From the edge of reason…and sanity…

Maybe I don’t like Dell any more…

I’ve always been a fan of Dell hardware – they have great warranties, and the prices are comparable to what it would cost me to build my own, which is what I’ve done in the past. I’m not a computer newb – I know them inside out. I’ve installed Linux on a couple thousand Dell servers for a large financial company (no lie). So why is it that I can’t convince Dell that there is a defect in this desktop?

So I bought a Dell Inspiron 530 desktop – they’ve taken the nameplate off their home laptop line and placed in on a Desktop line. Nice system – dual core, 2GB memory, Nvidia 8000 graphics – runs Bioshock great (once I got around some Vista/Realtek audio issues). However, you don’t want to power this things on with a USB hard drive attached – it freezes at the BIOS screen, and you have to power it off for at least 10 seconds with the USB drive disconnected to boot it again. I thought I had fried the system originally.

This happens with two different USB hard drives – a Seagate FreeAgent PRO and an older Maxtor One-Touch (except with the Maxtor, I don’t have to wait the 10 seconds of power off).

So, I researched and find out that they had the exact same problem with some Precision desktop models, for which they released a BIOS patch to fix it. Check for the latest BIOS – I have it already. So I send in a tech support request. My experience with Dell tech support was limited to issues with a previous purchase of a camera, not with anything technical. That was three weeks ago, with a long back and forth between me and a few tech support people in India.

It started out as expected – try some things (that I had already tried), check BIOS settings…they even recommended to me to disable USB – uhh…so how do I use my keyboard and mouse?

So they decide to swap out the motherboard. A tech from a contractor comes and swaps out the motherboard. It has an even older BIOS, and has the same problem. He agrees that it is not normal, and must be a BIOS issue. New problem – it wants to do a PXE (network) boot, even though the only thing set to boot from is the internal hard drive. And if I have a USB thumb drive attached, it says its not a System Disk and to press a key – but at least if I press a key it boots normally. So it seems that this system is ignoring the BIOS settings. I ask Dell to escalate to Engineering.

After several days I have to contact Dell again to find out where things stand. They tell me to download the new BIOS and install it, which was released that day. I do that, but it doesn’t change anything. I ask for it to be sent back to engineering.

After several more days, I ask for what is going on. They start asking me to repeat all the stupid little things again – including downloading and installing the BIOS again, which I already did. I explained that they are repeating themselves, and to please escalate to engineering again.

Again, nothing, so I contact the Customer Resolution department, which is the highest level of tech support (as far as I know). They called back last Friday and left a message that they would call back today, which they finally did.

According to this person, the “recommended” way to connect USB drives is to do so only after the system is booted, and to disconnect them before shutting down!!! Umm…I don’t remember reading that in any manual, and not a single computer I’ve ever used had such a requirement. According to her, since the system works perfectly fine without these connected, and they work when connected after boot, and they’ve replaced the motherboard and BIOS, then everything is OK.

Apparently the fact that it completely ignores the BIOS settings and attempts to boot off devices it shouldn’t isn’t actually a problem.

I say that this is an unacceptable resolution, and I want the issue sent to Engineering, but she says there is no such department (oh, really?) and that this is as high as it goes. I reiterate that the issue is not resolved because the system is not working properly, but she claims otherwise. She asks what she can do to resolve the issue, and I reiterate that sending the issue to engineering is the appropriate course of action, which she still claims she can’t do, but she will report my “concerns” to a department higher than hers (uh, you said this was the highest department), and would call me back tomorrow…

Sigh…this was to save myself the pain of building my own system….

Stay tuned for updates…

Update 1/15: No real updates, other than to say this problem isn’t likely to be resolved by me or Dell. They replaced the motherboard, which was in fact worse than the original (ignored several BIOS settings), so they sent me a whole new box. Still not better. They can’t duplicate the problem with my original system, although it took several back and forths to confirm that they were testing it the right way, and they still weren’t using similar drives to the two I had issues with and they don’t plan to. They said all they could do was have me send in the system AND drive for their testing, or give me a full refund. Well, I need the system too badly and the workaround isn’t THAT bad (make sure drive is not powered on when booting – and I don’t generally leave these drives on all the time anyways). I just don’t understand why I can duplicate the problem so easily, and they can’t at all…

Update 3/3: No thanks to Dell, but thanks to reader jb122, who posted a solution in the comments section. Apparently I’m NOT the only one with the issue as Dell claimed…can’t wait to rub it in their faces. If anyone else has run into this problem, and jb122’s solution works, let me know – and let me know if you tried to get help from Dell and failed…

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