Dell M4600 Performance Improvement (Disable Intel SpeedStep)

Last weekend I spent a little time working at home and I could not get over how much slower my notebook was performing. I unplugged the power adaptor (130w) to run on battery alone and my performance was back. Could this be right?! So, I downloaded a free benchmarking tool and ran a few tests. The performance running on battery alone was more than double than when using the 130 watt power adaptor.

I then began spelunking around in the BIOS to see what havoc I could bring to life. There was one setting I found to be very interesting: Intel SpeedStep. The Intel SpeedStep setting was enabled, which at first glance sounds good like enabling a turbo charger for your computer. However, disabling this setting “puts your computer in the highest performance state and prevents the Intel SpeedStep applet or native operating system driver from adjusting the processor’s performance”. Here are the results of my benchmark testing. I think most people will prefer to disable this “feature”.

Dell M4600 Performance Rating

Power Source SpeedStep On SpeedStep Off Battery Charges
Battery

596-670

598-622

N/A

Medium Adaptor (130w)

288-289

600-624

No charge, No drain
(charges when off or sleeping)

Large Adaptor (180w)

658-672

609-622

Yes

The most obvious results show that using a power supply with less than 180 watts with SpeedStep enabled cuts the performance about 53% to a rating of 289 – that is a huge drop. With SpeedStep disabled and using the 130 watt power supply, not only does the performance resume to 100% generating a performance rating of 624; the battery does not drain at all. It doesn’t charge either, but it does charge when the computer is in a sleep state or powered off; which will likely not be an issue for most people.

One thing also worth pointing out is the best performance numbers were obtained when using the 180w power adaptor with SpeedStep enabled. It is my belief that this highest rating is only sustainable for short periods of time and does represent a sustainable performance rating.

I have chosen to disable SpeedStep. Disabling the Intel SpeedStep may not be ideal for those of you who spend a significant amount of time working unplugged (on battery); however, I was able to use my computer for 4 hours this weekend on battery alone with SpeedStep disabled. Most people using a Dell M4600 are using it as a portable workstation and will usually be plugged into a power source.

There is one benefit I can think of in keeping the Intel SpeedStep enabled. If you are using a lower wattage power adaptor (e.g., 180w), it will reduce your processor performance enough to allow the lower wattage power adaptors to charge your battery while using your computer. But that is about the only advantage I can think of.

Changing the SpeedStep setting (Dell Precision M4600):

  1. Reboot computer and enter BIOS by pressing F12 (on the notebook keyboard)
  2. Select BIOS Setup
  3. Performance > Intel SpeedStep
  4. Un-check the Enable Intel SpeedStep
  5. Click Apply and exit BIOS.

The tool I used for benchmarking is NavaBench.
http://novabench.com

Below is additional information about the power adaptors I use for the M4600. I needed to look this up to confirm the wattage on the power adaptors. Power P in watts (W) is equal to the current I in amps (A), times the voltage V in volts (V):

P(W) = I(A) × V(V)

Dell Power Adaptors:

Power Adaptor Model Amps x Volts = Watts
Large (180w) DA180PM111 9.23 19.5 180
Medium (130w) DA130PE1-00 6.7 19.5 130
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How To SysPrep Your Virtual PC/Virtual Server Images

This is something that anyone who uses Virtual Server or Virtual PC should know.

Overview

System administrators and software developers, especially those who are developing SharePoint solutions, often develop or test using virtual machines, either Virtual PC 2007 or Virtual Server 2005 R2.  Creating new virtual machines can be a time consuming effort; one we would all like to prevent from having to do every time we need a new virtual machine.  The great thing is that you can save all the time it takes to install Windows and the latest Windows Updates if you SysPrep a virtual machine.

What Is SysPrep?

SysPrep is a tool that allows you to prepare or “prep” a machine with the operating system along with any software you wish was pre-installed and pre-configured.  Once a machine is SysPrep’d, you have a new virtual machine that has the Windows operating system along with any additional software or features you want, such as IIS, pre-installed and pre-configured.  SysPrep allows you to create your perfect system configuration packaged so that you can have a new virtual machine up and running in just minutes.  And, it is available for both Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP.

Where Is SysPrep?

The SysPrep tool is located in a separate download from Microsoft called the System Preparation tool for Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2 Deployment.

How To SysPrep

Building Your Virtual Machine Image

  1. Install your OS.  Windows Server 2003 R2 SP2 (or latest service pack), or Windows XP, or Vista.
    Note: I have not personally tried to SysPrep a Vista machine yet.
  2. Do NOT join the machine to a domain, at least not yet. (so you can leave the Admin password blank)
  3. Reset the Administrator password to blank.
  4. Get the latest Windows Updates.  Reboot and get latest again until there are no more required updates.
  5. Antivirus (Yes, your virtual machines should have antivirus software installed.)
  6. BGInfo (optional.  Just a tool I like to use that provides system information on the desktop background.)
  7. Daemon Tools CD Emulator.  (optional.  Just a tool I like to use to access ISO images.)
  8. Install the latest VM Additions.  (optional, but you will likely want to install this.  This comes with your Virtual PC and Virtual Server.)
  9. .NET Framework 3.5 SP1.  (optional.  This will include the latest .NET Framework for 1.1, 2.0, and 3.0.)
  10. Activate the Windows license (if you want to prevent having to re-activate Windows for each new virtual machine you create.)

