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Dante’s 9th Level – DELL HELL!!!!

If Dante had been alive today and written his epic "Divine Comedy", I'm sure his different levels of Hell would have featured computers and associated software. The deepest level of hell would have been for those unfortunate souls having to grapple with Dell Computers and software problems – Dell Hell.

Over the years I've gone through a cycle of building computers from the ground up (you know, case, power supply, motherboard, peripherals, etc.) to buying readymade machines from Dell and IBM and back again. Unfortunately, when it comes to laptops, it's tough to go the ground up approach.

Growing up around computers and being capable of field stripping and cleaning a PC in the dark while half asleep has its draw backs – I'm the family IT department. For better or worse, we're a PC shop and a couple of days ago, one of the laptops went unstable – DLL problems, unexpected application terminations and error messages suggesting a re-installation of Windows. The laptop was made by Dell.

After digging around in the stack of CDs, I "found" the OS re-installation disk and thought this was going to be a piece of cake – little did I know. I booted the laptop from the CD, started the OS installation and then the problems started… The OS installation complained it couldn't find USBEHCI.SYS on the CD and asked me to locate it – surprise, surprise, I couldn't find it either. The installation proceeded without it and when I finally got a desktop up on the machine ("39 minutes" later), a) the machine was unstable, b) the network drivers were missing and c) I realized that this wasn't the right re-installation CD for this model of laptop (I'd had a number of Dell machines over the years, each with its own CDs and none of them labeled as to the specific model of machine).

After a lot of futzing around trying to get various network drivers installed (let me see, FLASH drive not recognized, USB not active,…) I resorted to Dell technical support – after all, I had a "next day" support contract. My entry into Dell Hell had begun.

The support tech was very polite – asked my problem, updated my contact information and then told me I needed to reformat my hard drive and reinstall Windows – this after I had described in detail what had happened and that I didn't have the right CD for the installation. As this wasn't my laptop, I knew that the hard disk had data on it that wasn't backed up and so I flatly refused the reformat request. Besides – you don't need a reformat to reinstall and repair Windows.

I'll spare you the rest of the 2 hour and 19 minutes I spent on IM with the Dell tech (and his supervisor) – including the one hour humoring them to test the hard disk using the Dell diagnostics, before they a) pointed out that my "next day" support only applied to hardware issues and b) agreed to send me a replacement set of installation CDs for this machine.

Then they asked me to give them feedback on their customer support…

I'm sure the tech followed the training he'd been given but it was flat out wrong. If I'd followed his advice, I'd have wiped my disk, re-installed Windows and STILL had the same problem. Fortunately I knew how to say NOOOOOOOOO!

Sorry for the rant but the moral of the story is clear – just like when a Doctor gives you a diagnosis you don't like, ask a lot of questions, get another opinion and don't believe what the first guy says until you get corroboration.

Perhaps it's time we swapped the laptops to Macs...

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STU PHILLIPS
MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA

Intense Brit, lived in Silicon Valley since 1984. Avid pilot, like digital photography, ham radio and a bunch of other stuff. Official Geek.

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