Tuesday, May 13, 2008

DELL FIXES PROBLEM IT CREATES: FOR A PRICE


There is nothing worse than writing a lengthy document than that moment, that split second, when the screen on your computer suddenly goes inexorably blank. You wonder if there has been a power cut... Until you realise that the computer you are using is a Dell Inspiron 1000. [So named because that's just about the amount of words you may be able to type before the screen fades to black.] It is a 'budget notebook' after all. Be warned...

When we encountered such a problem, Dell technical support instructed... 'empty the laptop of its battery, switch off the electricity, and to press the power on button for 10 seconds'. [It also asked us to fill in an online survey. As we could not get online that would, we said, be rather difficult.]

The call centre in India and the team was not to be dissuaded by the language barrier. There was a charge for getting the dead computer to recover, a service conducted over the phone, and one that we were grateful for. [In fact we wrote an article saying so - since removed - and one that should have left our investigative antennae quivering.]

Dell claimed zero liability as the Inspiron 1000 was out of warranty. Not true we said, your senior executives are jointly and severally liable and we will press our claim vigorously. (The warranty expiring does not discharge liability in the United Kingdom. But how about Nevada?)

Dell folded. It changed the battery (which had never worked when purchased), and the apparently dodgy hard drive too, and at no extra cost. (The power via the new battery lasts under an hour.) But, and this is what our complaint hinges on (couldn't resist the pun), the Inspiron 1000 problem still persisted, with the LCD screen going black, only this time threats of legal action aside, Dell wanted paying before doing any further tech stuff. And this time it wanted big bucks.

We were caught between a laptop and a faulty hinge. Closed down for a whole week - online - at least, TheBigRetort was left twiddling its fingers.

Until something rather curious came under our forensic scrutiny ...

Dell had returned the computer with one of its bolts missing. It was just a little plastic plug that was usually inserted on the left-hand side of the computer on its left hinge.

What we discovered

Surprisingly there were a number of complaints listed on the WorldWideWeb in regards to the Dell Inspiron 1000 'blank screen' problem - which centered around the left hand hinge of the LCD screen.

Coincidence or what?

The Dell Technical Support Denial
When confronted with our findings Dell technical support claimed that there were 'no (such) known issues' with the Inspiron 1000. In fact Dell repeatedly claimed that it had never heard of such a problem before. However, the Dell tech team did not comment on why the laptop had been returned with the missing left hinge plug, which is a coincidence. Instead, it did suggest that the problem could be any one of three things - and they would need paying for one or all of them.

But could it have been possible that the company knew about the problem but was ignoring it, due not only to a 'nice little earner' on unneeded 'repairs' but the mountain of liable claims that might follow the discovery (and this article)? Dell responded:

"After fully investigating the issues you have encountered, Dell has come to the following conclusion, there is no known issue with Inspiron 1000 as you claim. Dell is a company which strives to win with integrity and we are saddened by the fact that you felt that you we not provided the proper support. Once again we want to assure you of our total commitment to your satisfaction with our services and products, and apologize for not meeting up to your expectations on this occasion."

Not to be deterred we probed further, and asked Anu Meelu (Customer Relations/Legal team - UK & IRE Dell, Inc) what "investigation" it had undertaken?

Miss Meelu responded... "Your request of knowing (sic) about the investigation which I have gone by on (sic) the matter is a (sic) internal process, hence (sic) could give the give (sic) you the inside process. Your second question on Inspiron 1000 is (sic) little strange [rather like this response] to me as you claim you did so much of (sic) research on Insp 1000, as this is a stander (sic) step which is used to release flea power for all system irrespective of brand."

Ignore what will no doubt become infamously known as Dellspeak, or DellEnglish, or Dellgate, it is after all a world-wide brand, and we shall "give the give" (as Dell says). Let's instead concentrate on that 'flea power'? Just what is it?

"No it is not a Powerful Flea off you Cat," one online independent tech quips, "It is Power that is Left Between the Power Supply and Control Panel ( Power Button )." [Apparently there is still power in the computer when the power cord is switched off. After unplugging the computer and taking the battery out hold the Power Button in for 5 seconds to dispel it, switch it back on, and... pay Dell $80. ]

But what about that "investigation" we hear you ask... Actually, TheBigRetort did not understand much of what had been written by Ms Meelu. Indeed we wondered if our emails could have been intercepted by the wrong person. Dell responded via Ms Meelu, a legal "representative".

"I apologies (sic) for the error from my end. [Note she does not say which end.] Your request of knowing (sic) about the investigation which I have gone by (sic) on the matter is a (sic) internal process, hence could not (sic) give you the details of the internal process. But just to help you more (sic) on this , it is confirmed by the technical team that there is no such know (sic) issue mentioned with insp 1000 as you claim. Please let me know If I can be of anymore help to you on this matter."

So, is that clear?

Is it possible that English may 'not be your first language' we asked. After all Ms Meelu was offering a press statement on behalf of a computer conglomerate. She clarified (kinda?) But 'no such "know" issue mentioned'? A random sample of Dell customers, easily Googled, had this to say in their online posts:

Valerie19 posted as far back as 2005. "We got a Dell Inspiron 1000 laptop for my son at Christmas. The LCD display is no longer working. Nothing appears when it boots or runs. I can connect an external monitor and that looks fine."

Sound familiar?

