Why Dell Hardware is Shit

Before I begin this rant I want to make it clear I am not a Dell hater. I am a rather happy owner of a Dell XPS desktop and I work on a team that professionally maintains a fleet of Dell laptops. Most of them are fine. Some are shit, straight out of the box.

Recently my boss wandered into the IT cave demanding a new laptop. This was quite unexpected because he has been overly protective of his old HP tablet with the swivel display. Even after he lost the stylus, damaged the cradle port, and had the sound card fail he refused to let it go. Each of us took turns trying to coax him into releasing the new machine and getting a new system. He would not hear about it. At least not until now.

He barged into our inner sanctum, woke up the slumbering intern and bellowed an order: he wanted something thin and cool like them Apple laptops. Stupidly I asked if he mayhaps wanted a MacBook Pro or Air cause we could hook him up with that, seeing how he owns the company and all. It would probably cause some support headaches, but it is not like he is not getting preferential treatment, admin privileges and etc already. Apparently this was the wrong thing to say:

“What? Are you crazy? I don’t want an Apple computer. I just want something like Apple. But cheap. And from Dell, cause that’s where we get corporate discounts.”

So essentially he wanted a cheap MacBook knock-off. Fair enough. I put together some options and pricing for him and we ended up with the following machine: XPS 14z.

Dell XPS 14z

Dell XPS 14z

It had a thin, glass to the edge display, back-lit chicklet keyboard an an aluminum case, a flush touch-pad and a slot loaded DVD. I guess it was jut ‘Apply enough to fit the bill.

Fast forward about a week. The machine is delivered, configured and ready to go. All the files are transferred from the old wreck of the machine and we are good to go. I hand it off to the boss and he happily takes possession of his new toy. He decides to keep the ancient HP as a “backup” which is fine, cause I would just retire and junk it otherwise.

Few days pass, and he reports a first problem with the machine. Apparently it “jumps off the network”. I read that ticket, I have the mental image of the poor laptop getting fed up with the abuse, and leaping off a cliff, AssCreed style. The poor thing probably never anticipated the things that would be done to it.

I look around at my peers to see if any of them wants to pick up this ticket. All of them flash the universal sign of “not it” which is made by extending the middle finger of your dominant hand, palm facing inwards. Unfortunately I have to field this one on my own. So I take the journey to the “oval office” as we call it. The big boss is sitting on his leather couch (yes, he has one in his office, he owns the place) with the legs on his coffee table, the machine on his lap.

“Ah, good thing you’re here. It jumped off the network again.”

He swivels the machine so that I can see it. The machine is still on his lap, and I’m quite unsure what am I supposed to do. Does he expect me to work on it while it’s still on his lap? I sort of reach for it, but then hesitate for a second. At that point he realizes that there are probably more optimal configurations for laptop support, and hands me the machine telling me to sit at his desk and figure it out.

I take the laptop, and unplug the Ethernet cable. You see, we don’t use wireless at any of our offices because of the security implications. No matter how much encryption you use, a wired network is always more secure. It is way easier to control access to available ports and cables than to try and secure the airways. I am really glad the expensive external consultants were able to sell the management on this idea, that we, the Internal IT, were advocating for years.

Anyway, I plug his machine at his desk, and it works. I pick up his by-the-couch cable, plug it in and it works. I hand the machine back to him, and it drops again. I take it back, unplug, plug back it – it works. Hand it back – it drops. I replace the Ethernet cable from the one he had by his desk – same scenario. As soon as the machine leaves my hands, the connection drops.

Now, techno-muggles often joke around that we, the Denizens of the NOC have special technomancer powers that allow us to temporarily coax machines into a working state by mere physical proximity. I never paid any heed to such folk tales but this was quickly becoming a live demonstration of just that sort of a phenomenon.

