A year ago, I made a huge FAQ that covered a lot of questions and answered them to the best I could from what I know and gathered from forums, the Internet and experience. However, it did get too big, so some questions that were helpful may have been shafted to the bottom. To somewhat fix this, this mini FAQ will cover the 11 moat frequent questions asked (some do contain sub-questions). To view the main FAQ with its abundance of questions, click here (very outdated). Some questions here may not have the same question number as in the Main FAQ, and they could be outdated. As well, Dell/Alienware have a Top Solutions Article you can look at, but like the old FAQ, the solutions may include outdated information. It includes information that is also in this FAQ, and if you have anything pre-Dell or about custom drivers/BIOS, head over to notebookreview’s forums and techinferno.comAll constructive and complementary feedback is welcome in this separate thread
 

Question 1. Can I upgrade the GPU? And if yes, how high? If no, why not?

Answer 1. This depends on your computer (look at table below). Line means those laptops within that family or name (usually go by the screen size). Soldered means the component is apart of the motherboard.

Not upgrade-able/Soldered Upgrade-able/Not Soldered
m11x Line m17x line and 17 R1
m14x Line and 14 m18x line and 18
13 Line m15x
15 Line Graphics Amplifier
17 R2, R3, and R4 X51, Aurora, Area 51
Alpha Console Pre-Dell Computers

The desktops- X51, Aurora, and Area 51- all use desktop GPUs and are limited by their PSU.  For the laptops, the m15x, m17x, m18x, 17, and 18 all have replaceable GPUs. Look for GPUs with a MXM 3.0b form factor. The way to tell if a GPU is for a laptop is if you see an "m". A GTX 660m is a mobile GPU; a GTX 660 is a desktop GPU. You may need a custom BIOS and drivers for older laptops to accept the newer mobile GPUs. Keep in mind a budget when upgrading GPUs and CPUs. In this document (outdated), you'll find all of the GPUs functional in each laptop and desktop with PSU wattage; you'll also find GPUs compatible with the Graphics Amplifier. Pages 1 through 3 are for desktops; pages 4 through 7 are for laptops; for the time being, you can look at this (beta) spreadsheet to find out if the GPU is validated or not and the SLI/crossfire set-ups you can do with each computer; as well, you can filter the spreadsheet to find if certain GPUs work with which computer instead of looking at the whole list of GPUs.  Desktops pre-2012 (except for the X51 R1) require a GPU that has a legacy vBIOS as opposed to a UEFI vBIOS. 
Below is a table of recently sold desktops and the GA and recently released GPUs, and below the desktop table is one for laptops. You can use these tables as a quick guide to see if you can upgrade your computer's GPU to one of the listed. Y means Yes, N means No, and ? means unknown. A number besides a "Y" means the most you can install for SLI/Crossfire if possible (SLI/X-fire not possible X51, GA, Alienware 15" or 17" laptops sans the m17xR2). They do not mention anything about warranty support.

Quick Desktop GPU Table

GPU

X51 with 330w PSU

Graphics Amplifier

Aurora R5 with 850w PSU

Area 51 R2 with 1500w PSU

GTX 950

Y

Y

Y (x2)

Y (x2)

GTX 960

Y

Y

Y (x2)

Y (x2)

GTX 970

Y (R2 power board recommended)

Y

Y (x2)

Y (x2)

GTX 980

Y (R2 power board; fan mod)

Y

Y (x2)

Y (x3)

GTX 980 ti /
GTX TITAN X

N

Y

Y (x2)

Y (x3)

GTX 1050 / GTX 1050 Ti

Y

Y

Y

Y

GTX 1060 
​3 GB / 6 GB

Y

Y

Y

Y

GTX 1070

Y (R2 power board; fan mod)

Y

Y

Y

GTX 1080

Y (R2 power board; fan mod)

Y

Y

Y

GTX TITAN X
(Pascal)

N

Y

Y

Y

R9 380x

?

