Sunday, December 20, 2009

Dell, Windows 7, and Faulty Drivers

My wife LOVES Facebook, and she is, in particular, addicted to FarmVille, the game that glorifies shoveling manure and milking recalcitrant cows. To be fair, I play it too, but mainly because I can't let her beat me at a computer game! (And it's kind of relaxing in a mindless fashion.)

As CIO of the Dalai household, I get to decide who gets what computer. My wife's old Dell Dimension was starting to get a little long in the tooth, so off to the Dell Outlet site I went, and found a lovely Dell Studio Slim, with 6 (SIX!!!) G of RAM, a 600 Gig hard drive, and a 2.9 MHz Intel Core Duo processor. Not bad for the price I paid.

This morning was grand opening time for the new baby. I untangled all the wires and cables from the old installation, teased the old CPU out of the mess, rather like removing a dying heart in preparation for a transplant, and then gingerly plugged in the new, sleek Studio. Everything powered up nicely, and I walked through the preliminary set-up without difficulty. BUT. . . then came the attempt to connect to the internet. Epic Fail! To make a long story short, the RealTek (straight from Taiwan) network card wouldn't admit that it was connected at all, but it did claim to be otherwise functioning normally. I spent two hours on chat (on a different computer, obviously) with Dell, trying various possibilities, none of which seemed to budge anything. We tried uninstalling and reinstalling the NIC, and downloaded the latest software from the Dell site. Nada. (The RealTek site wouldn't even download the latest drivers, having links that just endless-looped back to the main download page.) I did discover an Ethernet service that wasn't on, and asked if that might do the trick. But at this point, the rep simply gave up. He said via chat,

I would have been glad to help you in this regard but I am sorry to inform you that we are not trained on Software issue because we are Hardware technicians. As I see that your system warranty only covers the Hard ware support, where in the current issue with your system is a Software issue and it is not covered under your system Hard ware. All the Software /Wireless /Virus /E-mail support /Data backup will be provided by the Dell DOC team and it is a Fee based support. They shall charge you a nominal fees only. (I would personally suggest you to go with DOC option). DOC will firstly determine the issue and than provide you the Fee details. If you feel the Fee as economical you can provide payment details and proceed with the resolution (or) you can decline it. Please let me know if you are interested, I can provide you the DOC Team phone number (or) Transfer chat to DOC support?
I was not impressed. This is a brand new, just out of the box (OK, it was refurbished, but they are supposed to be good as new, right?) machine, and I was not about to pay MORE for warranty support. Either it works today, or back in the box and back to Dell. My agent backpedalled a bit, especially after I mentioned that I was personally responsible for the purchase of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Dell equipment. After a pause, he suggested that I reinstall Windows 7, as that "might help".

Having nothing to lose but the added Dell trash-ware, I went ahead with the reinstall. And lo and behold, it worked! Green light on the Ethernet port, all systems go for internet and LAN connectivity!

Now, here's the interesting thing. I let Windows Update do its thing and install a newer driver for the RealTek NIC, and BAM...back to non-functionality. I rolled back the driver, and there we are, back online. At this point, I don't know if the driver is bad, the NIC is bad, Windows 7 is bad, or I've been bad and I'm being punished by the gods of Microsoft.

What lesson is there to be learned from all this? Perhaps most important is the power of the consumer. I was not about to pay extra for service on a brand new machine, and I made sure this was known. Maybe that made the difference and prompted the one suggestion that actually worked (mostly) or maybe that was just sheer dumb luck. But I was not about to keep a computer that didn't work, nor was I going to pay another $50 to make it work (and I'll bet the Dell DOC team wouldn't have found the problem anyway.) We should not accept expensive hardware and software that doesn't work, and doesn't do the job it was purchased to do.

What applies to a $500 refurbished computer applies to a $13 Million PACS system. Or at least it should. But somehow, the more we pay, the less likely we are to demand excellence. We don't want to admit that we made a mistake, and we swallow errors that we wouldn't tolerate in something we bought from Dell for $500. Or from Mercedes for $100,000. Does anyone see something ironic here?

For what it's worth, the Studio continues to run well, even after I turned it over to my wife. Her FarmVille farm has never looked better.


Anonymous said...

One word Dalai. Mac.

A Doc 2 Be said...

^^ what he said ^^

Don't get her started on Warcraft. If you think milking recalcitrant bovine is fun; fishing in Sholazar Basin is divine.