Category Archives: Wintel

Dell Inspiron Laptop

In my last post, I explained that my work had bought me a new Dell Intel I7 laptop with 16GB of RAM.  It came with Windows 8.1 Pro on it, and as an experiment for work, I upgraded it immediately to Windows 10 Pro.  (I have 10 Windows 7 Pro desktop computers that I manage for work right now, and knew at some point they will have to be upgraded to Windows 10 or later). I do have 3 newer desktop Dell’s running Windows 10 Pro running that I have made to look like Windows 7 Pro. Since I have to support the users within the company, it’s easier to keep everybody on the same “look and feel”.  Every computer that I manage has 16GB of RAM, and as they need hard drive replacement, I’m installed SSD’s in them.

Unfortunately, the new Dell laptop came with a slow 5400rpm hard drive, and it went from booting in about 5 minutes before the upgrade, to almost 10 minutes after the upgrade.  It was so bad, that I stopped using it, and kept using my Macbook Pro instead.  Since the new notebook is mine to do with as I please, I decided to install an SSD and load a different OS on it.

When I had more time years ago, I used to cruise Distrowatch trying different flavors of Linux & BSD.  For this project, I decided to download Ubuntu Desktop LTS 16.04, put it on a bootable USB stick, and installed it on the new SSD.  Boot times went from 8 to 10 minutes running Windows 10 Pro, to less than 15 seconds!

Granted, I have a bunch of stuff, (Dropbox, Adobe Creative Suite, MS-Office Pro, etc), that loads into Windows 10 Pro when it boots.  But a new Dell I7 laptop SHOULD boot faster.  And yes, I could have installed the SSD and loaded Windows 10 on it, but to be honest, I am not very impressed with Windows 10.  The final straw was how long it took to do “updates” to Windows 10.  Again, I know part of it was my fault for not using it all the time, so that it wouldn’t have to “pile on the updates”.  I took the Dell laptop with me on a business trip as a backup, and it took over 24 hours to update the damn thing!  Good thing I didn’t have to use it during that time.

The Dell laptop is now a pleasure to work on, (yes the touchscreen works), and I plan to start using it more and more.  If you have an older or even a newer laptop, I would encourage you to get a spare drive and install a Linux distro on it and have fun!


My Dell Inspiron 1501

In my previous posts, I had explained the trials and tribulations of upgrading my 5 year old Dell Inspiron 1501 laptop.  Knowing that the “not charging” problem was either the battery or the AC adapter, I ordered a replacement AC adapter from a reputable seller on Ebay.  After plugging the new AC adapter in, I still had the same problem.

A week or so later, I was trying to repair a customers’ Dell of the same model that was DOA, and I took their battery out and placed it in mine.  Voila, it started charging, both with the old AC adapter and with the new one.  After returning the customers’ battery to their unit, I starting looking for a new battery on Ebay.  Looks like I can get a new OEM battery for around $35.


Carolyn’s New HP Laptop

Over the last few years, Carolyn has migrated from using a powerful desktop computer for her work, to several different laptops. In Colorado, we always had at least two desktops in our home office, and 3 desktops at our business. In the summer of 2006, we bought a Dell 15″ Inspiron that has served us well until recently, (see previous Dell Hell posts).

Carolyn uses a notebook exclusively to update her website, surf the Internet, send and receive email, and work with pictures taken with our Nikon DSLR. She had me pack away her desktop a few months ago, because she hadn’t used it in over a year. I started looking for a 17″ laptop to replace the injured Dell, and had thought seriously about buying a unit from the Dell Outlet store, until I had the run-in with Dell’s tech support. That incident combined with the experience that a good customer of ours recently had, convinced me to look elsewhere.

I noticed after Christmas that our local Walmart had reduced the price of a particular HP 17″ Intel Core 2 Duo laptop from $548 to $448. Carolyn and I looked at that model and she tried it out with her hands, as they are badly deformed by her Rheumatoid Arthritis, making keyboarding somewhat difficult. We decided to wait, as we are still spending money on the remodeling of the house. I went online to make sure that this particular model could be upgraded to 8GB of RAM. On our subsequent trips to that Walmart, I saw that they still had a small stock of the HP’s left. Then we started having problems with the Dell, and I would fix the things that popped up. First it was a bad stick of RAM, which led me to the BIOS update problems. Then it started having video problems with the screen going crazy with vertical lines. I updated the ATI video driver and the video problems calmed down, though they would crop up occasionally.

About a month ago, after finishing a 2 day hardware swap-out at a bank NE of Lufkin, I decided to stop buy the Walmart and see if they had any stock left on the HP. Much to my surprise, not only did they have 3 units left, but they had reduced the price another $50. With Carolyn’s birthday coming up, I could not resist, and went ahead and purchased it for $398 plus tax, for a total of $430. It had 3GB of RAM, a 320GB HD, and a 17″ LED screen with full keyboard. When I got home, Carolyn was thrilled. I had (2) 2GB sticks of RAM that I had bought for the Dell and couldn’t use because of the BIOS problems, so I immediately “upgraded” the RAM to 4GB. I’ll keep watching the price of RAM and buy 8GB when it gets really low.

Carolyn has been using her new HP for almost a month now, and couldn’t’ be happier.  This HP is actually lighter than the 15″ Dell it replaced, which is a BIG deal for Carolyn.  I’m going to use the Dell as a platform to test Linux and BSD distro’s.

