How to fix an overheating Vostro 3300

The Dell Vostro 3300 laptop is now infamous for its terrible cooling design. The intake vent on the top-right bottom struggles to deliver air. The fan is noisy and still hopeless at cooling the CPU. I pulled out this old laptop recently and found that it would shut down due to CPU overheating. I fired up SpeedFan and sure enough, the CPU cores were 73C at idle! The only solution I could think of to give this laptop a longer life was to clean the fan and change the thermal paste.

Thanks to preparing well for this surgery, it went off well and the idle temperatures dropped by 15C! It still hits the 70s on a load, what a terrible cooling design! The temperature can be dropped by a further 5C by giving that top-right bottom vent a lot of space. This can be done for example by attaching high feet at the top row of the laptop.

What

Here are the things I found that I used:

  • Phillips screwdrivers: Unlike other laptops that use exotic screws, I found that Vostro 3300 uses only Phillips screws. See the screws visible at the bottom of the laptop for an example. You will need Phillips screwdrivers of a size that opens those and one more at the next smaller size (cause some of the internal screws are smaller).
  • Slot screwdriver: You will need one or two of these of the small size. There are some connectors and latches that really need a strong nudge to be opened. Due to the cramped space and tiny size, it is impossible to do this with your fingers. Alternatively, a small metal tweezers that is strong can also do the job.
  • Spudge: Entire sections of this laptop need this tool to be pried open. You could use a couple of tiny slot screwdrivers, but they are not as convenient as the spudge.
  • Brush or compressed air duster: To remove the dust stuck on the fan blades, heat sink and vents.
  • Thermal paste: Any good paste will do to replace the old one. I used the Arctic MX-4.
  • Something to clean the old thermal paste. Folks use cleaning alcohol and a soft non-abrasive cloth. I used an old thin sock.

How

  • Watch this video that shows how to get the entire process done. It is actually quite fantastic to watch the person do it without breaking a sweat.
  • If you need more help, get the Vostro 3300 service manual, which can be found online. The manual has sections, each explaining how to remove a certain component. In order to get to the fan and CPU, you will need to remove the following components in order (the order differs a bit in the above video):

** Base cover (page 2)
** Battery (page 4)
** Hard drive (page 23)
** Optical drive (page 41)
** WLAN card (page 67)
** Keyboard (page 29)
** WWAN card (page 71) — my laptop does not have this
** Palm rest (page 43)
** System board (page 65)
** Heat sink and fan (page 26)

  • Once you get the fan and heat sink, clean them, apply the paste. Put back all the components in the reverse order.
  • Note: For each component, do a careful visual inspection to ensure everything blocking its removal has been pulled out. This is because, I found that the service manual misses a few cables and tabs that need to be pulled out.

This is the first time I disassembled a laptop down to the CPU. I found that it is quite doable if a service manual or a demo video is available. And having the required tools is crucial. Good luck if you planning to try the same! 🙂

SD card support in Windows 8 for Dell Vostro 3300

Problem

You installed, not upgraded, a fresh copy of Windows 8 on the Dell Vostro 3300 notebook. Everything seems to be working fine except the SD card reader. If you put in a SD card into the reader, it does not appear as a drive in Windows Explorer.

Solution

The Dell Vostro 3300 uses the Realtek RTS5138 USB controller for the SD card reader. Windows 8 does not seem to ship with the driver for this controller. Go to the Support section of the Dell webpage for Vostro 3300. Find the Realtek-Driver under the Chipset section, download it and install it. Restart Windows and your SD card should work now.

Tried with: Windows 8 Pro

Win + Break on Dell Vostro 3300

Problem

In Windows, the keyboard shortcut to display the System Properties is Win + Break. There is no Break key on the Dell Vostro 3300 keyboard.

Solution

Pressing Win + Pause seems to simulate the above shortcut. Since the Pause key is shared with F12 key, the keypress is essentially Win + Fn + F12.

Tried with: Windows 8 Pro

Ctrl + Break on Dell Vostro 3300 Laptop

Problem

The Dell Vostro 3300 laptop does not have a Break key on its keyboard. The absence of Break key is a problem while building in Visual Studio since the keyboard shortcut to cancel an ongoing build is Ctrl + Break.

