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Bug Hardware Your Rights Online

Dell Defect Turning 2.2GHz CPU Into 100MHz CPU? 314

jtavares2 writes "In what is being dubbed Throttlegate, scores of users on many message boards have been complaining about nexplicably aggressive throttling policies on their Dell Latitude E6500 and E6400 laptops which cause their CPUs to be throttled to less than 5% of their theoretical maximums even while at room temperatures. In many cases, the issue can be triggered just by playing a video or performing some other trivial, but CPU intensive, task. After being banned [PDF] from the Dell Forums for revealing 'non-public information,' one user went so far as to write and publish a 59-page report [PDF] explaining and diagnosing the throttling problem in incredible detail. Dell seems to be silent on the issue, but many users are hoping for a formal recall."
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Dell Defect Turning 2.2GHz CPU Into 100MHz CPU?

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  • by MarcQuadra ( 129430 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @05:12PM (#30274794)

    I had a pre-release e-series machine from Dell on my desk last year. It's like they built the thing from the outside-in. Even on a 'release' E6500, Ubuntu seems to halt and die on full-screen video, Windows AHCI drivers that work everywhere else cause BSODs, and the power management firmware seems like it was written by a roomful of meth-addicted monkeys.

    I've never been more disappointed with Dell as I was with the E6500. At least when the Optiplex GX260 power supplies all failed a few years ago, it was easy enough to fix them. These things are abhorrent.

  • by karcirate ( 1685354 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @05:31PM (#30275032)
    Actually this used to happen to me on my old Inspiron (think, 4 years old). It has a 1.6 Ghz 1st gen. Pentium M, but most of the time my sys info would report it running at only 800 mhz, even though the processor was maxed out, and the system was completely cold, etc. The only way to get back to full performance was to plug in, and even that wasn't foolproof. Really pissed me off that there was no setting for "don't regulate my damn processor when I need it most, even if you are just saving my battery."
  • The E6500 I had prior to about 4 months ago was a good machine (for the most part - I still agree with the "Designed from the Outside In" comment, though). This 6400 that I have now is JUNK. The E4300s I'm getting in are even worse than that.

  • by Lord Byron Eee PC ( 1579911 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @05:48PM (#30275266)
    I'm lost. Doesn't Dell take a standard Intel/AMD CPU and pair it with a standard Intel/VIA/SIS/Nvidia chipset? What is there to go wrong? I can understand if the thing is improperly cooled, but beyond that, aren't they just selling us the same crap that HP/Lenovo/your pick are, but inside a Dell laptop case?
  • by SanityInAnarchy ( 655584 ) <> on Monday November 30, 2009 @05:50PM (#30275308) Journal

    Yeah, great, except disabling SpeedStep kills battery life and otherwise sucks power.

    I don't mind my laptop throttling itself when I'm not using it. My current Dell (XPS M1530) throttles itself to 800 mhz when it overheats because I'm doing something strenuous -- like, I don't know, Duke Nukem 3D.

  • by kimvette ( 919543 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @05:53PM (#30275358) Homepage Journal

    'non-public information,'

    Non-public information? How can such a thing exist on a commodity good that has already been released to the public, and especially when they are trying to cover up a defect which renders their product offering as fraudulent (because it doesn't work as advertised) and not fit for sale? Did they expect this to NOT blow up publicly when they ignored user complaints?

  • by mirix ( 1649853 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @06:13PM (#30275706)
    But they kick up to full speed when you need it, provided the CPU isn't on fire.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 30, 2009 @06:21PM (#30275858)

    I'm doing something strenuous -- like, I don't know, Duke Nukem 3D.

    It doesn't take particularly fancy code to peg a CPU at 100%. An ancient game without a framerate limiter could easily do it. Or if you're using DOSBox, the emulation overhead is rather large.

  • Re:lawyer: why wait? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 30, 2009 @06:24PM (#30275916)

    Wow. Dell even removed the PDFs.

  • Here we go again (Score:2, Interesting)

    by get quad ( 917331 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @06:33PM (#30276076)
    In my 15+ year history of dealing with Dell, getting them to admit fault is near impossible. I've been through quite a few such incidents and I have to say, I may never forgive Dell for the Optiplex GX270 SFF. If they would just be a responsible company and fix their mistakes openly I might consider doing business with them again some day.
  • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @07:03PM (#30276584) Journal

    I use to own a Dell Inspiron 5150 that had to have a motherboard replaced out of warranty. (I've since given it to my wife as she is a lighter user and it'll probably last longer with her). The most likely cause is a known but never acknowledged issue where with normal use the case wears against a component on the motherboard severing it. It's not the first such issue I've heard of.

    My current laptop is a Dell Inspiron 9400. I got it when they were giving away 3 years warranty for no extra cost. I'm so glad I did. I have had 2 hard disks replaced. (Issue finally fixed when I insisted on a different brand). I have had a hinge fixed after it broke (no misuse or abnormal use). I've had 2 screens replaced because they developed large dust bunnies behind the screen. I've had the CPU fan jam. It also has a habit of randomly taking 2 minutes to progress through the boot screen. No idea why. Dealing with warranty has been a hassle - worst experience was when they didn't show up for 3 appointments in a row. My wife or I had to be home to deal with it and then they wouldn't show up. The 3rd time they tried to arrange a technician that was 6 hours away at around 8pm. Well that wasn't going to work. But at least I didn't have to pay for parts for this machine. It's still my last Dell though.

