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Vendor Rant: Dell & Asus

First off, let me say this is not just a post purely to rant. About once/week I have somebody asking me “what brand laptop/desktop/servers” should I buy. OK, servers are less often but do come up about once/year when other CTOs ask me what I’m buying these days.

Now on to the venting & then some useful info…

This is a rare 2-for-1 rant. Let’s start by re-kindling the old rant with Asus. Talk about a company that has utterly failed in a new market after being successful. Asus makes great motherboards. Asus makes REALLY REALLY HORRIBLE laptops. My top-of-the-line (at the time) Asus G73JH has been nothing but a disaster from day 1.

Asus Service Round 1 : Epic Fail

To recap last year’s rant, my Asus G73JH stopped working in less than seven months. Actually it never quite worked, at least not properly. Seven months in it became unusable with the now infamous “Grey Screen Of Death”. The video processor was completely fubar and on boot the system would hang or just display the gray “pinstripes”. Some blamed it on the video bios, but whatever the problem it had to go in for repair. That is when all hell broke lose.

The “1 week repair” took 4 months. Asus, after random claims of my not shipping it or their not receiving it, finally admitted they “lost it”. The “fixed in 3 months or we refund your original purchase” did not hold. They said that policy does not cover my laptop because technically they’ve not started the repair process, they just can’t find my laptop.

4 months later after having purchased another laptop from Dell, the Asus came back.

Asus Hardware : Epic Fail

Fast forward almost exactly 1 year to the day. We are ready for Asus failure round 2. I have a brand new RMA sitting on my desk and I’m waiting for my new HP laptop to get here so I can ship this piece of junk back to Asus. This time I ordered the laptop BEFORE shipping the Asus as I have no idea if I’ll ever see my Asus G73JH again.

This time around the disk controller built into the motherboard is failing randomly. The disk I/O interface freezes at random times. Usually at boot, due to the high amount of disk I/O, but it can happen at ANY time. Typically this will leave traces in the Windows event log that iaStor 0 has stopped responding just moments before the system hangs. After suspecting a drive failure and replacing the primary drive with a brand new unit, it was apparent it is NOT the drive but the controller. This week the laptop started telling me to “insert the boot disk”, the answer to which is to power-off/power-on and pray. One in ten times it will then boot fully.

The other issues: two distinct “bright spots” on the LCD where the back lighting bleeds through fairly severely making any graphics work on the laptop monitor difficult, a touchpad with dead spots (and I RARELY use it, maybe once/month when travelling), and a usb port that if you happen to TOUCH a usb connector to it upside-down (and who EVER does that) immediately turns off the system with a hard power off.

So, the laptop has a new RMA and will go away for who-knows-how-long.

Dell Customer Service : Epic Fail

I like Dell. Always have. They are my go-to supplier for desktops and laptops and have long been my recommended solution for most of my business clients. However the last few times I’ve dealt with them their service has been horrible. They outsourced all their customer service about a decade ago. It was a horrible experience. About five years ago they brought most of that back on shore, things got better.

Apparently Dell has not learned their lesson. My recent order for a new Dell laptop has shown that Dell decided to go the cost-cutting route and outsource once again. What a huge mistake. This has been the WORST customer service and product ordering experience I have ever had in 20+ years of purchasing hardware.

First off, I ordered a Vostro 3750 Fastship model. It was not exactly what I wanted but I compromised. I needed it here YESTERDAY to replace the failing Asus. I went with this model because they had a special deal AND free overnight shipping AND it would ship the next day. I’d have it in less than 48 hours. Perfect!

But wait, NOOOO… that would not be the case. The day the laptop was promised to arrive I has finished moving all my files off the Asus to an external drive. I cleared out all my settings and my passwords in preparation for repair. After an hour of this process I booted the Asus and got my first email messages.

“Dear customer – your order will NOT ARRIVE TODAY as promised, your new *anticipated* arrival date is this Friday”. Forty eight hours AFTER their promised next day service with their FAST SHIP system. Damn it. The only reason I ordered this system and compromised on the specs was because I could have it in < 48 hours.

Dell : Service Rodeo

The first thing I did was call the 800# that was listed on the order for “more information” or to cancel the order. “John”, clearly in India somewhere, answered. He asked “The Four Questions”:

* “What is your name?”

* “What are you calling in refrence to?”

* “Can I have your order number?”

* “Can I have a call back number in case we get disconnected?”

After answering all 4 questions he looks up my order and basically reads the email I already received back to me. I tell “John” that I need to know why the order was delayed and need to be certain it will ship within 24 hours so I can have it before the weekend. He tells me the cookie-cutter response: “The order was delayed due to a parts shortage, I will look into that for you. Sixty second pause. I don’t see any parts on back-order. It *should* ship tomorrow.”, given the emphasis on SHOULD (his emphasis, not mine) I ask him, “Should? Is there any way to find out for certain, or at least with some high probability that this will actually ship. It is important I have this laptop by Friday.” The response from “John” is “I can’t answer that but a customer service representative can, if you will hold I will get one for you.” I hold. Two minutes later I’m transferred.

“Steve” picks up. Funny accent for Steve, but OK. He asks EXACTLY the same questions. He reads me EXACTLY the same script, a version of my email telling me the order will arrive Friday. I ask the same exact question, he gives EXACTLY the same response as “John”. We follow the same path and he transfers me to a “customer service” representative.

