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MacBook Pro Video Problems Solved

I’ve posted about this a few times on this site and now I feel like a fool for not discovering the problem sooner.     I’m not 100% certain if the issue is an HP monitor issue, a cable manufacturer issue, or and Apple hardware/OS/firmware issue.   All I know for certain is that a couple different brands of cell phones will cause my monitors to lose video signal and “flicker” on/off or show video artifacts.     Sometimes the video loss runs in cycles as fast as 1-second on/ 1-second off.  Sometimes the monitors power off for minutes-at-a-time.     Sometimes I just see horrible bands of pixelation run horizontally or vertically on the screen.    In many cases OS/X starts logging all kinds of video events in the system logs, but I am certain that is a side effect of a video data error that is not being handled as well as it could be.

At the end of the day the problem is easy to fix.   Move my cell phone away from my monitors.

Turns out that ALL THREE of my phones, an older HTC Incredible, a newer HTC Incredible 4G LTE, and a brand new Samsung Galaxy S5 all cause the problem.    It also turns out that the problem varies in intensity based on the lunar cycle and its alignment with the solar winds or some other cosmic crap like that.     What I do know is that when the problem starts my productivity goes to hell and as I can never guess when I can see my code or my browser.

For some reason the electro-magnetic fields (EMF) from the phone are causing all hell to break loose on the displayport video communications to/from the monitor.   That causes a cascade of problems which inevitably results in a monitor powering off or a black screen where video should be.     After multiple red herrings, running down innumerable rabbit holes, and even going so far as to not only swap video cables and monitors but also a brand new MacBook Pro,  the real issue is basic electro-magnetic interference and the solution is as simple as “move my cell phone”.

Here is the recap I sent to Apple Support today regarding the issue.   Hopefully someone will stumble across this online and save themselves some headaches as well.

 

Apple Support Communication

I finally figured out the monitor flicker, power cycle, and pixelation artifacts problem with my monitors after MONTHS of dealing with the issue.

This is really crazy, but it is without-a-doubt what is going on here:

PROXIMITY OF CELL PHONE TO VIDEO HARDWARE

I haven’t yet narrowed down the issue to exactly what the root cause is, but here is what I know for a fact:

1) This happens with my older HTC Inredible 4G LTE phone.
2) This happens with my new Samsung Galaxy S5 phone.
3) This happens ONLY on displayport but HDMI does not appear to be impacted.

4) The problem appears to only happen with the phone is within 5cm of the monitor end of the displayport cable.

5) The problem happens on the HP ZR2440w monitor and other HP monitors using DisplayPort as well as a Samsung monitor using DisplayPort  (I no longer have that monitor, wish I could re-test).

6) Portrait or landscape mode was a red herring.

7) I could not reproduce the issue by placing the phone near (even touching) the MacBook end of the displayport cables.
After 5 days of trying to capture the behavior with my camera-phone and the problem suddenly going away after picking up my phone it finally came to me.      Move the phone back and TOUCH the display cable… bam powers off the display like a wireless power switch.     Move it away, pixelation, then the monitor comes back on.

I then tested the FIRST displayport as I have only seen this happen on the 2nd displayport (furthest from power port on the MacBook) and like magic the first monitor turned off as soon as I touched the phone to the cable.

After multiple tests I’ve learned that I need to just be close to the cable (it is not a physical cable connection issue, verified that a few times).   Within 1-2cm the monitor powers off 60% of the time.   Within 2-5cm the monitor may power off (10% of the time) or display pixelation artifacts or the notorious “ants” problem (30% of the time).

It *may* be the minidisplayport-to-displayport cables I am using, however I have swapped out these cables and at least one set of cables is NOT from the same manufacturer.

To be determined:

a) Is this a cable shielding issue?
b) Is this a monitor build issue?

c) Why does the software react to EMF introduced at the hardware level?   (bad error checking/trapping in the video processing firmware/software?)

