Question Dell Precision series 7xxx (7510) - Recent experience tuning performance - Optimus, NVidia Graphics, Drivers, General System Responsiveness (Latency)

Feb 12, 2022
As I've been deep-diving performance on my Dell Precision 7510, I thought maybe I'd share some of my experiences on tuning system performance - graphics AND overall system responsiveness. This post will go a bit further than the "normal" basic stuff you can read anywhere like "clear the cache" or "reduce startup programs" or even "disable Speedstep"

My machine is a Xeon E3-1535 ("state-of-the-art" - well it was - 2016 model ;) ) running Win10 Pro with 32GB memory ... upgraded to a 4K screen, a Samsung NVME SSD and recently I have upgraded the Quadro to an MXM GTX965M. (btw I also have my prior generation Precision M4700 from 2012). They are ALL - if I'm honest - complex as hell technically. Both because they are high-end portable workstations designed for Corporates and CAD-work, but also they are extremely maintainable/upgrade-able and have all the bells and whistles "at any given time of release". Many people complain that their performance often just doesn't match the high specifications ...

BACKGROUND - I have written this as I hope it can help a few people out there with Dell Precisions, or Dells in general ... or anyone really!
  • I was trying to see how fast I can run the new NVidia GTX965M MXM-A card for gaming. After the hardware install and graphics driver installs were fine, it was faster than the old Quadro but way (WAY) slower than I knew it could be
  • As I looked into the GTX965M performance, running benchmarks etc, I ended up down some deeper rabbit holes e.g. looking at latency (and drivers). Also how to efficiently manage power vs heat between CPU and GPUs
  • The quite unexpected end-result was a system where Windows day-to-day performance (now) feels so much more fast and "snappy" and "responsive", i.e. without all the micro-delays and mini-lags that we often get used to?
- So, "Lessons Learned" which may help others:

POWER - Dell often limit the power to parts of your laptop/notebook system at a BIOS level. From reading and experience this based upon the power adaptor, plus whether you are plugged in or not
(1) So make sure you have the most powerful Power Adaptor compatible with your machine ... in my case getting a 180w (vs 130w) AC power adaptor, 3D/gaming performance almost doubled frame-rates (but NOT power) on the "new" GTX965m

DRIVERS - it's an area where Precisions can get badly messed up ... and it often starts from installing or upgrading to the (wrong) Intel Chipset drivers
(2) For performance, re-install Windows and make sure (1) the first thing you install are Chipset drivers from Dell or Intel (2) the first set should have a driver date like 1968 or 1970 which is weird I know, but these are the RIGHT baseline drivers. Dell/Intel/any driver management software use these as the base for other drivers you will need in your system. Get these wrong and/or messed up and your system may work "okay" but ... nowhere near as well as maybe it can.
Pretty much all other drivers get "layered" on top of these, so these are foundational
(3) When doing the fresh install, use Dell OEM Chipset Drivers first wherever possible. ESPECIALLY all the Intel related drivers like Chipset, Management Engine, Dynamic Platform and Thermal Framework, Integrated Graphics and Audio
(4) The Intel "Dynamic Platform and Thermal Framework" drivers can be quite variable on how they impact the CPUs. For example 8.3.x.x caused the Xeons to normally run about 10C hotter in general, plus the system was far more "peaky" per CPU core ... causing the system to shut down unnecessarily. Some would say simply disable all the DTPF drivers ... and there are articles on how to do this ... but I think that's a bit extreme!!
(5) Avoid using 3rd party Driver Management tools like DriverMax, DriverBooster to upgrade any of the drivers above or for Intel/Nvidia Graphics or Audio ... it will all end in sorrow. These "latest" drivers aren't always the best, also these tools can upgrade your Chipset drivers piecemeal to different versions, rather than as a group of 6-10 devices ...