Preparing to SysPrep: Creating a SysPrep.inf File

Before you can SysPrep you virtual machine, you need to create a SysPrep.inf configuration file.  This file contains the information about your machine.  It will also prevent you from having to enter you CD Key each time you create a new virtual machine from you SysPrep’d image.  Below is a sample of the SysPrep.inf file that you need to create.  This file configures the SysPrep process and automates boot up process.

  1. On your virtual machine, create a folder SysPrep at the root of your C: drive (C:\SysPrep).
  2. Copy the following text into a text file named SysPrep.inf.
  3. Enter the correct values for the following keys:
    1. TimeZone – the value of 10 is MST.  You may want to change this to your local time zone, but it is not required to do so.
    2. OEMDuplicatorsting – this should contain the name of the operating system you have installed on your virtual machine.
    3. FullName – your name, the name you would enter if you were installing Windows.
    4. OrgName – the name of your company, or blank.
    5. ProductKey – Your product key (CD key) license.

Sample SysPrep.inf file:

;SetupMgrTag 
[GuiUnattended]
    TimeZone=10
    OEMSkipRegional=1
    OemSkipWelcome=1
    EncryptedAdminPassword=NO
    OEMDuplicatorstring="Windows Server 2003 R2 Standard"
[Identification] 
    JoinWorkgroup=WORKGROUP
[Networking] 
    InstallDefaultComponents=Yes
[LicenseFilePrintData] 
    AutoMode=PerServer
    AutoUsers=50
[Unattended] 
    OemSkipEula=Yes
    InstallFilesPath=C:\sysprep\i386
[UserData] 
    FullName="YOUR NAME HERE like Mark Wagner"
    OrgName="YOUR COMPANY NAME HERE like Contoso"
    ProductKey=YOUR-PRODUCT-KEY-HERE
[SetupMgr] 
    DistFolder=C:\sysprep\i386
    DistShare=windist

Your SysPrep.inf configuration file is now ready to be used.

 

SysPrep-ing your Virtual Machine

SysPrep-ing your virtual machine takes just a minute or two.  Most of the time is simply shutting down your virtual machine.  Important: do not start this virtual machine back up or it will un-SysPrep your machine.  If this does happen, you can simply go through these steps below to SysPrep you virtual machine again.

  1. On your virtual machine, in the C:\SysPrep folder, run SysPrep.exe.
  2. Check the “Don’t reset grace period for activation” option.
  3. Make sure Shutdown mode is Shut down.
  4. Click the Reseal button to shutdown and package.
  5. Click OK to generate new SID’s.
  6. Your virtual machine will now shut down and be SysPrep’d.
  7. You now have a virtual image that is SysPrep’d, but not ready to be used.
  8. Before you use this image, you will need to make a backup copy of your virtual machine image files.  This will allow you to always have a SysPrep’d virtual machine ready and waiting.
  9. Backup your SysPrep’d virtual machine image files (.vhd, .vmc), and rename them to something you can easily understand and that describes what your image contains.  For example:
    1. Windows Server 2003 R2 SP2 SysPrep.vmc
    2. Windows Server 2003 R2 SP2 SysPrep.vhd
  10. You now have Your virtual machine SysPrep’d.  You can now use this image to quickly create a new virtual machine in minutes, with a new machine name and new unique System ID (SID) each time you use it.

Using Your SysPrep’d Image to Create a New Virtual Machine

Now, creating a new virtual machine will only take just a couple minutes.

  1. First, you need to copy your SysPrep’d image to a new name and to a new location where you will use this new virtual machine.  Copy your SysPrep’d image files (.vmc & .vhd) to a new location where you want your new virtual machine file to reside.
  2. Rename them to a new, appropriate name.  For example, if you are going to create a SharePoint server you might name them something like:
    1. MySharePoint2007.vmc
    2. MySharePoint2007.vhd
  3. Add this new virtual machine to you Virtual PC or Virtual Server; which ever you are using;
  4. Edit the configuration and make sure the virtual hard drive (VHD) is pointing to your new .vhd file.  In this example, the MySharePoint2007.vhd file.
  5. Configure any other items such as memory allocation and network cards as necessary.
  6. Start the virtual machine.
  7. You will receive a few prompts such as the name for you new machine.
  8. If you wish, you can now join you virtual machine to a domain.

SysPrep is a must have time-saving tool for anyone who uses Virtual PC and/or Virtual Server.