The suckage that is Dell Tech Support

As you may know, I bought a Dell Inspiron mini 9-Inch

to hackint0sh it. I got it running Mac OS X with only a little difficulty (mainly around trying to shoehorn OS X onto a tiny SSD). Then the Wi-Fi card went out. Now, I’m stuck in Tech Support Hell.

The TimeLine

Thursday 514: I call Dell and report the problem. They made me find a wired connection, do a whole lot of apt-get updates and so on to get the latest version of Linux. Downloading hundreds of megs of feces (like gnome, evolution, thunderbird, firefox, gcc, libstdc++) that is totally unrelated to my problem makes me mad. Knowing that the only way out is through, I do it. After 2 hours of back and forth we decide I need to ship the unit back.

Friday 515: A box arrives to ship it back. Wow. Very fast.

Monday 518: I ship the unit out through my office’s regular 7pm daily pickup.

Thursday 521: I get a call from “Saikumar,” my case worker, asking if I have shipped the unit yet. I tell him yes. He has no info for me, he’s just wondering where the laptop is. Why can’t he go to FedEx.com?

Friday 522: I get a voice message at 7:00pm from an authorized repair service in Houston saying that he wants to reinstall the operating system on the unit, but that will delete all my data. I leave him voice mail saying that’s fine. In my voice mail I tell him I want him to be sure to check that the unit can connect to a Wi-Fi network. I specifically ask him to call me so we can talk about this. I also send email (by replying to Dell’s automated messages) describing this exchange of voice mails.

Monday 525: I get a call at 10:30pm from Saikumar asking if I have received my laptop yet. He had no information for me, just wanted to know if I had received the laptop. Given that a technician was working on it on Friday, receiving it on Monday seems pretty improbable. What’s the point of this support guy calling me?

Wednesday 527: I get a phone call and an email saying that my laptop has shipped. That’s handy, but the laptop shows up on my doorstep about 2 hours later, so it’s a little superfluous. There is a note in the box with the laptop. It says they “tested its hardware extensively” and then they reinstalled the OS. Guess what? It is still broken! So I call them back and I am irate. They want me to update Linux. It says it will take 2 hours, so I go back to work and let that run a while.

Wi-Fi kernel panic on Dell Mini 9

Wi-Fi kernel panic on Dell Mini 9

So: let me get this straight: it is not unusual that Dell’s service technician will install an operating system that doesn’t work and that exhibits my problem? OK. So back to the reinstall thing. Meanwhile, I blow them off and learn how to use the wpa_supplicant command to bring up the WiFi from the command line. Instead of using the X-based GUI, I go to the console (Ctrl-Alt-Fn-A, which is essentially Ctrl-Alt-F1) and fire up the WiFi. Sure enough, kernel panic. The sequence of steps, though, is specific and completely reproducible.

  • It will associate with my access point just fine (i.e., wpa_supplicant works fine and gives me good messages)
  • It will get an IP address from DHCP just fine (dhclient runs fine)
  • As soon as I start doing traffic over it, blam!

I sent the screenshots of the kernel panic to Dell. Right. Like they know what a kernel panic is.

Criticisms of Dell Tech Support

  1. Saikumar, my case worker, is not giving me information. He is asking me for information. He is not helping me, I am helping him. He doesn’t know where my laptop is, who is working on it, or what they’re doing to it. He should begin conversations by giving me information that I don’t have. Otherwise, he should not call me. Furthermore, I sent email, but he seemed unaware of that email when he called 2 days later. What is his purpose in this transaction?
  2. I specifically asked the Dell authorized technician to call me to be sure that my issue was tested correctly. I got no response or acknowledgement. I called the number I was given many times, but no one ever answered. The next contact I got from Dell was a phone call and email saying my laptop was shipped back to me. At that point it was too late to address my concerns.
  3. I don’t think Dell has correctly understood my issue. My laptop does not “freeze” randomly. It only freezes (and ALWAYS freezes) when connecting to WiFi networks. So the service technician calls and mentions my “freezing problem” and how he’s going to reinstall the operating system. That tells me he doesn’t know or isn’t paying attention to my specific symptom. I updated the operating system when Saikumar and I were troubleshooting. If an OS update were going to fix the problem, I think it already would have.
  4. Dell sent me an operating system installed that still exhibited my problem. Despite that, they STILL want to update and upgrade and so on.
  5. At what point will they admit that it is a hardware issue?