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Dell E6400/6500 (overheating, lock up, CPU 100%, slow) due to downclocking/down throttling

Posted by mikeg on February 10, 2010

Quick background:

Purchased E6400 (2.8 CPU, 4GB RAM, NVIDIA Quadro NVS 160M) early 2009, did a clean install of Windows XP 64 bit and had a rather pleasant 8-9 months: have a docking station (E series) with two monitors at home and at work and didn’t have any issues with the machine.

In October 2009 after playing with Windows 7 inside VMs and on my home PC, decided to upgrade my laptop (Win 7 64 bit). Even purchased SSD for the occasion :). Installation went great and first impressions were very positive. Everything ran great and fast (and I run a lot of software at the same time) until I put the laptop into the docking station. After 5-10 minutes of any moderate activity my computer would lock up: Task Manager would show 100% utilization but not pointing to any specific process. Hard rebooting and taking it out of the docking station seemed to eliminate the issue. After a few failed attempts to resolve the issue (including having Dell replace the docking station, updating bios and all the drivers, etc), I gave up using the docking station and was successfully using my laptop without any performance issues until mid-January. In mid-January similar lock up issues started happening again. Because it started happening outside of the dock I thought that Windows 7/drivers are at fault and opened a case with Microsoft. They had me run some tests, do a few memory dumps and suggested that the issue is caused by the video card driver and that I should uninstall and just use the one that came with Windows 7. Followed their directions but that didn’t help. At that point I decided to take the plunge and do a full reinstall hoping that clean install + latest drivers will eliminate the issue.

Last weekend I updated the bios to the latest A20, did a clean install of Windows 7 64 bit and all the drivers available on Dell’s site. Came in on Monday hoping to finally be able to use my two monitors but after 10 minutes in the docking station the same problem occurred. Very frustrated and starting to go a bit nuts, I asked our IT guy to contact Dell and demand a replacement unit. He did something better than contacting Dell (which is becoming a very frustrating experience): he found a forum post that described the problem I’ve been experiencing and proposed a few solutions. His google-foo was better than mine because there is a discussion on Dell’s forum going back to 2008 with people having this problem and I didn’t find it in October.

You should read this post as it provides a LOT of detail of why this is happening and suggestions on how Dell should address it.

Quick overview: laptop overheats and that throttles down the CPU, making a 2.8 machine run at 700 or lower which causes 100% utilization and all the symptoms that I experienced. On my laptop it seems that the GPU (video card) is the one causing the issue: it constantly runs at about 55 C, but as soon I put it into the docking station temperature jumps to 70+ C and that is when all the fun starts.

It is amazing that after 16 pages of people documenting their issues related to this and Dell releasing at least 6 BIOS updates since the first report, this issues is still not resolved – according to workarounds people found, it seems like a flaw in the code that determines when the throttling should start.

What is not fully clear to me is why I didn’t experience this with Windows XP. I even opened the case to see if there is a lot of dust which might explain why I started experiencing this 9 months into using the machine, but the case was clean.

Here are ways to deal with this:

  • contact dell and have them replace the heat sink and have some high quality thermal paste instead of what they use (this worked for some people, but not for others)
  • put a “laptop fan” under the laptop – this worked for me (at least for one full working day)
  • there are utilities (RMClock) that allow you to control/disable downclocking (see here for steps), but there are some issues with running them on 64 bit version of Window 7 due to driver signing requirement. People have workarounds posted
  • SpeedFan is very useful for monitoring internal temperature of the CPUs/GPU and clock speed

I found this excerpt from tinkerdude’s post very accurately describe my situation over the last few months – I knew there was a problem, but didn’t know what was causing it.

The reason there aren’t more complaints (though many are accumulating these days) is that users who experience this problem simply have no way of knowing what the cause is and are likely to blame the wrong thing (Windows, recently installed software, cooling hardware, etc.). Untold masses may be adversely affected by this problem, but nearly all of them wouldn’t know it because there’s no way for them to tell. Also, the problem is at its worst only when in a docked configuration, which may not be common.

