This project started out as an innocent do-it-yourself (DIY) wifi card upgrade on my Dell Inspiron e1505/6400 laptop. The laptop was also having cooling issues that required stripping it down to its core. While I was in the neighborhood, I figured that I would go all out and add Bluetooth for Skype and a custom cooling modification. Factory cooling on laptops is usually sub par. I will show you how to do all of these modifications, and have full albums of pictures to guide you.
Gigabyte N300 Series WiFi Card
The Gigabyte GN-WI06N-RH N300 Dual-Band Mini Card is an awesome wireless internet card that has an Atheros chipset, fits into a Mini PCI Express slot and is IEEE 802.11a, b, g, 802.11n draft, and 802.1x compliant. Atheros is heavily backed by open source (Linux/MadWifi drivers). That means that the card will work with Backtrack 3 for Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) professional penetration testing and Aircrack-ng for legal WEP encryption cracking. Here is the best WEP key cracking guide I found so far for the Atheros chipset. Additionally, the card has connectors for up to three antennas, and only selects the one with the strongest signal. In addition to the two factory antennas integrated in my laptop, I used the third port to connect a 9dBi high gain external antenna. To attach the antenna to the card, you will need this U.FL Mini-PCI Laptop to WiFi Booster Antenna Cable (RP-SMA). You will also need to drill a hole into the side of the laptop to mount the connector for the antenna. I did this easily by hand using wood drill bit, because I didnt have my awesome new Dremel at the time. This makes for a great modular setup so you can go into covert mode without the antenna. I could also quickly attach different antennas depending on the application (like Wardriving and Warcarting). The card has great firmware and a 300 Mbps wireless transmission rate. Unfortunately, I did have some have a conflict issue between the Gigabyte utility software and something on the laptop – possibly with Windows XP Professional. A complete reinstallation of the Gigabyte drivers and utility seemed to fix that for now. The card and the external antenna are a lot of fun, but you may get some extra attention at Starbucks.
Now we get to install the bluetooth module . . .
Totally out of character, I did not research this at all before I jumped into it. I didnt know if it was possible to install the Dell TrueMobile 355 2.0 + Enhanced Data Rate (EDR) adapter and have it work with my sexy Blackberry Bluetooth HS655 Headset to make Skype calls. This turned out to be an incredibly easy mod and cheap upgrade. I would say that nearly everyone can do it.
I ordered the Bluetooth Module because it is Bluetooth 2.0 compliant with backwards compatibility with bluetooth 1.1 and 1.0 specifications. It also has an enhanced data rate of up to 3Mbps, so you can sync quite a few devices up to it. It plugged directly into the laptop’s motherboard through the 10 pin cable that was already present and hiding in a cavity behind the card door. Accessing the cable could not have been easier. Remove the battery by sliding the spring-loaded slider on the bottom of the laptop. Remove the plastic cover inside the battery cavity with a small flathead screwdriver. This is the screwdriver set that I use.
Dust everything off (Very useful to have around, I use it on everything), and you will be ready to boot up.
Well that was easy enough, but the driver installation was a bear. Windows has some sort of native Bluetooth controlling software that is terrible and tries to override the new drivers. But once I conquered that, voice quality is great, and the buttons on earpiece control functions in Skype the same way they would if the Bluetooth earpiece was paired with your cellphone.
The newer Dell Laptops probably come with Bluetooth standard, but this is an easy install for those of us that don’t have it.
The cooling issue had increased to the point that the laptop was noisy, hot to the touch, and shutting itself down (computers may do this so they dont overheat). The cooling issue was a typical combination of poor airflow due to dust collection, and aging cheap factory Thermal Interface Material (TIM) between the heatsink and processors.
Curing the issue on this laptop will quickly become complicated by the slight (sub-1mm) gap that is present between the graphics processor and heatsink. The typical upgrade of applying a better thermal compound will not work in this case due to the gap. Thermal pads and thermal tape can span this gap but tend to be utterly inefficient with heat dissipation. Instead I read about a copper modification, and decided that was what I needed to do. Unfortunately suppliers for such small custom copper shims and order quantities are virtually nonexistent. Luckily, Metal Offcuts was recommended to me, and I will gladly pass them on to you. They are located in the UK, are responsive, and ship rapidly to other countries. They are more than happy to accommodate custom orders when you email them.
C106 is the recommended grade of copper for the shim in this project. I did not have the proper tools like a Micrometer and Feeler Gauge to precisely measure the gap, so instead used my abundance of guitar picks of various marked sizes. I will order those proper tools though. Now assuming that the picks are actually the size that they say they are, the gap was a little larger than .7mm but smaller than 1mm. Length and width of the GPU die are affirmatively both 11mm. I decided to order both the .7mm x 11mm x 11mm and .9mm x 11mm x 11mm shims.
After stripping the residue off the processor dies and heatsink with 99% Isopropyl Alcohol, or Pure Acetone followed by isopropyl alcohol on a lint free cloth or Q-tip, I dry fitted the shims and found that the .9mm x 11mm x 11mm worked best. Cleaning Guide.
Then I quickly lapped both sides of the copper shim, and all heatsink contact points. I used a flat glass table* to evenly distribute weight, water as a lubricant, and both 800 and 2000 grit sandpaper. Although, there is heavy debate that anything higher than 800 grit is a waste of time. If you are going to lap your heatsink or Integrated Heat Shield (IHS), I recommend following this guide. WARNING: If you have exposed processor dies (like I do – see picture), do not dare go near them with sandpaper.
*I was advised that it is best to place the sandpaper on a glass table face up, and then press the copper shim down upon that in order to sand. This would disperse the pressure more evenly than if you held the copper piece in your hand and tried to sand. Use the table as a work surface. This especially applies for larger areas, like the bottom of heatsinks. (Although the heatsink on the Dell laptop does not allow for this approach)
Once everything is sanded, spread thermal grease on the central processing unit, graphics processing unit and the contact points of the thermal cooling assembly IN A VERY THIN LAYER! Place the copper shim on top of the GPU die, and reinstall the heatsink in one shot (redo thermal paste if you place it down and pull it back up). Finally, patch everything back together, and no, there weren’t any extra screws when you started.*
*I used thermal compound on both sides of the copper shim. I did not apply the compound to the shim itself, but rather on the processor and the heatsink. Then I put everything together. I have not experienced any slippage because I keep that laptop on a desk. When I do start to use it on the run, I would replace the compound only between the shim and heatsink with Arctic Silver Thermal Epoxy if there is slippage. I don’t expect it to slip with the current compound though.
I did not monitor the processor temperatures before and after the cooling upgrade, but the fan is silent and the laptop is not hot to the touch at all.
Overall, I am happy with everything. The computer is silent, stable, and now has a lot of cool new features.
Be sure to visit the grocery list to make sure you have everything.
*Note: Currently does not have the Bluetooth card required. Also, the copper shim must be ordered from the eBay vendor listed above.
If you are intimidated by any of these mods, I can do them for you. Thank you Dan for emailing me about parts of this post that I was vague about. Please visit the forums if you want to discuss this project in length.