Satellite Crash (or How Dell Frustrates Their Purchasing Customers With A One-Cent Error)

by Jon Davis 17. September 2009 22:56

Two years ago, I blogged with great excitement the huge investment I made in the most expensive laptop I could find at Fry’s Electronics, a Toshiba Satellite X205-S9359. Keep in mind that software, computers, and the web, are my career and my primary hobby at the same time, so I felt that this was a justified investment, and in the long run it ultimately paid off, as my Toshiba has served me every day non-stop for two years straight. (And needless to say, I’m single.) I reviewed it on Amazon as a "Fully Loaded Do-It-All Portable Mega-Station”, giving it only two stars, though, because of the price, because of its slow hard drives, and because it was HD-DVD and not Blu-ray.

Now the pay-off ends. This beast has eaten eight hard drives like a dirty cassette deck eats cassette tapes. And this week eat ate the last one I’m willing to tolerate being eaten.

Yes you read that right, eight hard drives. How?

Start with two hard drives. They’re slower than a turtle, crawling at 5400 RPM. Toss ‘em, replace ‘em with 150GB 7200 RPM’ers. Use ‘em for a year, watch ‘em fill up. Got no more room! So those get replaced with two 250GB drives. Half a year later, those stop working; data gets corrupted and the whole machine freezes up regularly. So I replace those, now 350GB. The machine works perfectly. Use ‘em for a few months, and the first drive pukes, I can’t even keep it running for a session. So the first of two drives (the main drive with Windows and all my programs) gets replaced.

Now here I am a couple months since the last replacement and I’m seeing the same symptoms—worse, actually, now system files are corrupted and I can’t open several apps I normally use because of corruption. In fact, I couldn’t even boot until I ran chkdsk to repair the data.

There’s a simple explanation for this “melting drive” behavior. Obviously, a fan’s not working right. Maybe a couple fans inside this monstrosity of a laptop are down, I dunno. I used to be able to hold my hand up to the side and it would blow hot air on my hand and scorch it like a hair dryer, now when I hold my hand up I can barely feel any air flow. So there’s no question it’s a fan outage.

The problem is that this is a laptop. I’m typing this blog entry on my mid-size tower PC, not the laptop. It’s a black white box (a black-colored “white box”), a home built PC. If this machine’s fans went out, I could just go to Fry’s and snag any standard PC fan. But laptops are proprietary little devils. You have to either seek out an equivalent unit on eBay that is broken down but hopefully has the working part I need (this investment costs hundreds of dollars) or you have to acquire it from the manufacturer (and this takes months of paperwork and waiting).

[UPDATE: Looks like I might be in luck. Part is here and here.]

Or, you can just toss the laptop and start over.

I don’t have the money to do that, but I think I’m getting antsy enough to be willing to shuffle some personal budget plans around to make it happen. It’s my primary PC, I can’t function without it! ;) (Actually, I literally can’t, even this mid-size tower won’t meet my needs because some software, namely SQL Server 2008 Express, won’t run right on it until I figure out why.)

That’s what I’m going to try to do; I’m going to rearrange my budget and make a laptop purchase happen. However, earlier this week when I discovered that Windows wouldn’t even boot because of corruption and concluded that my laptop itself is in an unusable state, I hopped onto Dell’s web site and made a selection. Given what the Toshiba has done for me for the last two years, I wanted this to be an investment that wouldn’t necessarily be a functional downgrade. I wanted a decent machine I would continue to enjoy like I have enjoyed the Toshiba all this time. So I made my selection—a beautiful Studio XPS 16—and went to check out using the online order form. I selected Dell Financing as my method of payment because I have a line of credit with Dell with which I bought a Dell Mini 9 a while back, which is fine for social networking but otherwise worse than useless for what I need of a primary computer. But the order form told me I didn’t have quite enough credit with Dell Financing to handle the purchase. It let me split the order to two forms of payment between Dell Financing and another card, so that’s what I chose to do.

Dell’s order form determined my available credit and split the charges using that value. I changed nothing. I only entered my address and debit card information for my bank to cover the leftover costs.

Within hours, however, I received an e-mail in my Inbox indicating that my order was put on hold because a payment method had been declined. So the next day (that was yesterday) I stepped outside from the office and called them up to ask what had happened. They told me that it was Dell Financial that declined my order. I spent literally 30-45 minutes on the phone with Dell trying to figure out what went wrong and to ultimately cancel my order. What happened was that when the order form gathered my available credit from the Dell Financing department, there must have been some kind of rounding error because the order form overcharged my line of credit by one cent ($0.01). One measly penny! I asked, “Can’t you extend my line of credit by one penny?” “No, I’m sorry, sir, when I put you on hold a minute ago I was asking if there was anything we could do about this. But there isn’t, you need to ask the sales representatives to submit an order that is less than or equal to your available credit.” Well they weren’t exactly able to help, I knew that the person I was speaking with wanted to help but her hands were tied. Anyway, I didn’t want to fix this problem, I had already decided to cancel the order before it was even “declined”, my selection was made too hastily without consideration of other options, but I was very angry with Dell for making me have to be the one to suffer the follow-up efforts on behalf of their own mistake.

I am truly befuddled by the one-cent mishap. How many customers have to go through this? Does this happen every time the payment methods are split? There is no “complaints and suggestions” e-mail address to pass these people a hint, either. Best I can do is blog about it.

I have since been looking at other brands such as HP. Dell has gone the way of Apple anyway, the Studio XPS, Adamo, and (*gag*) Alienware product lines charge way too much for making an artistic statement rather than for being practical. I’d be interested in the Dell Precision line but my line of credit only applies to home/personal products (which makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever). But I expect I’ll find a laptop, something practical that I’ll enjoy within the next couple weeks.

Meanwhile as for this Toshiba, I think I’m going to try to salvage it. I’ll keep looking for that fan I need, maybe I’ll get lucky and find just the fan on eBay sometime. I don’t see myself getting it working particularly soon so it’ll ultimately be a backup machine but a backup machine has to be in working order or else it’s not a backup, right?


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About the author

Jon Davis (aka "stimpy77") has been a programmer, developer, and consultant for web and Windows software solutions professionally since 1997, with experience ranging from OS and hardware support to DHTML programming to IIS/ASP web apps to Java network programming to Visual Basic applications to C# desktop apps.
Software in all forms is also his sole hobby, whether playing PC games or tinkering with programming them. "I was playing Defender on the Commodore 64," he reminisces, "when I decided at the age of 12 or so that I want to be a computer programmer when I grow up."

Jon was previously employed as a senior .NET developer at a very well-known Internet services company whom you're more likely than not to have directly done business with. However, this blog and all of have no affiliation with, and are not representative of, his former employer in any way.

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