:26 AM

Hello all, this is my first post on these forums. Towards the end of last year, I purchased a pretty decent laptop for school, gaming, and general entertainment. The laptop in question is an HP Pavilion dv7t-6b00 Quad Edition. Here are some of the most important specs:

-Intel Core i7 2670QM (Quad Core 2.2GHz, 6mb Cache)
-8GB (2x 4GB) 204pin DDR3 SODIMM 1333MHz
-AMD 6770M GPU
-1TB 5400RPM HDD 16mb Cache
-1920x1080p Display

Now don't get me wrong, I love my laptop. It works well and it is pretty snappy. However, there is room for improvement when it comes to playing games. I can play Battlefield 3 at ~30fps on all low settings at 1080p. At those settings I don't really consider it worth playing. Some games such as Civ V run well at Med-Low settings, and Minecraft works great. And then some really old (2008-ish) games like Battlefront II actually run quite poorly.

Now here's the thing: I'm planning on doing some general upgrading of components in the near future. I would really like to dress up this computer quite nicely, as I plan on using it for some moderate photo editing too. Gaming performance gains are always welcome, and I'd love to do anything I can to make this laptop as quick and powerful as possible.

A couple obvious upgrades come to mind, namely RAM and an SSD. I can pick up a pack of compatible 16GB RAM on Newegg for about $90, and it's super easy to swap out. Additionally, my computer has easy access to the HDD compartment and has room for two 2.5" drives (up to 12mm thick). I want to pick up at least one SSD, or perhaps even two.

Now, hopefully I haven't bored you all to death but I wanted to avoid being vague and help you get the best picture of my situation. Before I ask my questions, I just want to mention that I've done quite a bit of digging around the Internet for information and answers. These questions are simply what I haven't been able to answer through my own efforts.

1. What sort of performance gains will I see out of Dual SSD's versus an SSD + HDD combo? Also, is setting up drives in RAID 0 possible in a laptop?

2. When it comes to the CPU, I know replacements in a laptop are possible just like in a desktop (albeit more difficult). Is replacing the CPU worthwhile? Would the new Ivy Bridge mobile chips be compatible? As far as compatibility is concerned, I know the new chip must be the same socket type as the old (mine is Socket G2, I believe). Besides this, what other factors determine a CPU's compatibility with my laptop, if any?

3. Graphics card upgrade... I've found very little on this topic, maybe for a reason. Apparently this is possible and has been done. Once again, would it be worthwhile? How would I know which graphics cards are compatible? Do graphics cards in laptops connect to the motherboard the same way they do in desktops? Obviously the arrangement is different, but I'm just not familiar with the inner workings of a laptop. Where can you even buy mobile graphics cards...?

4. Are there any other performance upgrades I'm missing or have failed to mention? If it were your laptop, what are some things that you personally would do? Assume that money isn't an issue whatsoever. In the end that will be important, but for right now I just want to know what's even possible.

I'm sorry for attacking you with a wall of text... if you read the whole thing, you're awesome and I love you. Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance :) 

-Acrazypenguin
a b D Laptop
July 17, 2012 3:02:27 AM

1. Video games don't see much of a performance difference between SSDs and even very low speed HDDs. There can be a large difference in various loading times, but not much improvement is seen in-game unless stuff such as textures are taking too long to load up.

2. Chances are that you would not see much of an improvement with upgrading your CPU, if any at all. It is already quite fast. If it is a BGA socket (meaning that it is soldered to the socket), then it is not upgrade-able. You'd have to look up the laptop specs to find out if the i7 is BGA.

3. You might be able to upgrade the graphics. However, even with the same model, there are many different types of sockets for graphics cards and not only would you need to make sure that your laptop's graphics is replaceable, but you'd also need to make sure that any upgrade card uses a compatible connector.

4. I'd recommend selling that laptop and buying a new one if you can't upgrade the graphics. Nothing else needs to be upgraded except maybe the sotrage and even then, it would not help in-game very much, granted it is the sort of upgrade I'd recommend anyway for the snappiness that it gives the computer.

Also, upgrading the RAM capacity will not improve performance at all in-game unless you are somehow running out (I'd be very surprised considering you can almost always game with only 4GB of RAM and when you need more, 6GB is already much more than enough, let alone 8GB). Increasing the RAM frequency (if your laptop supports higher memory frequencies than 1333MHz) might help a little, but it still wouldn't be much of an improvement and most certainly not a noticeable improvement.

Basically, upgrading your graphics should easily be your top priority by far.
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July 17, 2012 4:17:05 AM

Hey, thanks for the quick and informative reply! My questions were a little mixed up, and I know that RAM and HDD performance have little impact on gaming. However, I'm trying to increase performance in all areas so they seem like good things to upgrade anyway.

Here is a link to the specs of my CPU:
http://www.cpu-world.com/CPUs/Core_i7/Intel-Core%20i7%2...

From the info on that site, I'm led to believe that it is not directly soldered and thus removable. I could be wrong though.

Right now I'm exploring the options for my current graphics card, as it seems there are some other drivers available that are far better than my current ones. I'll see how much of a change there is and go from there.

Thanks again.
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a b D Laptop
July 17, 2012 5:45:12 AM

I agree in that it does seem like your CPU is using a PGA socket rather than a BGA socket. Be careful not to bend pins if you do upgrade your CPU because PGA means that the socket uses pins on the CPU instead of in the socket, so it's like AMD's current CPUs and some of Intel's oldest CPUs (both being references to desktop CPUs, not mobile CPUs) in that regard.

