Thursday, March 17, 2011

Dell Latitude E6410: SpeedStep, or SpeedSTOMP?

Recently on the Dell Latitude E6410 I use at the office, on several occasions Windows 7 would slow down and become completely unusable, necessitating a hard reboot.

Event Viewer revealed the following events in succession for each core of my laptop's quad core Intel i5 CPU:

The speed of processor 0 in group 0 is being limited by system firmware. The processor has been in this reduced performance state for 5 seconds since the last report.

Windows slowed down to the extent that I couldn't even open Task Manager, which normally comes up readily even if the system is otherwise sluggish. Interestingly, in this state it would enter Sleep Mode eventually upon closing the lid, but was otherwise unusable.

Several steps can avoid these slowdowns:
  • In your system BIOS, disable Intel SpeedStep.
  • In Windows 7, ensure your system uses the High Performance setting for Power Plan.
  • Ensure adequate cooling with a utility like SpeedFan to monitor temperatures.

However, based on at least one thread in the Dell support forum and another on a hardware forum, this could turn out to be an indication of a hardware problem.

Intel SpeedStep is triggered to activate, among other things, by heat. If the system is heating up and can't dissipate heat effectively, SpeedStep by default will engage and step down the CPU so that it generates less heat. Whether that heat is generated by the CPU itself as a result of a dead heatsink fan or the heatsink somehow being detached from the CPU surface, or the GPU overheating for whatever reason, or heat simply can't dissipate due to factors like lack of ventilation thanks to dust or covered vents, it will try to compensate by throttling down the CPU speed.

While this seems perfectly reasonable in theory, in practice it seems to not work as intended, at least in the case of my E6410. I've read reports in the very helpful Dell Latitude E6410 Owner's Thread that some have had similar issues which necessitated a mainboard replacement, while others were able to get up and running by just clearing dust out from the vents of their laptop. 

My particular situation, however, doesn't seem that common, which makes me wonder whether my GPU might be on its way out. Yesterday with the laptop on battery and without a lot of ambient noise, I noticed that when I would ALT-TAB from say a mostly white background to a vividly colorful one, a distinct whine would be emitted from my system, and the display wavered just slightly as if some interference were rippling across the video hardware (update on this, according to some info in this thread, this whine is characteristic of systems with Intel Core 2 Duo and newer CPUs).

For now, I've disabled SpeedStep and installed SpeedFan to keep an eye on temperatures, and cleaned out dust. Hopefully this will do the trick, but if not, given this and the sound problems which continue to plague my E6410, a warranty comes in handy. I added a link to my bookmark toolbar to the aforementioned E6410 owner's thread, it seems Firefox sympathizes with my plight based on how it shortened the bookmark title. Ow indeed, Dell!


Anonymous said...

i used to work at a company that supplied DELL laptops. I recieved a brand new E6500 and we also ordered a few E6400's for our sales people... i kept running into problems with windows slowing to a crawl and act worse than my 4 year old computer at home. I had my motherboard/hd/ram replaced... noone could figure out the problem because it was intermittant and they figured it was fixed each time... i knew it wasnt a defect... then the whole thing came out about throttling and fake overheating... i told dell... they said they had no record of that and would make a note... and we had gold tech support.. which made me really angry.. not to mention my co-workers were like UHH dude stop downloading porn... AND I WASNT! HA! the E6400 users were constantly calling for tech support .. and i knew it was the same issue.. just reboot and pray is the answer. I was able to get an HP from a upgraded user and gave up my 5x better specced E6500 .... and the HP worked better and without any problems. FCUK DELL and their THROTTLING, i hate all companies that throttle... you buy a laptop wth a 2.4 ghz proc and it runs at 1.6 if your lucky. laptops are such a scam now a days. They cant figure out how to not make them overheat, so they lower performance and say its an upgrade!

Glad to hear dell fixed their BIOS/firmware issues... i see they care about their clients more than their FAT PROFITS!

Anonymous said...

I am in the same boat. I used to love my E6410 until it started slowing to a crawl. Now it just turns off. Had the motherboard and fan replaced, worked for 2 days and not it's acting up. Powers off. Let it cool, go into bios (F2) to run diagnostics, it powers off. I had it for a year with an SSD Drive, connected to a docking station with three Dell 22" monitors. I was in love. Then, the problems started. At first, things would run a little slower, then I would have to reboot. Fast again, then slow. then it started just turning off. I opened cleaned out dust, fan working just fine. Still no fix. Dell is coming onsite a second time to replace the parts. Bios at A09.

Anonymous said...

Did you figure out what the problem was? My E6410 is having the exact same symptoms...