Just though I’d share so you can close this ticket and possibly disseminate this information to support channels.     I’m guessing my cell phone is not the only possible source of EMF that can cause external display issues.   Given the number of online posts about similar problems I would venture a guess that more than a few Apple support calls and hardware returns may be related to similar EMF-related issues.

I am very techy and know all about EMF but it never occurred to me that the EMF from my phone would affect a displayport signal to the point of being able to actually power down a monitor IMMEDIATELY.

Good to know what it is.  When I have more time I’ll do more homework and post my findings online.

In the meantime I’m relocating my phone charging cable to not be under my monitors.
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HP Care Packs Are A Scam

HP We Don't Care Pack Banner

As I have learned the hard way, HP is not a company that can be trusted. This is a very humbling experience after having strongly recommended the HP brand not only to friends and family but also to countless businesses that I have consulted for when it comes to their computer room configurations. I have literally purchased and/or recommended MILLIONS of dollars in HP equipment over the past few decades including dozens of server installations at bars and restaurants using a clients beer distribution system, a computer room for a local Charleston company that consisted of 28 new servers, and a computer room for a Boston based company over a decade ago that included a number of enterprise laser printers and network servers.

When it came time to purchase a new laptop just over a year ago I decided to stop messing around and spend $1500 on the best laptop HP offered at the time.   My biggest concern, as this would be my primary workstation at home and while travelling, was down time should it need to be repaired after failure or accidental damage.  Before making the purchase I called HP customer care and spoke to an HP representative about their extended warranty options.   She was very nice and immediately pointed me to the UN041A HP 3 Year House Call with Accidental Damage Protection Care Pack.   She proceeded to tell me that should the unit need repair that HP would send a technical service person to my house within 24 hours after diagnosing the issue to repair the unit at my home.   If they could not complete the repair on site I would get a loaner laptop while my laptop was sent out for repair and returned to me within a few days.    Sounded great.   I purchased the Laptop on February 29th 2012 from Beach Camera and a few days later, on March 5th, purchased that exact warranty directly from HP with the assistance of a phone operator.

Well it turns out this was the start of dealing with ineptitude and incompetence at Hewlett Packard.    While the sales agent had told me that I would get my extended care pack in the mail in 4-6 weeks, it turns out that isn’t the case.   After THREE MONTHS I called Hewlett Packard and asked where it was.   It had come up on my calendar a few times and I bumped it forward until I had an afternoon with some free time to make the call.   I was told it was “in processing”.  After several more calls over the next several months I finally received the Care Pack.

Fail #1 – HP Sold The Wrong Warranty

They sold me the wrong thing.   When I went to register the Care Pack that the original HP customer representative told me about and the second sales agent “forced into the system” (really, that was not a clue that something was wrong Ms. HP Sales Person?) it told me that the Care Pack did not apply to the HP Envy 17.     After many calls AND after being told by one HP representative “Well, sir, you purchased the WRONG item.  HP cannot be held responsible for that.  You are just going to have to purchase the right item.” I finally got an HP rep on the line with half-a-clue.    Mind you just half of a clue.   This person “converted” my incorrect warranty to the correct warranty and told me that if I had issues over the next couple of months I would have to call the escalation team directly because the extended warranty would not appear on my account until the regular 1-year warranty expired.

Fail #2 -No Such Thing As On Site Support

The unit failed and so did HP.   After a trip in January 2013 my laptop took a bounce off the back of the seat on a plane and started making a rattling noise.  That combined with the audio port static meant it was time to send in the unit.   So I call HP and guess what?  I am told I DO NOT have an extended warranty.  Again I go through the HP circus and finally find someone that can look up the confirmation number I was given with the “manual override”.   They find out that ONCE AGAIN the wrong warranty was applied.  They fix the warranty and then tell me “OK, I submitted an RMA so you can ship the unit back.”.

WAIT.  WHAT?  Ship the unit back?  I paid a premium to get the ON SITE REPAIR work.