After troubleshooting some more, I managed to identify the problem. It was the Ethernet port. When you plug in an RJ45 jack into a port, it is supposed to be locked into place with a little click. Once locked, the pins should be in full contact and there should be no play on the wire – jiggling it, or pulling back on it should not cause a disconnection, unless the release latch on top. On this particular laptop however, the RJ45 would be loose in the port. Plugging it in would produce the familiar click, but it would still be possible to push the plug about two millimeters deeper into the port. In fact, pushing it deeper would be crucial to establish a connection. A slight tug on the wire, once it was locked in, would make it slide back a few millimeters, and the pins would lose contact causing disconnection. The cable would still be locked in place, and it would be impossible to pull it out without disengaging the latch – but connection could be easily broken and re-established by very subtle movements in and out. It’s almost as if the pins were nested too deep in the port. You can probably see how sitting on the couch, with the computer on your lap could produce a wire tension, ant thus cause intermittent disconnects.

RJ45 is a standard that has not changed in years. To actually make an Ethernet port that fails this way would require actual effort because all these parts are machine made to a standard spec. I figured it must have been a one-off manufacturing defect, and decided to call Warranty support and have it replaced.

I got Dell on the horn, and explained the issue to their support drone. He gives me an attitude right of the bat:

“Sir, I can assure you we have never had this sort of an issue reported for this particular model.”

That’s great buddy! I’m really glad to hear that, but it does not change the fact that my machine has a fucked port that does not work. This reinforces my guess about a factory defect, but then again, you are a worker at a call center in India, so what the fuck do you know. It’s a brand new machine, the port is broken and I would line it not to be. Eventually he reluctantly agrees to dispatch a technician and replace both the motherboard (with the integrated Ethernet card) and the bottom baseboard casing. Fair enough.

Next day the Dell technician comes in, I set him up in the conference room and let him do the work. About 20 minutes later, he calls me and says he is done. I pop into the room as he is packing up his stuff, and try to power up the machine. It’s dead. I ask him if he tried to power it up.

“Sure thing, all works now.”

I show him that it doesn’t. He starts packing faster…

“Oh, that’s just the battery. If you plug it in, it’ll be fine.”

I grab the spare AC adapter that’s underneath the conference room table for just this occasion and plug it in. The machine is still dead. I look at him, he looks at me and goes:

“Listen, I’m already late to my next appointment…”

I slowly inch the laptop towards him then point at it and I do my best impression of Liam Neeson from Taken and slowly and calmly explain the situation to him:

“This was booting up fine. You fucked it. Now I need you to un-fuck it. And if it’s un-fucked by the time I come back, I might be nice enough not to call your supervisors and not complain about this shit.”

Then I leave, slam the door and summon the artist formerly known as Intern.

“INTERN, YOU ARE BEING SUMMONED!”

Intern immediately materializes at my side as is in his nature and greets me in his internly fashion:

“What’s up, bro?”

I pull him aside, show him the conference room with the trapped technician.

“See that guy? Watch him and don’t let him leave, until I come back. If he tries to make a run for it, call security and tell them he is stealing our shit, trespassing and that he raped you or something.”

“For real bro?”

“Yes, he is raping, pillaging and infringing on our intellectual prosperity or something. I don’t care. He’s fixing the big boss’ laptop, and if it’s not working then shit will get really ugly around here.”

Intern salutes, and stands guard at the door, armed with a lukewarm cup of coffee and Nintendo DS. From his expression I know he is not afraid to use any of these weapons to amuse and caffeinate himself while he performs this sacred duty.

I come back 20 minutes later, and the Intern is dead asleep, out of coffee and his Pokemon is apparently losing a battle with a Charizard. The Dell technician is still there, slightly more sweaty than before. This time the machine boots up fine. I grab an Ethernet cable, plug it in and verify that the connection works. Then I use one finger and lightly tug on the cable. The RJ45 slides a few millimeters and the connection drops. I show him the problem.

“Did you actually replace the motherboard?”

He swears up and down that he did. Both the mobo and the bottom plastics have been replaced with brand new parts. He calls his Dell budies, they exchange secret codes, case numbers and pleasantries. Then he puts me on the phone. They give me two choices:

  1. Dispatch another mobo and bottom plastics and try another swap
  2. Have the machine sent in to their repair depot

I choose option #1 because I’m almost certain that this oaf somehow destroyed the replacement mobo while installing it (which is why the damn thing wouldn’t boot), and then swapped the old part back in to cover his ass. I also ask them to send a different technician.

