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How to Fix Throttling on the Dell XPS 15 9560

By Douglas Black , updated on March 19, 2017

So, you’ve already maxed out your Dell XPS 15 with 32GB of DDR4 RAM and the best 1TB NVMe SSD for the money—now your XPS 15 9560 is as good as it gets, right? Nope, not yet!

Without some hardware and software tweaks, your brand-new XPS 15 won’t be able to perform anywhere near its potential due to throttling.

Before you begin the journey of optimizing your XPS 15, you’ll want the following: 1.5mm 6.0W/mK thermal pads, Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut (best thermal paste at the moment without resorting to the liquid metal variants), some highly pure rubbing alcohol and some microfiber cloths.

As mentioned in our detailed review, the XPS 15 9560 with the Core i7-7700HQ processor is prone to two types of throttling:

  1. Thermal throttling of the CPU or GPU (generally the CPU) when temperatures get too high
  2. Voltage Regulator Module (VRM) throttling caused by it getting too hot and being unable to deliver enough power

The first type of throttling is quite straightforward to all but the most uninitiated: the CPU and GPU have temperature limits to prevent damage. Exceeding the temperature max (100C for CPU, 97C for GPU) will cause an instantaneous shutdown—but you should never see temperatures anywhere near that as the components will throttle their performance long before they get to that point.

There are softer limits than 100C and 97C for the CPU and GPU respectively, however. The GPU will reduce its clocks to keep its temperature below 78C, and the CPU will dynamically reduce its turbo-clocks based on temperatures and power consumption.

The second type of throttling is also the result of heat, but because people generally look at CPU and GPU temperatures alone when benchmarking, it went undetected for a long time.

The VRM’s job is to convert 5 or 12V power from the adapter or battery into much smaller voltages to feed the CPU and GPU (generally 1.5v or less). A VRM has several components, but we are primarily interested in only two: MOSFETS (short for metal-oxide semiconductor field-effect transistor, but you don’t need to know that for any reason except trivia) and chokes. The MOSFET is responsible for switching the voltage down to a manageable level to feed the CPU and GPU; the chokes stabilize the current.

In this image (courtesy of iunlock of Notebookreview), the MOSFETs and chokes have been identified with their temperatures under load. Throttling occurs around 78C.

To get your XPS 15 to run at its maximum potential, we will need to solve both these problems. First, let’s take care of the CPU and GPU heat directly. For this, you’ll need your Grizzly Kryonaut, 99% rubbing alcohol, and those microfiber cloths.

  1. Use a T5 screwdriver to remove the 10 Torx screws around the edges of the bottom panel.
  2. Open the service hatch and use a Phillips screwdriver to remove the two Phillips-head screws.
  3. If this is your first time opening your XPS 15, it will take a bit of effort to take the bottom plate off, as there are many small clips that keep it attached. Get your fingernails or a plastic card under the sides of the base near the hinge where the casing is most robust, and apply even, steady pressure to pull the bottom off.
  4. Remove the battery connector by pulling gently.
  5. Use your Phillips screwdriver to remove the five screws of the heat sink assembly.
  6. DO NOT PULL ON THE PIPES TO REMOVE IT. The heat sink assembly bends very easily. Carefully remove the heat sink assembly by getting your fingers under the upper edges of the left square (this is the GPU’s heat spreader) and gentle pulling upward on the top edge. The assembly should come up fairly easily once you overcome the glue-like suction of Dell’s abominable paste-job.
  7. Use the microfiber with the rubbing alcohol to remove the existing thermal paste. You’ll want to clean both the CPU and GPU dies as well as the heat spreader. Keep cleaning with the alcohol until you don’t see any grey marks on the cloth after rubbing.
  8. Put a little (half the size of a grain of rice) dollop of the thermal paste onto each die. Don’t worry, it will be pressed flat by the pressure of the heat spreader.
  9. Carefully replace the heat sink assembly flat onto the dies. Keep applying firm downward pressure over the heat spreader areas with one hand while you reinsert the screws with the other.
  10. Tighten each screw only a little at a time, taking turns tightening the screw diagonal to it so the pressure on the heatsink is uniform.
  11. Reconnect the battery.
  12. Place the bottom case cover back on the unit. No need to screw it back on yet, though.
  13. Turn on your laptop and run some tests! If you’ve done it right, you’ll see a pretty good reduction in CPU and GPU operating temperatures.

