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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Dear Reader,

A letter I recently sent to
To whom it may concern: (Long message, please read it all)

In January of ’04 I decided to replace my 2 year old Dell Inspirion. Not because it was malfunctioning but because it was 2 years old and I felt it was time to upgrade. After looking around, I decided on Alienware because you were the only company offering a P4 HT processor in a laptop. I placed my order in late Feb and anxiously awaited my machine.

It arrived in early March and I unpacked my baby and began playing with her. She was a beautiful cobalt blue and looked snazzy. Other than the fact that on the very first day I used her she gave me a Windows “Blue Screen of Death” everything was wonderful. I decided to overlook this and move on.

Soon after, sometime in May, it became apparent that there was something wrong. My Dell had served me faithfully for 2 years, most of which it stayed folded up in a cramped docking station. My Ailenware (Quaagar) was having problems just staying operational for more than a few days at a time. I called support and was assured that the problem was simply RAM and I was send 2 new sticks to replace the ones that were obviously defective.

No matter what combination of memory I tried between the new and the old, it was still pretty easy to get Quaagar to Blue Screen on me. Now, even more disturbing, it started overheating. Sometimes when I would reboot, the machine would hang before POST with the screen alternating between black and gray. I called support again and was told not to worry, simply unplug it, remove the battery, wait 10 seconds and then plug it back in, reinsert the battery and it should work. Strange I thought, I never had to do this with my Dell but ok, it worked and I could reboot the machine.

Then things in my life took a weird turn and the computer became the least of my worries. I won’t go into details but suffice to say that I endured this new reboot ritual and sometimes when even that wouldn’t work, I simply turned it off and walked away. Coming back later when it was cooler.

Finally, July of ’05 arrived. I had a new job in a new city, I’m physically (but not emotionally) seperated from my family and I have nothing to do in the evenings, my attention turns back to Quaagar and her problems. About this time, the DVD drive starts to malfunction as well. (IMHO, the heat finally got to it) So, since it was under warranty I decided to call and get them to replace it. Much to my surprise, the engineer said we couldn’t replace it till we ran a few tests. One of the tests was to reformat the machine and reload Windows! Having had to do this for other reasons back in April, I explained to him that I had already. He then wanted me to burn a CD to run some diagnostics.

“Um, what am I supposed to burn a CD with, the machine’s burner is what won’t work.” I said confused. To which I was instructed to use another machine. Looking around the small room I was renting, I then asked the kind (but not of this country) support engineer “Where do I get another machine?” He insisted that I had to have access to another machine and that it was a simple matter to burn a CD of their diagnostics so we could run some test. I insisted that it was not a simple matter and that since their machine was malfunctioning, it was not incumbent on me to beg, borrow or steal any additional parts or blank CDs to prove what I could see looking at the machine. The drive wasn’t reading disks about 1/2 the time.

We reached an impass. He would not send me another one without me running the diagnostics, I could not run the diagnostics. So he simply refused to go any further. Frustrated, I hung up. Later that same night, as luck would have it, Alienware sent me some Spam (BTW, I NEVER said you could send me SPAM guys!) asking me to recomend them to a friend. I was outraged. I had been stewing all night. So I replied ccing president, postmaster, sales, support, feedback and root. Anyone and everyone explaining exactly what was going on and that there was no way I would ever recommend them to anyone. One of those notes reached someone. the next day, someone form support CALLED ME asking where they should send my new drive. I was flabbergasted. and we soon worked out the details (which included me giving the a cc number to guarantee the dead part’s return) and my new (?) drive was on the way. It arrived a few days later and I anxiously tore open the box and inserted the drive. Booting the computer I was greeted with a sound aakin to someone shuffling a deck of cards as the drive initialized itself. Thinking this must be normal on the “newer” drives, I overlooked it and once WIndows was up and running, I inserted a CD. Another loud ratcheting sound and then nothing, no CD. It wouldn’t read CDs, DVD, or anything, it just sat there making noises like my great grandmother used to make late in her life. Dismayed, I pulled the drive and inspected it. Upon close inspection, it was obvious that they had sent me a remanufactured drive. (The sticker on the drive had a 2002 date on it!) So once more unto the breech. I picked up the phone and dialed support. (at this point, I’m half expecting to be greeted by name) I brusquely explain the situation and that I’d like another drive. I’ll spare you the details but suffice to say the words diagnostics came up again and I lost my temper. After 20 minutes or so, I had a new (?) drive on the way.