Next day another technician arrives. This one looks slightly more competent, but then again, you never know with these guys. To be sure, I install the Intern in the conference room as my spy. I make sure I show the technician him the issue we are trying to correct and he gets to work. A little bit later he calls me over.

“Man, I don’t know what’s wrong with this thing. I replaced both the motherboard and the bottom plastics, right…” he looks to the Intern.

The Intern nods vigorously.

“I made sure everything is aligned perfectly, and it is screwed in tightly. But the cable is still loose in the jack though… You might have to send this one to the depot or something.”

He gets Dell on the phone again, and they give me the repair depot spiel again. You know what? Fuck the depot. If I wanted to send it to the depot, I would not pay for the “Next Business Day, On Site” warranty. I would pick the cheapo “we will spend a week looking through your shit, and copying your pr0n at the depot” option. I politely explain to them they can suck my proverbial dick, and get stuffed. Eventually they agree to replace the machine instead. They are sending us a replacement laptop and it should be here in a few days. If that one has a shitty Ethernet port, I will probably have The Intern punch himself in the face or do something even more drastic.

TLDR: Dell sold us a laptop with a broken Ethernet port. Tried to replace it twice, but each time it was equally shitty. Now they are replacing the entire laptop. I have a feeling the new machine will be equally shitty. Don’t buy XPS 14Z.

This entry was posted in sysadmin notes and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.



27 Responses to Why Dell Hardware is Shit

  1. It’s just “Hardware is shit”, the vendor doesn’t change a thing.

    (not that software would be any better…)

    Reply  |  Quote
  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Dr. Azrael Tod:

    Hardware is shit. Software is shit. Support is shit. Everything is shit. Our’s is a shitty industry. :D

    Reply  |  Quote
  3. @ Luke Maciak:
    and again.. to narrow: why reduce it to our industry? not like car-builders, politicians or pharmaceutical companies would produce something useable.

    with growing complexity everything tends to suck

    Reply  |  Quote
  4. cptacek UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    literally laughing out loud here.

    Reply  |  Quote
  5. Liudvikas LITHUANIA Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Well at least they didn’t pretend that it’s some new feature to train users to sit still and straight while using their products, with the punishment of losing internet. Sucks if you are fapping, but it’s great for your posture.

    Reply  |  Quote
  6. Morghan UNITED STATES Safari Linux says:

    But but but…

    Nobody uses WIRED ethernet, that port is like a vestigial tail.

    Sarcasm, of course, my tablet and Kindle are the only wireless things on my network even though everything has WiFi.

    Reply  |  Quote
  7. MrJones Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    @ Dr. Azrael Tod:

    the secret to a good standard is when it still works even when people f*** with the tolerances. Take for example cinch, almost impossible to make it not work.

    @Luke:
    Btw, its not the laptop that is out of the standard. Your cable is nonconform to Dells RJ45-ish connectors ;)

    Reply  |  Quote
  8. Rob UNITED STATES Google Chrome Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Haven’t had to buy a Dell laptop in a while, but is this from their business line? You’d think that if it was that the ethernet port would be of good quality. I think a lot of businesses still use wired connections primarily (for all the reasons you listed). Oh well, if you bought the boss a MacBook Air it wouldn’t even come with an ethernet port. :)

    Reply  |  Quote
  9. @ MrJones:
    you think cinch a good example for a working standard? Why in Discordias holy name Cinch? People mix up the colors, don’t understand why not every cinch is the same. Cables only transmit mono and tend to hang in dozens on the backside of $av_hardware.

    Maybe there are working standars, but i wouldn’t choose Cinch as an example.
    Even if you would asume that Cinch “works”, it would just prove further that it’s pretty easy to built something simple that works but nearly impossible if it reaches some point of complexity.

    Reply  |  Quote
  10. Gothmog UNITED STATES Google Chrome Mac OS Terminalist says:

    Hahahaha! The imagery of you pulling a ‘Taken’ on the poor moron of a tech was delicious. Well done, and I wish you the best of luck with the replacement!

    Reply  |  Quote
  11. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Liudvikas:

    It’s not a bug – it’s an ergonomic feature. You paid premium for that.

    @ Morghan:

    At my house, desktops are wired, laptops are wireless unless I want better speeds and less latency for some reason.

