Feb
13
2009
0

400 Registered Users!

1955 Packard 400

1955 Packard 400

February has been a wacky month.  And, on Friday February 13th the 400th user registered for this website. [1] Since the 300th registered user, quite a lot has happened:

  1. Photo courtesy of atxbill []
  2. Trust me, its easier than it sounds… []
  3. I have several more of these planned []
Jan
09
2009
4

Dell Customer Service!!!

Dell

Dell Customer Service!!!

Dell’s customer service has been my single greatest customer service experience with any product, ever.

Let me break it down for you:

Here’s Lionel’s e-mail to me from just after midnight this morning:

“Jay:Lionel Menchaca, Chief Dell Blogger

That’s great news. I’m really glad to see it all worked out smoothly. I appreciate you being a loyal Dell customer. Feel free to tell any other Dell customers how to contact me directly if they need some assistance.

It’s customer’s like you that make this the best job I’ve ever had.

Sincerely,

Lionel Menchaca

Chief Blogger, Dell Inc.

www.dell.com/blogs

e-mail: lionel_menchaca@dell.com

Twitter: twitter.com/LionelatDell

phone: 512.728.8685″

If you’ve got an issue with your Dell, get a hold of Lionel directly.  He’s an incredible guy working for an incredible company.  Lionel and Dell took care of me.  This Dell XPS m1210 is my third Dell laptop, and my next computer will absolutely be a Dell too.

  1. It died within 1 year after my warranty expired, but by the time I talked to Dell it was more than a year out of warranty. []
  2. It was a very simple and short e-mail, so it took me forever to write. []
  3. The only way to fix a bad integrated graphics card. []
  4. Rock on completely, with some brand new components!” – CAKE []
Dec
03
2008
1

How to Repair A Laptop: Option 2 – Big Box Stores

Broken Laptop

Broken Laptop

Before I start talking computer repair, I offer three caveats.  First, I have no formal training in diagnosing, repairing, or even using computers.  Second, I have no experience with repairing an Apple or Mac computer.  Third, all of the below only applies to laptop repair.  Its incredibly easy to swap out components on a desktop.

You’ve done the math and decided that it is a better use of your resources to repair your non-functional and out-of-warranty laptop.[1] You know that sending an out of warranty laptop to the manufacturer is a bad idea.  But, what about a big box store like Best Buy, Circuit City[2] , and Fry’s?[3]

Option 2:  Big Box Stores

When I’m not buying computer or electronics components online, I like Best Buy for products and Fry’s for components.  However, I would never have a computer diagnosed or repaired by either place.

First, let’s recognize that a big box store has certain priorities.  As such, their staff are trained to sell, not to diagnose or repair.  I imagine their priorities are, in order: (1) Sell you things, (2) sell you warranties for things, (3) sell you new things, and (4) sell you warranties for those new things, (5) LLR. [4] From a capitalistic perspective, its hard to argue with a business plan like this.

A little burned out component on the motherboard takes very special equipment and skill to replace.  When faced with such a problem you can replace the entire computer, the motherboard[5] , or just that one component.

From calling numerous computer repair facilities, I know very few of them have the special equipment and skill required to replace a single tiny component on a motherboard.  If dedicated repair facilities do not typically have this equipment, I doubt big box stores would be up to the task.

I think everyone’s heard the horror stories or seen the TV investigations of big box computer store repair services scamming unwary or uninformed consumers.  I have friends who hired Best Buy’s “Geek Squad” and still didn’t have their problems fixed.

If I were a very cynical person[6] I’d suggest that big box stores hire untrained staff who have a vested interest in charging a diagnostic fee to tell you that your computer and all your data is beyond recovery.

Luckily, I believe the third option, finding a reliable dedicated computer repair shop, is your best bet.

  1. Photo courtesy of Just Us 3. []
  2. They’re bankrupt, so don’t bother []
  3. For those of you who just can’t wait to find out: I think a dedicated computer facility is best. []
  4. LLR – Lather, rinse, repeat. []
  5. Which, by the time you need it, costs as much as your computer is worth. []
  6. And, I am. []
Dec
01
2008
1

How to Repair A Laptop: Option 1 – The Manufacturer

Broken Laptop

Broken Laptop

Before I start talking computer repair, I offer three caveats.  First, I have no formal training in diagnosing, repairing, or even using computers.  Second, I have no experience with repairing an Apple or Mac computer.  Third, all of the below only applies to laptop repair.  Its incredibly easy to swap out components on a desktop.

So, your laptop has stopped working and you’ve decided it makes sense to repair it.[1] The big question is: How do you repair it?[2]

When my laptop died back I Googled and called around trying to find and decide upon someone to repair my laptop.  There are several possible options when it comes to choosing a laptop repairer.  When your laptop is still under warranty, its a no-brainer to send it back to the manufacturer. [3] But, what about a computer that’s either no longer in warranty or with no warranty?

Option 1:  Manufacturer

I’ve owned three laptops – a Compaq, a Dell, and then another Dell.  On the one hand, I never had to call Compaq for technical support.  On the other hand, by the time the laptop was three years old it was in pretty bad shape.

I called Dell first.  Sure, I’d had truly terrible experiences with Dell tech support in the past.[4] I figured it couldn’t possibly have gotten worse, right?[5]

Dell offered a three stop process to fix the problem:

  1. Phone diagnostic.  $50.00.
  2. Selling me new parts[6] and walking me through the repair over the phone.  $200.00 – $300.00.
  3. Sending in the laptop to Dell for repair.  $300.00 – $500.00.

There are several problems with Dell’s repair process.  First, its tremendously time consuming.  Second, most of Dell’s processes are developed with the idea that the user is the most common problem.  Third, if you have an actual problem you are all but guarrantted to spend more money than the computer is worth.  Fourth, Dell tech support is just about the worst ever.

