Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Getting Better

I'm continually surprised by Dell.

I purchased a Dell Vostro laptop under the Small Business section of their website a couple years ago, and it's my main machine. I bought it under the Small Business section because you could (and still can) get it with Windows XP installed, and the Vostro because it was cheap, and it was advertised as a machine that does not have all sorts of junk programs pre-installed (which, for the most part was as advertised).

Since buying it, while I've had some troubles (partly because I keep it in my bike bag), which originally made me think not well of Dell.

But in almost every case, I've been able to solve--or at least diagnose--the problem. Instead of hiding behind liability bullshit like Apple does--threatening to cut off your warranty if you try to service it yourself, and designing machines to make it nearly impossible to open up--Dell publishes step-by-step instructions for taking apart your machine. And they'll also sell you parts.

When my laptop was still under warranty, I had sent it in and they swapped out the hard drive because mine was no longer working (I had been able to salvage the data), all without any cost to me.

Non-fatal laptop crash

A few months back, my laptop crashed--as in, I had been balancing it on a glass of water on the kitchen table, and it fell and literally crashed on the ground. It kept working (the Colbert Report video I was streaming didn't stop as the laptop laid in the small pool of water, even), but the hinge on the top broke.

I searched the support manuals that came with my laptop and found a phone number for "Hardware Warranty Support". This was at 9pm, and my laptop was a good couple of years out of warranty. Nevertheless, I spoke with a human, and even though my laptop was out of warranty, he found me the part I'd need, how much it would cost, and whom to phone in the morning to order it. (I ended up having to make a few phone calls and get forwarded along a few times, but each step along the way they told me the phone number they were forwarding me to in case I got disconnected)

Eventually, I spoke with Juan, who sold me the hinge I needed for $10 or so plus $15 shipping. I also picked up a new keyboard for fifty or so bucks, since mine was acting up a bit and if it konked I'd be S.O.L.

To my surprise, the hinge that came was not only compatible with my laptop (which I'd expect), but they had noticeably improved on the design! New hinge at left, old hinge (broken) at right.

This latest time, I bought a new power cable (with a 6' extension so I don't trip on it any more at the office) and speakers. At some point in an earlier repair, there was something wrong with the left speaker, or maybe I didn't realize what it was and, well either way I made it worse.

The pair of $50 or so internal speakers arrived yesterday, and I installed them tonight. I had been worried that the problem might actually be related to the sound jack and that I had wasted my money on the new speakers.

So, for the moment of truth, I chose an album that I knew I would notice if the speakers were still imbalanced: Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which I had ripped it from my original cassette and saved both Mono and Stereo copies in Audacity. And it just so happened that the first song that played was "Getting Better".

Sure enough, music is coming out of both speakers nice and clearly.

It now costs around $150 to get a new Dell with Windows XP instead of whatever they're selling now (and I might actually give in and switch to Windows 7), but I think my next lappy will be another Dell.

- RG>

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