Dell Troubleshooting Flowchart

Every time I call Dell (and I do call them quite often) about a problematic laptop I feel like they follow a call flowchart that looks something like this:

Dell Troubleshooting Flowchart

If the machine doesn’t boot, they will give you a new mobo. If the HD is not bootable, they will replace that. In any other case, unless their automated diagnostics produce an error code, or you can make a very convincing argument for hardware issue, they will claim it’s a software problem.

And there are two ways that Dell deal with software issues:

  1. Uninstall Offending Stuff
  2. Reinstall Windows

They do this little trick where they make you un-check everything in msconfig, and if your issue doesn’t resurface immediately they will claim one of the 3rd party applications is causing it and tell you to uninstall everything – including all your AV software. If you call back after that, they will just suggest choice #2.

Seriously – I can’t tell you just how many times Dell told me to re-install windows. And at least half of the time it turned out to be a hardware issue in the end. The problems ranged from a obviously faulty Wifi card (but of course Dell does not have diagnostics for it), to a failing DIMM socket (which would either cause the diagnostics to pass or freeze while trying). In each case it took a lot of effort on my part, and escalation to 2nd or 3rd tier to actually get the problem fixed.

An average Dell user probably does not have enough know how, time and/or patience to go through all of that. In fact, most users are terrified by the concept of reinstalling the OS, and confused about backing up their data. It’s also not a valid troubleshooting step – it’s a last resort. And yet it’s the very first trick that Dell techs are instructed to use when faced with an odd issue that can’t be easily classified as either hardware or PEBKAC.

Unfortunately reinstalling windows is not really a magical panacea for all problems. It’s a huge pain in the ass, which won’t solve anything and leave the average user with an unpatched, unstable system with missing drivers. Imaging done on the newer Dell machines helps here, but guess what happens if your problem resurfaces after you rolled the OS back from the factory ghost image on your HD? Yep, dell will tell you to format the drive and install Windows from scratch killing the nifty imaging functionality.

How pissed would you be if you had to do all of that, and in the end find out that it was for example a shitty internal Wifi card that you can actually purchase on their website replace yourself bypassing all this bullshit? But hey, that’s Dell for you.

Please post your rants about shitty tech support by major computer vendors in the comments. What are your experiences with Dell, HP, Lenovo and etc? Who has the worst tech support? Who has the best one? Let me know!

[tags]dell, dell tech support, tech support, support, hardware, software[/tags]

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7 Responses to Dell Troubleshooting Flowchart

  1. jambarama UNITED STATES Epiphany Linux Terminalist says:

    I’d say that chart is pretty accurate for dell consumer support. The small business support (with the full extended warranties) has been great for me – on the phone I get smart people who actually care that I get my computer working.

    Oh the fun I’ve had with Dell technical support. I was helping a friend fix a laptop, brand new, that would just randomly turn off. Not shutdown, but as if I’d pulled the power plug and the battery simultaneously. And only when under a reasonably heavy load. He’d called support and they insisted it was his motherboard or memory and that he send in his laptop for diagnosing. He didn’t want to, so he called me.

    I asked him if the fan seemed like it was on very often, he said the fan was pretty rarely on, so I thought maybe the fan is busted. I booted it up into a liveCD and set it up to labor overnight under an infinite loop overnight to see if it was Windows – it didn’t even last until long enough for me to get out the door. I didn’t have a can of air, so I blew into the fan out and a huge amount of dust went flying out the intake. The fan had been running, he was just used to an old beast of a laptop where the fan sounded like a 747 taking off. I showed him how to blow out the dust, he complied and hasn’t had a problem since. It amazed me Dell didn’t even check the CPU temp, didn’t ask about the fan running, and didn’t have him blow dust out.

    On the other hand, as I said, I couldn’t be happier with the few run-ins I’ve had with dell business support. I called, reported the problem as I understood it, 2 days later a person was over with enough parts to fix the problem I suspected it was, and the problem it actually turned out to be. The Dell business section and commercial section are worlds apart – I’d get a dell latitude any day of the week (after a thinkpad or toughbook anyway), I wouldn’t touch an inspiron with a 10 foot pole.