54 Responses to “Dell E6400/6500 (overheating, lock up, CPU 100%, slow) due to downclocking/down throttling”

  1. Bob Buel said

    Have same problem–also an interesting fact is that it only happens with the deluxe docking station, not with the smaller one. (the deluxe has two DVI ports). Think that it is an issue with the extra DVI causing GPU proc race condition, which then causes the tempt to rise which causes the overheating and CPU throttling.

    • Aron said

      Haveing the same issue…very frustrating…just upgraded to A25 BIOS (out just a few days)…we will see where that goes. My machine locks up with no IO available (no mouse, keyboard, nothing)…have to hard boot it to get it back up.

      It only happens in dock (yes a dual DVI dock)…runs great when not in dock

      • mikeg said

        I ended up putting a laptop cooler under laptop and dock and this seemed to keep it cool enough not to cause issues. also look for ThrottleStop — works great on the road when cooling pad is not available

  2. Paul D said

    I’m going to have to disagree on the dock comment. I have this issue too on an E6400 and I had the smaller E-Port dock (the one that has no PS2 style connectors and has one DVI port) and Dell sent me a new dock but mistakenly sent me the bigger one that has two DVI ports. It’s equally hosed with that one.

    I disabled SpeedStep in the BIOS and now my cores are only running at 1.596Ghz (they are 2.66Ghz cores). Before I just shutdown to enter the BIOS I was stuck at 800Mhz!! This is getting old very quickly (been a month of messing with this)!

  3. Dennis said

    Have the same thing. Also using the deluxe docking station, need to take it out to cool down, and then it works again. ALready upadeted the bios to R25, doesn’t make any differencec.

  4. Christie B said

    I’m also experiencing the same issue. I am looking at my laptop right now and the CPU has been throttled back to 773Mhz… to this day, I have not found a solution. Frustrating when this happens in front of a client!
    I have to just shut all my apps down (if I can because my system is at a standstill) and let the computer cool down.

    • Hello all. I had similar issues with my Dell E6400 running at a high CPU utilization and locking up completely at some points. I would have to power the laptop completely off and let it sit and cool down. I found the issue to be with the heat sink not pulling enough off the processor and it resulted in overheating. I removed the heat sink, blew out the fan and reattached everything and I haven’t had a problem since. This is an extremely easy fix and the only thing you need to purchase is some thermal paste for reattaching the heat sink properly. Good luck to all experiencing this issue.

  5. Jeremey S said

    I think I’ve at least figured something that is relatively an easy fix that doesn’t necessarily fix the issue, but it significantly reduces overheating and down-clocking and even when the CPU usage shoots up, this appears to assist with allowing it to cool back down and throttle back up quickly!

    I was experiencing the exact same issue everyone on here was, i removed the back cover and checked and everything looked clean,(one forum I stumbled across said to make sure the fan was spinning freely (i’ve checked this before)). This time however, i went ahead and removed the fan and thats when a i noticed there is a grill(mini heatsink??) between the fan and the opening on the side of the laptop and this was absolutely filled with Dust/Dirt/Debri. I work in a cube in a office so it’s not exposed to anything out of the ordinary, it’s just the dust that seems to collect inside PC’s. Prior to removing the fan it looked really clean.

    It appears that most people who have the issue also seem to have a docking station. Thus probably more often than not the laptop is stationary and buildup like this can occur vs an “on the go” laptop that is constantly moved around and not allowing the buildup to occur…maybe??

    At any rate, i’ve since watched quite a few video clips, which was the confirmed killer before and while the cpu usage does shoot up…it comes back down….in fact it idles at about 2% where as before it would idle between 10% and 20%….

    Hope this helps someone….i know it’s been driving me crazy and for now I’m actually able to function without multiple reboots daily.


    • Alex said

      I started experiencing this 9 months into using the machine, but the case was clean.