Y

Y (x2)

Y (x2)

R9 290 /
R9 390

N

Y

Y (x2)

Y (x3)

R9 290x /
R9 390x

N

Y

Y (x2)

Y (x3)

RX 470

Y

y

Y (x2)

Y (x3)

RX 480

Y (R2 power board recommended)

Y

Y (x2)

Y (x3)

R9 Nano

Y (R2 power board needed)

Y

Y (x2)

Y (x3)

R9 Fury

N

Y (may be too wide to fit)

Y (x2)

Y (x3)

R9 Fury X

N

Y (may need some effort to fit)

Y (the fan could get in the way for Crossfire)

Y (the fan could get in the way for Crossfire)

 
 

Quick Laptop GPU Upgrade Table

GPU

m15x (150w PSU)

m17x R3 / m18x R1

m17xR4 / 17 R1 (240w PSU)

m17x R2 / m18x R2 / 18 R1 (330w PSU)

GTX 765m

Y

Y (x2 for m18x)

Y

Y (x2)

GTX 770m

Y

Y (x2 for m18x)

Y

Y (x2)

GTX 780m / GTX 880m

Need bigger PSU

Y (x2 for m18x)

Y

Y (x2)

GTX 860m (Kelper)

Y

?

Y

Y (x2)

GTX 870m

Need bigger PSU

?

Y

Y (x2)

GTX 965m

Y

N

Y

Y

GTX 970m

Y

N

Y

Y

GTX 980m

Need bigger PSU

N

Y

Y

GTX 980 (Notebook)

N

N

?

?

GTX 1060 (Notebook)

N

N

?

?

HD 7970m

Y

Y

Y (for m17xR4)

Y (N for 18 R1)

R9 m280x / R9 m385x / R9 m470x

?

?

?

?

R9 m290x / HD 8970m

Need bigger PSU

Y (x2 for m18xR1)

Y

Y (x2)

R9 m295x / R9 m390x / R9 m395x

?

?

?

?

RX 480 (Notebook)

N

?

?

? (N for m17xR2)

 

 

Question 1a. How can I use my Graphics Amplifier without problems? 

Answer 1a. Special note: The Graphics Amplifier only works with the 13 line, 15 line, 17 R2, R3, and R4, Alpha R2 with GTX 960, and X51 R3. Don't have the PCI-Express Proprietary Port? Tough.
Make sure the Intel Graphics driver, Graphics Amplifier and Alienware Command Center Software are the latest and most updated for your laptop. For Nvidia desktop GPUs, install latest Nvidia driver if you don't already have it (or use Alienware's Nvidia driver for their most recent laptops/desktops). For AMD desktop GPUs, install the latest driver from AMD. There are steps in the Graphics Amplifier FAQ you can follow. Make sure you are using a supported GPU or else you will run into problems.

Question 2. Can I upgrade the CPU? If yes, how high? If no, why not?

Answer 2. Look at table below. All desktops have upgrade-able processors. 

Not upgrade-able/Soldered Upgrade-able/Not Soldered
m11x Line m15x
15 Line m18x line and 18
13 Line m17x line and 17 R1
17 R2, R3, and R4 m14x R1/R2 and 14

Non-soldered computers are limited by their Socket type (say LGA 2011 or LGA 1156). Only Intel CPUs. In desktops, check the socket type of the processor; you may find that you can upgrade your processor to a newer generation (examples below). For the laptops, they are limited by when they were released. If the laptop was released in 2013, then a Haswell/4000 series CPU will work; if in 2012, a Ivy-Bridge/3000 series; if 2011, a Sandy Bridge/2000 series; if in 2010, a Clarkdale/sub-1000 series. Laptop CPUs are denoted by the same "m" like the GPUs and other notations as well like U, H, and Y. You can find more about that in Intel's Guide to CPU Naming.

