Flutterby™! : Computer Service

Next unread comment / Catchup all unread comments User Account Info | Logout | XML/Pilot/etc versions | Long version (with comments) | Weblog archives | Site Map | | Browse Topics

Computer Service

2005-06-16 13:56:39.2401+00 by ebradway 7 comments

I've always argued against buying onsite service plans for computers. My theory was that the $250 or so you'd spend on the service plan is better spent buying replacement parts and you never have to spend the day-on-the-phone as tech support walks you through diagnostics you've already done in order to be convinced they need to send someone out. But that's changed, surprisingly, by Dell.

I've had a pair of machines from one of my labs sitting in my office waiting for a free day when I want to talk to New Delli Tech Support. Finally, the day came and I decided to start with an email to support, one for each machine. I described the problems and what I did to diagnose. I got a reply within a few hours to try a couple more diagnostics (because I have a lab of identical machines, I was able to swap some parts - actually I just swapped between the two dead machines since the parts in question weren't the problem). After that, the next email was "let me verify for address so I can ship the replacement parts to you or send someone out to do the replacement". I opted to replace the parts myself (I hate having to schedule my day around some tech) and shelved the machines, expecting to get the parts sometime in the next week.

That was yesterday. This morning at 9:15am, DHL shows up with two boxes. A new motherboard for each machine. These Dell systems have a tool-free design that literally is tool free. Each cable comes off easily and the motherboard is on a tray that slides out. The new motherboard even came mounted on a new tray. It took less than 5 minutes to replace the motherboard.

My new recommendation: buy a Dell and an extended warranty for as long as you want to be able to use the system.

Note: I do not own any stock in Dell and there may be other computer manufacturers that are cheaper/better/whatever, but my experience is based on running two computer labs with 40 workstations used by a variety of classes and six servers.

[ related topics: Invention and Design Television Sports Graphic Design Machinery Economics ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2005-06-17 00:44:46.550902+00 by: TheSHAD0W

Oh, boy, did you just start a flame war... [runs away before the shooting starts]

#Comment Re: made: 2005-06-17 01:04:36.202184+00 by: Shawn

Has the new motherboard fixed the problem? We use a lot of Dell laptops here at work and I've been hearing that they're standard answer for any problem is to just replace the motherboard.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-06-17 12:51:09.511792+00 by: petronius

Seems to me about a year ago in Infoworld Cringely was snarking over Dell laptops with a minor tendency to catch fire....

It would be interesting to know how many machines and/or motherboards Dell has to replace each year. A couple years ago I tried a Xmas job at Circuit City, where they will sell you an extended warranty on a six-buck USB cable or a 128mg thumbdrive. They told us to really push the warranties, since they didn't really make money on computers, competing as they are with Best Buy, CompUSA, CDW, Dell and Gateway.com, etc. Their profit margin in computers was mostly based on the hope that the machines would work as advertised nad they could keep the warranty money. Can Dell.com be any different?

#Comment Re: made: 2005-06-17 13:59:05.187159+00 by: Larry Burton

I don't think Dell makes any money on their computers. They make money on the float they have between receiving payment for an order and paying their vendors for the parts.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-06-17 19:09:10.336862+00 by: TheSHAD0W

Dell sells computers two different ways: First, they have these immense discounts they advertise on TV, and those machines go basically for cost. Gets them a lot of name recognitiion. But if those discounted boxes don't fit your bill, you wind up paying a premium for a box configured the way you like it.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-06-19 17:47:43.935103+00 by: ebradway

I currently am responsible for about 50 Dell desktops, two laptops, and three servers. In the past three years, here are the problems I've encountered:

  1. Two dead motherboards in two different "$899 machines including 15" LCD display". We have 24 of these in a lab used by students. They get a little bit of abuse. The motherboards were swapped out with a total of five emails. I receieved the replacements within 24 hours. They took less than 5-minutes each to replace (I actually timed it). The problems are 100% corrected.
  2. CD-Rs drives in 4 machines that were purchased before I got here that pretty much only burn correctly if you make an ISO image to the non-system hard drive and burn from that. But that's what I've ALWAYS done since I burnt my first CD on a 486-25 in 1995. That is, until I got my Dell laptop - which burns perfectly everytime. These machines are now out of warranty and I really don't care to fix them.
  3. One Dell server that occasionally gives a PCI bus error and locks up. That's going to by my next foray into Dell tech support. It's intermittent (one every other month or so). If it were a desktop, I'd just live with it. Because it's a server and I don't like my servers EVER locking up spontaneously and it is a Dell Server-class machine, I'm going to get it resolved.

This is 50+ machines over three years with seven issues. That's a total of 150 machine years and an average of one problem every 25 machine years. The two Dell laptops I deal with have had no problems. They are the "$899 basic model" Latitudes from about 15 months ago. I abuse the heck out of mine and it hasn't let me down.

I have, before, spent time on the phone with Dell support. That was when all Dell support was handled in India and they did not work over email. They definitely would not issue replacement parts or send out techs without a phone call. That appears to be different now.

And I do realize that you are spending about 50% of the list price on warranty. On an $899 machine, you pay something like $299 for support. But what you get for that $1100 now is downright amazing. Something on the order of a 2.5Ghz P4 with 1GB of RAM, 80GB disk space, DVD-RW, and an LCD display. Frequently, you can get a printer thrown in for free.

Contrast this to the first machines I built for the University back in 1990: 386-33Mhz with 16MB of RAM and 100MB hard drives. No CD-ROM. 15" monitors and optical serial mice. These cost the University $2500 a piece without a warranty and cost me many a sliced fingers as I assembled them. And I can very quickly demonstrate how a that machine in 1990 was much less useful than the newer machine now. Add to that the affects of inflation...

Maybe you can see my reasoning. Dell's products may not be perfect but they are delivering something good enough for me to recommend.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-06-19 23:10:17.887532+00 by: dws

To save some bucks, I opted for 3 years of mail-in service, and am now glad I did. My trusty laptop, which has been ridden pretty hard, crapped out with some sort of motherboard error. 15 minutes on the phone with Dell, and DHL is on the way with a box to get it serviced. I'm also glad I got into the habit of doing regular backups.