Boring Dell Laptop Story Turns Into Inferno!

Paul’s email on getting his Dell laptop repaired under warranty is pretty dry for awhile. A top-of-the-line XPS laptop with continuing power and heat issues, necessitating the same repair over and over… a repair which, to Dell’s credit, they have performed pleasantly and competently, once even when the laptop itself is out of warranty.

Then Paul needs to buy a new power cord and is transfered to India. Our eyes were pretty much glazed at this point — Indian call center complaints? Welcome to our least favorite consumerist trope. Paul is recommended a laptop power cord. All is well. Our eyes glaze over.

And then they bugged out in delight when we saw this:

When I came back into the room with my pen and paper, my laptop was on fire.

Not raging inferno fire, but eye-stinging smoke drifting up through the keyboard. I knocked it off my couch and unplugged it. There was a scorch mark and melted plastic on the cushion.

I called tech support, calm like a bomb. “I see you’re out of warranty,” he says. “Yeah,” I said. “You’ll want to listen to this before we start making that kind of judgment.”

That’s pretty much like putting the money shot during the opening credits of the porno film, but we don’t care. Paul’s email is after the jump.

Sorry for the length. This letter isn’t ADD friendly but I had a lot to talk about.

The recent articles on laptop heat have reminded me of my current ongoing issue with Dell. I don’t yet know if this is going to be a complaint or kudos.

In the summer of 2004 I purchased a fairly top of the line Dell XPS laptop. A 3.2 ghz beast of a gaming laptop that draws something like 150 watts through a proprietary AC power cable I would use to strangle its inventor if given the chance.
4 months after my initial purchase, my computer began randomly shutting off, giving error messages about overheating and warning me that it could not determine the AC adapter type I was using, as if any other company actually made another version of that damn cable.
I called Dell, and had one of the most surprisingly pleasant customer service experiences of my life. Less than 90 minutes after placing a call to Dell, a DHL van arrived at my door to pick up the laptop. 48 hours later I got it back, good as new. There was a note inside that had a checklist of things that had been worked on, but it was not clearly filled out; the only blemish on what was some of the best customer service I’d ever received was that I didn’t know what they’d done to fix it! With excellent, articulate technical support that seemed earnest about wanting to get to the bottom of my issues, combined with the most amazing rapid response for depot repair I’d ever heard of, Dell had won me over.

8 months later, and a month out of warranty, the same problem appeared. The power cable failed, and the overheating began happening constantly…and the heat was real enough to raise the temperature of the room by several degrees even in an idle state. Performance was severely degraded, and full screen video could only be watched in the basement, where the ambient temp was much cooler. Upstairs, the laptop just would not play video. I called Dell to figure out what the repairs would cost me. The technician on the other end went through all the troubleshooting steps with me, and quoted me a price that was a dagger through my college student heart. Done with the troubleshooting, and ready to transfer me to another department to handle the out-of-warranty-repair, the technician asked me if I would hold. I did, and he apparently got a supervisor and went to bat for me, pointing out that during the last year (the length of my warranty) I’d had the same problem twice. When he came back, he told me he’d convinced his supervisor to handle the repairs under the conditions of my original warranty with no cost to me. It was Tuesday at 7pm. Wednesday at 9am DHL picked up my laptop. Thursday at 10am I received my laptop back. They had replaced the CPU, motherboard, heat sink, and even done some cosmetic work, replacing the bezel on my screen, etc. Once again, they had come through quickly for me, even when they didn’t have to.

Well, it’s been a year, and two months ago, I got yet another power cord error, but at least no heat issues. I called Dell and went through tech support, who spent an ungodly amount of time trying to figure out the part number I would need to use to order a new power cable (I couldn’t find it on their website. Neither could they.) I pointed out the absurdity of the “adapter type unknown” error when they are the only ones that make the damn thing, but there was no explanation. After 20 minutes, I was given the part number and transferred to Dell’s spare parts division. Their tech support may be all American, but their spare parts section seems to be located in a village outside Bangalore where answering questions posed by customers is considered offensive. The woman I spoke to cared not a whit that I had the part number. She said instead hse first wanted to read my case file. I guess the warehouse people are allowed to second-guess the troubleshooters. She then demanded to know what part I wanted. I began to give her the number, but she cut me off and asked me to describe it. I said “power cord” and she said “I will go look up the number.” 15 minutes later, she gave me the part number (which was a number considerably different than I’d been given by the American, but I was respectfully quiet. She quoted me 39$, I told her I wanted it shipped overnight, she said my grand total would be 55 bucks. Excellent. Then the bad news. I wasn’t allowed to pay now, and no, it would not ship today. She told me in all seriousness she had to submit paperwork to get permission to send me the part. I asked what the hell that meant, and she indicated it had something to do with making sure it was really a part I needed. I suppose people who just want extra power cords are doubly screwed. I argued, but lost patience and capitulated eventually. She promised to call me in 48 hours.
72 hours later I called, and spoke to a different woman (who sounded like she lived in the same general area of the sweatshop, though). She told me the reason I hadn’t been called was that they currently did not have any of these one of a kind power cords, and that it would be approximately 20 days before any more would be in. She promised to call the day they arrived, or May 20th, whichever came first. I called May 21st, and was told just to “keep calling” until they were in.

Last Wednesday, I was finally able to order a part. The price had gone up…it was now 59 dollars for the same cord. I paid for ground shipping, but got it express overnight. Plugged it into the computer, and pressed the power button. Things started to happen, then an odd noise, then it powered off. I tried again, and got a blue screen of death at login. I went to get a pen and paper to write down the error numbers, prepared to put on my old Marine uniform and pillage the nearest Dell facility.

When I came back into the room with my pen and paper, my laptop was on fire.

Not raging inferno fire, but eye-stinging smoke drifting up through the keyboard. I knocked it off my couch and unplugged it. There was a scorch mark and melted plastic on the cushion.

I called tech support, calm like a bomb. “I see you’re out of warranty,” he says. “Yeah,” I said. “You’ll want to listen to this before we start making that kind of judgment.”

The resulting phone call took just over an hour. I was mostly on hold, but the tech was pleasant and came back often to keep me in the loop on their progress. Just like all my previous talks with tech support, he showed patience and thoroughness and a desire to do everything right the first time. This is a marked difference from my average conversation with my ISP, which I think punishes techs for phone calls lasting longer than 30 seconds.

Dell has committed to replacing my system, already. They’re building it now, and I should have it within 10 business days. They indicated that it will be a new model of their current high end laptops, the M1710, which I’m excited about.
They told me after I receive the system, I can see if I can get the data off my old hard drive and into the new. Then they will send someone to pick up my old laptop so they can do their investigation as to why it tried to kill me.

When I receive the new system, I will know for sure if this is too good to be true. If things are great, I will write again and rave about them. If they have failed me, when the time comes I will leak to you exclusive images of the horrors of “Abu Dell.”

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