Here is a document that lists every CPU compatible with every computer. Pages 1 through 3 are for desktops, and the pages 3 (end of it) through 7 document are for laptops.

 

Question 3. My FPS is low. What do I do?

Answer 3. There are several ways to counter this. This mainly happens in laptops (rarely in desktops, but it applies to them as well). The first two solutions and the sixth one are to make sure the discrete NVidia/AMD GPU is doing the work and not the iGPU (Integrated GPU; usually the Intel HD Graphics).

            -For one, make sure everything is in High Performance. Your battery plan, your choice of GPU (in the NVidia control Panel, go under the Manage 3D settings and select High performing NVidia Processor; it should be something similar for the AMD users and their catalyst Control Center). Perform a soft reset to be safe, and start up a game. If on a SLI/Crossfire capable laptop (m17xR1/2, m18x, and 18), enable SLI/Crossfire in the same area. It usually gets disabled after a driver update.

            -Another way is to press FN+F7 (for 2011-2012  and late 2016 laptops) or FN+F5 (for the 2013 laptops). This method only applies to the laptops with GTX and AMD GPUs and those with Optimus-only (ie: display connected to only the iGPU) disabled. Those with a GT GPU, Optimus-only, G-Sync display, or when SLI/Crossfire is enabled do not have this option.

            -Reinstall the latest WHQL, BetaCertified (whatever AMD calls it) Graphic drivers. If that does not work, resort back to the factory drivers for now (the forceware as people call it). Forceware can be downloaded from Dell's support site or your resource disk. DO NOT JUST INSTALL THE DRIVERS AGAIN! Instead, uninstall them with DDU (Display Driver Uninstaller).

            -Uninstall both Intel and NVidia/AMD (your dGPU) GPU drivers, and reinstall them. Do it in this order: Nvidia/AMD -> Intel -> Intel - > NVidia/AMD. Soft reset to play safe after all is done, and go forth. Use DDU for this.

            -With the X51, plug the HDMI cord near the DVI and display port. There should be an HDMI port there. In the X51, the HDMI port above the USB ports goes to the iGPU, which you don’t want.

           -With the X51 (both R1 and R2), go into the BIOS (F2 upon booting) and disable Gen3. It should be in the second settings in the BIOS.

            -Disable turbo boost or hyper-threading (mainly for laptops) in the BIOS or lower the maximum processor state through Command Center, Alien Fusion (also can be downed in advanced power plan options in the control panel).

            -Lower the graphics settings. It could be that your CPU+GPU combo is too weak for the settings you have. It also could be that one of them is a bottleneck.

            -Check your PSU's/charger's wattage and use a wattage calculator (or add the watts up yourself). It could be the fact that you are under-powering your computer.

            *Special Note about the 17 R1 and m17xR3/4: If you have a 17 R1 or m17xR3/R4 with a 3D display, you should have the 240w charger. 
 

Question 3a. Is my computer running too hot? My FPS is low / my computer is slow.

Answer 3a. It is possible that your temps are high. Check by using a temperature monitoring program (HWMontiorHWInfoSpeedfan (not for laptops)MSI Afterburner are a few popular examples). Download the app, open it up, and look at your value column. Focus on the CPU (all cores) and GPU temps. For laptops, if they are above 85 C, then you need to clean your fans by spraying compressed air on them or using a vacuum (don’t ask why). If it has been at least a year since you have owned a laptop, I would reapply thermal paste to be safe. Also enable V-Sync if you have a 60 Hz monitor or laptop screen (if you have the 3D screen or a 120+Hz monitor, ignore this). It’ll lower the temps a bit. You can also up your fan curve using HWInfo (might need to update the BIOS) on the laptops, and Speedfan on the desktops. Checking your temps can be a way to figure more than just low FPS problems. It is best to always know your computer's temperatures, so monitor them! *Special Note about HWINFO64: without doing anything, you can control the CPU fan. To access the GPU fan, go under the Dell EC Section. Unclick the EC sensor to control the fans individually.
 