      So did I. A27 BIOS did not help. I opened a cover of my e6400 and did not see any dust there. But yesterday I removed the heat-sink and blowed it. Dust blowed out from the place where air goes out. Also I put new thermal paste on the processor, nvidia chip and on yet another chip.

      I am happy! Now the temperature of CPU is 43 degrees. No overheat, no throttlig any more!

  6. Conrad said

    I have the exact same problem, yet I don’t have a docking station. However, I do have a second monitor that I regularly connect to the side VGA cable and I have isolated the problem to the fact that it only occurs when the second monitor is running. So my theory is that docking station or no docking station, running two monitors (the laptop LCD and a second screen) is causing the overheating of the GPU then the underclocking protection is kicking in to ramp down the CPU so much the laptop grinds to a halt, whether you use a docking station or not.

    Inviting comments, thoughts?!

    Now to build some type of heath-robinson contraption to cool the damn thing when using dual screens. :-)

  7. anonguy said

    I fixed this problem by installing ThrottleStop a few days after I bought my Dell last year.

    Shame on Dell for wasting a day of my time and for doing this to users to decrease the rate of motherboards returned under warranty.

    This is unethical.

  8. Paul D said

    Anyone know what settings I should use in ThrottleStop to prevent this? I don’t really want to mess about with it to figure out the proper settings, if I don’t have to.

  9. SagaPixel said

    I hope this helps you, as it sure did help me: I formated my hdd, fresh win 7, flashed bios – no result.
    So this is what you should do first: open the back-cover and clean the dust with a vacuum and a tooth brush!!!!!!!
    This model is so faulty designed, that in a few month, my cooler vent airway was ALMOST BLOCKED WITH DUST.

    DO CHECK this before you try anything else.

  10. Paul D said

    OK guys, I solved the issue (I think) myself. I installed a new heatsink/fan (but same as original – I broke the original trying to bend it to make better contact) and used Arctic Silver 5 heatsink paste. Since then I haven’t seen it throttle down one time. I have a video encode running now (which usually would throttle within 10 minutes) and it’s been going for more than a half hour at full tilt and the CPU temp is 58.2 C (idle is around 38 C now).

  11. Max said

    I’ve successfully used two different docking stations for 2 years with my E6400. Recently began having this issue and spent a week troubleshooting and diagnosing the machine. I updated Bios to A28, latest NVDEA driver, all recent Microsoft updates, all peripheral drivers (external monitor, wireless keyboard/mouse, printer, etc.), and then began to run the machine with a single new peripheral and in multiple combinations. The cuplrit is the standard docking station. My confusion comes as to why now, after having successfully used a docking station for over two years? At first I thought it was the new microsoft updates but remember this happening 3 days before installing those updates. I will clean out the fan port and see if that helps. This is my third Dell laptop but I’m starting to get reallyed exhausted by using their warranty support service. Am thinking it’s time to make the switch to a new manufacturer. I mean really – a little thermal glue to solve the issue, Dell? Gimme a break, very frustrating.

  12. I wish I found this site a week ago. I had a DELL XPS M1330 which has been over-heating due to the nvidia GPU design problem. The laptop has worked fine for me for over 3 years and recently I am seeing lots of 100% CPU utilization with virtually nothing running on it. I tried a lot of suggestions on other forums such as de-installing grahhics drivers and cleaning up unused start-up and processes. Nothing worked. As a last resort, I upgraded vista to Windows 7 Ultimate. Surprisingly the upgraded went very smoothly, but my 100% CPU problem came back very quickly.

    I finally went out and bought a laptop cooler stand with a fan, and everything worked fine. No more 100% CPU. It does not make sense to me, that is until I found this forum entry. Thanks.

  13. Stephen said

    I am currently dealing with this overheat problem on my E6400. Called Dell and they are sending someone out to replace the heatsink and fan. Hope it will help.

