Tuesday, 22 November, 2005

Dell Technical Support

Debra's Dell Latitude notebook computer exhibited an interesting failure mode last week.  It booted up fine, except that the display didn't work.  It's very faint--unreadable, really.  I hooked up an external monitor, pressed the Fn+F8 key combination to switch to the alternate monitor, and the laptop's display came up.  I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Good thing I had that other monitor."

This morning it failed again.  This time, switching to the alternate monitor doesn't do the trick.  The other monitor works fine (I'm writing this on that monitor right now), but the notebook's display is very faint.  I can see what's on the screen if I allow the glare from the window to hit it, but it's almost impossible to read.

The odd thing is that the display flashes up nice and bright when the computer first starts up (the Dell logo appears), but then it goes faint.  When I hit Fn+F8 to switch monitors, the notebook's display again flashes and I can see it for maybe a tenth of a second before it dims again.

I've tried everything I know how to do.  I've cycled the brightness control from high to low and back again, installed the new flash BIOS that addresses some video problems, and updated the video driver.  All to no avail.  I guess it's time to call Dell Support.  Considering my past experiences with other technical support lines, I'm not looking forward to this call.

0955:  Dell customer response. Answers.  After I spent a couple minutes of wading through the menus and repeating every response, the system finally said, "I'll put you in touch with a technician who can help you."

0959:  Still on hold.

1006:  Still on hold.  No "Your call is important to us," or any some such.  Just dead air.

1010:  Still on hold.  I give up.  Time to call back.

1012:  Called back.  Went through voice response again and got transferred again.  The recording says that I'm connected to the "Inspiron Warranty Technical Support" line.  I hope they handle Latitude, too.

1013:  Maybe dead air was better.  Now I'm listening to some bad classical music on hold while being interrupted frequently with recorded "helpful" information.  It's not that the music is bad.  They were playing a Beethoven symphony and now it's something else that I recognize but can't place.  But listening to it over the telephone is torture.  It sounds like a minimum-resolution mpg file played by a computer that's not quite fast enough to keep up.

1016:  A helpful tidbit from the "on hold" information:  sometimes resetting the system will fix minor issues.  Disconnect AC adapter and remove battery.  Then reinstall the battery, reconnect the AC adapter, and start the computer.

1018:  It only took 5 minutes for the on hold information to begin repeating.

1022:  On hold for 10 minutes now, and working on my third time through the same helpful information.  The music is scratchy and choppy, evoking memories of trying to pick up KOMA from Oklahoma City at night when I was a kid in Pueblo, Colorado.

1025:  What the heck.  I might as well try resetting the system.  It's not like technical support is going to help me any time soon.

1035:  I pulled the battery just like the helpful voice on the phone suggested.  Waited a few minutes and plugged it back in.  No dice.  Still no display.  I think I'll go online to www.dell.com/chat and see if somebody there can help me.

1038:  I got a person on the phone!  I'll hold on the chat.

1101:  That was exciting.  The support technician was helpful and very knowledgeable.  She walked me through all of the standard tests most of which I'd already done, but that's okay.  I like to see that the tech support person understands basic debugging--going from the very simple to the more complex.  I'm not one to get offended when somebody asks if I've tried setting the brightness.

After all the simple stuff was exhausted, she had me shut down the computer, disconnect everything, pull the battery, and then open up the machine.  She talked me through removing the keyboard, disconnecting the LCD display cable, and then re-seating it.  Unfortunately, that didn't solve the problem.  Now I'm waiting for a call from the on-site service people (we got a 1-year on-site warranty standard when we bought the machines) so that they can come and replace the LCD. 

Of all the technical support calls I've had to make in the last few years, I'll rate this one the best.  Except for the 30 minutes of listening to low-fidelity classical music, I was very pleased with the experience.  I still dislike talking to voice response systems, but at least this one didn't lead me in an endless circle like some of them do.  And although the call didn't solve my problem, that's not the fault of technical support.  They did their job and escalated the incident when all other areas had been exhausted.

Dell technical support:  thumbs up.