  • by harrkev ( 623093 ) <[gro.ylimafnoslerrah] [ta] [dsmfk]> on Monday November 30, 2009 @08:13PM (#30277496) Homepage

    It really isn't that hard to build a PC yourself. That is the ONLY route I would go for a desktop. You should try it. The very fact that you read/post on /. makes you qualified.

    Now, building a laptop yourself does not really buy you much. Yes, there are companies out there that sell a "bare-bones" laptop, but that really means that you get to decide how much RAM and what speed processor you want.

    I have no real 1st hand experience (the last "laptop" that I purchased was an Acer netbook that I like), but Toshiba laptops tend to get great reviews (I loved the one that I had 10 years ago). Maybe you should start there.

  • by HBoar ( 1642149 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @08:20PM (#30277544)
    You jest, but I actually think that turbo buttons would be a great idea on laptops. Sure, you can throttle the CPU using software to save power, but a button would just be easier, and would have miles of old-skool charm. Bring back the turbo button!
  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @08:42PM (#30277742) Homepage Journal

    Almost certainly. I doubt any of the modern laptops can run Core 2 Duo CPUs at full throttle without it going supernova. Laptops are just plain too thin to dissipate that much heat through mere air cooling of CPU heat sinks. The only reason we have laptops that come anywhere close to this level of performance is because the cores are going to be in an idle state 90% of the time and they can throttle the bajeezus out of them if they get too hot when you run them too hard for too long. That said, this report suggests two things:

    • Windows throttling is way too infrequent and not nearly aggressive enough at the onset, leading to way-too-aggressive throttling later on.
    • The NVIDIA graphics drivers are broken and are throttling the CPU instead of the GPU upon exceeding thermal limits (which are themselves way too low, probably as a result of paranoia over the solder bump problems in previous generations of NVIDIA GPUs).

    Of these, the second one is the more significant problem.

  • Re:Bad Summary? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by smash ( 1351 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @12:20AM (#30279256) Homepage Journal
    Turn off speedstep in the bios. Fixed it for me. however the bios options are all arse about and the option that looks like enabling it DISABLES it, and vice versa. At least the bios version on my E6400 does, anyway. it was driving me mad until I disabled speedstep.
  • by tinkerdude ( 1690242 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @01:12AM (#30279580)

    Even though I first started figuring this out 5 months ago (and others have been complaining about it online since late 2008) this is STILL an unresolved problem, at least for the E6500 (I don’t have an E6400 I can test with).

    New information since my report:
    1. Not only is the CPU deliberately throttled, but if it’s warm enough, even the GPU is severely throttled (for the E6500 systems that have the optional discrete NVIDIA Quadro NVS 160M - I don’t have an integrated Intel graphics model to test).
    2. It’s definitely a BIOS issue – if they would just unhoark the ACPI code that (secretly) cripples the system so easily, it would save incalculable frustration (and resentment) among Dell’s users.
    3. I’ve been relentlessly trying to work with Dell to get this fixed. No dice so far. I’m currently working with a Team Lead at Dell’s Round Rock, TX “Resolution Expert Center” (REC). I had to go through 2 of their staff before I even got someone who understood the problem (they weren’t very “expert”). Before that, I probably talked to about 15 various tech support folks before they would even escalate to the REC.

    Nailing this thing down and trying to get it fixed has been an epic journey so far. It’s fascinating to me how far Dell has fallen (that’s part of why I’m so interested in following up on this). I used to be a huge Dell fan back in the day when they kicked butt. These days they’ve lost their way. They continue to lose market share (they’ve given up their #2 spot in worldwide PC sales to Acer recently, having already given up the #1 spot to HP). Meanwhile they’re selling corporate-class desktop-replacement “performance” laptops that will deliberately and secretly cripple themselves into utter uselessness at warmish room temperatures. And they can’t/won’t fix the problem even months after it’s pointed out to them in excruciating clinical detail. No wonder they’re losing their core business. Instead they idly ponder selling mobile phones in China. Sheesh.

    Here's a couple snippets from recent communication with my contact at Dell:

    “I'd like draw your attention to how Dell portrays this system in its
    printed catalog: "pure business performance designed for the most
    demanding applications" (p. 27, October 2009, key code 65051).
    I'm not sure whether the same verbiage was used back when I bought the
    system last year, but it was clear that this was not a "budget" model - it
    was the new, top-of-the-line dockable executive desktop replacement system
    with a price tag of about $2000 including the dock. I still hold the
    conviction that a "performance" system "designed for the most demanding
    applications" should not ever cripple its own processing power within its
    specified operating environment (and in particular should not do so
    secretly). But can we at least get to the point where it throttles the
    same way docked as it does undocked and sitting on a table?”

    “In my last two positions in IT management, going back to 1995, Dell was
    pretty much all I would buy and I was a big fan. I always gave my bosses
    dockable Dell laptops. But if I was an IT manager and found out that my
    boss's $2000 executive performance laptop slowed to a crawl when he tried
    to work from his porch at home, and I went through the long hours of
    tracking this well-hidden problem down only to discover that Dell was
    doing this on purpose and, effectively, in secret, you can be damn sure I
    would never make the mistake of buying a Dell laptop again and I would
    look with a wary sideways glance at any other Dell system as well.

  • We're investigating (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BillatDell ( 1690950 ) on Tuesday December 01, 2009 @07:16PM (#30290624)
    We’re aware of concerns raised in this thread. At this point, our teams are looking into the details. When we have more information to share, we’ll update customers via a post on Dell’s blog, Direct2Dell. Thanks, Bill B. Dell Social Media and Community
  • by Lockblade ( 1367083 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @01:43AM (#30293988)
    Turbo button would be nice, but what about a turbo dial?

Happiness is twin floppies.