Question 3b. My game has black bars around it/is too small to view and only choosing borderless windows or upscaling to native resolution fixes my problem, but this affects my FPS. How do I fix this?

Answer 3b. While not directly related to FPS, this question does apply to those with a screen panel higher than 1080p, and it does affect your gaming experience. You want to go into Intel Graphics Control Panel and do the following:
Display -> select non-native resolution -> scale full image -> save profile (to make this easier down the road) -> apply.
Make sure you have the latest Intel Graphics Driver from Intel.

 

Question 4. What’s the max RAM the *insert computer* can hold?

Answer 4. Look at table below. Laptops and the Alpha have laptop-sized RAM (204 pin), and the other desktops have desktop-sized RAM (240pin). These are all for plug-and-play; no overclocking the RAM is taken into account. 

Max Frequency ->
Max Ram Amount (below)

DDR3 1333 MHz DDR3 1600 MHz DDR3 1866 MHz DDR3 2133 MHz DDR3L 1600 MHz DDR4 2133 MHz

<- Max Frequency 
Max Ram Amount (below)

8 GB (All of these have 2 slots) m11x R1 and R2     m14x R1 and R2     8 GB (All of these have 2 slots)
16 GB (Most have 2 slots) m15x, m17xR1 and R2, m11x R3  X51 R1 and R2 m14x R1 and R2, Aurora R3 (Aurora has 4) m17x R3 and R4, m18x, and Aurora R4 (All here have 4 slots) Alpha, 13 R1 (Haswell), 15 R1, and 17 R2 X51 R3** 
Alpha R2 (1 Stick)
16 GB (Most have 2 slots)
24 GB (All have 3 slots) Aurora R2 Area 51 R1 and Aurora R1         24 GB (All have 3 slots)
32 GB (Most have four slots)   Aurora R3 m17x R3 and R4, m18x, and Aurora R4   17 R1, 18, and 13 R1* (Broadwell) and R2* Area 51 R2**, Aurora R5**, 15 R2, and 17 R3 32 GB (Most have four slots)

*The 13 R1 and R2 only have two slots
** Can support double the amount of RAM if using 16 GB DDR4 2133 MHz RAM modules.
To add, all of the computers aside from the Area 51s and the Aurora R1 support dual channel mode; so it is better to have each stick (or each pair of sticks) have the same speed and size (in the computers with 4 module slots, sometimes with slots 1 & 3 are pairs and 2 & 4 are pairs [will need verification on this]) for better performance. The Area 51 and Aurora R1 support triple channel mode, and they both have 3 memory slots. Same principle applied from dual channel mode. The newer Area 51 supports quad-channel.

 

Question 5. Can I upgrade the PSU or cooling of the X51/Aurora/Area 51/Alpha/Laptop?

Answer 5. Without modding, yes. You can install a verified Dell PSU/charger; however, you may not get support for the PSU. For cooling, you can reappply thermal paste fine and make sure the fans fit (desktop-only).  However, the Alpha's CPU will not take advantage of the extra wattage. The X51, Alpha, and laptops share the same external PSUs/chargers.

With modding, of course (you lose warranty, partially or fully).
 

Question 5a. Do I need to get a 240w PSU for my AW15 R1 or AW 17R2?

Answer 5a. Maybe. If you have at least an i7-4710HQ and a GTX 980m or R9 m295x, you have two options. Update the BIOS that supports hybrid power technology if you haven't or you can grab a 240w PSU. If you are in the US or Canada, just fill out this form. You can also contact Alienware's social media team or PM a rep here (this is recommended for those outside the US/Canada region).
If you don't fulfill the conjunction above (say you have an i7 and a GTX 970m), then you are fine. 

The 15 R2 and 17 R3 come with the 240w PSU if you have the GTX 980m or R9 m395x.

 

Question 6. What is reference design?

