Dell's Throttlegate: Is a defect turning a 2.2GHz CPU into 100MHz?

Dell's Throttlegate: Is a defect turning a 2.2GHz CPU into 100MHz?

Summary: A growing number of users on Web message boards have been complaining about "inexplicably aggressive" throttling policies on Dell Latitude E6500 and E6400 laptops.

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A growing number of users on Web message boards have been complaining about "inexplicably aggressive" throttling policies on Dell Latitude E6500 and E6400 laptops.

According to a Slashdot reader, the throttling is restricting CPUs to less than 5 percent of theoretical maximums at room temperature.

From NotebookReview.com forums:

My E6400 has been suffering overheating problems with the current hot weather (over 30C degrees). When the machine overheats it begun to throttle to 75% then to 35%. Once it reached 35% the machine is extremely slow (much slower than normal 35% in power saving mode), it like the machine is put in the safe mode and it won’t recover once the temperatures drops i.e. ACPI, & cpu =40’s & NVS160 = 60’s. The only thing fix the problem is to shutdown the machine & wait for few minutes and restarting the machine. Anyone have had experienced similar problem? I am suspecting the ACPI is triggering the machine to throttle. I was able to replicate the problem and here is the temperatures the machine begun throttling ACPI = 78C, Core 0 = 61C, Core 2= 72C, NVS 160 = 80C HDD = 45C P8400 -> core speed = 1600MHz, multiplier = x6 bus speed = 266 MHz, FSB =1064MHz BIOS = A11

Another from the same forum:

Dell has aggressive CPU throttling in the BIOS. I have an Inspiron 6400 w/ Core 2 Duo 1.83ghz. In XP, Vista, and 7, it would throttle way the heck down and not turn the fan all the way up. Because the fan was annoying. It would go down to around 200mhz.

From forums on Dell's own site:

We initially suspected RAM when our issues started. But the memory that came stock with the laptops (Elpida) passed all tests we put it through. For good measure we got a 2nd brand from Dell (Hynix) with the same results. During our 20th test or so we had a system lockup outside of the Windows OS (in Symantec Ghost). This gave us enough leverage to request 10 new machines for testing (which were from a different manufacturing date). The machines that came had Samsung memory and didn't crash after several days of burn in. We swapped out the new memory with some of our crashing laptops. Then, likewise, put the crashing laptop memory into the new chassis. The crashing laptops became stable and the new chassis started crashing; Voila!  As laptops are requested, they are manufactured in another country, then shipped as part of Dell's Just In Time distribution method. To wit, whatever memory was in the bin to go into the laptop is what we got stuck with.

According to reader postings, the issue can be triggered by playing a video or performing another processor-intensive task.

After being banned from the Dell Forums for revealing "non-public information," (No ban! See official Dell comment in TalkBack) one user published a 59-page report (.pdf; link currently broken) explaining and diagnosing the throttling problem in detail.

Dell hasn't indicated any widespread problems -- for now, it looks isolated but could carry potential to be a broader problem -- but some users are hoping for a proper recall.

Have you experienced these issues with your Dell Latitude E6500 or E6400 laptop?

Topics: Hardware, Dell, Laptops, Mobility, Processors

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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39 comments
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  • Dell = Junk always has always will be

    Just return it and get another computer from a vendor that does not sell junk. Ie: not Dell.
    itguy08
    • Dell = Junk

      Well, I for one don't believe Dell is junk.

      Have you had some really horrible experience with Dell? For me, Dell is no worse than other computers in the marketplace.

      ctbw
    • Not always.

      And in this case they're having issues with a relatively new product line which is not unheard of from any vendor. Every manufacturer that I can think of has had their flops, and dell has had a lot in the past. Recently I've seen a lot of improvements made in the quality of Dell's products and the technical issues that they're having don't, to me, sound indicative of poor build quality and more like faulty parts from the component manufacturer.
      edwards.wb
    • i had bad experience with dell , hp , ibm , apple

      and please dont even speak about aopen,acer,emachine, lenovo crap. and the rest .... dell is not better nor worst that any other company .... there precision series is quite good.
      Quebec-french
      • Amen on eMachines and HP...

        Quebec-french stated:
        [i]i had bad experience with dell , hp , ibm , apple and please dont even speak about aopen,acer,emachine, lenovo crap. and the rest .... dell is not better nor worst that any other company .... there precision series is quite good.[/i]

        Have a HP laptop that suddenly decided it didn't have a HDD or optical drive (rendering it little more than a paperweight) and the eMachines desktop I'm currently working with has one panel off it, and has performed beautifully since I took said panel off, despite everything being absolutely clean before I left the panel off. (So far, at over 2 days continuously running, and no hiccups or sleepiness on the part of the machine. Granted, BOINC runs the CPU at 100% all the time, but that's never fazed a machine of mine before...)

        What's totally puzzling is that the hardware sensors on the eMachines are all in the normal temperature ranges, yet with the panel on, it goes randomly into sleep mode and won't come out unless you unplug it from all power sources and leave it until the power light quits flashing.