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    With laptops this is relatively easy. 80% of problems can be fixed by replacing the mobo because just about everything is integrated on it – the audio and video, the network card and whatever else you have. The only modular parts are the wifi cards which usually sit in the mini PCI slot, memory, and the CPU.

    Hence, if you are replacing the mobo, you are really replacing a whole assortment of parts that might be causing the issues.

    That said, they usually give you a refurb board which may or may not be busted. :( But that’s an issue for a whole other rant.

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  3. Miloš UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Our experience with each of the hardware vendors at Montclair State has been the following:

    Apple – one of the worst tech support lines to call over the phone; it takes forever to get them to agree that there’s a problem and that it should be covered by our warranty. However, once you get them to agree to send a box out to have the machine shipped to their site they become one of the greatest companies to deal with. Their turnaround is generally three days. Three days from when we send a laptop out until it is back in our lab completely fixed with a detailed repair report.

    Dell – they have recently won around new lease contract so it’s still a bit early to have unbiased opinion. In the past, (some 4+ years ago) their tech support was great. They used a local company (NCR I believe) for on-site repairs. We didn’t have to send equipment out, they would show up next day with the right part and replace it. However, their sales force sucked a$$! Sometimes it took weeks to get a simple RFP back.

    Lenovo – they have been on this campus for the past 4 years or so and my experience has been great. They are on top of things and it was a pleasure working with them. Also, in my opinion they had the best product out of all of them in their ThinkPad line.

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    The on-site service is really the one redeeming quality of Dell support. You just don’t get quicker turnaround time than next day on-site.

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  5. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Viewsonic monitors. Back in the day we had some 21″ Viewsonic CRTs with a next-day on-site warranty. One of them had problems, so we attempted to make good on the warranty. Turns out ‘Next Day On-Site’ actually meant ‘If you still have the giant box a 21″ monitor comes in, we will send you a shipping slip to get it to our repair place”. Of course, we didn’t have the box and we were desperate for this monitor so we dropped it at their location on the other side of the city ourselves, to a rude service department. Six weeks later, the monitor is ready for pickup.

    I’ve sent a few CRTs for repair in my time. It’s interesting just how many problems are ‘due to a flyback transformer’, a nice, expensive repair. Doesn’t turn on? Flyback. Ghosting? Flyback. Crackling sound? Flyback. Scratched case? Flyba… erm… Case.

    My favourite repair place was a family shop that was the fastest, cheapest, friendliest of them all, plus the woman would ask us specifically not to pack the monitors up since it ‘makes it hard for my son to fit them in his car’. Hey, less effort for me :)

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Wow… At least when Dell says on-site they mean it – someone actually comes in and does the repair at your place.

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  7. Ryan UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    We use Dell at work and although this seem fishy, we techs have to pass a test from Dell to be able to request warranty parts for our computers that are leased. And the test costs $50. And they have recently changed the test to where it is ridiculous, half the “right ” answers are bad troubleshooting methodology. Like when a computer won’t turn on, don’t check the battery or power supply, check the wall outlet first! Or if a computer won’t boot, then make sure that it is plugged into the network, not the hard drive. WTF?! Once you pass the test, then you can request parts from a website, which is better than calling Dell the same way toilet paper is better than using your hand. However, I can say that as a consumer, Dell is awful. I played dumb, real dumb and after a tedious online chat (I get angry dealing with phone wait times and hang up often before reaching someone) and not using any technical jargon, they agreed to replace the mobo on my laptop, which was a pure hardware problem. The USB ports are coming unsolder’d off the mobo, they still work, but I bought a warranty dammit. Clearly a hardware issue and I got the reboot windows, it is your mouse (i told them I had bought two mice) INSTALL THE DRIVERS FOR YOUR MOUSE ! that should stop the physical movement of the port on my computer, right? Oh well, they are sending a tech out to replace it today. I just had to play along and got what i paid for in the end.

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