I've computed for 22 years and owned 14 or 15 personal computers with my last 5 computers being big name brands -- an IMB laptop, Compaq desktop, HP UWXGA laptop, Dell desktop and now an HP desktop.
The most reliable of these was the IBM (now Lenovo
) laptop, that continues to work after 6 or 7 years of 100% reliable service.
desktops are new units but have worked perfectly.
The HP UWXGA laptop
has performed heroically in a brutal "100% utilization" environment, with just an AC power adaptor failure (no doubt due to the maximum power drain of a 3.2gHz loaded machine running flat out for months at a time).
Which brings me to my Dell.
Have I mentioned that my Dell sucks
? Well it does. In fact it always has.
But there is something worse than owning a Dell that sucks. Dealing with Dell support.
My first Dell issue happened within hours of turning it on. Some application, that I have yet to isolate, insists on trying to load (twice a day) a non-existent file called "Timer.txt". It also loads every time I reboot my Dell. I've never seen this weirdness on any other computer I've owned or worked on. A full search of my Dell's hard drive did not find any occurrences of "timer.txt" inside a program file and this issue continues to this day (almost one year!)
Ok, so what you say. Me too. In fact I simply created "c:\documents and settings\floyd\timer.txt" (i.e. the file it was unsuccessfully trying to load) and so when my computer starts up it loads an empty timer.txt into Notepad. Since I run with 2 Notepad sessions at all times this became just a way to load notepad on startup, i.e. no big deal. But sucky just the same.
My second Dell issue concerns the USB ports. 5 USB 2 ports on the back and 2 on the front, and I normally use most of them -- (1) USB hub for wireless keyboard, (2) USB mouse, (3) USB wireless LAN, (4) USB 3-speakers system, (5) external USB DVD+RW drive (as Dell wanted too much for the internal one, so I went for internal DVD-ROM), and (6) USB hard drive.
My USB problem is that some of these USB devices disconnect or hiccup. If I plug a 7th device (D'zign DV-5 camera) and try to copy files from it, it will disconnect ALL of my other USB devices. The DV-5 works fine on my HP computers. The hiccup comes when I try to dub video files. If the files are larger than about 150MB, the process may fail. A third USB issue happens when I connect an Optorite 4GB hard drive USB "key" drive -- as I transfer files the drive will get disconnected about every 100MB or so of files transferred.
Once again I worked around these problems, using my other computers to transfer camera files, reconnecting the Optorite drive (again and again) to finish the file transfers and finding other ways to dub files.
My third Dell issue is a show stopper. The hard drive is failing. No big deal normally. Call support, tell them the hard drive is failing. They send a Dell technician who replaces drive. Problem solved. NOT!
First the symptoms
. When a hard drive starts to fail (is that bad?
), modern operating systems like XP (or for example Novell Netware) will try to work around the situation by retrying failed reads or writes. The problem is that hard drive failure is so serious an issue that operating systems will understandably make it priority number one and other programs/operations will suffer performance problems or worse
(or even worse
Computers normally do a good job of faking "multi tasking" but NMI (non-maskable interrupts) rain on that parade. In short, the system starts to behave very badly when the hard drive starts to fail with one of the most obvious symptoms being that audio playback gets corrupted. Instead of a nice crisp clear "ding" or the soothing tones from your media player, you get the sounds of a 1950s Hallicrafter short wave radio on a rainy night.
I worked around the sound corruption issue by moving my audio files to an external USB hard drive. Not a mission critical problem, but certainly enough to alert someone with my level of experience that the hard drive was soon to be toast.
The workarounds get messy
Other symptoms when a hard drive starts to fail are more serious and harder to work around. For example, virtual memory swaps start to fail -- your system pops up a message saying it failed writing to your hard drive and the event gets logged by Windows. If you subsequently load up the Event Viewer you can see each and every failure event as a bright red "stop sign" icon. I soon had about eight hundred of these.
I worked around the virtual memory errors by disabling virtual memory. I had 1 gigabyte of RAM so I could afford to do this. The average user has 256 to 512MB of RAM and could not do this without creating other problems.
The third issue got me calling Dell, as I mentioned, and then the REAL problems began. The incompetent foreign workers pretending to be Dell support people actually challenged me when I told them I saw all those red stop signs in Microsoft's Event Viewer. They challenged me as to why I was even loading that program. I said, "Ah, because I know what I'm doing."
They then asked me to reboot the computer and do a boot up integrity test. A trivial affair, this simply checked that the hard drive was basically ok. It did not involve checking every single byte of the disk and naturally it didn't find the failed hard drive sectors. Manually running chkdsk.exe fixed "one or more problems
". Super duper but I thought the drive was fine...
Thank you for calling Dell support
The support session lasted several hours and was completely futile. I dealt with first level support people and their supervisor "Steve". Who got upset when I called his staff incompetent. He even tried to claim that I had said some inappropriate words. I asked him which words. He mentioned the "incompetent" word and informed me that since all calls were logged this could get his people in trouble. I said "Yes it could. And they are."
After this completely useless support
attempt, I decided it was easier to put up with my Dell suckage issues than to talk to Dell "support". Two months go by.
Late December, 2005, and my telephone rings. A Dell sales rep. asking me if I want to renew my Dell "support" that expires in 2 weeks. I say, "No, but I want to register a complaint". He gives me the number to call and I complain. Then I foolishly try to go through the Dell "support" system again.
Mel Gibson he ain't
This time the supervisor's name is Maverick. Eye roll. After they suggest the usual useless things, I try a new approach. I ask them what they would do if I was an 85 year old pensioner whose computer "wasn't working". Wouldn't they just send a technician? Short answer, no. They wanted to do that trivial start up test again and I refused. Then they informed me there was a way to actually test each byte of the drive. I try the new test.
Reboot computer, press a key, get the diagnostic menu and run tests. Everything tests A-OK. Fantastic! (Except things aren't ok, of course). The phone call and tests have wasted another 3 hours of my life.
They promise to phone back when the test is done and end up phoning back half way through. I tell them how far I am in the tests and they say they will have to phone back again. They never do.
Lies, Darn Lies, and Dell Test Results
Suspecting more bogus "test" software, I decide to exam the testing parameters. This turns out to be an ordeal in itself. The software presents a Windows like appearance but informs you that your mouse is disabled at the start of the test. There is no obvious way to do anything but run tests. Nor any obvious way of viewing parameters or altering them.
I find a way.
Various bizarre combinations of ALT, SPACE, TAB and ENTER keys lead me to the test parameter screen. As I suspected, the test default is to ignore all "soft" errors. Oh the sweet subtlety of that word.
Dell, putting the soft in software support
A "soft" error is an error that the operating system traps and tries to fix itself. In short, the HARDware failing can generate a SOFT error that you the stupid little piece of crap user will NOT be told about. Your sucky Dell will lie to you.
Because if it didn't it could cost Dell money.
I set the tests to their proper settings and run them again, and this time both my wife and I notice the change in sounds as the system retries numerous areas of the hard drive. Those retries being for "soft" errors. Errors that are making my computer unstable and sucky.
Astonishingly, at the end of this latest battery of tests, the Dell system diagnostics do NOT report these soft errors. Once again it briefly announces "Test OK".
That is why my Dell sucks.
Does your Dell suck too?
- Floyd Maxwell
Don't get a Dell!