Guess what?

HP ON SITE REPAIR DOES NOT APPLY TO LAPTOPS.   Not any of the newer laptops anyway.  Do you know what they consider on site repair?   Swapping a hard drive or replacing memory!  Really?  Any idiot with half-a-clue can do that on their own without needing a technical support person come out on site.    ALL OTHER “REPAIRS”, no matter how minor REQUIRE YOU TO SHIP THE LAPTOP TO HP.   The turn around time?  At least 3 days plus 1 day shipping either way.  That is ONE WEEK without the laptop

The entire reason I went with this laptop is because they had on-site repair and 24 hour response times!

What about that loaner system?   NOPE.   Not for laptops, sorry.  That is only for select desktop systems.

I opt NOT to send the unit out.  I can deal with static on the audio port and a rattling noise if it means no laptop for a week.

Fail #3 -You Have No Warranty, Again

Fast forward to September 2013.   I am in the middle of a major product release for Store Locator Plus.   My Envy 17 decides to die in the middle of a coding session.    The battery is no longer “present”.   Not in the laptop.  That is amazing since the reason they cannot fix my laptop on site is because the battery is NOT REPLACEABLE by the user.  It is wired into the motherboard.   (WTF?!?! Who designed THAT feature?  Wish I noticed that , but it is conveniently not mentioned on the sales info, I just ASSUMED a laptop battery could be swapped.  My mistake.)  So now I cannot use my laptop if it is unplugged, cannot move it, and better hope the power never goes out.

Time to send it in for another repair.

Again I am told I don’t have a warranty.  I once again send in all the info, but at least this time I have an email from HP with all the necessary info and a contact listed.   I get a new RMA issued and this time send back the laptop after spending 2 days moving my entire work environment over to an older (and much slower) laptop.

Fail #4 – Parts On Backorder

TEN DAYS after sending out my laptop I get in touch with HP.  Where is my 3-day turnaround on the laptop?   No answer.   Two days and 4 emails later I finally get a response… “Yes, we did receive your laptop last week.   Parts are on backorder.  There is no ETA.”.

A few more days go by and I get an email “I will be out for a few days, I will let you know about the laptop when I get back.”.

A couple more days go by and I send an email “What is going on?  Will I ever see my laptop again.”.

I’m still waiting for a response.

HP Care Pack Is Worthless

Over the past 48 hours, after being without my $1400 laptop for going on 3 weeks now I decided to do some research.  Along the way I have learned that the HP Care Pack is  a complete scam.    Why?

  • No On Site Repair : They are selling the Care Pack for the HP Envy 17 clearly marked as “On Site Repair”.   There is no on site repair for the HP Envy 17.   The product clearly says “in rare instances” yet ANY repair other than a disk drive or memory failure requires sending in the laptop.  That is NOT rare especially for a warranty that offers damage protection.  When is the last time you damaged your RAM?
HP Rare Instances
HP Rare Instances
  • HP Not Liable For Lack Of Parts : That’s right, if you send something in for repair and they don’t have the parts to fix it they are not liable.  You are stuck with a unit that cannot be repaired and you have no recourse.   Work will stop when parts or resources are not available and will resume when they become available with no limitation to how long this may be.
HP No Parts = No Repair
HP No Parts = No Repair
  • No Guaranteed Response Time : While HP tells you they “normally” repair units with in a few days there is NOWHERE in the contract or on the website where they guarantee a repair response time.  It could take them a few days, a few weeks, a few months.   You are without your laptop the entire time.  Who knows, it may even take a few years.  Once you ship the laptop to them you may NEVER SEE IT AGAIN with the only recourse being your ability to recoup the cost of the repair contract.
  • HP Can Wash Hands of Contract With No Liability:  In reading the “fine print” of the actual Care Pack contract, HP has limited their liability NOT to the value of the laptop that is supposed to be covered by the warranty but “the original purchase price of the extended warranty”.   In other words, pay us hundreds of dollars for the warranty.   If your laptop never breaks we keep the money.   If your laptop does break and we don’t fix it we will give you your money back.    HP is literally holding all the cards here.  They are in a position to never lose money as any repair that costs more than the cost of the warranty can be deemed “non repairable” and just refund your Care Pack purchase price. In other words, HP can wash their hands of any problem systems by simply refunding the care pack purchase price.