Sometime later, the second new drive arrives and I put it in. Everything works fine now except now, for some reason, Quaagar won’t run for more than 30 minutes. Assuming it was something I did, I inserted the Windows disk and attempted to reformat and reinstall Windows. No such luck. Every attempt to install Windows ended the same, the machine overheating at some critical juncture and refusing to finish the task, instead alternating the screen between black and gray. And so I called support.

I explained to the gentleman that now I had a completely non-functional machine as it had no OS on it and I couldn’t get it to install. I walked him through the steps and sure enough, it died again. I explained to him that since the video card was getting too hot to touch and it was non-functional, it seemed to me that maybe the video card needed to be replaced. He seemed to agree but asked me to remove the new DVD drive. I did. Then he asked me to turn the machine on and see if it would boot. I replied “Son, exactly what is it supposed to boot from? There is no OS on the hard-drive and you just had me remove the DVD drive. I was greeted with silence.

Finally, after much wrangling and no small amount of yelling on my part, he agreed to have his supervisor call me in the morning. NOTE: No supervisor ever called me. So 2 days later I called back. The machine now had “assumed room temperature”, it was tits up, it had gone to see it’s maker, it was an EX-laptop. It would not boot, it would not do anything except flash the screen black and gray. WONDERFUL I thought, now I’ll call them and let’s see what diagnostics they want to run now.

The enginner and I went round and round.
HIM: Please remove the video card.
ME: I can’t one of the screws was put in so tight that I can’t get it out.
HIM: Please remove the hard-drive
ME: My god, what do you use to put theses screws in with? The hard drive has one that won’t come out.
HIM: …silence…

Finally, after over an hour, I convinced him that the only way to fix it was to RMA the entire machine.

2 weeks later…I got my machine today.
I opened it, I placed it on a Lapcool2 I had bought just for it, I turned it on. 20 minutes into sitting there doing nothing but running the version of Windows that it had on it when I get it back, it gave me the blue screen of death. My heart sank. I looked over the paperwork returned with the machine. Yes, they had been able to replicate the problem. But instead of replacing the defective parts, they cleaned and replaced the heat sink. THE HEAT SINK! The graphics card is damaged beyond use but let’s blow some canned air in there and replace a $.50 aluminum part. No mention of anything else. Just clean and replace heatsink.

Ok, maybe the install was borked. So I got it home to my room, placed it carefully on the Lapcool 2 and started installing windows. 10 minutes into the install it starts flashing the black and gray screen again.

Finally, I’ve had it. I called support and screamed at the poor engineer “Ever” to 10 minutes. To which he calmly replied, “Mr. Evans let me get you another RMA for the machine and we will make it a 2 day express.”

I was floored. In 1.5 years of dealing with your support, I had never had ANYONE take me seriously. (Never mind that I’ve been working on computers longer than most of your staff has been alive) Ever understood. He got it and he gets the prize. Pushing my luck I asked him to add into the notes that both me and a previous Alienware engineer agree that the problem is most likely the video card and it needs to be replaced.

So tomorrow I am packing it back up to re-ship. I have secretly marked the graphics card with a sharpie. I will know if you do not replace it and we will do this again. It is my sincere desire to extract from you either a laptop worth $3.8k or cost you $5k in FedEx charges. I will continue to send the machine back every time it does not work exactly right until you finally give up and replace the parts.

But here’s tip that won’t cost you anything. Fire everybody in your support department except Ever. Throw out the dam scripts that they read and hire people like Ever; people who think instead of read a prepared script without having so much as ever opened up one of your damn laptops. You give Ever a raise…a big one because he’s the only hope your company has. Ever if you read this. I run a tech support department for a hosting company in CA. If you ever get tired of working for them, give me a call. I’ll put you on here.

Thank you Ever…now if I could just get a working laptop for the $3.8k I gave you guys.


Cal Evans

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Until next time, (l) (k) (bunny)