Dell-inquent Computers

Almost two years ago, I acquired my first laptop computer, a Dell Inspiron 1545. Within just a couple of months of its purchase I began experiencing failures which I eventually tracked down to a faulty hard drive, as reported New Year, New Hard Disk (Jan 21st, 2012). My laptop has worked fine ever since replacing the hard drive [fingers very firmly crossed].

Undeterred by my faulty hard drive and never before having suffered any computer failure in my life, in New Year, New Computer (Jan 25th, 2012), I spoke about replacing my aging Sony Vaio desktop computer with a sleek new Dell XPS 8300 desktop. I became very comfortable and happy with it. Life continued, despite 2012 descending into the meteorological disaster with which we are now all too familiar.

Every now and then, we get unsolicited international phone calls. I normally completely ignore them, Carol tends to answer them and give the caller an undisguised piece of her mind. Early this week Carol answered an international call that, it turned out, was from Dell. I was unavoidably detained by culinary matters but it seemed they were interested in how my computer was; they’d call back. That’s very caring of them, I thought, whilst wondering which particular computer they were interested in, having two Dell machines?

Yesterday, whilst I was seated at my Dell XPS 8300 desktop, our phone rang. “International” flashed up on the screen. Remembering that it might be Dell, I uncharacteristically decided to answer it. Sure enough, it was a nice lady from Dell wondering how my XPS 8300 desktop was performing, having purchased it in January.

“It’s fine, thank you”, I replied politely.

“Thank you”, she said, “that’s all I need to know”, and hung up before I could mention the laptop and its faulty hard drive.

You are not going to believe this – I still don’t believe it myself. Quite literally 30 minutes after having taken that “out of the blue” Dell phone call yesterday, almost 11 months after purchasing their machine and using it, I got a BSOD [Blue Screen Of Death, to those unfamiliar with the term]. The screen mentioned something fatal-sounding along the lines of:

Page fault in non-paged area: Windows has detected a problem and is shutting down to prevent damaging your system

I read the page’s further diagnostic suggestions, only partially understanding them, wrinkled my brow and went for a restart. When in doubt, reboot, where Windows is concerned, at least.

The machine restarted but I swiftly turned my back on it as Carol returned home. Homecoming greetings over, I returned to the machine and that blasted BSOD had reappeared. This time the machine refused to restart. It also refused to start in Safe Mode. Yikes, it must be bad! I hit F12 during another restart sequence to find a Dell screen offering one interesting option called “System Test” (or some such). Bravely, I tried it. It ran through a series of diagnostics (the sonar check in The Hunt For Red October, sprang to mind – “running diagnostics now, captain”), all of which passed except three different tests against the RAM. I tried another restart but, no, I was dead in the water.

This morning I went through a protracted phone call with Dell support, during which I was guided to open the tower unit, remove all four RAM modules and systematically replace them one by one. There’s a total of 6Gb of RAM on four separate memory boards, two 2GB boards and two 1Gb boards. One of the 2Gb boards is faulty; without it the machine is fine but with it the machine fails. I am now back up and running on the healthy 4Gb RAM and Dell is shipping me a replacement 2Gb board.

I am still thoroughly gobsmacked at the timing of this failure. I just cannot believe it. I never do well with coincidences. It’s almost as though someone phoned me to see how things were, then pressed a button to make the system fail. The support guy did try to sell me an extended warranty package, after all, but that’s too much like a paranoid conspiracy theory.

My two previous desktops, Fuji and Sony, survived about six and eight years respectively, and they were both pensioned off rather than failing. By contrast, my Dell laptop lasted just a few months, my Dell desktop almost 11 months.

I have to say that I think Dell support is pretty good but then, at the rate their machines seem to fail in my experience, they’d need to be, wouldn’t they? 🙁

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