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I have a Dell Studio 17 laptop, a refurbished model almost 2 years old...It is currently running Windows 7 32-bit, Home Premium. Via a clean install, it is a Vista upgrade machine...A while back, a problem started to develop while running Vista that it would suddenly just turn off. No warnings, messages, anything. It was like I had the battery out, then just unplugged it from the wall. Just like that. Over several months of this happening (or more), I've observed several things...First, it only seems to happen when I'm doing memory-intensive things, such as watching a online video full screen or running many applications in the background...Second, I can tell when it is about to "flip" as I've termed it, when the fan starts running...the computer gets really hot in places...

Anyways, I'm pretty sure this is a hardware problem, because it still exists, even after a Vista-to-7 Upgrade...Is this true? Hardware vs. software?

Is there anything I can do to fix this? Is it just a specific component or what? What do you recommend?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

This is almost certainly a heat related issue - I have an older XPS laptop that after being serviced by the Dell tech he actually forgot to reconnect one of the fan headers. The laptop would work fine as long as I didn't do anything to stress it, but as soon as I fired up a game or something that would push the hardware - bingo! instant shutdown.

Chances are your fans are connected - you can hear them after all, so the next step would be to clean them out. Ideally remove the bottom of the laptop, or at least the various plates on the bottom and sides that you can, and blast as much air into the laptop thus forcing whatever gunk is inside to the outside. I find the canned air has great local pressure, but is only good for cleaning maybe a square cm at a time, if you have a shop vac or something else that can blast a large quantity of air over a larger surface, that is better for clearing out the bigger stuff, then use the canned air for specific local blasts.

It should go without saying: Best to do this with the battery removed and not plugged in.

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@Goyuix: thanks, will try! +1 – studiohack Apr 12 '10 at 23:31
it worked very well! cannot believe the results! :-) – studiohack Apr 13 '10 at 20:16
I have a m1530 that did the same thing to me when I was playing games. I bought a laptop fan that it sits on and that works like a charm. Never had a problem since (at least with heating but don't get me started on DELL) – KronoS Aug 27 '10 at 23:59

It IS a heat related problem, however, you can save yourself the some money that I have seen reported in forum strings like this one. Dell felt it sufficient to seek out, and use unreliable thermal grease to use in the transfer from the internal components, and the heat sink.

  • Purchase the following items:

    • a tube of thermal grease

    • a bottle of rubbing alcohol

    • paper towel (not the cheap kind that will disintegrate when wet; a brand name)

    • latex gloves (the ones without the powder or residue on the outer surface; these are needed because the silver and other compounds in the grease are not recommended to be absorbed through your pores).

  • Open your laptop (Google disassemble instructions for your particular make and model).

  • Remove the heat sink assembly (should be fastened in by screws).

There should be grey metal areas of the heat sink that covered various components. You should also notice a greyish film on these areas that would have been touching those components. This is the thermal grease.

  • Wearing the gloves, remove the grease with a paper towel sprayed with rubbing alcohol very gently, but thoroughly. This is done for both the heat sink and the components it draws the heat away from.

These components should have a small metal surface on the top that are covered in the thermal grease as well.

  • Remove all grease.

  • Apply a very small dab of the new thermal grease to the components, and the areas on the heat sink. A very small amount is needed because the grease spreads quite well.

You cover both the heat sink and the components because a completely covered bond is required to properly transfer the heat.

  • That being said, it may require more than one attempt to get the coating a sufficient thickness.

  • When you think you have sufficient coverage, refasten the heat sink into the laptop, and replace the laptop casing (reverse the steps you googled).

The broad-strokes:

  • open laptop

  • remove heat sink

  • wipe off old thermal grease on heat sink and components

  • replace with new thermal grease, and put heat sink back in place.

That's it! Dell is aware of this problem, but has, for whatever reason, not felt it necessary to recall the affected units, or even offer a free repair for this problem, regardless of the fact that it is quite clearly a lapse in judgement on their part.

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Is this happening when you are plugged in, or only when you are running off battery?

If the latter, I would guess you have a battery with some bad cells. I had a similar problem with a different notebook and had similar symptoms. The OS would show that I had 60-70% battery charge left, minimum, but the machine would just suddenly shut down with no warning whatsoever, much as you described. Replacing the battery fixed it.

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