What if my new computer doesn’t work?
You’ve shelled out the money and ordered your machine. You anticipate its
arrival, and when it finally does show up you quickly open the box, set it up,
and start to install applications and customize the system to your liking.
But what if your brand-new, just out-of-the-box system has a problem?
Well, it just happened to me. Let me tell you my experience so that you can
see the issues I faced, and the steps I took to fix them.
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In a previous article, What
computer should I get? I detailed the decisions that went into my latest
purchase of a Dell Latitude D600 laptop. At the end of that article I promised
I’d describe how I went through the process of setting it up
and customizing it once it arrived.
Unfortunately I didn’t get as far as I had hoped.
Manuals – I’ve done this so many times that I rarely read
the manuals any more. Naturally I recommend that you at least review any quick
start or setup manuals that accompany your machine. I had ordered a
port-replicator with the machine, which is a smallish docking station to which
a keyboard, monitor, mouse, and other peripherals can be attached. Since it had
been a while since I’d dealt with one of those (and in years past, they had
been problematic), I paged through its setup manual. The instructions indicated
that I needed to setup Windows BEFORE docking the laptop. Good to know because
I almost did that wrong.
So I plugged in only the power adapter and turned on the machine.
Windows Setup – The first step with a newly built machine
is to complete Windows XP Setup. XP had, in fact, already been installed on the
machine, but the final stages of setup which customize it with your details
still needed to be completed. That involved:
reading and accepting the Dell license agreement
confirming my country and keyboard layout
selecting my time zone
reading and accepting the Microsoft license agreement
choosing whether or not to enable Auto Updates (I selected no for now, so
as not to interfere with anything I might do later – I plan to turn it on when
my setup is complete)
entering the computer’s name and description
confirming that the computer could not find an internet connection (I had
not yet connected to any network)
declining the option to register online with Microsoft (particularly since
I wasn’t on any network)
declining to setup internet access (that’s something I’ll do later)
entering a user name for each person who will use the computer (in this
case, one person: me)
It was at this point I got my first clue that something was amiss. Windows
Setup needed to reboot to proceed.
Instead, it hung.
Continued Configuration – I also have done this enough
times to be perhaps too forgiving. I simply forced the a reboot by powering
down the machine and restarting it.
I docked the laptop in the port replicator. I changed the administrator
password. I set up a network connection. But as I was doing all this (which
I’ll detail in a later article), I noted something odd. The fan started to run.
That happens when the processor gets warm, and that happens when it’s busy. It
shouldn’t be that busy.
100% CPU – I fired up Task Manager and noted that the CPU
was pegged at 100% usage. My first thought was
a virus. It was really unlikely that a virus was propagating on my
firewalled network, but stranger things can happen. In all honesty I wondered
if the machine had shipped with a virus already on it. So I installed my anti-virus updated its database and scanned away. The machine scanned clean. I
also visited Windows Update, but there was nothing
particularly interesting there either.
I attempted to reboot the machine. It hung.
After forcing the reboot again the processor was still pegged at 100%. I
grabbed my copy of SysInternals Process Explorer to
see if it would tell me which process was consuming all the CPU. No real help
there as the process was the generic “System” process (not the idle process).
But a clue: procexp also told me that between 5 and 15% of the processor was
handling hardware interrupts. That simply shouldn’t be if the machine is doing
Getting Help – At this point I decided I needed help. I
went first to the Dell forums and posted a description of
my problem. The very first response was “Send It Back!”. While I could
understand that response (a new machine should just work), that’s a hassle and
I at least wanted to give fixing it a try.
I called Dell support. To their credit, each technician I spoke to was
helpful and listened to what I had to say and what I had done so far. The
suggestions they made were reasonable. But the suggestions didn’t help.
The final step a technician and I both arrived at was to reformat and
reinstall Windows XP. Since I’d barely touched the machine, there was nothing
on it that would be lost so this made perfect sense.
I inserted the CD-ROM (Always insist on getting a CD-ROM of
any pre-installed operating system for exactly this reason.) Formatting went
well, though slowly. I suspect the processor was still pegged at 100%. Windows
“character mode” setup proceeded properly and copied all the files to the hard
disk. Then it went to reboot.
You guessed it. It hung.
At this point I knew I was sunk. But I plodded on, forcing the reboot and
allowing Windows GUI setup to complete. Then it went to reboot.
I turned off the machine, called Dell’s “Customer Care” unit and arranged
for an exchange. As I write this my “old” new machine is re-boxed and awaiting
pickup and the “new” new machine is being built by Dell, hopefully to arrive
I’ll continue my “how to configure your machine” once that machine arrives
and is working.
Some Lessons Learned – and items to remember:
Keep the original boxes and packing material. I typically keep it all for a
year, but at a minimum keep it for the “easy return” period that your
manufacturer has. For Dell, I believe that’s 21 days.
Always get a CD-ROM of the operating system. You could be in serious
trouble if you
don’t have one. I’m shocked that some other manufacturers refuse to provide
one, and would never buy a machine from them.
Expect the best. A new machine should work. Period. Especially before
connecting it to the network, and before installing any additional software.
Take the time to check it out under those conditions.
Ask for help. The first response to my Dell forum posting was within
minutes and dead-on accurate. The folks at Dell’s technical support were also
easy to work with and helpful.
Play nice. Firm, but nice. It doesn’t pay to get upset or annoyed with
phone support technicians – in fact doing so will typically only make matters
worse. Escalate if you need to; firmly if that’s what it takes, if but always,
always, be polite and friendly. No technician is going to go out of
their way to go the extra mile for an abusive customer.
Remember that “stuff” happens. I don’t mean to make excuses for bad
hardware or machines, but the fact is things can go wrong. Naturally there
should be a high expectation of quality, so in my case if replacement machine
also has a problem I’ll return it and politely take my business elsewhere.