Answer 6. Reference design is the normal look of a GPU. It has a single, blower-type fan. A dead giveaway is if the fan is placed at the far end of the GPU, away from the PCI-E end and display ports. It also isn’t overclocked, so if you see a higher clocked than reported by AMD or NVidia or see something like “Superclocked”, “FTW”, or something along those lines, don’t get it; they aren’t reference. 

This answer is mainly for the X51; for the Auroras, and Area 51s, go nuts with whatever design. The Graphics Amplifier doesn't need a reference design GPU, but be wary that some GPUs may be too tall for it.

 

Question 7. How many HDD/SSDs/SSHDs can my computer hold?

Answer 7. Before that, I will define what each acronym is.

HDD = Hard Drive Disk. The most common form of storage, the mechanical storage drive with discs that spin at wild speeds. You have 5400 and 7200 RPM as the most common options, and the 7200 RPM outperforms the 5400 RPM in most cases (not all). Recommended brands: Western Digital (WD), Hitachi

SSD = Solid State Drive. Fast flash memory, really. No discs or fans. Comes in various sizes including M.2, mSATA, 2.5" SATA (the norm/regular), and PCI-E. Recommended brands: Samsung, PNY, Crucial.

SSHD = Solid State Hybrid Drive. This is a HDD + SSD cache combo in one drive, except the SSD is at best 8 GB whereas the cache combo you get when buying from Dell is a 5400 RPM or 7200 RPM HDD + a 80 GB mSATA, 64 GB of which is used for cache and the rest used for recovery (as stated earlier). You can cache with more than 64 GB, but you need special software (or are on an Apple). An SSHD is nice to have, but only two brands make them (as of 2014): Seagate and Toshiba (I recommend Toshiba). There's also the WD Black^2 Dual Drive that combines a 120 GB SSD and 1 TB 5400 RPM HDD in one drive, but it is not considered an SSHD. 

ODD = Optical Disc Drive. Your Blu-Ray and DVD reader/writer. 

Below is a list of the drive combinations each computer can have (drives = 2.5" HDD/SSD/ODD drive or M.2; Drives = 3.5" HDD/SSD/ODD drive):

Alpha/m11x : 1 drive

m14xR1/m15x: 2 drives

Alpha R2: 1 2.5" drive + 1 M.2 SSD (total: 2)

Alienware 13 R1 and R2: 1 2.5" drive or 2 M.2 SSDs (at max: 2)

m17xR1/2/3 and X51 R1: 3 drives

m14xR2 and 14: 2 drives + 1 mSATA (total: 3)

Alienware 15 R1 & R2 and 17 R3: 1 drive and 2 M.2 SSDs (total: 3)

m17xR4, 17, 18, and X51 R2: 3 drives + 1 mSATA (total: 4)

m18xR1: 4 drives

m18xR2: 4 drives + 1 mSATA (total: 5)

Alienware 17 R2: 1 drive + 4 M.2 SSDs (total: 5)

X51 R3: 3 Drives + 2 M.2s (total: 5)

Aurora R5: ??? (total: 5)

Area 51 R2: 3 Drives + 3 drives (total: 6)

Aurora R1-R4: 6 Drives + 5.25" HDD/Media Card Reader (total: 7)

Area 51 R1: 9 Drives +  5.25" HDD/Media Card Reader (total: 10)

Also, keep this in mind when shopping. When using a caddy bay either for replacing an ODD, use a 2.5” drive or whatever it can accept. The X51, Area 51s, and Aurora R4 accept both laptop (you will need a caddy) and desktop sizes. The m11x line, 13, 15, and 17 R2 do not have a DVD drive (ODD bay). PCI-E M.2s will not work in the 13 R1, 15 R1, or 17 R2, but will work in the 13 R2, 15 R2, 17 R3, and X51 R3. SATA M.2s will work in the 13 R1, 15 R1, and 17 R2. Can work in the other computers just mentioned.

