PolySciFi Blog

Thursday, January 13, 2005


Guess who's laptop just got fixed

Mine that's whose. So I'm back to blogging.

Anyways, while Bill Hobbs and Glenn Reynolds seem to be falling over themselves to praise Dell laptops, let me list the problems that I've had with my Inspiron 600m over the last year.

Motherboard replaced- broken solder joint on power inlet
Motherboard replaced- fried internal power converter
Wireless card replaced- had a cool little burn mark on it
3 AC adapters replaced- 2 burned out, 2 with broken cables (1 had both problems)
2 Palm rests replaced (that's the touchpad)
20 or so screws that fell out
1 battery
2 DVD Drives - only 1 problem (stopped reading the discs), but they shipped the wrong model the first time

I once hear a joke along the lines of, "Dell has award winning support.... and you'll need it."

Well my most recent problem makes me wonder what awards Dell has been winning. This problem took Dell some 4 weeks to fix - a motherboard because of a burned out USB controller. A problem I had kinda guessed from very early on. It should be noted that for one of those weeks I was in Vegas on my "posteymoon" so that week shouldn't count against Dell.

Approximately, here's how the service interactions went for this motherboard servicing. Emails are copy-pasted (names and numbers removed), phone calls are dramatically abbreviated as 1) like I remember word for word conversations beginning a month ago, 2) I doubt anyone cares to read two hour transcribed conversations.

Initial Dell Web Request (11/28 entered on Dell website - they echo back what you write in an insta-email response)
Problem Description:

Touchpad is experiencing problems:
Intermittently control of the pointing device will be lost as it moves randomly around the screen
Intermittently pointing device will cease to respond to touchpad
On occassion when booting pointer will not respond to touchpad

Troubleshooting steps:
Rebooting generally returns control
Virus scan returns no viruses present (definition file from symantec last updated 11/23/04)
Hardware profile for ALPS pointing device says device is working properly

Separate touchpad problem:
About a year ago the left button on the touchpad stopped clicking (think spring is broken). I switched the roles of the left and right buttons and have been working with the problem since then. (this problem doesn't really bother me but it is another touchpad problem)
 Dell Response Web Request (11/28)

Thank you for contacting Dell eSupport and Services (ESS). We appreciate
the opportunity to assist you. I assure you it is our hope that you have
a positive experience with our company.

I understand your concern.I need you to do the following for me:

1. Update the pointing device driver.Please visit the following link to
download the Input device driver for your system and install


2. Disable the pointing stick.

To disable the track stick, perform the following:

Click the Start button, point to Settings, and then click Control Panel.
Double-click the Mouse icon.
Click the Touch tab.
Change the drop down menu to Pointing Stick on PS/2 Port.
Check the Disable this device box.
Click OK

If disabling the trackstick corrected the problem, then the internal keyboard needs to be replaced.

If disabling the pointing stick did not correct the problem, then I would suggest you to run the Dell diagnostics on the pointing device.
Would you please refer to the link below for me to run the diags?


We assure you our best support all the time.

Thank you for choosing Dell.
[Dell Tech]
I did those things, and they didn't work. I had just had my DVD drive replaced and with that experience fresh in my mind, I decided to limp along with the mouse rather than get shipped the wrong keyboard and be completely out of operation for a few days. Plus I only had to reboot
maybe once a day to deal with the problem. Later, it got to 9-10 times a day. So I called Dell to take them up on the offer of a new keyboard.

Call 1: (In mid December, I think the 13th)
Me (after being on hold for 30 or so minutes): Hey, I emailed about this before and we had decided to replace the keyboard if these steps didn't work. Well my touchpad is still acting wacky. Intermittently, it'll move erratically and generate random clicks and key sequences, some of which cause programs to close, turn off my wireless card, or shut off my computer. Wherever the controller is for the touchpad, I think it's starting to flake out.

Dell Tech: Have you tried reinstalling the OS?

Me: Your kidding, right?

Dell Tech: No.

Me: (Grumbles) ok.

Call 2 (next day):
Me: (After being on hold for 30 or so minutes and then spending another 15 minutes or so explaining my problem again) Nope didn't work. I think it's the controller for the touchpad. Weren't we going to replace the keyboard?

Dell Tech: Try running the repair utility on your OS.

Me: Wouldn't reinstalling the OS solve that?

Dell Tech: Go ahead and run it.

Me: (Grumbles) Ok. But I think I'm better off buying a Toshiba.

Next few days: I contemplate buying a Toshiba (which some friends of mine recently did) and do run the repair utility (nothing turns up).
Call 3: (About a week after the first call, Dell calls me - a nice touch, seriously)
Dell Tech: Checking up on the case we had before. I show that we hadn't resolved the problem.

Me: Well, it kinda improved after the utilty for an hour or so, but then it went back. (I've since figured out that the controller was particularly having heat induced problems) I'm probably just going to have to get a new laptop.

Dell Tech: Sorry to hear that. However, if you decide you want to have it fixed, I've left the case open and the case number for this is xxxx. Hopefully, you won't have to spend as much time explaining the problem.

Email 1: (from a Dell manager on 12/21) (emails I can recreate exactly, though I've deleted names and my case number)
Dear James Neel,

This is a follow-up email regarding your recent call to Dell Technical Support. My name is [Dell Manager], and I am the supervisor of [Dell Tech] the tech you spoke with on the phone regarding the case number 85880752. I am writing to make sure if the problem that you have with your system has been completely resolved.

If the case you called in has not yet been resolved, please respond to this email (because we need the case number to be included in your response) and let us know what number to best reach you at.

Our team is available 12:00 - 9:00PM EST. Since we work on a case-to-case basis, we will do our very best to have someone call you back as soon as possible. It is our number one priority to make sure you are completely satisfied.

