Dell Hell

Dell Inspiron e6400

We were hiring an employee for our sales staff, so I had the privilege of purchasing a much nicer laptop than usual due to a reduced wear and tear factor for our field staff. We buy all of our computer systems through Dell, so I browsed the business section on Dell’s website until I found the perfect match for our new employee: a Dell Latitude E6400 with solid state disk.

Booting up Windows XP on this laptop was an absolute dream. The solid state disk eliminated that immense 5-15 minutes of sluggishness one experiences while all of the startup programs are loading, checking for updates, etc. It seemed like the solid state disk alone doubled the system’s responsiveness. So far, I was impressed.

My final task would be to enroll the new employee’s fingerprints so he could log on by swiping his finger rather than typing a password. Every attempt I made at doing this failed. All it said was Connect a fingerprint sensor, even though the damn fingerprint sensor was built into the palm rest. So I called Dell Support, and this is where things got a little out of control.

The technician I consulted with over the phone spoke fairly clean English. He instructed me to disable the TPM Security in BIOS and try enrolling again. The problem still remained, so the technician decided to open a remote desktop session on the laptop so he could have full control of it. Poking around in Device Manager and the Wave Security settings didn’t reveal anything noteworthy. Determining that it must be a hardware problem, he had Dell ship an empty box overnight so I could return the laptop to the depot for repair.

When I got it back, the packing slip revealed that a new motherboard had been installed. I fired that sucker up and sure enough, same problem. They must not have tested to make sure the problem was fixed before shipping it back to me. Strike 1.

I called up Dell Support again and explained the situation. The Dell representative said that they replaced the wrong part in the system, and due to my troubles, Dell would ship the replacement parts to me and schedule for a Dell Technician to do the repair on-site even though the laptop was only covered by a return to depot warranty. I thought it was good customer service on their part, so I waited for the package to arrive. Waited, and waited, and waited…

About two weeks later I gave Dell another call because the parts should have arrived by then. This time the Dell representative said that the service was canceled because the warranty does not cover on-site service. Strike 2. At this point I should have made a complaint, but I was just eager to get the problem resolved. He offered to ship a motherboard and fingerprint sensor to me so that I could replace the parts myself. This is what the warranty covered in the first place, so I agreed.

I downloaded the service manual for this laptop and went to work. I figured that since they had already replaced the motherboard the previous time, I wouldn’t replace it again. About an hour later I had the new fingerprint sensor installed and the laptop was good as new, right? Wrong, the situation improved slightly; it would detect my finger at the login screen, but I still couldn’t enroll fingerprints. The enrollment wizard just kept spewing the same old song: Connect a fingerprint sensor.

Like a broken record, I called up Dell again and explained the situation. The Dell representative walked me through the basic troubleshooting steps on the Dell Support website which I had already done, then he asked me to run the Dell Diagnostics in BIOS. The Diagnostics checked out OK, and 56 minutes later I was told that it sounds like a software issue so I should format the hard drive and re-install the operating system. Strike 3.

So let’s get this straight:

  • I received a faulty product right out of the box and Dell failed to provide a resolution in a professional, timely manner.
  • I was promised a service and then had it canceled on me without my knowledge.
  • The Dell representatives obviously don’t agree with each other because one said it was a hardware issue and the other said it was software related.
  • More than 5 hours of my time have been wasted due to Dell’s incompetence.
  • The problem is still not resolved.

What disappoints me even more is the fact that this is not the first time I’ve been burned by Dell’s incompetence. Several months ago, I purchased a laptop with Windows Vista on it, but the fingerprint sensor it came with, which was one of the major points of purchase, was not even compatible with Windows Vista. Troubleshooting the issue over the phone with a Dell representative took at least an hour, and the final resolution was that the fingerprint sensor is not yet compatible with Windows Vista. It’s not just about fingerprint sensors either. Last year I ordered several Optiplex 755 computer systems on different dates and they all had the same problem: the system freezes at a black screen while booting up, and once fixed, the Intel Storage software (iaanotif.exe) causes the operating system to lock up for minutes at a time.

First of all, I am not being payed by Dell to fix their own mistakes. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t buy from them anymore. Does anybody even bother to test this stuff before marketing it? I understand that computers and components can fail without warning, but when you’re on a streak like Dell, there’s no fooling anyone. This is not the kind of service I would expect from a company which has accumulated over $100,000 of loyal purchases from us alone, not to mention their massive presence in the industry.

My overall advice to readers is to avoid Dell’s fingerprint sensors entirely and do more research before buying a computer. Dell might have what you need, but surely there’s a better alternative.

Update – January 8, 2009

Formatting the hard drive and re-installing the operating system cleared up the problem. However, this isn’t the best solution one could offer, nor is it even viable in some cases. When I was growing up, formatting was a simple, generic solution for fixing most problems because it didn’t take much time and I was only responsible for my own computer. But as my responsibilities increased and I gained more experience, it became apparent that most, if not all problems can be resolved easier and quicker by analyzing, researching and troubleshooting the problem rather than nuking the hard drive.

Update – January 9, 2009 (Fixed!)

Connect a fingerprint sensor strikes back! When I brought the laptop to the user so I could finally enroll his fingerprints, there was that error again, staring us down like unwelcome tourists. Attempting a System Restore failed and updating the software/drivers didn’t help.

Finally, I found a fix. Turns out that when the Enable Secure Windows Login option is enabled in the EMBASSY Security Center, it seems to take exclusive control of the fingerprint sensor thus locking out the enrollment wizard from being able to use the sensor. This would explain why it was detecting my finger at the login screen even though I couldn’t enroll any fingerprints.

Thanks for the charade, Dell…

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>