The next step is using software called ThrottleStop to reduce the power consumption of your CPU. This can reduce the load wattage needed for the CPU by 10W easily.

Generally, all the i7-7700HQs on XPS 15 9560’s I’ve seen can undervolt to -125mv for core and cache. I run -125mv on core/care and -75mv on the iGPU.

The final tweak to take care of your CPU and GPU temperatures is to go to the Nvidia Control Panel and change the “Maximum pre-rendered frames” value to “2”. This will prevent the CPU from needlessly being overtaxed to send data to the GPU.

The next step is dealing with the temperatures of the VRM head-on. Take another look at this picture:

Our goal is to cool those MOSFETs with the highest temperature (above the heat spreader) so they don’t hit their throttling temperature. How? We will be using stacked thermal pads to connect the MOSFET to the aluminum bottom cover. Why? When the right type of pads are used, the bottom cover will wick heat away from the MOSFETs.

There is trick to this, and it explains why we use lower performing 6W/mK thermal pads instead of some very high quality ones: if too much heat is transferred to the case it will actually end up heating up the VRM instead of cooling it. This is what will happen if you use an extremely conductive (16W/mK) thermal pad, and it’s why we want the 6W/mK pads for this purpose instead.

The mod is fairly straightforward: cut out small vertical strips from the thermal pad and place them on top of the MOSFETs above the heat spreaders. If you are using 1.5mm thick thermal pads, you will need to stack 3 of them on top of each other in order to reach the case. You want to leave as much open space around the pads so what little airflow there is doesn’t get impeded.

That’s it! Once you have stacked your little padded pillars over the MOSFETs and put the case bottom back on, you should be able to run any game or benchmark without VRM-induced throttling.

After following this guide, your Dell XPS 15 9560 should now be a finely tuned beast of a machine, able to leap mountains in a single bound. If this guide helped you, please let me know in the comments and share this guide.

Douglas is a teacher, mobile tech enthusiast, weightlifter, personal trainer, SCUBA diver, and traveler. He currently lives in Bangkok.

24 Comments

  1. Maks

    March 17, 2017 at 8:40 am

    Wow, that is real tweak!

  2. Etienne Leroux Groleau

    March 17, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    This is awesome! Thanks it's exactly what I was looking for.

  3. Collin

    March 17, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    This is awesome, thanks for putting together such a thoughtfully written guide!
    Do you have any insight on whether these same tweaks would be helpful / worth performing on an XPS 15 9550? Mine has an i7 6700hq and I haven't noticed any thermal throttling or related issues, but I've hardly pushed it to it's full potential either.

  4. Gordon

    March 18, 2017 at 12:28 am

    I'm curious why the VRM would heat up more if too much heat is transferred to the case?

    • Douglas Black

      March 18, 2017 at 12:31 am

      Because if the case reaches very high temperatures, it superheats the air being sucked in for cooling. It will compromise the entire cooling system of the laptop and send temperatures spiraling out of control

      • Physics Works

        March 18, 2017 at 2:24 am

        Wow. That's ridiculous. Might as well make a perpetual motion machine while you are at it. Heat from the VRM can "superheat" (incorrect usage of the word) the air which in turn makes the VRM hotter than it was originally…..

        • Douglas Black

          March 18, 2017 at 2:27 am

          I was referring to heat sinking the CPU/GPU, but using highly conductive mosfet pads will have the same result, as per many people on notebookreview's forums who have tried it. Feel free to sink the mosfets with 16w/mk pads and tell me how well it cools them compared to 6w/mk.

