Friday, October 23, 2009

Dell, sometimes you irritate me.

Just a random IT rant due to a current issue on a friend’s computer that typifies the type of experience I often have with Dell. You’ll probably just want to ignore this one.



- Friend works for Non-Profit Organization.

- NPO provides friend with laptop for work use.

- Friend has problem with laptop, NPO prefers to get a volunteer to help fix machine to avoid cost of outside technician.

- I’m the lucky volunteer

- After a few hours of diagnosing I determine problem is a bad hard drive (tons of bad sectors, and the rattling sound can’t be a good sign either).

- Recommend to NPO to purchase new hard drive.

- NPO will call Dell and figure out replacement drive.



Today’s adventure:

Friend brings laptop to me, gives me new drive. She tells me that there was a minor issue when purchasing the drive. Apparently, the only drive that the sales person showed as working for this model laptop was going to cost some major $$$. After explaining the NPO position of paying as little as possible for repairs the Dell associate magically came up with a drive that he could sell for a much more reasonable price.


And the best part? It’s five times as large as the original (320gb vs. 60gb). GREAT!


Enter: ME. Pop in the XP SP1a restore disk, go through and create a partition, format it, restart the computer. Standard deal for new HD install. I should be done with this machine in about an hour, maybe two.  And then suddenly on the screen, a message that does not inspire confidence in an IT guy: DISK READ ERROR.


HHmmmm… say what? Never seen that one before. So I go through all the standard IT procedure of re-seating the hard drive, googling the error to make sure it isn’t a known issue with this brand/make/model of hard drive, and try the whole thing from scratch again. But wait…. now windows restore disk won’t load at all, because it doesn’t see a hard drive as existing in the machine.


Ummm WTF?! So I turn to the internets for help. I read a few dozen articles relating to having 100% full disks (obviously not my problem), defective drives (file it as a possibility), problems with old version of windows XP not supporting Large LBA (Definite maybe), and problems with older BIOS not supporting Large LBA (also a definite maybe).


I still can’t access the hard drive though, so first I have to find a way to get to it. I need to re-partition the drive, but can’t load the XP disk. So I turn to my old standby: Floppy disk! Most fortunately for my friend, her work laptop happens to take the same type of modular drive mine does, and I just happen to have a spare floppy drive for MY laptop. So I go out, create a Windows 98 boot disk, pop the drive into her machine, and FDISK the sucker. Sure enough, there exists a Non-DOS partition. Definitely looks like an LBA problem now. I go ahead and delete this partition and reboot the machine, and throw the CD drive back into it


So the first thing I try to do is use a newer version of an XP install disc. Thankfully all dell restore CDs will work on any Dell system, so I pop in a hacked disk that has SP3 and IE7 slipstreamed in. Go through the install, format, restart: Same issue. At least now I know it’s either a BIOS problem or a defective drive. I choose to believe it’s a BIOS problem. Now I can either fix the root problem, or just choose a primary partition size of less that 138GB (the size limitation of small logical block addressing).


Being the good little dooby I am, I opt to fix the root problem, and so I go to Dell’s support website. I find a BIOS update, which should theoretically resolve my issue entirely. But they only offer an executable file which has to be run on the machine FROM WINDOWS. No option to download a floppy or cd image with the update on it! So I’m shit outta luck. I need to install windows to update the firmware, but I have to update the firmware to install windows.


It is at this point which I get fed up and setup a smaller primary partition, install the rest of windows flawlessly, continue on through driver, office, AV, and other program installs, and call it a done deal. It all worked out in the end, but it kind of left me with a bad taste in my mouth.


I know it’s not really the Dell Sales Associate’s fault for shipping this drive. Technically it does work, even if it isn’t listed on the allowable upgrades for this machine. He filled a need, and he didn’t realize there could even possibly be a problem. He’s not a technician, he’s probably just seeing a bunch of inventory and wondering WHY it isn’t listed as working with this particular model. But why oh why Dell, don’t you allow me to download a dos-based flashing utility for the BIOS? I know, I know: only .1% of the people who come to your site would ever use it, and the additional option would just confuse everybody else. But for that .1% – it would be freaking AWESOME to have.


Thankfully for my friend and her boss, I just happened to have a floppy drive that fit her machine, and a windows 98 bootdisk to use FDISK from. Because without those? How is a person supposed to access a drive with jacked up partitions that XP won’t recognize? Most clients would just send it back to Dell and call it defective. God knows the technician on the phone isn’t going to be able to resolve this issue. He’ll just chalk it up to a bad drive and then they’ll send out another 320GB drive, because that’s obviously what they have in stock. And everybody will wonder why it KEEPS happening. And of course, because your computer is WAY outside of warranty, you are paying for any tech support you get from them.


Dell, sometimes you irritate me.


</rant off>


Catalyst said...

However...if you were charging for YOUR tech support, as you should, you'd be richer for the experience (so to speak).

TomboCheck said...

Catalyst - I did computer side work for about 7 years. It started taking over my life, and caused a few months of 80-90hrs/week. Money isn't worth the lack of free time. :)

Plus, with friends: There is always a favor back. I'll get dinner and some drinks out of the deal if nothing else. Not all bad.