Dude, you’re not getting a Dell! Or even an Alienware.

So, Alienware machines never had the best reputation.  We have a few X51’s at the office…for some reason the convenience of a small, pre-built box somewhat attractive for our Linux and Windows game development.  Or at least the prior regime thought so.  Turns out I’ll be changing that.

There has been a few issues with them – the reputation seemingly holding up.  Corporate accounts get somewhat quick attention though, so I’ve not been too pissed off.

Of course, you also think that ‘well how much bad luck can you have?’ and this is what I had in mind when we ordered an Alienware Alpha for personal use.

The first one turned up and out of the box would not connect to Wifi.  How this passed a quality control I don’t know but the first call to technical support was pretty much a ‘well look on our website for the updated drivers and install them…many thanks, bye…click’.  Seriously.  The call was about two minutes long and neither walked me through getting the right drivers nor installing them – not that this is a problem for me, but they didn’t know that and I was surprised how they might treat someone who for all they know is non-technical..  They didn’t even give me the URL.

Nevertheless, I did it…found and jumped through the hoop…despite the fact that I could see the ‘updated’ drivers were exactly the same version installed (again, the machine was new…very small chance the drivers it had were so old they would not work with the hardware).

2nd call saw the daft power cycling farce.  Yes, daft…the machine had only been delivered two hours prior so the last time it had been turned on was for quality control at Dell (well, perhaps no such thing exists) so it should already be ‘discharged’.  Oh and again I was put through re-installing drivers but this time someone logged into the machine remotely and did it.  I had plugged in a Wifi dongle prior to the call to check there was no other issue logging to the router.  It’s a good job I had one to hand and had already done this or they wouldn’t have been able to remotely log-in.  However, being able to see that the built in Wifi didn’t work and the 3rd party dongle did still didn’t discourage the technician suggesting that my positioning of the unit 20ft from the router was the problem and I had to move nearer.  That one didn’t wash.  I’m glad I have the know-how to combat this kind of daft suggestion.

That person could also clearly see the drivers he was installing were the same version but he still went through the process of re-install and when that failed, an uninstall then re-install too.  Got to be sure, right?  I mean if one version doesn’t work…installing the same version is going to fix it, yeah?  Sarcasm intended and I won’t apologize for it.  Yes there is some credibility to a re-install fixing something messed up but not on a machine that hasn’t had anything installed on it and even when that’s no the case it’s still 99% the equivalent of relying on voodoo magic.

I was passed to another department for to organize and exchange.  I was surprised how badly this handoff went because I had to re-explain everything only to be told that I needed to speak to the technical support department before I requested a replacement.  I explained I had just got off of a 90 minute call with them and had been transferred from those people.  The left hand is seemingly not aware of the right hand it seems.

In the meantime we used the dongle in place of the broken Wifi card and kept the machine in use.

The replacement unit arrived and I opened the box, lifted the new unit out and heard some loose component rattling around inside.  I called Dell.  They wanted me to troubleshoot the issue with the technical department.  I asked them what that would achieve for something loose within the unit and they explained they would walk me through diagnosis and help me install new drivers.  Idiots!  I asked them if I would have to shake the unit over the phone so the technician could diagnose a loose part or whether they really were going to ask me to re-install drivers (hint: I was taking the piss).  I was now being made to jump through more hoops either way.  I asked for an address to write to and was refused.  I prefer letters for things like this – endless customer service people on the phone tend to not work out that well for you as the customer and take up a lot of time.  But yeah they wouldn’t give an address out.  I told them I would sell the second one on ebay to pay for the replacement Wifi part in the first defective unit instead.  In response, I was told they’d hand over the cost of the replacement unit to a debt recovery team.  Basically, instead of replacing the unit or giving me an address they were wanting to send people around to knock on the door because I’d hijacked a broken machine.

Next day the Wife phoned and took over.  She jumped through all the hoops and was finally authorized another replacement.  This wasn’t before supervisors intervening and undoing the promised replacement several times over.  Seriously…she had one helpful chap sort it all out and then say ‘right I have to get my supervisor to sign off on this’.  She came on the phone and point blank refused.  Not sure why.  Eventually my Wife got _someone_ to agree to sending out a replacement and shipping labels for the two duff machines.