  5. Andrew Gerges

    March 18, 2017 at 6:21 am

    I just bought the 13inch model. Does this have throttling issues also?

    • Douglas Black

      March 18, 2017 at 6:24 am

      just TDP throttling if using CPU + iGPU at the same time. There's nothing you can do about that

    • Bernard

      March 18, 2017 at 8:38 am

      My 13 inch seems to get hot every time I load up Steam. I have the Ubuntu version and psensor has reported CPU Temps as high as 100C while running CS GO at QHD+ resolution. It never turned off, I had to turn it off. Regardless, Steam regularly pushes it to 87+C doing nothing. Even YouTube can spike the temperature to the 80's.

      In most cases it's great but in a few cases it cooks. I don't want to RMA it, I spent hours configuring it the way I wanted it. I hope there's an easy solution. I am thinking of getting a better cooling pad, the one I have does nothing. This heat sink stuff sounds good too, but to lose the warranty on the most expensive computer I ever bought is kind of scary.

  6. Reggie

    March 18, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Will this void my warranty and service contract? I've already undervolted my XPS but have held off on opening up and repasting, etc. However, as I read this I'm much more inclined to do so as I would love to extend and maximize the life and use of my super mega awesome machine.

    • Douglas Black

      March 18, 2017 at 10:59 am

      None of this voids your warranty

      • Reggie Generoso

        March 18, 2017 at 1:48 pm

        Sweeeet!!! Thank you for the prompt reply and also this guide! Going to get right on it!

  7. iunlock

    March 18, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    Great write up mate. Keep up the good work. Cheers

  8. Ross

    March 21, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    Any reason not to use liquid metal paste such as Coolabaratory ?

  9. jinny

    March 23, 2017 at 12:51 am

    great tips!
    i have a question. i see a thermal pad under the heatsink. why not change it too?

    • Douglas Black

      March 23, 2017 at 12:55 am

      Those Dell pads are for the VRAM, but they don't need changing. They are very soft, and even .5mm Arctic pads are harder than them. You need them to be soft so they compress easily and allow good contact on the CPU/GPU

      • jinny

        March 23, 2017 at 1:02 am

        what a fast reply! tks
        another Q..
        when i put a thermal pad on MOSFETs should i put thermal pad on all the MOSFET or just like the picture you uploaded?

        • Douglas Black

          March 23, 2017 at 1:04 am

          I don't think that's a good strategy because it will disrupt the airflow which helps cool them. However, some people have done this and claimed good results. I would stick to using little pillars of pads on the mosfets with the highest temperatures so the most cooling is given to the mosfets that need it most.

          • jinny

            March 23, 2017 at 1:08 am

            Then i'll put thermal pad just like you posted!
            I realy appreciate you help :D

          • Douglas Black

            March 23, 2017 at 1:12 am

            Welcome!

  10. Jean-Yves Avenard

    March 25, 2017 at 5:06 pm

    For one week I had been trying to understand why it was that my older Gigabyte Aero 14 with its 2.6Ghz i7-6600HQ could be faster than this new Dell with a 2.8Ghz i7-7700hq at compiling Firefox. 24 minutes on the Aero; 28 minutes on the Dell.

    After deinstalling McAfee live (which was disabled); I got it down to 26.5minutes. But that was still too much.

    So I did the trick described above covering the MOSFETs with thermal pads (Arctic 6W/mq).
    And amazingly; it got down to 23 minutes!!!!

    Now that got me surprised.

    I'm not sure that there's any point redoing the thermal paste in the processor. On mine the CPU temp never exceeds 74 degree, even running the CPU at 100% for hours.

    In any case. Thanks.

    You may want to redo the photos however on how to remove the CPU heatsink. The wrong screws are circled, there's no need to remove any of the fans screws. The next photo with the heatsink removed clearly show which 5 screws are to be removed.

    Also; rather than 3 layers of 1.5mm pad; I would use 2×1.5mm+1mm.
    3*1.5mm cause the case to bend slightly between the two screws. You can tell on the photos that it's much too high.

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