Solution

Press Ctrl + Scroll Lock, it works as Ctrl + Break to cancel the build! The Num Lock and Scroll Lock share the same key, so you actually press Ctrl + Fn + Num Lock to invoke this.

Wireless card not working on Dell Vostro 3300

Problem

I installed Ubuntu on a Dell Vostro 3300 notebook. (Note that I faced the exact same problem with a Dell Inspiron 1320 and solution is same as below.) After installation, I find that wireless is not working. Even the wireless notification light above the keyboard is not turned on.

I used lspci to check if the wireless card is detected:

$ sudo lspci -v

12:00.0 Network controller: Broadcom Corporation BCM4312 802.11b/g LP-PHY (rev 01)
    Subsystem: Dell Wireless 1397 WLAN Mini-Card
    Flags: bus master, fast devsel, latency 0, IRQ 17
    Memory at fbb00000 (64-bit, non-prefetchable) [size=16K]
    Capabilities: [40] Power Management version 3
    Capabilities: [58] Vendor Specific Information: Len=78 <?>
    Capabilities: [e8] MSI: Enable- Count=1/1 Maskable- 64bit+
    Capabilities: [d0] Express Endpoint, MSI 00
    Capabilities: [100] Advanced Error Reporting
    Capabilities: [13c] Virtual Channel
    Capabilities: [160] Device Serial Number xx-xx-xx-xx-xx-xx-xx-xx
    Capabilities: [16c] Power Budgeting <?>
    Kernel driver in use: b43-pci-bridge

I find that Broadcom BCM4312 chip in the Dell Wireless 1397 wireless card is detected and a b43-pci-bridge driver has been installed. This is not a WLAN driver.

Solution

Broadcom chips need the driver provided by Broadcom. This needs to be installed for the card to work.

Ubuntu 14.04

  • Connect to the internet using a LAN cable.

  • Install the Broadcom driver:

$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get --reinstall install bcmwl-kernel-source
  • Restart Ubuntu.

My wireless card worked after this. The wireless notification light above the keyboard too was lit up.

I checked lspci again and found the correct driver now installed:

$ sudo lspci -v

12:00.0 Network controller: Broadcom Corporation BCM4312 802.11b/g LP-PHY (rev 01)
    Subsystem: Dell Wireless 1397 WLAN Mini-Card
    Flags: bus master, fast devsel, latency 0, IRQ 17
    Memory at fbb00000 (64-bit, non-prefetchable) [size=16K]
    Capabilities: [40] Power Management version 3
    Capabilities: [58] Vendor Specific Information: Len=78 <?>
    Capabilities: [e8] MSI: Enable- Count=1/1 Maskable- 64bit+
    Capabilities: [d0] Express Endpoint, MSI 00
    Capabilities: [100] Advanced Error Reporting
    Capabilities: [13c] Virtual Channel
    Capabilities: [160] Device Serial Number xx-xx-xx-xx-xx-xx-xx-xx
    Capabilities: [16c] Power Budgeting <?>
    Kernel driver in use: wl

Ubuntu 10.04

To enable wireless, choose System → Administration → Hardware Drivers. The system will now search for required proprietary drivers. In the list it presents, choose the Broadcom STA Wireless Driver. After it is installed, reboot and your wireless card should now work.

Dell Vostro 3300

My new Dell Vostro 3300 laptop arrived yesterday. It took about 10 days from ordering online to delivery. This is my second laptop and will be replacing my 4-year old dinosaur Fujitsu S7021.

The Vostro 3300 ships with a Intel Core i3 330M (2.13 GHz) processor, 2GB RAM and 320 GB harddisk. The display is 13-inch widescreen. I will be using 64-bit versions of Windows 7 and Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx) on this baby.

The top and side exterior is brushed metal and the rest is plastic. The lid is super thin and the sits sleekly over the nicely polished sides. The plastic surrounding the inside display looks a bit out of place in the middle of all this. The keyboard is chiclet and the font used for the keys is large and cute.