Laptop Loses Power During Graphics Intensive Applications

I have a Dell Latitude D820. Whenever I run graphics-intensive applications, the system suddenly loses power. This is not a smooth shutdown, either; it’s as if the power cord was yanked out. Two examples of this: 1) I can’t play Oblivion for more than 30 seconds before the system loses power, and 2) When I run an nVidia video optimization test that revs the graphics, the system loses power.

I’ve run nearly every onboard diagnostic available, and all the tests were passed. I’ve read various places online that claim this is either an overheating issue, or a power supply issue. I don’t think this could be an overheating issue, because while the temperatures get somewhat warm, they aren’t extreme. Furthermore, I’ve run Oblivion and the video optimization in windowed mode with PC Wizard in the background, and the chips never have time to warm up more than they already are at idle. The fans start to rev up, and then the system shuts down.

Strangely, I’ve played Oblivion before (it was a less-than-legitimate copy) and it ran without power loss -albeit at a slow frame rate - and I eventually uninstalled it. I’ve since upgraded the RAM in this laptop and got a full version of Oblivion for Christmas, which led me to discover this issue.

What do you think of this issue? I’ve got a Dell technician coming in the next few days to take a look, but this is really eating at me in the meantime.


Without taking a look at your laptop myself, I must say it does sound like an overheating issue related to the CPU.

The second theory may have been the GPU overheating, but this has obvious symptoms, such as graphical artifacting, before system shutdown.

Do you have a a can of compressed air? Spraying that into the exhaust vents may help alleviate the problem, at least for a little while.

P.S. Hi, Green Bean!

Until someone who knows what they’re talking about comes along, have you tried removing and reseating the graphics card (assuming this is possible)?

This makes me think power supply. Are there powered things that could be removed or disabled, to see if that frees up enough power to run the graphics card?

Yes, I should’ve mentioned that I sprayed a can of compressed air into the vents to remove as much dust as possible.

Interesting suggestion. I’ve looked around under the keyboard, but I can’t really find the graphics card. I know I have a dedicated card, but everything is so compact inside a laptop that I don’t really have any bearings as to what I’m looking at.

Another good suggestion. What could I safely remove or disable that would free up significant amounts of power?

Is the power supply the original 90 watt PA-10?

Yes. In fact, it’s a brand new one. I got two when I ordered this laptop two years ago. I had been using one of them for the past two years, but recently opened the untouched second one and began using that one.

What’s the graphics chip inside? Nvidia had a major cock-up when they changed to a new solder some time ago. Basically all G8x and G9x chips until a few months ago are affected. Story here.

This is a classic symptom of overheating, the mobo shuts down the computer before the CPU fries. Have you considered a laptop cooling thing with fans in it? I have this problem when I reinstall my OS, so I put a desk fan on high directly on the fan vents.

I don’t know, it really sounds like overheating to me. What are the temps you’re seeing? Which programs do you use to monitor the temps?

Thank you everyone for your responses.

The video card is an nVidia Quadro NVS 120m, which has a GeForce Go 7400 chip in it. I think this card is older than the ones affected by their new solder.

I have considered a laptop cooling platform briefly, but it seems that I may need to look into this more closely.

CPU temperature is in the low 30s (C) and GPU temperature is in the low 60s on startup. When the system is fully warmed up, CPU temperature is in the upper 30s and low 40s, while GPU temperature is in the high 60s, low 70s, and even into the upper 70s. I’m measuring all this with PC Wizard 2008.
I agree that overheating seems to be the likely culprit. The thing that puzzles me, though, is why there should be such an instantaneous reaction. If I run a graphics benchmark or start up Oblivion, within seconds of the increased demand being placed on the system, it shuts down. Could the temperatures really rise so suddenly and abruptly?