Then there was... a poster styled Jakedeg who purchased his Inspiron in December 2004, and immediately had problems... he would turn the computer on and get 'dark screen'. He called Dell when the computer was still under warranty. But this did not assist matters.

"The tech support person I spoke to told me to try a couple of "quick fix" solutions that he gave me, which worked. But every so often when I would turn on the computer I would get a dark screen, so I would power it down and reboot like the tech support person told me to and when the computer would turn back on I could usually see the screen again."

Unfortunately the 'problem' occurred again. He then wrote, "Now I'm being told I need a new LCD, and in addition Dell is telling me that because the 90 day warranty expired, I have to pay out-of-pocket for a new LCD. I spoke with numerous reps and supervisors and expressed my dissatisfaction because not only is this a relatively new computer, but it is a problem that I started having and for which I called to get fixed when it was still under warranty, and tech support did not give me a permanent fix or offer to replace the LCD back in January, when it was still under warranty."

A case of now Dell fixes it now Dell don't?

Dell wanted $350 to repair the, err, 'problem' of a computer which Dell later claimed to TheBigRetort there were 'no known issues'.

No known issues?

Another poster, roger398, also wrote of the problem in that same year. "We bought the 1000 for our daughter last summer as a graduation present, and the LCD failed to work after only a few months at most. We have since been using an external monitor as well, but I have gotten the LCD to work twice after fiddling with connections under the screen's bezel (I did all this after the notebook was out of warranty). The screen worked fine for several hours just the other day after I checked connections, then I turned off the machine, closed the lid, reopened the lid, booted it, and the LCD failed."

Roger homed in on the problem. One that Dell claimed it had 'no known issues' with. (Or conveniently ignored.) "It's my impression that a physical connection might be to blame for my troubles, with opening and closing the lid causing a connection to loosen, causing the blank screen."

Roger thought that this might be "coincidence". It was what he then went on to say that contradicts Dell's claim further. And condemns it.

"I contacted Dell tech support and then the out-of-warranty department to see what it would cost for a fix and decided to look for alternatives (local computer guy?) to this high cost service. The bottom line is that I, too, am very disappointed with this product--and with Dell."
And Roger's not alone.

"Dell Inspiron 1000 Screen Problems" has become the new legend. (Don't believe us, Google it.)

Ben at experts-exchange.com. "I have a Dell Inspiron 1000 that would randomly shut down... I discovered that when you move the LCD screen even an inch, the laptop screen would shut down, and I would have to reboot. I turned off all of the Power Saving Features in XP, but it still does this. Bad LCD, or is there something else that is causing this?"

Indeed there is... only Dell refuses to acknowledge it.

Coolkatz321 in thetechlounge.com complained; "...I'm not sure if it needs to be replaced or if there's just a loose cable inside. Once the computer starts up, it's fine; however, if the monitor is moved, then screen goes black. It seems to be a fixable problem," Fixable if Dell gets its bucks. So is the Dell Inspiron blank screen problem solvable?

A person also posting in thetechlounge.com had found the same problem... and a solution. This is how he did it...

"Ardnek" reseated all of the video connections and then reassembled the laptop. But the LCD didn't turn on at all. However intrepid Ardnek took the laptop apart again. He reseated all of the connections. But to no avail. He decided to replace the flex video cable. Unfortunately Dell didn't (conveniently) carry the part. (Dell has the part if you want to send in your laptop - at a price of course.)

Not to be thwarted by Dell and its machinations, Ardnek, obviously a bit of a computer geek, in his words: 'reseated all of the connections, and uncrinked the flex video cable; however, this time I booted the computer back up before reassembling it and the screen came to life.'

After this he reassembled the computer forensically. 'Piece by piece' he checked at each stage whether the screen would still come on. "It worked until I reattached the metal plate that covers the motherboard, fan, etc. I noticed that this metal plate severely pinches the video flex cable as it comes up to go to the LCD and so I assumed that this poor design was responsible for the black outs when moving the screen."

Remarkably Ardnek had not only discovered where the problem lay - the one that Dell denies all knowledge of - but, more importantly, how to 'fix it'.

He took a pair of metal snips and cut out a tab for the cable to freely move through without being pinched and then covered the sharp metal edges with electrician's tape. And the laptop worked perfectly. He advised, "Fortunately for me, the short in the flex video cable was mild enough that simply straightening it out was enough to fix it. However, for others, you might have to replace this cable (if you can find one). I would recommend cutting out a tab in the metal cover even if you replace the cable so as to avoid future shorts. One final note: the plastic outer housing still requires the cable to be squished a bit as it goes to the LCD but it isn't nearly as severe and damaging as the metal plate."

When presented with these findings (a few amongst the many), Dell responded:
"You are free to take this up further (sic). I have already given you Dell (sic) final stance on the matter. Answering your question I have already mentioned in the mail before that (sic), it’s been confirmed by the technical team in Dell (sic) if we ever had such (sic) issue with the product in Question. If you want I can even send (sic) the same stance in writing to your physical address as if (sic) you want to take this up with Trading Standards they will need something in writing from Dell on this. If you wish to discuss the matter any further , please let me know the preferred time when we can talk on this matter as we don’t communicate through mails. [We wonder why?] Our stance on the issue remains (sic) same."

Dellspeak if ever.
(great-remortgage-offers.com is for sale here.)

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