    @ MrJones:

    Ah, yes – got it. Gotta buy them Dell branded cables then.

    @ Rob:

    I think their XPS line is the “luxury fancy shmancy home computers” type thing. He wanted the shiny aluminum one with backlit keyboard so that’s what we got. It’s probably not aimed at the business users.

    Reply  |  Quote
  12. Zac GERMANY Google Chrome Ubuntu Linux says:

    I’m surprised a more creative solution to the problem hasn’t arisen.

    What about an USB NIC? Inconvenient? Perhaps, but no doubt a solution. If it’s wired what’s the harm in having a slightly less flexible cable.

    Of course, then you’d be without an excuse to go BOFH on Dell support. Which I understand completely.

    Reply  |  Quote
  13. StDoodle UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    Dude… I just got a Dell. (Thursday actually. Only took 6 months to convince work to replace my busted-ass machine!)

    Reply  |  Quote
  14. Steve CANADA Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    But this is EXACTLY like an “Apple” device. You probably have to purchase some expensive dongle that clicks into the port, into which you would then use a standard RJ45 cable…much like the iPad’s USB dongle. See…just like crApple.

    Reply  |  Quote
  15. Monica Bower UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    Best blog post, pretty much ever. It’s Outsourced and the sequel to Office Space all in one.

    I want to commend you on your keen use of just the right profanity in just the right places. Most people get this wrong, using too much or not enough, or all in the wrong spots. Bravo sir, you have created a post for the ages.

    Reply  |  Quote
  16. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Zac:

    Well, it’s a brand new computer, on warranty with obviously defective hardware. It makes sense to try to get it fixed, no?

    @ StDoodle:

    It’s not the end of the world. Chances are you will be just fine. I run most Dells into the ground long past the point they ought to be replaced.

    @ Steve:

    Heh, Dell – the worst aspects of Apple, plus shitty hardware. :)

    In defense of crApple – there is pretty much no comparison between my MBP and the XPS 14z in terms of hardware quality. MBP feels slick and well designed. I don’t actually mind the lack of VGA/DVI port because it allows the machine to be slimmer and big unseemly pin-plug does not break the flow of the outer case. I usually use that machine as a laptop – ie, without an external monitor, so I don’t even have much need for that $25 adapter. 14z feels like a a very cheep knock-off.

    @ Monica Bower:

    Thank you. :)

    Reply  |  Quote
  17. Regarding the mac, really it’s the only laptop that will reliably run the Apple OS.
    So it’s easier to buy a cheaper mac, then to waste money on a cheaper laptop you will replace in a couple years.

    I know I would use a Macbook Pro if I had one. But my laptop just sits unloved in the corner for no reason. Well no reason, the real reason is that it is an old laptop and we get bored with old laptops. But a New laptop will become the Thing,
    Whereas the Non-new kindle device now sits in the bottom drawer unread,
    and unloved.

    This is the same reason people say their macbooks last forever. Because they Make them last forever.

    Reply  |  Quote
  18. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    Andrew Zimmerman wrote:

    This is the same reason people say their macbooks last forever. Because they Make them last forever.

    This is actually very true. Mac users are the only laptop users I have ever seen using slip covers on their machines. In fact, most students that bring their MBP’s to class use some kind of sleeve/cover because they don’t want to scratch that shiny surface. At the end of the class, they bundle up their computer, and carefully slip it into it’s own, well fitting compartment in their bag, making sure they fasten the Velcro straps to keep it from bouncing around. PC users hastily slam their lids, and throw their machines into their book bags, often having to force them in between books and other random abrasive junk.

    I wonder if it’s the price point that causes this sort of behavior (macs being considered high end luxury goods, even if under powered spec wise).

    Reply  |  Quote
  19. rozie POLAND Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Well, if you use some equipment long enough, you’ll always find some problems. Looks like this is a problem with this model “only”. ;-)

    But, as I consider buying Dell Vostro 1440 (I know about not so easy memory access and almost irreplacable HDD), and you’re using lot of Dells – do you have any experience with this model? I was looking for something with non glare screen, cheap and sub 15″…

    Reply  |  Quote
  20. JRMcL Google Chrome Windows says:

    Just out of interest: Did you try a different ether net cable just to make sure there wasn’t a problem with the clip?