Go ahead and get a copy of the actual Care Pack contract.   Read it carefully.   HP limits their liability in every way possible and has absolutely ZERO guarantees of performance.   A genius piece of legal bullshit that they turn around and sell for hundreds of dollars.   It should be a crime.

Class action lawsuit anyone?  I’m in!

 

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Envy 17 17-3070NR Video Problems When Recording

HP Video Fail Banner

Environment

  • HP Envy 17-3070NR with latest video drivers & BIOS
  • 3x HP ZR2440w Monitors attached, 2 on display port, 1 on HDMI

Problem

Any time I access ANYTHING to do with recording, such as going to the windows sounds interface and clicking on the recording tab, the screen on ONE of the Display Ports flickers to the point of being unusable.

It shows flashing thin 1 or 2- pixels white lines in random patterns on the screen, then the entire display shuts off.  It turns back on and looks fine for 2 seconds, then does it again until I click on the Playback, Sounds, or Communications tab.  This happens with ANY access to “recording” from any app including my Skype call recorder or my Screencast recorder.

This did not happen before I upgraded to the 1920×1200 ZR2440w monitors, which I did after confirming with HP support that the Envy 17-3070NR would indeed support 1920×1200 resolution if I used display port connections.

The problem continues if I swap monitors, so it is not a monitor issue.

The problem continues if I disconnect/disable the 3rd monitor on HDMI, in fact the cycle happens even faster with that display disconnected.

This looks very much like an old-school video memory corruption issue like you would have back in 1996 on  a Windows XP computer with crappy video cards and/or poorly written video drivers.      If I had to guess I would say BIOS and/or AMD drivers need work.

Has any else seen this problem?

Any clues how to fix this besides “don’t use 3 monitors” or “don’t record screen casts”?

Customer Non-Support

The best part is that I am entitled to email or chat or phone support from HP with my extended warranty.  Yet HP completely fails in that regard.    First of all the website the checks to see if you are entitled for support looks up my serial number and product number, shows the right product in the sidebar yet the customer support form only allows for PRINTER options on describing what is wrong.

HP Consumer Division Incompetence A Laptop is Not A Printer
HP Consumer Division Incompetence A Laptop is Not A Printer

HP needs to hire some programmers.

HP Fails At Selling Customer Care Packs

Then, to make things more fun, when I contact HP directly they tell me I do not have a warranty.   I have a dozen emails back & forth from HP stating I DO have a warranty for 3 years.    I can understand why they are confused, however, since THREE HP employees over the past year have screwed up my extended warranty so badly that nobody can figure out what the hell is going on.  Not even their escalation team.

The first person sold me the wrong warranty.

The second person “fixed” the warranty and attached a DIFFERENT, but still incorrect, extended warranty.

The third person, in the HP Escalation Division, fixed the problem again but did not properly attach the extended warranty to my serial number so nobody can find it.

Unfortunately there is no online form or interface available to the mundane every day HP Customer Support people that allows them to “enter the personal email sent from an HP manager ensuring the customer has an extended warranty” box.    Since my case falls completely outside of their scripted responses they are completely baffled.     Customer Support lemmings are not trained to think, just click the boxes, recite the words on the screen like Obama reading a teleprompter, and move on.  No thought required.    Come to think of it, maybe HP is training everyone to be the next POTUS.

 

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HP Care Pack – Buyer Beware

HP Support Assistant

I love HP equipment, especially their servers.   My HP Envy 17 laptop rocks, very “apple-like”.  However I am FURIOUS at HP for blatant mis-representation of product when it comes to the HP Care Pack.