        Working on getting a new computer, but money's tight. So much so that I wonder sometimes whether I can cover my bills. And it is interfering in my ability to do my work, so my job's endangered, too. Thanks, eMachines and HP! Way to go!
        Raymond Danner
    • Actuarially, Dell is mid-pack for reliability

      One of the extended warranty companies issued a report on laptop reliability (charts in article link below) and Dell came in right in the middle of the pack.

      http://www.thisllwork.com/2009/11/warranty_co_discloses_laptop_failure_rate.html
      XXP
  • RE: Dell's Throttlegate: Is a defect turning a 2.2GHz CPU into 100MHz?

    I am glad this was posted! I have had an E6400 since June, and have experienced issues with it slowing down. I knew the system could vary the proc speed, but I didn't really know how to check what it was at when it was acting slow. I had my Win7 set to High Performance, and that didn't seem to matter.
    jesusfreakf1
  • RE: Dell's Throttlegate: Is a defect turning a 2.2GHz CPU into 100MHz?

    It has been a problem since day-one on my Dell M1730.
    It happens whether running XP/Vista/Win7 in 32 or 64-
    bit version.

    I have to interrupt my Windows boot and start windows
    with "Disable Driver Signature Enforcement" set, so I
    can run Rightmark's free CPU Clock utility and force
    the machine to not throttle down the CPU. It's the
    only way to stop it from happening.

    I realize that this solution is potentially dangerous,
    but we keep our office at 70-F 24/7 so overheating is
    not a problem. I've tried to talk to Dell about this
    to no avail. I'll never buy a Dell laptop again and
    BTW, I'm the CIO for my company.
    craig11@...
    • Don't buy Dell

      "I'll never buy a Dell laptop again and
      BTW, I'm the CIO for my company. "

      Smart move. Never, ever buy Dell.
      itguy08
      • Never Buy Dell?

        OK. What would YOU buy itguy08? Looks to me like Dell offers at least as good a product as others at a competitive price.
        ctbw
        • Never Buy Dell??

          I've owned 10 or 12 Dell computers over the years, including 2 laptops, and never had a problem. Right now I'm using 2 desktops and 1 laptop. My experience and that of my friends who use Dell has been great. On what do you base your statement itguy08?
          Novis_z
          • Dell Has A History Of Reliability Problems

            An engineer who worked for me nine years ago was a consultant for Rational. As Rational consultants, he and his wife had experience with all laptop makes. The worst by far were Dells. In his team of five, they had four laptops catch fire during normal operation in one year.

            Eight years ago, I joined a company that uses all Dell computers. Failures are common and cause significant loss of work time. I myself have had two hard drive failures out of three Dell work laptops. In my circle of 14 closest friends, all have had at least one hard drive failure on their Dell work laptop.
            Cardhu
          • please explain a bit further

            what series where they ... pro stuff or for home idiot ... that is where the difference.

            when you buy if you go for cheap home user machine dont expect a super machine .... you paid 495$ for a computer .... if you get the pro machine at 1500$ ok now you got a monster with high quality part
            Quebec-french
          • Well @ work my Dell is on it's 4th power supply...

            in less than 2yrs, it is OPTIPLEX GX620.
            mrlinux
          • please explain a bit further

            I agree you can not take a home user PC and try to cram it full of work based ethics and expect it to run 100%. Dig deeper in the pockets of the corperate fund for a buisness PC you might save money. I.Tees. should know this, if they don't maybe your in the wrong line of work.
            phintz@...
        • I would buy Toshiba, for notebooks.

          For desktops, I could not give a shit. Desktops are easy to fix, and I swim in a sea of generic parts.
          Subsentient
          • I agree on this!

            Toshiba seems to make laptops that take significant load and shrug it off, without heating up significantly. My fianc?e's Toshiba, for example, has its memory maxed out, is running Vista Home Premium, and has yet to get warm enough to be more than noticeable, despite not using a cooler mat. My HP, when it was working, got hot enough just in idle to require a cooler mat... suggesting that the HP's parts are getting way, way too hot too soon. Heck, I've had to use gloves to take the battery out of the HP, it was so hot, and that's in a room that's kept at 72F at most. Something's amiss in HP-land, I expect.

            But I agree: Buying Dell is a nightmare, but more because of their India-based tech-centers than anything else. Two and a half hours on the phone for them to finally tell me the high filter was disabling the optical drives? Come on! The high and low filters in the registry would be the [i]first[/i] thing I'd check, since it's the most likely culprit and easily fixed!
            Raymond Danner
    • My M1730 is fine

      Its not a common problem so I wouldnt right of dell especialy as sagar, clevo and alienware (although there dell owned) among others have problems too.

      Ok its a desktop but HP have had systems with far worse problems.
      jdbukis@...
  • All the Apple Airs are like this

    http://erratasec.blogspot.com/2009/01/password-cracking-
    vs-cpu-throttling.html
    georgeou
    • Apple's dirty little secret

      I worked for a company that had a very CPU intensive video application - it could run the processor near 100% for minutes at a time. Brand new MacBook Pros would overheat in 5-10 minutes at room temp. My older Dell M90 did OK in the New Mexico desert running the same application.
      snordha1@...