Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Alienware Alpha i3 - Quick Upgrades (and GPU overclock!)


My pain-cave PC is an Alienware Alpha i3. An all-in-one mini desktop computer with enough features to run everything I need right out of the box. I went with the lowest spec model with plans to upgrade both the RAM and HDD in the near future. 

The future is now! 

Having taken advantage of the Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 upgrade from Microsoft, I chose to bump the RAM from 4GB up to 12GB, and the 5400rpm HDD to a SSD (solid state drive).

Here is the quick rundown of how I went about the upgrade - 

RAM Upgrade

The base model i3 comes with one 4GB stick of DDR3L 1600Mhz Low Voltage RAM. L is the important part, you can't mix standard voltage DDR3 (1.5V) and Low Voltage DDR3 (1.25-1.35V). You can run either in the Alpha, just not both at the same time. As I was keeping the stock 4GB, I went for a matching 8GB DD3L to boost my Alpha to 12GB.

A quick price check online indicated an 8GB stick would set me back around AU$65. The first store I went into in Preston felt more like I'd walked into some seedy bro's bedroom while he was looking at the latest Zoo magazine. I double checked the sign on the door, yes, this was a computer store. I got strange looks when asking for a stick of 8GB DDR3LRAM, and he was both unwilling and, according to him, unable to help me. I kind of got the feeling that the store was a front for something else other than computers. Dodgy.

Further up the street I had more luck. The store had a stick in stock! My 8GB stick came with no packaging, no bag, and a complete lack of service. I handed over AU$80 for what would have cost me a lot less online. 

Anyhow, my tip - Avoid the mistakes I made by stumbling my way into a drug den / computer store then getting ripped off at the counter. Order online


My i3 Alpha now looking nervous.

Flip it - Only four screws to unleash the beast within. 


Pop the CPU cover to access the RAM

The stock 4GB DDR3L 1600Mhz Low Voltage stick

A matching DD3L 1600Mhz Low Voltage 8GB stick.

Installed - 12GB ready to RAMble! 

That's it. Just boot up and away you go!


HDD to SSD

While more RAM is nice to have, the system really wasn't hitting any performance limiters with only 4GB, so I went with the upgrade to SSD too.

The i3 Alpha has a generous 500GB drive, albeit only spinning at a lowly 5400rpm. This IS a performance limiter for the system. I had a spare 128GB SSD from a previous project that would go straight in, well, it did after messing about with partitioning software.


It was as if they expected you to upgrade this... easy to get to.


Copy copy, partition, copy copy - Thanks to Reflect Free.

After some partitioning magic (oh yes, the old-school will get that reference), it was a case of throwing it all back together for a #RideOn! 

Side note - 128GB is more than enough for my pain-cave PC. Most content is streamed, and now I have a 500GB portable HDD I can connect via USB thanks to this upgrade. The Alpha with Windows 10, Zwift, and a few other tools installed takes up around 40GB of space.


Conclusion 

The RAM upgrade will assist when multi-tasking ergo software, music playlists, and the like. The must-do is the SSD upgrade. It is BLINDINGLY FAST. Crazy fast. Less than 5 seconds to boot into Windows 10, and a lot snappier doing everything else. As for Zwift, the frame rates are still the same, it just takes less time to get it all up and running.


*March 2016 Update!*

GPU Overclock (Use at your own risk!)

Using MSI Afterburner and 'conservative' GPU overclock settings of 135/507 (core/memory), I gained a measurable 12% 3D performance increase on the Alienware Alpha i3. 3456->3871 with PassMark. While you're tinkering, switch off v-sync in the GeForce advanced settings too.

For best results ensure your Alpha has good airflow around it. And as above, use this at your own risk as it could cause system instability.






5 comments:

Bmart said...

Why? Have you found that the Alienware i3 is already underperforming on the latest Zwift Update? What frame rates are you getting and is the 12% increase in overclocking necessary for that?

Shane Miller said...

Why upgrade and push the system to the limits? I like to tinker. The i3 Alienware has been great for that. I'm about to get on and do the new mountain pass on it. I didn't see any performance difference on the Macbook Pro I used it on the other night.

12% increase is well worth it for me. Your mileage may vary. I get around 45fps average with v-sync and overclocked GPU on 'high' settings.

Ryan said...

Lama, I have the i7 Alienware but am only seeing 30fps on Zwift AT BEST in the high (not ultra) settings. Are there any other system or video card settings I need to set to get better results? Thanks a ton!

Shane Miller said...

If it still the same GeForce GTX 860M GPU then the CPU isn't the limiter, it's the GPU. 30FPS on HIGH is pretty bad to be honest. Check drivers, check v-sync is off, overclock it with Afterburner. See https://zwiftalizer.com/benchmarks for more system results and what you can expect.

Ryan said...

Rookie mistake: I had the NVIDIA settings use the CPU for graphics, not the GPU. Making this switch (I thought I had adjusted in the past, apparently not) yielded improved results right away, of course! Average is 40fps on 1440 High and will be significantly higher on 1080 High.