My laptop is my lifeblood.  I use it for home and business EVERY DAY without exception.  It is how I earn a living.   Last time I sent an Asus laptop for repair they lost it for 3 months.  I had to buy a new laptop and when they finally sent mine back I didn’t need it any longer.  That was a $1200 mistake I vowed to never make again.

As such I opted for the $400 on-site extended warranty with accidental damage protection.   The on-site repair has a guaranteed 6-hour turnaround and they send a technician to your house to do the repairs.  Perfect.

From the HP website:

Description
 
Enjoy the convenience of having a technician come right to your home or office, if needed, to help resolve desktop or notebook PC issues with HP Care Pack On-site Service. You’ll also have access to 24×7 technical support and extended security while keeping your PC covered by the manufacturer that knows it best. Extended coverage begins the day you buy your HP PC. You’ll get the most coverage and value if you buy this plan when you purchase your PC. For example: • If you buy the 2-year plan when you purchase your PC, you’ll get coverage for 2 full years. • If you buy the 2-year plan 3 months after you purchase your PC, you’ll get 21 months of coverage only. Multi-year options are available. 
  On-site hardware repair
  24×7 remote support
  Replacement parts and materials
  Monitor coverage
  • Help improve system uptime. Convenient onsite support. Reliable response times.
  • • Reduction of incidents by anticipating issues through real-time monitoring of the environment and case history trend reporting Through the availability to purchase options, Proactive Care helps you by providing:.
  • • Increased accountability and personalization through the assignment of an account support team that will provide support planning and reviews • Maximize return on IT assets through performance and availability analysis.
  • • Simplified operations from fully utilizing management software • Flexible resourcing through access to skills on demand that can help with peak workload and project requirements.
 
 
 
Service and Support provided by:
Hewlett Packard
     
Technical: 800.334.5144

 

Yet today, after having damaged the HP Envy 17 while travelling last week, I had the “opportunity” to exercise the HP Care Pack warranty and see how well it works.  Well, in short IT DOESN’T.    The on site repair does not apply to ANYTHING other than replacing a hard drive or memory.  Period.   Damaged case?  Ship it away for 2 weeks.  Damaged screen?  Ship it away for 2 weeks.    Odd.   HP offers a standard damage protection warranty WITHOUT on-site service for $180.     So I paid a $220 premium to have them ship me a hard drive if it fails so I can replace it or have their tech do it, but I guarantee I can do it faster.   Everything else?  Good Bye Laptop… for 2 weeks.

Wow.   I’ve been had.    I damn well guarantee I’ll never buy an on-site warranty for a consumer product from HP again.   I feel like they completely screwed me out of $220 and NOWHERE is it made clear the on-site service or 6-hour turnaround does not apply to 99.99% of the cases where your laptop would be damaged.

HP just served up a huge helping of fail cake.

Don’t believe it?  Call HP and find out.

HP Customer Care:  1-800-474-6836 (1-800-HP INVENT)

HP Escalation Team: 1-877-917-4380ext. 93.

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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.

 

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HP 2509M Display Truncating With Intel HD Graphics

The new Dell Inspiron 17R that was purchased recently is a good office computer with a couple of notable “gotchas”.  The audio “buzz” on the headphones due to internal electrical noise is a bit of nuisance.   However, as a programmer and 15-hours-a-day computer junkie, the screen resolution problems with the Intel HD graphics was even more annoying.    As a gadget geek, I knew going into this that integrated graphics would never perform as well as discrete graphics cards when it comes to high end applications like Photoshop or when playing modern games such as Starcraft II.    However, what I didn’t expect was the problems with various HD monitors that we would be connecting to this laptop.

