Shivering on the 49th Parallel
Saturday, 17 January 2009
Ahh the joys and risks of running beta software.
This morning I fired up an xvid video that I downloaded and partway through the video, the audio stuttered and then froze and the screen froze. The screen went black. then it came back, then went black again. i tried to hit escape, out of full screen so maybe i could catch it and click close, but before that happened, I got a Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD). No big deal, they happen from time to time and it IS beta software.
The problem was when the computer restarted, I didn't get the Dell logo screen. I didn't get the Windows logo startup screen. I didn't get a login screen. What I got was a series of lines running top to bottom mostly on the left side of the monitor... multicolored but slowly becoming all white. The rest of the screen slowly started showing vertical lines until eventually the whole screen turned white. Not good. What the hell? How could a crash physically damage hardware? I tried turning it off and on again, same thing.
Watching closely, I could see and hear the BIOS POST (Power On Self Test). After a minute or two, the hard drive activity light blinked out. On a hunch, I entered my password and hit enter. Hard drive activity resumed and it logged me in. Of course, I couldn't see anything so all I could do was shut down gracefully.
Using my other computer, I checked Dell's support site and did the diagnostics they suggested. Turns out my LCD monitor is fine, but the video card is hosed. How on earth did watching a video cause a crash in the driver that resulted in not only a BSOD but a physical corruption of the card itself? That's unheard of!
In hindsight, I think it was a combination of things. My laptop has the nVidia GM8400 video card in it which is known to have a major design flaw. This affected Dell, HP, even Apple's MacBook Pro laptops that had this chip in it. Ultimately Dell extended the warranty of every system with this chip in it for free. The combination of a flawed video chip and a beta driver for a beta OS was a recipe for disaster.
Ultimately I had to call Dell. The NEXT major obstacle is that I bought this laptop through my corporate account... through Dell Latin America. I'm now in Canada and have to have the system transferred. I called the Dell XPS tech support line (XPS has it's own tech support department, which is one of the nice things about paying a premium for a product) I got through to a technician with a slight FRENCH accent, which leads me to believe the call center is here in Canada, rather than Panama for Dell Latin America or India for Dell US and A.
I explained what happened, and what steps I had already taken. (Having dealt with Dell Tech Support for issues for the hundreds of systems I had at my last job, I learned how to work WITH them rather than them having to rely on their flowcharts) I also told him that since this was the known-bad GPU, that I'd prefer to have a technician come on-site and replace the GPU rather than send my laptop in for depot service. You just never know if you're going to get your own computer back, with a freshly-installed OS and no data, photos, emails, contacts or anything else on it. They said no problem, got my address and-waitasecond. This address isn't in Grand Cayman.
Uh-oh. He processed the dispatch for me and then said he was transferring me to customer care to update my records, since tech support has read-only access to customer records. He gave me the case number and transferred me to Customer Care reception. I gave them my case number and said I needed to transfer from Latin America to Canada, and he put me through to someone. Someone else picked up right away (I think I spent less than 2 minutes on hold this whole time so far) and I explained my situation to him. This person, who DID have an Indian accent told me that it was purchased through a corporate account and would have to be dealt with by the corporate sales department, not customer care and would transfer me. I tried to stop him, and he listened to what I had to say and then repeated his script and transferred me... to an automated message saying that the department I was trying to reach is currently closed, and please try again on the next business day. ARRRRRRRGH! I hung up and the call was 19:44 seconds.
I re-dialed the XPS number, and again got a technician, Robby, who sounded Canadian. I said I had just called a few minutes ago, spoke to a tech, got a case number and then was transferred to Customer Care who sent me down a rabbit hole into a dead end. He apologized, asked for my case number, re-confirmed my name, address, email and phone number. Then he said he would re-submit it to dispatch and could he put me on hold for 3-5 minutes. He came back on in about 3 minutes and told me everything was set, he gave me a dispatch number and told me a technician would be calling me sometime early next week (because it's 5:00 PST on a Saturday) to schedule the best time to come and replace the part. Just like that. I asked him if they were going to replace it with the same GPU, the nVidia 8400 that's known bad or were they going to replace it with something that wasn't borked by the factory. He said he didn't know, it would be up to the technician. If they had a better solution at the time of install then yes they would replace my GPU with a different one.
SO. Windows 7 beta: out. nVidia GS8400m: out. Dell XPS tech support: big thumbs up. The worst part is going to be getting through the next week or so with only my desktop, Laurie's desktop and Laurie's netbook in the apartment :)

Saturday, 17 January 2009 17:17:34 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [2] | Tech | Gadgets | Microsoft | Windows#
Sunday, 18 January 2009 14:11:28 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
It sucks that software can smoke hardware but, it is not unheard of. This is especially true with video cards and monitors.

Dell's support is not perfect but, it is getting quite good. I'm definitely talking with a lot more Canadians than Indians. Wipro sucked.

I had a similar Dell support experience.
http://netcodger.wordpress.com/2009/01/09/warranties-done-rightwarranties-done-right/

I don't understand why you have to wait for a week. Wasn't the service contract for next business day?
Sunday, 18 January 2009 14:12:46 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
On an unrelated note: why do I have to submit my comments to your blog twice before they appear?
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