PURCHASING A DELL LATITUDE E6520 - IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES
by PRocky - 2/26/12 6:49 AM
PURCHASING A DELL LATITUDE E6520 - IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES
Should IT professionals blindly stick with Dell business laptops and service?
I am a consultant in corporate IT. I prefer to use my own PC on the job, when possible, because I rely on a handful of unusual legacy applications in my work. In July 2011, when a new client indicated that they wanted deliverables in Word 2010 format, I ordered my first Windows7 PC, a "business-only" Latitude E6520 from Dell Small Business, with Dell Gold Support, to replace my aging but trusty D830. Because of my lengthy experience with Dell, and in particular with Gold Support, I decided to stick with that brand - even though Dell's model with the required features cost half again as much as similar models from some other makers.
I took care to specify to the sales person at Dell Small Business that I required a 32 bit operating system because of the legacy applications I run. After a 6-week wait, Dell delivered the PC - unfortunately, with a 64-bit OS. This should have been a minor inconvenience, but Dell managed to turn it into a debacle. I asked Customer Service if they could simply ship me a replacement drive with the correct image - it's a simple matter to swap hard drives. I even offered to pay for the extra drive. No, this was against their policy; I was instructed to ship the PC back and wait another 6 weeks for a replacement - which was out of the question. Despite escalating the issue to the Manager of Customer Service, their best offer (after intense haggling!) was to send me some install disks for the 32 bit system (also against their policy) - and, no driver disk was available.
Well, I'd installed dozens of pre-Windows 7 OSs on Dells and was always able to download all the necessary drivers from their support site with no problem, so I decided to take them up on the offer. I purchased a new hard drive identical to the one in the E6520, popped it in and started the setup. But, when I attempted to obtain drivers from the Dell Support site, the drivers it provided for the 32-bit version of my model and service tag were mostly incorrect. Some were for a 64 bit system, while others didn't match the existing hardware devices at all. I blundered through the driver installation as best I could, and then went to a commercial driver site and paid to get more satisfactory drivers.
When I tried using the PC at work, a problem appeared that rendered it completely useless; Windows Explorer crashed every 2 minutes. A Google search showed that this problem was widespread, but nobody had posted a remedy. Dell Gold Support knew nothing about it and could make no sense of the error message I was receiving. I called them repeatedly and spent hours running every possible diagnostic - without success.
A high-level tech at Gold Support finally offered to do a fresh remote Windows 7 installation, using my disks. The PC was otherwise useless, so I agreed and asked him to let me do the install under his supervision, and then to pull the drivers for me while I watched. He guessed it would take 1/2 hour for the whole affair... but then he encountered the same driver problems that I had experienced. With his knowledge of the drivers used in similar models, he was eventually able to find serviceable drivers and complete the installation in about 3 hours.
The following day I took my PC to the office and promptly discovered that the crashing Windows Explorer problem was STILL THERE. While experimenting in the office, I discovered that Windows Explorer only crashed when the PC was connected to the enterprise network. Otherwise, it was rock solid. I finally learned in a tech blog that Microsoft actually had posted a hot fix for this exact problem - http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2494427. It worked. Another problem solved.
Next issue: When typing, the insertion point jumped erratically every minute or two. I couldn't type a sentence without having to mouse the cursor back to the correct insertion point. I assumed that this was because I was inadvertantly brushing the touchpad during typing. The PC had no touchpad control utility, and no really satisfactory utility to disable the touchpad could be found online, so I covered it with a piece of cardbord. This helped somewhat, but the cursor was still not completely stable. A search of the Internet found numerous commiserating complaints, but no solutions. I decided to call Gold Support yet again to see if they knew anything about the cursor issue. This time, the tech guy knew exactly what the problem was... Dell had omitted the touchpad management app and driver from their support site: Dell Touchpad Driver R315893. While we were talking, I searched the site for this driver, and still couldn't find it, so I got the tech support guy to email me a link to it. When I installed it, not only was the problem solved, but I now have the previously missing utility to configure or disable the touchpad.
One final issue - which paled in comparison to the above - was that the audio level on the E6530 was disappointingly subdued. I'm a former orchestral musician, so this really steamed me. My old D830 was great by comparison. Again, searching the Dell support groups showed that dissatisfaction with the E6530's audio was widespread, the IDT sound card's simple on/off toggle offered no solution, and Dell Gold Support claimed to know nothing about it. Thank heavens, some charitable soul posted the solution; there is ANOTHER audio control simply entitled "Sound", inconspicuous and not mentioned in Dell's literature, that allows you to configure the playback properties of your speakers and headphones. The sound level is still rather weak, but at least I can hear it now.
After the PC was finally serviceable - more than 2 months from the time I received it - a Dell Customer Service person started calling and emailing me to try to patch things up and close my service ticket. The lady who called me repeatedly was nice enough, but couldn't begin to understood the technical issues. Sad.
I have 4 questions which I believe are reasonable and salient:
1) Why couldn't Dell have simply swapped the hard drive for me? They surely had one with the correct image on hand. It seems their "policy" was specifically to NOT provide urgently needed service.
2) If I and the Gold Support tech had the same driver issues on two consecutive installs - more than 6 weeks apart - this was clearly a problem that other corporate Dell users were having. Why didn't Dell (or Dell Gold Support) escalate the problem when I first reported it, and correct their site? And why couldn't they provide a driver disk, like most other manufacturers? BTW, the Customer Support lady who kept calling me after I was up and running adamantly denied that there was ever anything wrong with the driver site, right down to our last conversation, although I'd given her the Gold Support tech's name and location.
3) If the crashing Windows Explorer problem is sufficiently widespread on Dell corporate model laptops to have required a Microsoft hot-fix, why didn't Dell even know about it?
4) Finally, what kind of manufacturer would deliver these high-end PCs configured so unsatisfactorily? What were they thinking?
At one point in my career, I oversaw tech support for a chain of PC stores, so I had the requisite technical background to eventually get this PC working. But what are Dell purchasers supposed to do who aren't technical - or can't afford to invest the countless hours I spent?
In retrospect, my allegiance to Dell was ill-advised. When I purchase my next PC, I will base my choice on price, repair record and reported customer satisfaction, without regard to brand.