After many hours of research both online and with the clueless technical support people at Dell (ok, I’ll give them a break, I don’t expect the $18k/year phone support employee to know much) I realized knew the problem was simply due to a driver compatibility issue.   On older HDMI capable monitors the Intel HD Graphics driver had no problem recognizing them as a standard computer monitor, which conveniently gets recognized as an RGB device.    This is an important point, because many monitors connected with HDMI report back that they are actually a television display.

That is notable since there IS actually a difference in how television displays and monitors are handled, even though they are nearly identical these days when talking about LCD or Plasma displays and how they function.   The way television was broadcast and how those old CRT screens were made led to some creative innovations.  One of those innovations was something called overscanning (or sometimes referred to as underscanning, which is a misnomer).    The simple explanation is that the picture coming into the device would be painted beyond the edges of the screen to hide annoying flicker and other artifacts of the synchronization issues between the broadcast signal, the code/decode mechanisms, and the dispay device itself.   The bulk of the picture showed up on the screen with a small 5% border being “trimmed off” all the way around the display.  On most tv programs, who would notice?
As it turns out, modern devices still account for that overscan.   In this particular case, the HP2509M monitor is being seen by the Intel HD Graphics built into the Inspiron 17R as a television.    The Intel HD graphics card is then sending a signal to the HP monitor that is automatically overscanned by about 5%.  As such I cannot see the start menu or anything else on the edges of the screen on the extended display.     However, there is a fix for this.

The Fix

NOTE: This will replace the Dell OEM driver.  Dell will no longer support your video configuration and you may render your computer inoperable if you do this incorrectly. If you do not understand what is going on here then STOP NOW and call Dell support and beg them to update their custom driver to include Intel’s latest patches.  Just because this worked on my Inpsiron 17R does not mean it will work on yours.

Replace The Dell OEM Driver

First – go to Intel and find the HD Graphics page.  Go to the drivers & download page and snag the proper ZIP FILE driver kit for your video card.  Make sure you get the right 32-bit or 64-bit version for the card you have.   Do NOT get the exe version, as you have no control over the vendor check and it will abort your install.

Once you have the downloaded ZIP kit, extract the graphics folder to your desktop.    You will use a driver file in that folder to update your graphics driver.

Right-click on your display, select “change resolution”, then go to advanced settings.    Go to the adapter tab and click on properties.

Click on driver, then select update driver, browse the computer, have disk, and go find the kit*.inf file in your extracted graphics folder.

After you install the updated driver, restart your computer.

Eliminate Overscan Via Graphic Properties

Now that you have the new driver you can eliminate overscan by setting up a custom resolution.  Start by right-clicking on the extended HDMI connected display.  Select Graphic Properties.

Click on custom resolutions.   Make sure the display has your HDMI connected display selected.  Set the width and height to your NATIVE resolution for the monitor (1920 x 1080 for my 2509M).   Set the refresh rate (60hz is typical).    Set the color bit depth, normally you just want 32 Bit.    Set the underscan percentage slider to 0.   Set the Timing standard to CVT-RB (that is a newer one supported by most modern monitors).    Click ADD.     It will ask to overwrite the existing setting, choose YES.

It will then apply the new custom resolution.  If you had set your scaling under general settings to something other than 100% you will want to put it back to 100%.  You should NOT need to scale if your native resolution & overscan in custom settings is set properly.

Unfortunately I’ve not found a way to name these resolutions uniquely, which means when I go home and connect my Asus 1920×1080 display with 32-bit graphics at 60hz it will show a black border.  My fix will be to set the Asus to 59hz thus giving me 2 different “custom settings” with different overscan settings (the Asus is recognized as a monitor and thus the default resolution was not overscanning).

Summary

Now I am enjoying the 25″ HP 2509M monitor in full 1920×1080 resolution with NO SCALING.    Trust me, this is a HUGE difference when working with text.   There is no more blurry text ANYWHERE on the screen.  This is how these monitors is supposed to look.  Don’t settle for less just because Dell doesn’t give you the tools you need to make this work.   Who knows, maybe someday they’ll have newer drivers that let you set this up properly.