If your case has been closed, that is great. Dell has very high standards for customer satisfaction, and I am glad we were able to help you. Your satisfaction is ultimately how we are all evaluated at Dell, myself included.

In the next few days, you may receive an email survey from Dell about how the last technician, who resolved your problem, handled your call. Your positive feedback, as well as suggestions on how we can improve our assistance, will be very valuable to us. Your response will be highlyappreciated. =D

Rest assured that we, at Dell, are always striving towards improving our support to achieve excellence in providing the best customer experience.

Thank you for choosing Dell.


[Dell Manager]
Email 2: (from me on 12/21)
Actually the problem has not been resolved (intermittent loss of control of touchpad + always broken left mouse button). I ran the windows repair tool as the technician suggested and the problem persisted (both problems).

I can be reached at xxxxxx.

James Neel
Call 4 (from the Dell manager - nice, on the 22nd)
Dell Manager: Let's go ahead and re
place the palm rest. (I'm leaving out a discussion wherein I convinced Dell that my keyboard really doesn't have a touch stick)

Me: Ok, but I'm heading to Knoxville tomorrow morning and then out to Vegas so we'll have to arrange to have it replaced when I get back in early January.

Dell Manager: Sounds Great. However, I can't have a service call open for more than a week. So we'll have to get back in contact after you get back to Virginia.

Me: Ok. Works by me.
While I was in Vegas, my hotel only had an ethernet connection. It was at this point that I discovered that my ethernet inlet was also intermittently messing up (I have wireless at work, at home and at most conferences, so I had never had the occasion to use the ethernet inlet). Because of this fact, I decided that it wasn't the touchpad/keyboard that needed replacing, it was the motherboard. Also during this time, the number of times I needed to reboot my laptop to control my mouse went to 5 or 6 times an hour.

Call 5 (January 3):
Me (again after 30 minutes of holding): Hey, I've called before, here's my case number... [Dell manager] and I agreed to change out the the palmrest. However, while I was in Vegas, I noticed that my ethernet port was all messed up and a USB controller is now unable to start. I think they're related and I think we should change out the motherboard.

[Long back and forth while I explain to the tech again and again what the problems are and why it would make sense for both problems to be related and why only the motherboard can be the source of the problem]

Dell Tech: Why don't you reinstall the drivers for the wireless device?

Me: Huh? Ok. I'll jump through that hoop. But I should've done that already with the OS reinstall. (I keep him on the phone, and reinstall the drivers). Nope still giving me problems (by this point my intermittenttly failing pointer had become an intermittently working pointer).

Dell Tech: Why don't we reinstall all the drivers?

Me: OK. Sure. (I reinstall all the drivers, a process that takes a not insignificant amount of time, but I keep the tech on the phone).

[During this time, my cell phone which I had called Dell on was out of charge. My home charger was giving me grief so I had to move to my car to continue the conversation.]

Me: Still not working. I really think we should replace the motherboard.

Dell Tech: This could be one of a large number of things causing the problem as it's both the ethernet and the touchpad. We'll go ahead and send out the touchpad and see if it fixes the problem.

Me: Ok.
Call 6 (later on January 3 - Dell calls me again):
Dell Tech: I see where on the 23rd of December we decided to contact you on the 3rd to set up a delivery of a palm rest.

Me: Yup. I just talked to a tech. He's sending out a palm rest.
The next day (another good thing about Dell, they do get the parts there the next day), a tech from Unisys (who has seen my laptop A LOT by now) shows up to install the palm rest. I get to see the palm rest, there's no controller chip. The same problems continue - although the left mouse button is now fixed (wouldn't click see the very first exchange in this series), but I give it a couple days to see if anything is doing better/worse.

Call 7: (Friday 7th)
Me (after holding for 30 minutes or so): Hi I'm case number xxxx, and I just had my palm rest replaced and I'm still having the same problem.

[A long exchange where this tech walks me through the same steps which I tick off and say, "Yup, already done that."]

Dell Tech: Ok, we'll send you a new motherboard and a new palm rest.

Me: I think the palm rest is ok, but sure, whatever.
I then get transferred to Dell dispatch quality assurance to make certain they dispatch the right parts and have the contact info correct. Seems like a nice idea, especially in light of my previous problem with the DVD drive. Q.A. notes that the tech had put down the wrong motherboard and then tells me that by noon on Monday, someone from Unisys will contact me to install the parts.

At this point I'm pretty happy that I'll have a working laptop again before class starts.

Monday. No Call.

Tuesday. No Call. I call Dell that afternoon to find out what's up. Turns out they wrote down the wrong area code (630 instead of 540). As the local Unisys office is out of Roanoke, I would've thought that maybe they could've figured that one out and given the 540 number a call. But no. Anyways, Dell gives Unisys a call. 20 minutes later I get a call from Unisys and then yesterday my motherboard got replaced.

From then until now, I've had no problems with my touchpad (I haven't checked on the ethernet issues, but I don't really care about that one). So 1 month after I told Dell, the controller for the touchpad needed replacing and 10 days after I told Dell that the controller has to be on the motherboard, I got my motherboard replaced.

It's not that the Dell Service Techs are mean or evil. Indeed, every technician I spoke to was quite polite. However, Dell has got to have the most bass-ackwards trouble shooting procedure that I've ever seen. All my previous problems went something like this as well with me starting a call saying, "I think such and such is broken and here's why" with a day or two of me jumping through hoops convincing Dell that I have diagnosed the problem (the 4 weeks is an outlier).

So to Bill Hobbs and Glenn Reynolds, I ask, "Dude.... you're getting a Dell?"


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