Time Consuming

Dell tech support is nothing if not standardized.  Their tech support staff all have binders[7] which list tons of symptoms, diagnostic tests, and possible fixes.  But, before you even start such a scenario you will be asked to check all cables, that everything is plugged in, and restart your computer several times.  Even if you eliminate all time you spend on hold, that’s half an hour right there.

By the time you’ve run through a few diagnostic programs, you’ve easily spent two hours on the phone.

Computer Users Are The Problem

As best as I can tell, Dell’s tech support binder has them verify that the problem is not the user, then not software, then not user-replaceable hardware, then not Dell-replaceable hardware.  Obviously, their goal is to minimize tech support time by ruling out simple issues, and thereby minimizing costs.

I’m not saying this is a bad system.  But, if the problem is obviously a hardware problem, restarting the computer or dimming the monitor isn’t going to help.  I have sent in two Dell laptops becuase the left mouse click button stopped springing back up.  After fully describing the problem several times, they still asked me to fiddle with the battery, check that the laptop was plugged in, etc.

The problem is that by requiring you go through the Dell checklist of basic problems with their tech support staff, they are guarranting that every single call, no matter how trivial, will require a minimum of 30-45 minutes.

My former “left mouse button won’t pop back up” problem is really a 5 minute phone call that should go something like this:

  • Jay calls Dell.
  • “Hi, my name is Roger, please state the nature of your technical emergency.”[8]
  • Jay: “Hi Roger, I have a Dell XPS 1210 and the left mouse button won’t pop back up.”
  • Roger:  “Hmm.  Well, try tapping the button.  Does that work?”
  • Jay:  “No, that doesn’t seem to work.”
  • Roger:  “Hmm.  Can you see anything jammed in there?”
  • Jay:  “Nope.”
  • Roger:  “Yeah, that was a longshot.  Okay, well, I’ll send you a box and a shipping label.”
  • Jay gives Roger his information and is happy with Dell service.

Ideally, Dell would have a way to jump past certain steps.  Perhaps by answering a computer trivia question or by hitting “3” for “I have performed all basic rudimentary tests and diagnostics and know what I’m doing.”

Or, more likely: “I have checked all cables, restarted the computer, removed the battery, reinserted the battery, restarted again, booted into Safe Mode, restarted, booted into the command prompt, booted back in Safe Mode, restarted, booted from a recovery disk, restarted, restarted, booted from a Linux CD, restarted, wished on a falling star, and my brand new laptop still arrived with a giant gaping hole in the middle of the screen.”[9]

Dell’s Guaranteed Expensive Fix

If your computer has an actual hardware problem, and you’re trying to get Dell to fix it, you’re all but guaranteed to spend more money than the computer is worth.  If your laptop is out of warranty, then its probably more than a year old.  If you go through Dell’s repair process above (phone diagnostic, user-repair, Dell repair), you’re going to spend a minimum of $550.00.  This is a losing proposition.  Unless you have a high end gaming rig, it probably cost between $750.00 to $1,500.00.

If you’re spending more than one-third to one-half the cost of the original laptop after one year, that money would be better spent towards a new laptop.  That’s just a rule-of-thumb; you should really try my[10] scientific formula for deciding whether you should invest in a repair or buy a new computer.

Dell’s Tech Support Is Bad

Dell’s tech support is the opposite of helpful.  Their tech support personnel are trained to read from their scripts, repeat what you say as if they understood the problem, and then simply do the next thing on the script.  Any request for deviation from the script results in a denial or, best case scenario, holding for ten minutes while they find out from their supervisor the reason for denying your request.

You can eventually get what you want from Dell’s technical support, but you better be prepared to fight like hell for it.  You will need to argue and haggle with two layers of technical support grunts and as many supervisors as it takes to reach a technical support person located in the United States.

Even if Dell agrees to repair your laptop in an acceptable fashion, you’ve probably 10 hours in the process.  Add this to the actual cost of the repair and its a losing proposition.

Look, I’m Indian and I hate Dell’s Indian tech support.

  1. Photo courtesy of Just Us 3. []
  2. Since I can tell the suspense is killing you, I think a dedicated computer facility is best. []
  3. Tech support in this circumstance isn’t so much free as it is pre-paid. []
  4. A long story for another day. []
  5. I was sooo naive. []
  6. At cost, supposedly. []
  7. Or the digital equivalent of binders.  Decision tree programs, if you will. []
  8. Thank you Robert Picardo! []
  9. I had a scarily similar experience to the one I just described with a friend’s Dell laptop that arrived with a non-functional CD-burner. []
  10. Mostly []
Nov
17
2008
1

My Laptop is Back!!! (Part II)

Data is important...

Data is important...

Quick recap:

...so backup your Data

...so keep a backup

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Backup your data before something goes wrong[2][3]
  2. A flash drive is your friend
  3. Decide whether it makes sense to repair or replace your laptop
  4. Make sure you find a good reliable laptop repair shop
    • Get a referral, if possible.  Otherwise, do your homework.
    • Researching a repair shop is time consuming, but you’ll be glad you did.
  5. Make sure your repair shop stands behind their work.  Paramount Technologies’ repair warranty is 90 days.  I think that’s pretty reasonable.
  6. Ask them what went wrong and how to prevent it

Ideas for new posts:

  • What to do when your laptop or computer dies?
  • How do you choose a laptop repair facility?
  1. Dell’s are great – if you know what you’re doing OR if you spring for the all-you-can eat repair buffet AND like talking to tech support. []
  2. Like discovering you have an evil android twin who’s exactly like you – except that he has emotions. []
  3. Thanks to wikipedia for the photos. []

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