    Reply  |  Quote
  21. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ rozie:

    I like the Vostro line. I haven’t really used the 1440 but we have bunch of 1320′s here in the office, and they are pretty robust and reliable.

    @ JRMcL:

    Oh yes. I actually tried a whole bunch. I think I skipped this in the narrative but I did crack open a box of cables and tried few brand spanking new, mint fresh cables and some worn and used ones just to make sure.

    Reply  |  Quote
  22. Kim UNITED STATES Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    This is classic TDWTF material (you should consider submitting). I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing that I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about because at some point, I had a boss just like that, and an intern just like that…

    “Obviously,” the problem isn’t the laptop, it’s the boss. But since you can’t replace him, I suggest the following solution:
    1. Convince him that modern laptops are not designed for Ethernet connection. Throw in a few made-up tales about research studies, design trends, and target audience. Basically, the only laptops that work are the ones built 3-5 years ago, like the monster of the machine he is using as “back up.”
    2. Conclude that he’s a big, powerhouse business user whose complex needs (sitting his lazy ass on the couch with legs extended–but you need not clarify this part) far exceed what a normal laptop built for the average person can accommodate.
    3. Suggest that the most logical solution is to get two computers: a powerhouse desktop (that will sit on his big ass desk with its Ethernet connection untugged) for his complex tasks and confidential communication, and a laptop (that is wireless) for casual tasks. Say this is the most cost-efficient and logical solution given the state of technology and designs. It’s certainly a lot more straight-forward than re-configuring the entire office (which will cost $20,000 upfront and $10,000 a month for upkeep, all payable to you).

    Reply  |  Quote
  23. Wade UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    This is hilarious.

    I am very interested in what happened with the replacement laptop. Like you I got a new XPS 14z. At first I thought something was wrong with the ethernet cable so I used a new cable. It had the same problem. I did a little investigation and realized the cable did not seat in the port (sound familiar). Then I went searching on the internet and it got me here. Monday morning DELL tech support is supposed to call me with a fix for a USB 3.0 problem (port doesn’t recognize devices or runs very slow). At that point I am going to bring up this problem. One of the solutions for the USB 3.0 problem is a replacement motherboard. I have a feeling that is the path I am going to take. We shall see. Two problems in the first 3 days of use has not instilled me with a lot of confidence.

    Reply  |  Quote
  24. Justin Mullis UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    This same exact crap is happening to me. I got the notebook about 6 months ago and noticed the NIC issue almost immediately. Have next day onsite as well, they come out and replace the motherboard. It actually SEEMED like it was fixed (not knowing at that point what the problem was) and I use wireless all the time so I forgot about it.

    Well this week I’m filling in for a client’s IT guy and would prefer to work off the wired NIC as their wifi garbages my company’s Lync connection. Lo and behold I’ve been playing with the damn NIC every morning for about 10 minutes to get a steady connection and then I just hope I don’t move the damn laptop at all once I get it going. I think I’m going to call Dell over the weekend and see if they’ve actually got a permanent fix for this… like giving me a fucking refund.

    Reply  |  Quote
  25. Richard Fang Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    The same thing happens to me too. The mother board has been replaced once but connection is as bad as before. Adding the weak and unstable wifi that come with 14z, I am having tons of trouble. This might be my last Dell.

    Reply  |  Quote
  26. Marco G ITALY Google Chrome Windows says:

    Same problem, but the dell support has admitted that there is their fault.
    I’ll try to replace for the second time the mother board and then I’ll ask for a replacement or refund.
    I can’t work on wireless, as I need a stable gigabit connection, and I’ve payed this laptop more than 1500 euros…

    How have you resolved? Dell has replaced the laptop or refunded?

    Reply  |  Quote
  27. David N UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    I have the exact same computer and the exact same problem. Push the cable in, drape it over the screen, look to the right and cough. (oops wrong test)

    I bought a USB to Ethernet converter for when I need a hardwire. Please update on the status of your bosses unit from Dell. My solution will work just fine for me until the usb dies, and the other usb dies.

    Your “rant” was very entertaining, thanks.

    Reply  |  Quote

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>