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I have a Dell XPS m1330 laptop. Recently, the video started breaking up and generally freaking out. I updated the NVIDIA driver, but the problem persisted and might even be worse.

I assumed the hardware (video card) was failing, but booting into safe mode seems to be fine.

Two questions: in safe mode, what driver does the system use? Not the NVIDIA one? Second, if I uninstall the display adapter in Device Manager, what happens on the next boot? I fear simply having no video at all. Thanks!

(This is Windows 7 32-bit, btw.)

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

In safe mode Windows uses a generic vga driver. This driver won't use any of the clever functions of the card which means it isn't a proper test of the hardware so you can't really say that the card is OK just because it works in safe mode.

If you are interested, this guy has 2 very handy programmes for testing older graphics cards. One is "Video Memory Stress Test" and the other is "Artifact Locator".

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what driver does the system use? Not the NVIDIA one?

Failsafe VGA drivers

if I uninstall the display adapter in Device Manager, what happens on the next boot?

The failsafe VGA drivers will be in place. You'll have video, albeit at low resolution

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Just to add to this - I have an M1330 and I've had to have the video card\motherboard replaced almost as soon as I got it (in 2007) following an issue with the graphics card - it would fail as soon as I tried to run any heavy 3D accelerated apps. It runs extremely hot in any case but with stress on the video card it would collaps. This is\was a known issue with the M1330 as Moab pointed out in his answer. The replacement lasted about a year and a half and then I had an issue very similar to yours - the display would go crazy after extended periods of time, and that rapidly got worse so that it would fail almost as soon as it booted.

As far as running it with other drivers is concerned that didn't do anything for me at the end and I tried your approach, no matter what driver was used, even with the generic VGA one in Safe mode, the graphics chip would overheat fairly quickly and it would fail. The machine was still under warranty at the time and Dell replaced the motherboard and video card again at that stage and although it's not failed since then it still runs extremely hot.

If it's not under warranty and you're not too intimidated by taking a laptop to pieces you might consider disassembling it yourself and trying to clean\fix\improve the cooling components. This article on Notebook Review has a great step by step guide that I used when I was getting really worried about a steady rise in temperatures (to over 70C) - between cleaning out the muck in the fan and the additional work recommended in this my graphics temperatures don't rise over 60C any more.

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Seems there is a video card overheating problem on that particular model of Dell with Nvidia graphics chip


There is a settlement with Nvidia about this issue and your model


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