Dell Update

dell-logo Back in July, I posted about the on-going problems I was having with my Dell Inspiron 9400 laptop. It was just about a year old and was facing its fourth house call by a local Dell tech contractor. In the comments for that post, John B (an employee in Dell's Customer Advocacy group) contacted me to let me know that he agreed -- it was time to call it a lemon and get a system exchange.

I'm happy to update that the process was quick, painless, and couldn't have been easier. I simply emailed John with some details about the system and my contact info (service tag and my home address) so that he could find my record in their support system. Once he confirmed those details, he got in touch to let me know that a new machine would be on my doorstep in a week or two (5-15 business days).

It was just over a week when the new machine arrived. When I opened the box, I was initially thrown off because the new machine didn't look like the old one. The new make was of the newer generation -- an Inspiron 1720. I'm happy to report that the new machine has been running well for several weeks now and I've not had any problems with it.

The new machine arrives in a box with a pre-paid shipping label for the old machine. All the instructions were included for packing and shipping, including the DHL 800 number to have them come pick up the old machine at the house. Piece of cake.

The machine itself wasn't quite a one-for-one swap, but overall I'm quite happy with the way it worked out. Some of the things that vary from this 1720 to the older 9400 I had are:

  • The 1720 doesn't have a DVI output. As I never really use the machine with an external display, it's not a big deal to me. If I did need an external panel, this might be a concern.
  • They (John?) did upgrade the machine to a Core 2 Duo T7300 processor (from plain ol' Core Duo), as well as a drive upgrade to 160GB 7200rpm (the original was an 80GB at 7200rpm). Very nice
  • It's got five USB ports on it, while the older machine had 6. I rarely use more than two at a time, so this wasn't a big deal to me at all.
  • numerickeypad The new machine has a bigger keyboard and a full numeric keypad to the right of the main keyboard. As a result, it's got less empty space on the left/right sides of the keyboard than the old machine. The layout of navigation and editing keys is still taking some getting used to (e.g., PgUp, PgDn, Home, End), but overall it's handy to have the numeric keypad. The biggest adjustment has been that the main keyboard isn't centered on the machine... so I offset my hands a bit while I'm using it.
  • The new machine has an NVidia GeForce 8600M GT video adapter in it. So far, I'm very pleased with the video performance. The older one had an NVidia in it as well, but it was the GeForce GO. I expected the newer machine to have a higher Windows Experience Rating than the old one, but it actually dropped a small amount (due to the graphics card). Then again, I'm using the default driver that Windows Vista put on the machine and haven't checked Dell's support site to see if there's something new and improved available for the 8600. I don't do any gaming or hardcore DirectX/OpenGL stuff on this machine, so the video performance hasn't been an issue.


Getting up and running was mostly straightforward... I did have a bit of a panic when I went to re-pave it, though. As Rick Strahl mentioned on his post about a new Inspiron 1520, the larger capacity SATA drives on these laptops require a special driver. Without it, Vista initially installs just fine but then blue-screens after the final reboot. The first time it did that, I got well and truly panicked!

A quick search on Dell's support forums, though, turned up a couple possible solutions... you could do as Rick did and disable the AHCI mode in the BIOS (putting the drive in plain old ATA mode). It sounds like there's no performance or stability hit either way. The other route, which is the one I took because I was doing the pave anyway, was to download the AHCI driver from Dell and expand it on to a USB thumb drive. Insert that in the machine during the Vista install and then point to it during the step where it asks about third-party SCSI or RAID drivers. Once I did that, all was well.

Interestingly, it sounds like some of the problems Rick had with his NVidia card are similar to the issues I had... while his issues led to instability during WPF development and the inability to use an external panel, mine led to black screens and what seemed like the eventual burnout of the built-in panel.

After searching around quite a bit, there are also reports of issues with those machines being susceptible to static discharge problems. I definitely felt that "tingle" from time to time with the older machine and was using the standard 2-prong AC adapter that Dell ships. Apparently, it's now possible to order a 3-prong adapter if you want it but Dell sounds fairly confident that the 2-prong shouldn't be a problem.

In any case, the newer machine has been ROCK SOLID for the last several weeks of regular use. No instability, the temperature seems to be well within the normal ranges, and it runs very very fast.

Thanks again to John and the rest of the Dell Customer Advocate folks for taking care of me on this.

Doh - that reminds me... I need to make sure the extended warranty I paid for was transferred to this newer machine! Off to that support site again... :)