About the current drivers, I don't think that I'd put much faith in them on that card. They seem to be more optimized for the GCN GPUs in some of the Radeon 7000 cards rather than the VLIW5 and VLIW4 GPUs in the Radeon 5000, 6000, and some low end Radeon 7000 graphics. Maybe they'll help and it's definitely worth trying, I'm just not sure of a significant difference.
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July 17, 2012 6:55:57 AM

Success! After some troubleshooting, uninstalling, reinstalling, and new drivers/updates, my laptop is performing better than ever! The difference is night and day.

BF3 now runs medium-high settings at 30fps when it used to struggle to stay at 25fps with low settings before. Left for Dead 2 runs 50fps with every setting maxed out. Civ V works even better than it used to... I'm very impressed and very happy.

I'm far less motivated to upgrade the GPU now... the CPU is much less of a priority too. With that cleared up, you can kinda forget everything I said about wanting better gaming performance.

Right now, any suggestions for a quicker and zippier experience in general would be welcomed. Thanks!
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a b D Laptop
July 17, 2012 4:29:44 PM

acrazypenguin said:
Success! After some troubleshooting, uninstalling, reinstalling, and new drivers/updates, my laptop is performing better than ever! The difference is night and day.

BF3 now runs medium-high settings at 30fps when it used to struggle to stay at 25fps with low settings before. Left for Dead 2 runs 50fps with every setting maxed out. Civ V works even better than it used to... I'm very impressed and very happy.

I'm far less motivated to upgrade the GPU now... the CPU is much less of a priority too. With that cleared up, you can kinda forget everything I said about wanting better gaming performance.

Right now, any suggestions for a quicker and zippier experience in general would be welcomed. Thanks!


Well, you could disable Windows search indexing, disable any Windows services that you don't use for anything (if you don't know what any particular service is, then I highly recommend looking it up before doing something with it), disable the paging file (especially if you do upgrade your RAM capacity), turn off any visual settings for the desktop and windows in the advanced system properties that you don't care for, uninstall everything on the computer that you don't use nor need for any reason, enable NTFS compression on your hard drive(s) (but not on a SandForce SSD if you buy one) and that could be a start. You might notice a speed increase in snapiness through that. If you want to do more, then I can give more recommendations, but keep in mind that this probably won't be a night and day difference.

I'm surprised that there was this much of a difference just from drivers. What version did you upgrade from and what version did you upgrade to?
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July 17, 2012 4:48:59 PM

Regarding an SSD, you really should go for a single SSD (or two seperate SSDs if you want), RAIDing SSDs disables the TRIM operation, so it will degrade performance over time and eventually require a reformat.
Keep an eye out for deals, as deals 240GB drives have been dipping down to 150$ recently, if you can get one at that price I wouldn't hesitate. Simply partnering the SSD with an HDD is a great way to go, it mostly helps to have your OS and a few programs only on the SSD, games with long load screens also benefit. Crucial M4's, Samsungs, and Intels are generally the top recommended, but I don't know of any that are truly terrible.

If you are concerned about the size of your game library, there's a program called SteamMover, or a command line tool called mklink, these can be used to migrate programs between drives, making it easy to keep a small number of games on your SSD while storing the rest on the HDD for later, and shuffle them around anytime you want.

Regarding RAM, I wouldn't bother to upgrade your RAM unless you have an empty slot (or money to burn). You won't see much benefit from the added RAM in most cases.
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July 17, 2012 5:12:50 PM

Just a quick shout out to say that there is a large community of people who OC their laptop GPU to enhance performance.

I chose my laptop very carefully for exactly this reason. I OC my Nvidia GT 525m to match the 550m which is an identical GPU with higher clock. Now it looks to me as if you already have the "top model" of that product line, so the gains will be less for you, but aiming for a ~5-10% OC is generally pretty safe.

I live in a cold country (Scotland) so this may not apply to you if you are somewhere like CA or FL or something. My best advice in regards to this is keep checking the temps under load for a long time. Don't bother with OCing the RAM (GDDR) as it is most prone to blow (no active cooling) and not recover and gives you minimal gains.

I recommend a single SSD (240-256GB is the sweet spot for now, but if money is no consideration a 512GB would make people drool) for your OS and Apps and a larger storage area (spinning magneto drive) for general stuff (photos music vids etc).

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July 19, 2012 10:18:56 PM

Hi guys! Thanks to everyone for the help and suggestions. I found a nice SSD by Crucial that comes with a kit to transfer all of your data to the new drive. Trying to decide between the 128GB and 256GB versions right now. I decided to get just one, and use it for the OS and other important programs. I'll keep the current 1TB HDD for data and just move it to the secondary drive slot.

I also decided against the RAM upgrade... simply not necessary. I don't do much multitasking and I've never come close to using my RAM to full capacity.

I also discovered that replacing the GPU would mean changing out the whole motherboard... yuck.

The CPU, while replaceable, isn't really worth upgrading. The current one is fantastic.

To answer the GFX driver question: I have no idea what version I had or have, but I uninstalled the old drivers and downloaded the latest drivers directly from the HP website. I'm running most games near max settings now :) 
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a b D Laptop
July 19, 2012 10:40:21 PM

I would recommend a Samsung 830 128GB or 256GB over the Crucial M4 (presumably the one that you're looking at) because the M4 would hurt battery time a little, but the 830 uses almost zero power and probably wouldn't hurt battery time by more than one or two minutes, if even that much. The 830s are also faster. However, that's not to say that the Crucial M4 is a bad drive. It is also very good and has a similarly great reliability record. I'd take the 830 over the M4 because the 830 is faster and uses far less power, granted the M4 isn't a power hog either.

For moving data between drives, well, that's easy. You could simply download the free version of the MiniTool Partition Wizard and it can copy over partitions too, among other such free tools. It has an excellent GUI.
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