Monday, May 25, 2009

My Experience (Nightmare?) with DELL

I'm not a person who does a whole lot of product bashing here on my blog but right now, I'm pretty miffed with DELL and it will be a cold day in hell before I give them yet another chance.

My first Intel/AMD PC was an IBM XT and I was pretty happy with it at the time. A few years later when IBM went down the Microchannel route, their brand name got so dirty that I thought I'd never see myself going back to it. I was therefore quite surprised when their hardware turnaround (they abandoned microchannel and came back to the fold) produced such great devices. I stuck with IBM until they stopped making PCs - and never regretted a minute of them. Those were classy machines.

When IBM sold out to Lenovo, I had to find another brand name. It's fine to buy some brandless junk for home but when you've got a business to support, a brand name is everything - and they usually come with a SLA. Unfortunately, there weren't many brands left in the PC market.

I decided to get myself a DELL for home. The first and last computer I'll be buying for myself over the internet. At the time, I didn't have a lot of spare cash, so I figured I'd skip the 3D graphics card and go with the onboard one until I had enough cash to pick one up later. Imagine my surprise when I opened the box to find that there was no graphics card slot. They'd also taken all my expansion slots and left me with one. This disappointment in DELL caused me to look elsewhere for my brand name PCs at work.

I tried HP/Compaq but we had a few machines die after a couple of years, so I wasn't impressed. I found that the Sony Vaio was unbeatable as a laptop but a couple of years ago, they moved to Windows Vista and wouldn't sell us one that ran XP for our corporate environment. At the time, DELL were the only one who would, so they got the sale. Of the five DELL Laptops we bought about a year ago, two have already had their motherboards replaced and the rest are still going, but are often the subject of complaints from staff. In fact, the Sony Vaio fleet which is about 18 months older than them are still running rings around the DELL in terms of speed and comfort.

Despite some misgivings, I stuck with DELL and bought seven desktop PCs. One was dead on arrival but DELL refused to replace it and instead decided to play swap-shop with refurbished parts. A second had a hard drive failure within the first week of use. After a few quibbles, the DELL technician swapped out the hard drive. The other five are still going luckily. One really irritating thing though is that the two dead PCs now refuse to take our SOE image. This is the same Ghost image that we successfully stamped across the other five. After arguing with DELL people for quite a while, I got someone here to inventory the devices. It was interesting to note that the serial number and model number of one of the devices did not match what was written on the box. The internal architecture is different - an SOE killer.

Admittedly I haven't chased the whole DELL thing as hard as I probably should have because I've been busy with other things but this morning, with several people away and a new starter in our company, those spare PCs were looking tempting. (the two DELLs which have been sitting in a back room, dead more or less since their arrival in August last year. Both DELLs once again failed imaging, so I've provided our new starter with one of the "retired" five year old IBMs. It's doing a pretty good job considering.

Meanwhile, I grabbed the DELL CDs and loaded Windows XP SP3 onto the machine. There was no restore CD to speak of, just a Windows XP install. After installation, there were no drivers, so I put the driver CD in - and got nothing. Apparently only Vista drivers are supplied. I eventually got a network driver for Vista of the CD and made it work. It was a shame I couldn't do that with any other drivers. the video drivers were Vista specific, I had to find XP Drivers somewhere. I went to the DELL site and tried to download it but the site uses FTP, which our firewall dislikes. I didn't find a http download option. Eventually, I got a driver that worked from the NVIDIA site. Unfortunately, this trick didn't work with SoundMax - Time for a new strategy.

I unblocked FTP on the firewall and went back to DELL. I knew the drivers were probably SoundMAX because the DELLs in the image had them. Of course, this being a wrongly labelled PC, it could mean anything. I ran the DELL driver detect software on their website and it identified the correct driver and offered to download it. I accepted and for some reason it took about twenty minutes to download a 13MB file. I knew it wasn't our connection, or the PC itself because after a while I got bored and downloaded the Google Chrome browser. It was downloaded and installed before DELL's driver reached the halfway point.

Finally, it all downloaded and I looked forward to having a functional PC. Alas... The driver quit installing complaining that it wasn't really the right one after all.

Today, I'm writing a memo to management stating in less detail than this post, "No DELL hardware - never, ever again."


Lotus Evangelist said...

You neglected to mention the horrible configurations Dell uses, insanely proprietary RAM some times or worse, doesn't even include the drivers for their own machines on their website.
I have a Media PC from them which is not showing TV or other video from that card because there is no driver for this card on their site and since the original drive had blown up, which is why I ended up with it I have a bookend.
You can say what you want about Lenovo, but I only buy thinkpads for laptops or I don't buy it any longer.
And Sony is beyond proprietary too, so I stay off them.

giuliocc said...

This reminds me of an old Dell saying.. "DELL" = Dont Expect it to Last Long!

But I feel your pain. I am having a similar experience with buying a new mobile phone..Bought another Nokia no less, expecting some sort of compatibility with the s/w. Boy was I dumb to expect that!