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October 15, 2007

Why Mary Doesn’t Have a New Dell

I’m the designated computer buyer in our family. Have a Panasonic Toughbook myself but have been buying Dells for everyone else and house computers. So, when Mary’s old Dell’s hard drive died (after a reasonable service life), I went first to the Dell website to look for a replacement. Dell’s taken a lot of knocks lately for poor service but Michael Dell has come storming back to fix that.  And we don’t use much service and have had pretty good luck with the machines. Besides, I like the way the Dell website lets me design a machine. Oh yeah, AAA promised us a five percent discount at Dell, too.

Linking through from the AAA offer site to Dell was a nightmare of dead links, lost context, and general flaky behavior. Had to call Dell support to get the discount straightened out but spoke to an excellent customer service rep – good sign. She told me that most people couldn’t get the discount to work but I could configure a machine online and then get back to her – her directly – and she would put the order in with the discount properly applied.

Dutifully ascertain which features Mary wants, talk her into a camera, add my own guesses of how many WiFi variants we want the machine to handle (ideally a/b/g/n – at least a/g), and happily start into the configuration process. Hmm… Looks you can only get Vista with new machines. OK; hope Mary doesn’t hate it. Hope it isn’t totally flaky; but which flavor of Vista do we want?

[VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: I went back to the Dell site a few minutes ago to reproduce the things complained about in the paragraphs below. They seem to have almost all been fixed. Either Dell’s made great progress or I had a very bad day last month (I think it’s them, though)]

So I click the question mark next to operating system, one of my favorite parts of the Dell site. I hope to find out how the versions differ. Instead I get some pap about what operating systems do in general and a plug for a Belkin cable to transfer my files to. Have to go to the Microsoft site to learn that it is the Home Premium edition we want for a laptop that will be used for pictures and video but doesn’t need industrial type security and won’t be maintained by a network administrator. [But Note: Today the Dell pages have an even better side-by-side comparison than the Microsoft site. Could I have missed that or was it recently added? Anyway, it’s good.]

The next question mark I click gets me a dead link – page not found. [But that was then, can’t find any dead links today]

Planned to get a 15 inch screen. Too big for Mary’s usual computer bag. Look at carrying cases on the Dell site. No indication of which can take a 15 inch screen. [But it’s all spelled out now]

OK, there’s a click to chat button: I’ll ask a CSR. Submit my question and wait. Nothing happens.  Try again. Message tells me chat “not available, try again”. Try again. Nothing. [But I just tried now and got almost instant access to a CSR (after a warning about an expired security certificate for the site) to answer my now moot question. When I told the CSR that I’d “just found the answer”, I got this immediate response “All right, well once you have a configuration you like, shoot me an email at Real_Name@dell.com. I'm a Senior Sales Agent here and I have access to all sorts of daily promotions, I'll make sure you get as much bang for your buck as possible.” Nb. I deleted the real name from the email address.]

What finally killed the deal was that the system I ordered couldn’t be delivered for six weeks. Dell is good about telling you this but the news was bad. Even stripping off stuff we could live without like a red case and a super-fast hard drive couldn’t get delivery any sooner than four weeks on the minimum machine we needed. [Just reconfigured a better machine and now Dell says they  could ship in a week]

So I went to Circuit City online. Can’t configure there but site has a plethora of preconfigured machine so I could almost match our feature wish list without buying too much we didn’t want. Could see which machines were available for pickup within 15 minutes – hey, we did need it now – at our local Circuit City. Chose an HP despite some misgivings; will write about them and the machine later.

When I started work on this post, I thought my recommendation would be stay away from Dell for a while. But, after my retest today, I’d say give them a try. I would if I were buying another new machine.

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