“Prapeet” picks up. Literally a nearly IDENTICAL exchange as John & Steve. Almost verbatim. What the hell.

Twenty five minutes later I’m on the phone with a different “John”. I’ve now spoken to FOUR, no kidding, FOUR people that did the same exact routine. When Steve answers I just about lose my mind. I tell him if he can’t give me an actual answer and tries to transfer me to a customer service agent I’m going to “go postal”. At the end of that conversation he tells me “I can’t get you an answer, but let me have your number and I’ll call you back by end of the day TOMORROW”. WHAT?!?! I need to know before end of day tomorrow or I’ll have no other option but to order something else. He promises to call back within 4 hours.

Dell: The Truth Comes Out

To “John #2’s” credit, he DOES call me back. Guess what? After four people tell me my order *should* be here Friday he gets me the truth. One of the MAIN PARTS is on backorder and there is very little chance my order will ship anytime this week.

What the hell? Dell not only took the order knowing this, but they have trained their customer service reps to lie (or are purposely feeding them mis-leading/inaccurate information). After a series of email exchanges, and thanks in part to “John’s” honesty I ended up having to cancel my order.

The best part is that before the order is fully cancelled, I get an email from Dell on the SECOND PROMISED SHIP DATE saying:

Dear Dell valued customer,

During the process in creating your order, we encountered an error. To resolve this issue, we were required to cancel order number 937687130. Please contact your account representative if you have any questions.

They cancelled the original order more than 72 hours late. Wow. What a cluster.

Dell : On Site Repair Fail

As a side note, which is related to the comments in The Summary below, our last Dell purchase has been great. Until last month. A year into service the motherboard failed. Luckily we had next-day on-site business repair services. It was easy-to-use and well executed. They arrived promptly the next morning and repaired the system.

Sadly, however, the technician used a MAGNETIC screwdriver to repair the laptop. That is a huge problem when you are re-installing a hard-drive after replacing a motherboard.  Shortly after the tech left the laptop was exhibiting drive corruption issues. 1% of the sectors were bad and some files were lost.

We had to purchase a new drive & transfer all the data. We did on our own after a 10 minute run to the local computer shop to buy a drive. We didn’t have time to setup another ticket and schedule another service call with Dell.

The Summary

Bottom line, customer service in general and especially in the consumer electronics world has gone to complete hell. There are virtually NO computer companies remaining that provide professional business-class services any longer, whether on a business or personal computing level.

I blame it on the constant downward pressure on computing devices and the harsh competition between the manufacturers as they attempt to garner market share purely based on pricing models.

The only standout exception to this is Apple. If anyone wonders how they command such large valuations on Wall Street and why their market cap is so high with barely 10% of the market, just look at their price models. They are consistently higher priced. However for that price they at least make SOME EFFORT in customer service.

In fact the ONLY thing Apple is missing, in my opinion, that keeps them from storming the corporate world is the fact that they have ZERO offerings for next-day on-site support. If your laptop, server, whatever breaks and they can’t fix it over the phone you are screwed. If you are lucky enough to have a local Apple Store they can fix generic run-of-the-mill problems for their best-sellers and get you online in a day. However, for any serious problems or for stuff that is not on the best-sellers list like the highest-end laptops or servers you are out 3-5 days while they ship it out to a repair depot.

Someone in the “PC World” needs to get back to SERVICE FIRST and not play the price wars game. I, for one, will gladly pay a higher price for a better quality system with some real customer service.  Next-day, on-site service is a must to retain business continuity.   Today, that leaves me with a single choice: HP laptops, desktops, and servers with an on-site Extra Care warranty.

Apple could easily be there as they already have the quality-of-experience issue down pat, but they need to address the next-day on-site repair service to be viable in an enterprise setting.

My new laptop arrives soon. It is an HP. Dell is now off my list, even though they have next-day onsite, I can no longer recommend their systems due to deplorable service.

Based on dozens of systems purchases over the past 24 months, here are laptop/desktop brands I now stay away from:

  • Sony – Stay away at all costs, the systems come with bloatware, are overpriced, do not have on-site services of any kind, have a horrible repair process, and have horrible driver support. The $4,000 Vaio best-of-breed laptop was discontinued less than 4 months after launch and had ZERO 64-bit support. It is the most expensive laptop in the office and NOBODY wants it.
  • Asus – Again, great motherboards, horrible laptops. Just Google for a bit and ignore the planted 4 and 5-star reviews. You’ll find dozens of laptop complaints, primarily about major system failures.
  • Dell – Decent price for decent equipment, but heaven forbid you have any problems. Both the sales & service customer support is some of the worst in the business. If they could fix this they could recover.

Recommended laptop/desktop brands:

  • HP – But keep away from the low-end or mid-range consumer junk. There are distinct differences in build quality. Spend the extra $100-$300 and go upper-end only. The stuff at Walmart, Best Buy, etc. is mostly junk. For businesses get the Extra Care on-site warranty.
  • Apple – You pay a premium but their support people are zealots. That can be a good thing. The only down-side is that this is a no-go for business continuity if something major goes wrong. A laptop motherboard on a 15″ Macbook meant 5 days with zero use of the system. Just be prepared for that if it happens. It is not as rare as you think. Apple still uses the same chip suppliers and device suppliers as everyone else.

There you go, my experiences and recommendations… at least for Q1 2012.