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 Buy.com, 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.

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