Unused Cycles

July 23, 2008

Dude, I’m not getting a Dell!

Filed under: Dell — Kevin @ 9:56 pm

Well it’s been quite a while since I posted last, but this is something that is irking me quite a bit. I’ve got a blog entry based on set theory about half done, I’ll post it when I get time to finish it. Lately, I’ve been reading quite a bit about algebra, specifically “Symmetry and the Monster” by Mark Ronan. Very interesting book – if you’re at all interested in group theory, give it a read! It’s very much geared toward a general audience.

In any case, my reason for this post is to rant a bit about Dell’s Customer service. As you may know from my previous posts, I dual boot Ubuntu 8.04 with Windows XP professional on my Dell E1705 laptop. Lately, I’ve been experiencing random lockups in Ubuntu, that seem to be categorized into two types:

  1. The keyboard and mouse lock up completely, can’t SSH in. The system is totally unresponsive, even to a powerdown by hitting the power button. I have to unplug the computer and take out the battery. When I do reboot after this, sometimes I get a kernel panic (caps and num locks flashing) and have to reboot once again. Then it’ll boot fine.
  2. The keyboard stops responding and the mouse keeps moving, but I can’t click on anything. Sometimes when this happens the screen keeps updating itself (I’ve got KTemperature installed, and it updates itself in the system tray), but I can’t interact at all; other times the screen stops updating. I haven’t tried to SSH in because this happens less frequently. My thoughts on this are that this is graphics related, because it’s not a full lockup and I can’t recall having this trouble since I stopped using Compiz.

On top of this, I’ve been getting bluescreens in Windows with the error message “IRQL_NOT_LESS_THAN_OR_EQUAL” and the hex code “STOP: 0x0000000A (0x007DA000, 0x0000001C, 0x00000001, 0x80544B5C).” On both operating systems, the issues have persisted after fresh reinstalls.

To me, this seemed to indicate a hardware issue. Forums that I’ve found indicate that the IRQL error is usually related to memory. My thoughts were that it was my graphics card, because I changed the RAM and it didn’t affect the lockups. Dell seemed to think so, too, because when I chatted with their support online they sent somebody out to replace the graphics card, an ATI Radeon Mobility X1400.

When I got the same bluescreen later that day, I knew the problem wasn’t fixed.

I’ve been abiding by it for about two to three weeks here, but I finally got sick of it. Windows crashes within a few hours, and Ubuntu crashes at least once a day, and when I’m trying to do some interesting data processing (well, at least interesting to me) it’s very annoying to have to restart my code constantly.

My first thought was to install a third operating system to see if it had issues as well. So I installed OpenSUSE 11.0 (KDE 4 edition) which I have happily running on my desktop computer. It installed just fine. However, after I booted into the fresh, pristine system for the first time, I got the same type of lockup I got in Ubuntu after about five minutes (type one, that is). This was without installing the fglrx driver for my graphics card and even ndiswrapper for my wireless card. Something is fried with my laptop.

I logged into Dell’s online chat and told the guy who answered me (named Nate) what was going on. I was getting blue screens in Windows XP, and lockups in Ubuntu and OpenSUSE. I gave him the lockup type (IRQL) but I didn’t have the hex codes available. So he had me run the Dell diagnostics, which it surprisingly passed. His response was, since I didn’t have the hex codes that the bluescreen gave me and I was running an unsupported operating system, he could not help me.

Wait a second… an unsupported operating system? Surely Dell has support for Ubuntu. They’ve been selling systems with it preinstalled for a while. My laptop was not one of them, but then again when I ordered my laptop I was assured that I wouldn’t have any issues with hardware if I did decide to dual-boot with Linux (which I am still a bit unhappy about – my ATI card has terrible drivers for Linux, and I have to use ndiswrapper to get my wireless card running). I would have thought that somebody would know a bit about Ubuntu systems there. I understand not supporting OpenSUSE, but Ubuntu is something that Dell should know about if they’re selling systems with it.

So, having wiped Windows when I installed OpenSUSE, I proceded to reinstall it. Sure enough, during the install process I got the same bluescreen as before. I kept the laptop on, copied to error code over to my desktop and got back on the chat line with Dell. This time I was answered by Jennifer. I told her my issue, that I had just talked to Nate about a half-hour ago, and gave her the error code and hex numbers. A few minutes passed, and her response was:

“For us to offer support you would have to erase the partition and do a clean reinstall of Windows XP only.”

This was a clean reinstall of Windows XP. Ubuntu was doing nothing other than taking up space on my hard drive at that moment. I tried to explain it to her, but she wasn’t very helpful. She asked if I wanted to remove Ubuntu; I didn’t, but do I really have a choice? I’ve obviously got a hardware issue and the only way for me to fix it is to wipe out Ubuntu and start over with XP only, which I don’t want at all. So I told her I’ll remove it. So she proceded to tell me how to wipe out my partitions, without even allowing me a chance to back up my important data!

So, we left the chat with the understanding that I would backup my data one last time and try installing just XP. Right now, I’m in the middle of my backup, running the Kubuntu 8.04 LiveCD. I’m suprised it’s been running for how long it has been (about 3 hours) without giving me any troubles. Then I’m off to install XP again. I’m 99% sure that this isn’t going to fix things, and I’ll just be back talking to support with Dell again.