  14. Albert L said

    Problems with the laptop Dell e6400 and possible workarounds

    – Problem 1
    o Not possible to switch internet options (specifically Connections) in Internet Explorer’s settings (the menu hangs). Usually, this happens when I boot the laptop on battery. Characteristically, the Dell ControlPoint Connection Manager tab shows during the boot up and it is impossible to make it disappear (i.e. not possible to close it). Also, it is then impossible to shut the notebook down properly. I have to kill the non-responding programs (Windows shows which ones do not close during the shutdown and offers to kill them), as they do not close regardless how much time I give (once I tried some 6 hours).
    o Also, sometimes the mobile broadband or even WiFi does not work after booting up.
    o The workaround is to shut e6400 down, switch the radios off using the hardware switch on the right hand side, and then boot the computer fully, log in, wait for all applications to load, and then switch the radios back on, using the hardware switch. Normally, this solves the problems.
    – Problem 2
    o Sometimes (I believe this is also attributed to working on batteries), the mobile broadband (GPRS/EDGE/HSPA) adapter becomes disabled due to the need to “activate” it and impossible to use. The workaround is to reboot the laptop again – annoying.
    – Problem 3
    o Sometimes, when I switch the brightness of the display whilst the notebook is logging in/booting up (I believe, this happens after logging into Windows), the system starts to misbehave (e.g. display problem 2).
    – Problem 4
    o When I connect the computer to the docking station, the Ethernet stops working. The workaround is to disable and enable the Ethernet adapter in Windows Device Manager. Well… yesterday it did not help and I had to reboot computer and then enable the device. The Ethernet was then recognized and started working. Unfortunately, the CPU was then loaded 100% (by System Idle process), probably overheating (fun was working loudly), and killing the programs sporadically showing upto 53% CPU load, did not resolve the issue. I think this must be a driver issue (which driver I do not know). Just now, I again did not have the Ethernet and, miraculously, the Ethernet got connected (after some 2 hours of working).
    – Problem 5
    o The fun is often working excessively, despite seemingly low CPU load (~5-10%; no computations or graphics, e.g. just using MS Word), making annoying noise.
    – Problem 6
    o I have tried to install Dell Mobile Broadband manager, but it is unable to work, saying that ‘The mobile broadband device is not communicating’.
    – Problem 7
    o Sometimes Dell ControlPoint Connection Manager drops the connection established with Intel ProSET/Wireles WiFi Connection Utility. This may happen after I worked for several hours using the WiFi connection established by Intel’s utility.
    – Problem 8
    o Frequently, having Bluetooth enabled drops the WiFi connection (at 2.4 GHz). Interestingly enough, some long time ago (in 2009?), they were able to work simultaneously with no such problems.
    – Commonality
    o Many of these problems seem to be attributed to switching from the mains to the batteries and back. The main workaround is to boot up on mains, THEN switch to batteries, and, probably more importantly, connect to mains BEFORE shutting down.
    o The reinstallation of Dell software solves the many of the problems (I have not tried if it solves all of the problems) … until the first disconnection from the mains and going to battery.

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  19. Vishal Ghodke said

    Solution is Needs to clean the CPU fan.

  20. kavivar said

    I have same issue differently. Whenever I connect with network cable it overheats and hangs. I have to hard boot to run the laptop. In another 5 minutes it hangs again. Whenever I use wireless network it works with no problem. I believe this is network card issue. I am contacting DELL. Let me post when I get a solid answer.
    Model E6400

    • BenLad said

      I work for an IT Department in a large University. Dell is our preferred supplier and we have had multiple issues with this fault. In the worst cases we have had to replace CPU fans & heatsinks but in other cases simply upgrading the BIOS has reolved the issue.