When my laptop was overheating it had the same symptoms. I’d suggest that you try to find another application that shuts down the machine. A virus scan did it for me. You might also try to set the laptop to power saver mode and see if that delays the shutdown. Though I will admit that the symptom beginning when you got a new power supply is a bit suspicious.

You may also be overloading the power supply, resulting in an immediate power supply shutdown. Many modern graphics systems can place a huge load on the power supply when they are active.

Is there any remedy for this in a laptop? As far as I know, there isn’t any way to upgrade (or modify in any way) the power supply of a laptop.

I would try swapping out the power supply. It may be incapable of delivering its rated power due to age or defective parts. I would also check the power cables and connectors for problems.

Wow, that’s quote cool …

Now that’s getting rather hot. I’ve seen one machine have 80C as the point at which it would shut down. Now, that was the CPU and not the GPU but I don’t see why a machine wouldn’t do the shutdown for either.

In my experience, it can. But I can’t find anything to back me up, so take that for what it’s worth. In any case, your GPU approaching 80 C is already an indicator that heat might be the culprit. And your overall symptoms (intensive app -> fans kicking in -> shutdown) are classic overheating signs.

Are you using the battery, or AC power through a transformer? Whichever you’re using, try the other. The transformer (well, not really a transformer, but the AC to DC converter at any rate) on my laptop went about a year ago. The symptoms were different, but it’s possible it’s the transformer that’s going, and not the laptop power supply.

I don’t know really. Maybe go into My Computer -> Properties -> Hardware -> Device Manager and try disabling things you don’t absolutely need. USB ports, PCMCIA, Modem, DVD. Even the sound card, although you obviously won’t be able to play your game except for testing if it crashes.

See if running it without the battery installed makes a difference. You’re sure the second PS is the 90 watt version?

I have been running on AC power for the last several days. My battery recently crapped out about a week ago, which is an entirely different story. Suffice it to say that the battery is so drained, the system doesn’t even recognize that it is inserted (this is checked by going into the “battery health” section of the BIOS setup). I’m somewhat skeptical of this, as I rarely, rarely ever run on battery battery alone, but like I said, that’s another story. I’ve also checked in the BIOS that the power supply is the 90 watt AC/DC converter.

I did some testing last night with two different power supplies. Both produce the same result (i.e. immediate power loss upon running intensive applications).

Sounds like a faulty power connection to the graphics card. When the graphics card tried to draw more power to perform higher intensity duties the card freaks out and causes the mobo to reset.

This may be a little drastic, and you may not feel comfortable doing it, but…

Here is a picture of your motherboard. At top-middle is the DIMM memory connector, top right two LAN card connectors. I don’t see the connector for a graphics board, but it may be more apparent on yours since it will have the board installed.

So: carefully take apart the laptop. The usual procedure is to find all the screws and remove them – there will likely be some under the keyboard, some in the battery compartment, some under the rubber “feet” of the laptop, as well as some obvious ones on the bottom. Remove them all and carefully pop the laptop apart, being careful not to force it (which likely means you missed a screw) and also careful of any wiring harnesses to the screen or keyboard, which you may need to disconnect.

Blow your can of air over the entire motherboard, looking especially for dust bunnies in things like fans or under installed sub-boards. Find the graphics board and carefully remove it, and first spray your can of air in the connector, and perhaps some safe spray contact cleaner in the connector and on the card’s connector, then reinstall the board. If the graphics board has a separate power connector, clean that as well. You may want to also do this with the memory DIMMs while we’re here.

Lastly, blow out all the dust from the case itself, since you will have different and hopefully more effective results doing this from the “inside”. Reassemble the laptop, carefully reconnecting any wire harnesses you removed. Turn it on and cross your fingers that things will be less hot and work better.

Disclaimer: this is usually very safe for an organized person to do, but I’ll warn here that if you are not careful you could potentially brick your laptop. Back everything up before hand and proceed with caution. Keep track of every screw and where it goes, every wiring harness you remove and where it goes, and you’ll probably be fine.