Dell Hell: A New Customer Story

One of my long term customers from Colorado, Lee Rooks, contacted me about a month ago, looking to buy a new laptop.  Even though I was having “issues” with my 4 year old Dell Inspiron not being able to upgrade the BIOS, I told him that I thought a mid level Dell would fill his needs.  Below is his email to me after he started having problems with his brand new Dell purchase:

Hi Walt,

I gave Dell a try.  Inspiron 15 R, supposed to come loaded with McAfee virus scan, had to go online to download it, it wouldn’t let me, tried to download Vipre, don’t know if it did or not.  Computer came to a stop. Called Dell, they wanted $230 for “North American service” to fix the software problem that they gave to me.

I took the computer to Ernie, (Editors note: Ernie Hatfield is a good friend who runs Heart of the Rockies Internet Solutions in Salida, Colorado), but then I called Dell and for the privilege of giving them a 15% “restocking fee” I will be free from this piece of crap and stress.  The tech I talked to kept saying I got a “very powerful wirus” …wirus????  I told him I had been using computers for 16 years and I didn’t know what a “wirus” was. He just kept saying I needed software support for $230.00.

When I told Dell I wanted my money back for this piece of crap, they offered me $35.00 to keep it, when I refused, they offered me $50.  I told them, ” that’s stupid, your tech tells me it will cost $230 to fix the stupid thing, if you would just fix the thing I would keep it”.  They didn’t want to fix it so I am through with Dell.

Please understand, I’m not blaming you, I know some people have great results, I just didn’t.

After I got this email, I called Ernie to verify what had happened. Ernie told me that he had another customer that the same thing had happened to, and Dell’s response was the same.  Pay us $230, and we’ll fix your problems.  You don’t tell someone who just spent money buying your product, that you can fix their problem if, and only if, they pay you more money.

Now folks, I ran a computer hardware and software business for almost 20 years.  Granted, we did not sell millions and millions of PC’s and laptops every year.  But we always put ourselves in our customers shoes when they had problems.  We gave unlimited technical support, both in person and on the phone, for the life of the product, not just for 90 days, or six months, or one year.

I would hope that Dell, and for that matter all hardware vendors, would offer at least a 30 to 90 day, no questions asked, we’ll fix your problems for free, no matter what the problem is, warranty.  Whatever happened to vendors standing behind their products and services?


The Bottom Line
Dell really missed the boat with their treatment of Lee.  If they had just fixed his problem, he would have been a happy customer, and probably told many folks about his pleasant experience with Dell.  Instead Dell has now created a monster of customer unhappiness that will tell his story to anyone who will listen.  It has always amazed me how much money a company will spend to get a new customer, but how little they will spend to keep a customer!  This is simply not good business.

Dell Hell, again!

Many times in the course of trying to fix someone else’s Dell computer, I have found myself in what can only be described as “Dell Hell”.   DH is the situation you find yourself in when you cannot find the support files or instructions that you need to fix the problem(s) correctly.  On the Internet you can find many references to DH, most having to do with dealing with Dell’s telephone sales or India based customer support.  In my case, this is how the most recent episode unfolded:

I was experiencing some “issues” with my Dell Inspiron 1501 laptop, circa 2007.  It came with 2GB of RAM, an AMD Dual Core CPU,  an 80GB Hard Drive and Windows XP Home.  In mid 2010, I installed a 250GB Hard Drive, and Windows 7 Home Premium, (the 64bit version).  Even though Dell does not have any support, (driver), files for this model running Windows 7, everything worked, (except for the scroll function on the trackpad).  Carolyn had been using this laptop without any problems for over 6 months.  Without warning, Internet Explorer 8 started crashing on a regular basis, along with trouble getting the computer to “wake up” from sleep mode.  Thinking that perhaps Microsoft had downloaded a patch that was causing the problem, I restored the computer back 1 week, but the problems still persisted.  I then went back another week, but to no avail.

I rummaged through my linux CD’s, and found one that has a memory tester as a boot program.  After running the memtest, it found that one stick of the RAM had errors.  I removed that stick, and Carolyn continued to use the laptop.  All the problems went away, but it was noticeably slower.  Dell’s website says that 2GB of RAM is max for this model, but there are lots of folks on the Internet that say they have 4GB installed, with no problems.  So me being adventurous, I ordered 4GB of RAM from, and within a week, (with their FREE shipping), I had the RAM in my hands.  Putting both 2GB sticks it got me a blank screen with no beep codes, but no booting the OS either.  Removing the 2GB stick from slot B, and then the laptop would boot correctly.  No matter what combination I tried, I could only get the notebook to work with 2GB of RAM.

Switching gears, I then went to Dell’s website to look for BIOS updates.  The BIOS is the Basic Input Output System for any computer.  All computer devices have a BIOS.  Since “updating” the BIOS can solve certain problems, (like seeing more memory), it was worth a shot.  Sure enough, Dell had two updates to the BIOS on this particular model, one update marked as “critical”.   I downloaded both updates, planning to do them incrementally, and tried to install them.  Most BIOS updates have to be installed from boot/DOS level, but these particular Phoenix BIOS updates came only with a Windows installer.  Well, after messing with the Windows updater for several passes, and dealing with the various “error” messages that it generated, I was not having any luck.

Being the brilliant technician that I am, I decided to give the “DOS” version a try.  Following the instructions on Dell’s website, I prepared a 3.5″ floppy boot disk.  (Yes, I have a USB external floppy disk drive for just these occasions.)  Dell’s instructions say to copy the complete BIOS file to the floppy disk.  Now friends, if you can figure out how to copy a 3.4MB file onto a 1.44MB floppy disk, please enlighten me!  Frustrated, I decided to search the Internet for a solution.  After running into numerous postings of folks with the same BIOS problem that I was having, I decided that this laptop will have to live with only 2GB of RAM installed.