  21. […] I found this excerpt from tinkerdude’s post very accurately describe my situation over the last few months – I knew there was a problem, but didn’t know what was causing it. The reason there aren’t more complaints (though many are accumulating these days) is that users who experience this problem simply have no way of knowing what the cause is and are likely to blame the wrong thing (Windows, recently installed software, cooling hardware, etc.). Untold masses may be adversely affected by this problem, but nearly all of them wouldn’t know it because there’s no way for them to tell. Also, the problem is at its worst only when in a docked configuration, which may not be common. Source:… […]

  22. Jarrod said

    My issue: Have an e6400. Only on the new (dual dvi) e-port plus dock my computer would CPU @ 100% for NO reason, get super hot, slow down.
    My IT team at work could not solve this. As such, brought me here.
    Kept looking and found a solution that worked for me.
    The following worked for me:
    1. Download A32 Bios here:
    2. Flash your bios. Be careful, make sure you are using a e6400.
    3. I then updated my 160M Nvidia Graphics Card Drivers through device manager.

    Now it is working great, can handle dual monitors, and get this…an excel window spread across two windows!!!!! :P

    Hope this helps. In the spirit of productivity.


    • Doanh Nguyen said

      Hi Jarrod,

      I downloaded and flashed A32 Bios on my Laptop. It seem to be worked normally about 1 month, And now , I don’t know my computer backed CPU@ 100% for No reason. Have you ever see this case? Please let me know your comments. I don’t know how to solve this problem :-S

      Best & Regards
      Doanh Nguyen

  23. So I am having the same problem too. Same docking station, Windows XP Dell D630, no problems on XP. I plug in a Dell D620 with Windows 7 x64 and it does not work. Please come up with a 64 bit fix, please, please, please.

  24. Chris Melville said

    It’s clear the machine isn’t fit for purpose. If it was a car, every single unit would have been recalled and fixed. How Dell got away with this I’ll never know. But I know I won’t be buying Dell ever again.

  25. […] bit of history: I’ve been a long time Dell user until I got tired of dealing with the quality problems and decided to switch to a Lenovo ThinkPad. It came highly recommended but the fact that Fn key was […]

  26. mr-marmot said

    DO THIS ONLY IF YOU HAVE PROPERLY SETUP ALTERNATE FAN AND CPU THROTTLE CONTROLS!!! You can cause the machine to overheat and shut down and possibly damage it if that happens too many times. Heat KILLS chips!

    On the Dell Precision m6400 to overcome the throttling problem you will have to do this on each boot: hold the two keys Shift+Fn and type the number ‘15324’ then hold the keys Fn+R to get to the CPU throttle and fan controls and set the CPU throttle from ‘ENABLED’ to ‘DISABLED’. Use ThrottleStop to set the multiplier to 8.5 and the voltage to between 1 and 1.1 depending on how low your CPU can go. This will overcome the throttling problem.
    If you want to control the fans and the heat levels using other than the built in Dell controls then set the Fan Controls in the Fn+R panel from ‘ENABLED’ to ‘DISABLED’.
    You can use HWINFO’s custom fan controls or you could use I8kFanGUI but it does not accurately measure RAM temperatures on the m6400 which run hot on this machine. (I think the design problems are in the cooling of the RAM chips because running both fans at 4900 produce only a very slow drop in RAM temps.)
    HWINFO defaults fan speeds nicely on the CPU and GPU. Set fan 1 to be monitoring the CPU and fan 2 the GPU. The alternate secondary sensor I set to monitor stick #0 of RAM and stick #2 of RAM on fan 2. Set top temperature of RAM to 75 (20 below recommended) and drop each level by 5 degrees.
    You will likely notice the fans being turned on by the RAM temperatures more than the CPU/GPU.

    My m6400 is right now running BOINC Seti@Home at 99% CPU and GPU, the keyboard is slightly warm and the fans are coming on top speed off and on every 30 seconds because the one Elpido RAM stick in slot #2 is hitting 70. ( might need to replace it or see if I can put a heat sink on it) The CPU is running full tilt at 2260 MHz at 1.000 voltage level measured by HWINFO and ThrottleStop.

    Got this m6400 used on eBay and was pretty angry at the Windows Performance Index of 3.7 CPU when my 6300 was 5.3.
    Still irritated that I have to type in the Shift-Fn-15324 code on EVERY power on but the machine benchmarks pretty well for a 4 year old machine.

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