To me, it’s very frustrating that they’re not even willing to work with me on something that clearly does not have to do with Ubuntu just existing on my hard drive. It’s a problem with bluescreening in Windows, something that I have paid beaucoup bucks for Dell to support me on.

Funny thing is, as I write this I got a kernel panic on the LiveCD. No extras running, just the base system. There goes three hours of data copying down the drain. Perhaps I don’t understand everything that Dell has to go through, but the next laptop I buy is going to be an Apple MacBook.

UPDATE (7/27/08): After much more frustrating time with Dell, I’m finally getting a replacement hard drive. I was able to get Windows XP reinstalled and after an hour or so of playing Free Cell while waiting for a bluescreen I decided to try installing some drivers. I had installed about three or four and got the error

IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL. STOP: 0x0000000A (0x007DA000, 0x0000001C, 0x00000001, 0x80544B5C).

So I got back on Dell support with James, who was enigmatic at best. He suggested that the drive be replaced. I should have stopped then and just said okay. But I wanted to make sure it was the drive, so I asked if there were any diagnostics that could be run – of course there was, this is a Dell computer and it came with a diagnostics CD. So I ran that, and James left so it could run (he was very impatient).

After it passed, I got on support once again with Martin. He had me install the Microsoft Offline Crash Diagnostic Tool and told me that should fix the problems and I could go ahead and finish installing drivers. So I did that. Afterwards, I got two more IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL bluescreens, this time with error codes:

0x0000000A (0x0A4C0060, 0x0000001C, 0x00000001, 0x80544CDC)

0x0000000A (0x0A4C02E0, 0x0000001C, 0x00000001, 0x80544CDC)

The computer was idling when I got these. Another trip to Dell support. Great. It was late and I was tired so I waited until the next morning (Saturday).

That morning, I got on with David, and had to explain everything once again. I gave him the error codes I had so far, and told him that I did not think it was a driver error because all of the drivers I had installed were directly from Dell themselves. So he used Dellconnect (some type of VNC program that these technicians use to help with problems) and connected to my computer. He updated my drivers to the latest versions (apparently my wireless and wired connections had newer drivers than the ones on my driver CD from Dell) and twice tried to use Windows update to get me up to date there. Then the best thing that could have happened did happen: I got a bluescreen while he was connected, not once but twice. After updating the drivers. Somehow, my desktop that I was using for support got disconnected from the server twice, and when I tried to reconnect I got a different person.

This time I was connected with Justin, to whom I had to reexplain everything once again (good grief this was getting old). He had me update the BIOS, and tried to fix some issues I had with the Network Configurator complaining about not finding a dll file on boot (of course, this was an issue in the newest driver that David had just downloaded). Once again I was disconnected (was this my computer or were they just getting annoyed at me??).

Finally, I got connected with a guy named Dale. He turned out to be a new guy who was still learning the ropes. But he did the most he could to help me. He installed WinDbg on my computer through Dellconnect and traced the issue back to Symantec Endpoint. I was a bit incredulous, but he had done the most in depth search for what was the problem so far and he was very polite about it. And he didn’t immediately assume it was a driver issue. Finally I was getting somewhere. Dale uninstalled Symantec Endpoint and I installed AVG for virus protection. I was amazed that afterwards, it wasn’t giving me any more errors.

Today, the Sunday after this ordeal began, I got another bluescreen while defragmenting my hard drive. This time the error was another IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL with the code 0x0000000A (0x21D428BE, 0x0000001C, 0x00000008, 0x80544CDC). By this time, I had been dealing with Dell support for five days and countless hours, so I was pleased to find that I was connected with a person named Justin – who I think was the same Justin as I was connected to before Dale. He noticed almost right away that I had the issue while installing Windows XP and said that only two things can cause that: memory and the hard drive. Since I had the memory replaced already, he issued me a new hard drive, overnighted through DHL, and I’ll be able to install it myself.

We’ll see if this new drive works. I’m at least pleased that I finally got somebody to listen to my ramblings that it’s something with hardware. But the fact remains: Dell’s support has been a nightmare for me to navigate through. While I used to be a staunch supporter of Dell products – my father, mother and sister all have Dell computers, I have two myself, and I recommended that my friend Zachary wait until Dell releases their own netbook instead of buying an Asus EEE PC – I’m not very inclined at this moment to buy another product from them.

UPDATE (7/29/08): Well the hard drive came today. Wouldn’t you know it, I got another bluescreen, the same type of error as before. I talked to three people this evening (the connection kept getting reset on my end of things this time) and they had me try to reinstall twice (once from scratch again), check the memory and hard drive, and reseat the RAM. The third time I got connected to a guy named Gary. He listened to my insistence that it wasn’t the RAM, walked me through the install process and diagnosed the issue as a motherboard problem since it didn’t seem to be memory or the new hard drive. So I’m getting a new mobo. On top of that, I’ve noticed 6 dead pixels on my monitor; I mentioned those to Gary and I’m getting an LCD replacement as well!

So I’ve had to push quite a bit, but after a week of dealing with Dell customer support, I’m finally getting places. Now hopefully it is the motherboard. If not, I’ll be back on chat with customer support once again!

As an afterthought for this whole ordeal, the hard drive replacement that Dell sent was a bit larger than the one that came with the computer. It’s reported by the XP install disk to be 114471 MB, so I’m led to think it’s a (nominally) 120 GB drive. That’s 20 GB larger than my old nominally 100 GB drive. Thanks Dell!

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