Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Trials and Tribulations of Buying From Dell [grrr], by Instalawyer:

OK, so I had some extra cash, and/or needed a deduction, and my none too reliable Sony Vaio finally bit the dust with a motherboard glitch that crashed the computer anytime I physically moved it. After weeks of dithering as to what type replacement laptop to get, I finally decided at the end of March to go with the Dell XPS-M140, a relatively light and compact notebook that I could load up with features. Interestingly -- and of some concern to me -- Dell's web site no longer seems to contain a link to the XPS-M140. Have they taken it off the market already?

Anyway, I elected to get the full 1 GB of RAM, the fastest processor available for the unit, Bluetooth, even though I currently have no Bluetooth devices [you never know in the future], the longer life [9 cell?] battery, and the three year on-site service deal. Finally, I got the Windows Media Center Edition 2005 [MCE] operating system and the bundled "TV tuner" [make and model unspecified by Dell], with the goal of using the new computer as a quasi-do-it-yourself personal video recorder and video capture device.

In this latter respect, I would be able to record items off the cable TV [for work purposes, of course -- news stories and such related to cases], as well as take items on VHS video and convert them to digital editable form. You see, with my TIVO, I can do this conversion, but TIVO's digital file format is not susceptible of editing. Why would I need to edit? Well, to remove commercials, to redact deposition testimony that I don't need, that sort of thing.

After a couple of weeks, I finally received the computer. The computer itself seemed fine: appropriately speedy and compact, but with a wide-format screen big enough that I didn't have to squint to see, and a well-sized keyboard for typing.

However, no TV tuner was included. I called Dell, and the heavily accented overseas customer service person [Indian?] told me that the TV tuner was not included with what I ordered. Now, this makes no sense, because there's really no reason for me to get MCE unless I have PVR capability, for which I would need that TV tuner. I made some noise about this , and the Dell person generously agreed to ship me a TV tuner for free. OK, great, I thought to myself. Problem solved.

After another week or so, I got the tuner. It was an ATI TV Wonder USB 2.0 model. I took it home and thereupon spent about four hours trying to install it. For some reason, the install program off the CD-ROM kept failing at the outset. I did kluge an install once, but then the device wouldn't see the cable TV signal. I was stymied, but because it was Friday night, I couldn't get any customer support from ATI until Monday, during business hours.

The following Monday, I got ATI on the phone [their support rep was in California], and while on hold, I found semi-hidden documentation on the ATI web site that this particular device only worked with Windows XP. In other words, Dell's idiots had sent me a TV tuner device for my MCE computer that was incompatible with my MCE computer!

So I called Dell again. This call was the second or third to Dell, not counting their "inadvertent" hang-ups. The new overseas Dell person i spoke with needed some convincing that the ATI device was incompatible with an MCE computer, but finally agreed to take the return and then ship me a new device. Dell's accessories page showed a few devices that allegedly worked with MCE 2005. The top contenders in my my mind were the Hauppage WinTV-PVR-USB2 Personal Video Recorder and the Adaptec AVC-3610.

I suggested to the rep that Dell send me the Adaptec device, because it was a dual tuner device, so [at least] theoretically, I could attach one signal input from my cable converter box, and the other from direct cable/VCR. That way, without any recabling, I could record signal off cable, as well as using the device for VHS conversion to editable digital format. Also, if I wanted, the dual tuner capability would allow me to record two different signals simultaneously. That's pretty cool. To my surprise, the Dell rep said they would send the Adaptec device. Standard delay time: three to five days to ship. Great, I said, we're finally straightened out, I said. Little did I know....

Two weeks later, I still didn't have my TV tuner. I called Dell again, and the overseas rep [apparently, Dell uses no one in the U.S. for customer support] stunned me by asserting that the Adaptec AVC-3610 is not available from Dell!. While this person was saying this, I was punching up that very item on Dell's web site. While looking at Dell's page for the AVC-3610, I told this person, in [ahem] exasperated tones that he was flatly wrong, and that it was available from Dell. The person put me on hold for a few minutes. When he/she came back on the line, lo and behold, the AVC-3610 was available. He/she agreed to send the device, using the exact same language as had been used two weeks previously. I could have bitched more, but it would have served no purpose. I was just going to have to wait and see whether Dell actually made good on its [second] promise to ship me this item.

Finally, finally, I received the Adaptec device. Total time elapsed from when I received the computer to when I received the TV tuner: six weeks. Am I happy with Dell? Not a bit. The computer works fine. The large battery I got is great -- I used the computer at depositions this past Friday. I turned the computer on at 9:00, and when we finished at 2:30, I still had an hour and a half of battery time left. That's great. Dell's customer service leaves a lot to be desired, however. I estimate that between the phone calls, the time spent on trying to install the ATI device and the general tsouris of it all, I spent about five hours dealing with what should have come with the computer originally. I bill my time at $225 per hour. In the words of Paul Newman in Absence of Malice: "Who do I see about that?"

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