The 3rd replacement unit never turned up however.  I have two Alienware Alpha’s now.  One has a bad Wifi and one a loose part.  We don’t want to use the one with a loose part because while I know I can likely fix, companies get pissy about your own servicing and voiding warranties and besides, is it not too much to ask for a machine that has an acceptable build quality?  What does it say about the likelihood of that machine not having other issues if it turned up with a loose part?  There should be no dead Wifi card nor loose part in either of them – send us one without a fault and we’ll accept that.  I will gladly return the duff machines using the pre-paid shipping you have promised.

So, with no replacement and generally shitty/useless customer service from Dell we’ve had to file a credit card complaint.  Dell immediately got this overturned by saying ‘if they send it back, we will refund’.  However there is no way I am paying to send it back when I’ve paid for shipping for one that works.  In the meantime the price of the units has gone up – return, refund and then re-order is also something like $150 more…so this I refused.  The dummies at Dell don’t seem to understand this.  Besides, as far as the credit card company goes they accepted Dell’s response in part because the form on the credit card co. website was too limited (character limit) to provide all the details.  When I phoned in and explained more fully (including the $150 reason I was rejecting a return and a refund) the case was re-opened.  I don’t know how it will turn out at this point but a few days later a shipping label for the original machine turned up.  Still no replacement or return label for the second machine.  Nothing has been resolved really.

Now the first machine is being used with a Wifi dongle so there is (or was) no way I was sending that back until a replacement arrived.  Yesterday however, before an early morning departure for Scuba shenanigans my boy asked me to turn it on and log in so he could play Minecraft.  It didn’t boot.  The Alienware logo flashed five times.  I had stuff to do for the day so after five minutes of messing around to look for an obvious problem I suggested he play on the PS4 and I would have a look at it in the evening.  I did that.  No luck.  While I can’t find reference to what the logo flashing five times means, I suspect (given I found the meanings for several other #’s of flashes) that this is the one for ‘dead motherboard’.

Seriously?  A machine sent out with a broken Wifi card.  A replacement machine with a loose part.  The first machine lasts just over a month anyway.

At this point, I think having had the Alienware reputation hold up in the office AND at home it’s time to just consider a full refund.  We won’t be buying any more for my development team either.  We made a mistake tolerating that kind of crap.  I made a mistake following up personally.

To make matters worse for you guys as potential customers though, when I first looked into the original problem I found out that the Wifi card dying is a common issue.  I could buy a better replacement and fix it myself for about $17 and that has wireless N, not G.  But yes, it might void the warranty for me to do that.

What’s that I hear you say ‘Dell is shipping wireless-G cards in 2016?’.  Sort of, yes.  The card shipped in my unit is actually a wireless-N but it turns out the quality of that is so low and there have been so many problems they are now shipping them as Wireless-G cards and nerfing the N functionality.  You can actually go to Dell’s site, look up the technical specs and see for yourself it’s an N card (this info is actually conveniently missing from Dell’s site but you can cross reference the model # with other sites and see it’s an N card and then you can see in the system device manager properties that it has been nerfed to G).  Either way, if you are ordering what is known to be a N card one therefore might expect an N card, right?  No.  You’re getting something that has a high fail rate, never worked that well in wireless-N mode but they disable all that and still ship it anyway.

Dell are shipping ‘known-to-be-shit’ hardware out basically.

What this says about the build quality of the rest of the machine I don’t know, but I think a now dead motherboard and a loose part bouncing around in another machine is telling me something about where my custom is best placed.

The machine was for my son.  Based on Dell’s 15 year old TV commercial catchphrase it seems ‘Dude, you’re not getting a Dell’.

Update: We have indeed started ordering a different brand of Windows machine at the office now.  Looks like the dev team are not getting Dell’s either.  At home…we returned the Dell – the replacement never showed up.

Update Oct 2016: I just got a call from Dell asking us about a machine that was never returned and turning it over to a collection agency.  Classy.