Tuesday, May 17, 2011

OPINION: My Journey to Dell Hell and Back

(A big hello to everyone visiting from The Consumerist! If you're unfamiliar with The Consumerist, it's a consumer advocacy blog that's both fun and informative. Check it out!)

Recently, I tweeted about my Dell Vostro 1400 laptop that had a defective NVIDIA 8400M graphics chip. I would like to share the story of my successful journey to Dell Hell and back, getting a 3.5-year-old out-of-warranty laptop fixed for free.

Sometime in late 2010, I got a letter in the mail detailing a class-action lawsuit and subsequent settlement regarding defective NVIDIA graphics chips. My laptop had the chip, but I had had no graphics issues up to that point and I could not apply for relief unless my laptop had certain symptoms as defined in the settlement. Then, in mid April, my laptop became unusable. I went to the settlement website and discovered that I had missed the claim window by a month, so I called Dell to see what they could do.

I called more than once, and each time, the front-line phone rep rebuffed my request for free service or replacement. I wasn't about to give up, though. I scoured the internet (including the great pro-consumer website consumerist.com) looking for options, including the sometimes-effective EECB. To start, I ended up tweeting @DellCares the following:
@dellcares Nice when my Dell laptop dies 1 month after Nvidia Settlement stops taking claims. Y U NO RECALL? #delldoesntcare BUYER BEWARE!
After my initial phone calls, I also received a very unsatisfying follow-up email (basically repeating everything the phone rep told me) from Dell support. Knowing I had nothing to lose, I wrote the following response and CC'ed michael@dell.com and michael_dell@dell.com:
One month ago, I could have applied for relief through the Nvidia lawsuit/settlement. I don't see why, with my problems manifesting themselves only 30 days later, I shouldn't be taken care of. Bad customer service on Dell's part, an unwillingness to admit fault. I understand the margins in this business are razor-thin, but that doesn't help me much. The out-of-warranty repair department also wants 2X the price of similar replacement parts I can find elsewhere. Another reason to just leave Dell and find a company that's interested in keeping my business.
This laptop would have at least 2 more years of life in it (running Windows 7 like a champ!) barring this defective graphics problem. I feel terrible for having convinced my sister to buy a similarly afflicted laptop. Dell (and NVidia) are very close to losing a customer forever. It's looking like this will be my first and last Dell laptop. I have a conversation going on Twitter with @dellcares. We'll see how that goes. #dellmightcarewe'llsee
I also joined Dell's Community forums and contacted the guy from this post. Interestingly enough, it did not take long (less than a day) to hear back from Dell's twitter team, and Dell executive support actually called me as well, specifically referencing the email I had sent. The Dell Community rep also got back to me, albeit a little later. Having gotten Dell's attention, the Twitter team sent me a pre-paid shipping box and 10 days later, I had a freely-fixed, properly-functioning laptop. I have had no further problems thus far, and I hope to get at least 2 more years out of this great little machine.

Moral of the story: don't let the bottom tier of support lock you out of a free repair. Go public, go to Twitter, go to Facebook, go to Dell Community, and email Michael Dell. I hope that this will help other people suffering from the NVIDIA graphics issue. Good luck!

--Demo Gamer


  1. Glad to hear you got it fixed. I had the same issue on my xps m1330 (an otherwise great computer), but it was still under warranty, so they fixed it without a hassle.

    disappointing to know, however, that they didn't fix the issue. The new chips will have the same problems as the old ones (a drastically reduced lifetime). Sure, they changed the BIOS settings to make the fan come on more frequently, but that's a trade off on battery life, noise, and wear. The tech who replaced mine said he's been replacing these chips for years, sometimes multiple times per customer. It definitely will make me think twice before buying or recommending a Dell computer again.

  2. It's not Dell, it's nVidia putting out shitty chips. Buy an Apple, buy an HP, it's bound to happen - these are computer parts and computer parts fail, just as if it is an automobile.

    Customer support, on the other hand, is a major issue with Dell. I used to do Pro Support for Dell's business line. I absolutely HATED having to transfer people to customer care because I knew what they were going to hear. Transferring to customer care or sales was the very last option in my point of view.

    One last tip:
    If you ever need information, technical information that is, regarding Dell computers, talk to tech support. Most of the time we are pretty cool with talking to people (Pro/Gold support that is) who just want to get some quick information.

  3. I, too, am hesitant to purchase anything Dell or NVIDIA at this point, considering how they have handled this situation. While it is nice to have a working laptop again, I wonder just how long it will last. Better start saving.

  4. About it not being Dell, I disagree. Recognizing a faulty, defective part in the product, Dell could have recalled the machines and duked it out with NVIDIA for payment. Instead, Dell disrespected its customers and tried to keep one of its business partners happy.

    Both HP and Apple also bought the faulty chips and resold them (they are part of the settlement), but I have no idea how they took care of their customers. I only have experience with Dell.

    Thanks for the tech support tips, though!

  5. I will try your way Demo Gamer...this is what happened to me https://sites.google.com/site/alienwareaurorar3

  6. The 8400M GS just died in my Vostro 1400 last night. Contacted Dell CS and they told me it's not their problem and to contact NVIDIA. In the same breath, the told me that NVIDIA has stopped accepting claims against on these cards. I agree with Demo Gamer that Dell should stand behind a product they sold with defective parts and take it up with their supplier, in this case NVIDIA. I'm following the same steps you did to get retribution. Hopefully I'll have the same results. Wish me luck!

  7. Good luck, anon. Let us know how it works out for you.

  8. @DellCares lied and said my computer wasn't "tagged for the NVIDIA issue". But I did get a call from Dell's executive escalation department in response to my email to Michael Dell.

    They still need to "confirm some things with the tech department" - whatever that means. I told them I couldn't wait around for them to do the right thing and took it to a local repair shop to get it fixed, which was costing me at least $150. She suggested that they would either reimburse me for that expense or, if the local guy couldn't fix it, Dell would fixed it for me.

    Do you happen to know if the Dell fix is "permanent"? Obviously nothing lasts forever but the guy at the local repair shop said that they couldn't guarantee how long it would be before it fails again. Does Dell replace the chip/card with one that isn't defective and not susceptible to the same defect or do they repair it in a similar temporary way? Any idea?

  9. I do not know if the fix is "permanent", but seeing how Dell has treated the issue to this point, I doubt it is. Sad to say, but it looks like the sooner you get out of that laptop, the better.

  10. My Vostro 1400 started having serious GPU issues (hard locks, BSOD's, no video, garbled screen) and finally it just went dead on the video. Basic tech support and managers denied my claim said its out of warranty. They referred me to the settlement and they said the claim period was over and referred me back to Dell. Sent a Better Business Bureau complaint, got contacted by someone from their 'executive service team' (she sounds like the same manger I spoke with during my tech support call). Now I am trying your method. Hope it works and I get my GPU replaced!