As a special advice, it is recommended that gamers have a SSD boot drive (not too big, like at most 256 GB) and a HDD/SSHD (at least 1 TB). 

 

Question 8. What’s a good place to buy PC parts?

Answer 8. If you are building a computer, start from pcpartpicker. If you are upgrading, sites like amazonnewegg, and tigerdirect are good places. If you are buying a mobile GPU or CPU, go to ebay. 9 times out of 10, you’ll find it. Just don’t expect it being cheap. For you Canadians, check out NCIX.com.

If you are buying a replacement part, head over to parts-people.com. Same deal, 9/10 you’ll find what you need (the m14x R1 and R2 share some parts. I assume the same for the m11x’s, m17xR3/4, and m18xR1/2.) The x51 R1 and R2 have the same case, so look at ebay. If you are looking at replacing or upgrading your laptop's screen, laptopscreen has both glossy and matte, 60Hz and 120Hz 3D (for the 17" models) screens for all the Alienware (and other branded) laptops to choose from. No touchscreens, though. As well, you can contact Dell's Spare Parts and Accessories department through 1-800-357-3355.

 

Question 9. What will void my warranty?

Answer 9. Intentionally or accidentally (if you do not have accident warranty) damaging your computer, internally or externally. Modding your computer for whatever reason will void either parts of the computer (for example, installing a new cooling unit in the Area 51 or Aurora for your GPU will void the cooling unit and GPU's warranty, but not everything else) or the void the warranty of the computer (modding the case and installing a new PSU for the X51 for example). Everything else is fair, including replacing and upgrading components. However, whatever is new won’t be covered by Dell (say you got a Samsung SSD. Then Samsung will cover that SSD, but Dell won’t). Cosmetic damages won't be covered by warranty, but will not void it.

As well, if Alienware does not recommend/support a CPU, GPU, RAM size, RAM speed, RAM frequency, CPU overclocked speed, liquid cooling, etc., then it won't be covered by support/warranty. 

 

Question 10. Where do I get the drivers?

Answer 10. Go to Dell’s Support Site and input your service tag or express service code. From there, you’ll be directed to a page that has a tab where you can get the drivers for your laptop, including the latest BIOS. Below is the order to install the drivers if you are installing drivers from a fresh slate of Windows. 

1. Alienware On-Screen Display driver*
2. Chipset
3. Intel Management Engine Interface
4. Intel Rapid Storage technology
5. LAN driver
6. Wireless Driver 
7. INTEL/AMD/NVIDIA Display Driver (Intel first, Nvidia/AMD second)
8. Audio driver
9. Bluetooth driver and Airplane Mode (Airplane optional)
10. Media Card Reader
11. Touchpad driver
12. Alienware Command Center (needs Net Framework) and Graphics Amplifier Software (if compatible)
13. BIOS (if outdated)
14. Alien Respawn, Steam, Microsoft Office, Steam.... the optional stuff.
*The OSD can be installed after the graphics drivers, but for laptops with a graphics hardware switcher (done with FN+F5/F7), it should be installed before them

If you need a Windows recovery USB drive or DVD disk, input your service tag in this link. This only works with Dell and Alienware computers.

Question 10b. How do update/flash the BIOS?

Answer 10b. Download the latest and follow the instructions on the download page. It should be a s easy as double-clicking/opening the download file. Note that there are little risks in updating the BIOS, but there are more risks of downgrading the BIOS (going from A06 to A05 for example).

 

Question 11. My problem/question isn't answered here. How can I find the solution?

Answer 11. Make a thread about the problem. We'll be able to help out. As well, you can contact Alienware's tech team over at their Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook and their email AWSocialMedia@dell.com (there's also the phone, but you're on a computer, so why not make life easier and use the internet communication). You can also contact one of the Alienware Media Reps on here through Personal Messaging (PM). Just be sure you PM an active Rep.