INSTALLING GRAPHICS DRIVERS with OPTIMUS - some of this is pretty well known with Optimus (??) but worth to mention
(6) Always use the DDU tool to do full uninstalls and of NVidia drivers in safe mode (btw I also suggest to also use DDU/safemode to uninstall Intel iGPU and Intel audio drivers too) Yes it's a pain, but yes it really helps from experience
(7) For Optimus you must install the Intel graphics driver before NVidia. I always use an early version DELL (OEM)-approved Intel driver for the machine - because this pretty much guarantees Optimus is working from the very start
(8) Once working, I upgrade the Intel Graphics driver to the latest DELL (OEM)-approved driver for the machine. But NOT the latest one Intel want to "push" to you though!
(9) See "SYSTEM LATENCY" below - check latency before you go any further, and resolve any big issues now - because otherwise, it can be hell to find any driver causing latency issues downstream
(10) Install your NVidia drivers only after steps 6-9
(11) Again, personally I would avoid 3rd-party Driver Management tools for any graphics/audio drivers, and I'd always check the latency after I do upgrade them

(12) Check your latency after each step 7-10 (I use "Latency Mon") when installing/re-installing new Graphics or Audio drivers at least .
WHY - well Latency hits your GPU and affects graphics throttling, power control in CPU and GPUs, and audio ... it affects how responsive your system is in Windows, browsing etc as well
- In particular high ACPI.sys (kernal power driver) latency seems to cause sluggishness and lags, but there can be are other drivers too
The cause of high latency is normally you have a low-level device driver issue or driver compatibility issue "somewhere" ... even if you didn't know it before!! The device is working, and Windows thinks it is "okay", but reality is that it's slowing down your system.
- Low system latency means the system can rapidly throttle the GPU/CPU power and heat.
For me I'm (now) getting better gaming stability at high temperature. BUT also it's making Windows, browsing etc suddenly feel noticeably more"snappy" and responsive
Resolving WHY you have high latency later on is pretty trial and error, so it's worth to check after any major driver update. Certainly it taught me to be cautious on Intel Graphics and any Audio drivers

(13) A tool like "Quick CPU" may help you see what your CPU(s) are ACTUALLY doing underneath a Windows power plan, speed, power, heat
e.g. Is it throttling? is it using power efficiently or are your CPUs simply running "hot" but for no real reason? I am finding it eye-opening using it

In the last few weeks it has taught me (for example) that I should -
  • Turn off SpeedSTEP BUT turn ON SpeedSHIFT for a number a reasons - (1) more stable performance on gaming under high loads (2) SpeedSHIFT seems to manage power better (3) and it also seems to throttle faster and make the system more responsive
  • For day-to-day usage (Windows, Browing, MS Office etc) when plugged in, with SpeedSHIFT I want the CPUs to be able to throttle fast between 800-3500 Mhz. It makes the system more responsive. CPU temperatures on a core can can peak in a moment to 70-80C at (say) 3400Mhz, but that's fine as the core lowers almost immediately
  • But with 3D gaming use - where the Nvidia GPU takes the real load - 3D performance can actually be faster and certainly more stable and cooler with CPUs core speed. For the Xeons, at 2900MHz they run "fast but cool" and without heat spiking, which is ideal. In turn this helps the Nvidia GPU performance as this IS running seriously hot when gaming
- btw I had no idea at all about Speedshift previously - Dell don't even have it as a BIOS option on my 7510. I found it via Throttlestop, and it was turned OFF by default ...
- In general, "Quick CPU" can let you actually see a LOT of lower-level (Intel hardware level etc) CPU power management and throttling that happens at a level below Windows - so that you cannot even see options in Windows.
There are options to tune CPU and Power directly - what you can and cannot do depends on your CPU and what is locked/unlocked in the system Bios. It's also WAY less intimidating to use than Throttelstop

FUTURE AREAS TO LOOK AT - areas I haven't looked at so far but may do in future ...
(1) Dell have some power management software. . Most of it looks about battery optimization (no interest tbh) but I can see some things on fan control (which IS interesting as fan-speed control is all BIOS locked down in the Dell Precisions I have used, even with via MSI Afterburner
(2) BitSum "Process Lasso", for CPU specialization

Anyway .... I hope this post makes SOME kind of sense and it can help some folks out there ... happy to discuss more with those interested
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