Bummer in the Dell

If I went with longer titles, I might have called this post Why I’ll Never Buy Another Dell Computer! Or I could have gone for the much shorter Dell Sucks! But I can’t resist a good pun or play on wyrds, so Bummer it is.

About a year ago I replaced my aging Sony Vaio laptop with a Dell XPS 15. The Sony taught me some hard lessons about buying a laptop online, one of them being “you’ll be sorry if you buy a Sony” — it had many annoyances, not the least of which was the wireless never worked. And it had a literal bug in it! The Dell is better in many ways, but,… well,…

Dell you disappoint me. Let me count the ways…

There were issues and annoyances from the beginning, but it was the last week or so that caused me to vent my frustration here. I’ll get to that.

When I decided the Sony had to go (being way past its prime), the first consideration was whether to buy a desktop or laptop (or both). I don’t really need a laptop — most of my computer use is at home in my “office.” I have an Apple iPad that meets any computing on the go needs, such as they are.

But a laptop offers the advantage that I can take it into the living room and do stuff while I watch TV.

Which sort of works out, but battery life is so bad on this thing that I rarely bother. (Plus it involves unplugging the external monitor, drive, and audio.)

Granted, the sort of computing I’m likely to do while watching TV (generating fractals or rendering 3D scenes) is CPU — and thus battery — intensive. Still, I was surprised, the first time I did this, at how rapidly the battery icon changed.

Mostly I treat it as a desktop with all the externals plugged in.

It was the Dell externals that immediately gave me grief.

§ §

Damn chiclet keys!

Firstly, I bought a Dell “Premier” wireless keyboard and mouse. I was really excited to try a Bluetooth setup — no more wires!

But they were a problem from day one. For the first six or so months, about once a week, they’d both stop working.

So I’d go into the Windows Bluetooth settings, and every time there would be two instances of the keyboard and two instances of the mouse. Both of which claimed they were connected, neither of which worked.

Deleting one or the other didn’t help. Despite the settings looking okay, neither device worked. (And I tried deleting the first or second. Didn’t matter.)

It required deleting all four instances and then doing the connection dance again to get new working instances. (Which is a pain with the keyboard, since you have to type in a code to confirm the connection.)

I had to go through this about once a week. Sometimes more than once in a week; sometimes I got a week-and-a-half before they crapped out.

An update somewhere along the line seems to have fixed that, and I haven’t had to do the dance in months. Yay!

§

The keyboard and mouse are physically a disappointment, too. They’re both light-weight and flimsy. The keyboard has low-profile keys, and I can barely feel the “home key” nubs. I find I make a lot of typos with this keyboard.

The keyboard seems to eat batteries (two AAA cells). I’ve had to put new ones in about once a month. And I’ve learned that it gets “hinky” once battery power is around 50% — it stutters and pauses.

I’ll be typing along and suddenly nothing happens onscreen for a moment and then it catches up in a burst of characters. This usually throws me off so badly I’ve created typos I have to correct.

Occasionally, a character repeats — I’ll get a dozen of the same character. I seem to do a lot of backspacing and correcting with this keyboard.

§

Note the impossible to use “next” button!

The mouse is practically featherweight, and it took months to get used to such a flimsy, light mouse.

It also takes a pair of AAA cells, but I get maybe two months from the mouse. (Which is odd since it’s slightly further away from the laptop than the keyboard. Apparently the battery drain isn’t from the radio?)

What annoys me most about the mouse is that it apparently goes to sleep if you don’t use it for a few seconds. For instance, if you’re typing or reading a page.

Then when you go to use it, nothing happens at first (for a good second or so). I have to wave it around a bit before the cursor finally starts moving.

And the scroll wheel makes me absolutely crazy. Even with constant use, say while reading a long page, it stutters like the keyboard. It’ll go from several smooth scrolls to one that pauses… and then scrolls a bunch.

Very distracting.

Very annoying.

Poorly designed physically, too. There are “back” and “next” buttons on the sides. The “back” button is right under my thumb, so that’s okay.

But the “next” button requires either moving my middle finger from the right mouse button, or angling my ring finger out in such a way to get leverage on the button. Since the mouse is so lightweight, this moves the cursor and is hard to do in the first place.

I never use the “next” button. It’s just not usable.

Clearly neither the keyboard, nor the mouse, were designed for a serious computer user.

Fine for the occasional or light user, but a real nightmare for someone like me.

§ §

Note how washed out the Windows Task Bar is!

So much for the “Premier” keyboard and mouse — the 27″ Dell monitor (S2719H) is also a major disappointment.

For one, I was very surprised that the highest resolution this 27″ monitor is capable of is 1920×1080 — the same as the laptop’s 15″ screen. That really floored me. The end result is that I need to monitor pushed as far back on my desk as possible, since everything is too big.

Physically, the monitor’s mount is flimsy. Just touching the monitor causes it to move back and forth, as if on springs. Very bad design!

My desktop wallpaper looks pretty decent on the laptop’s monitor. But that same image looks washed out on the external monitor. It can’t accomplish deep color, let alone black, and no combination of brightness and contrast (the only controls available) makes it any better. (They can make it a lot worse, though!)

It’s either that the backlight is too bright, or that the LCD components don’t block light very well. Certainly not as well as the laptop’s monitor!

There are some presets available: “Standard,” “Comfort View,” “Movie,” “Game,” “Warm,” “Cool,” and most of them look like crap. The “Comfort View” and “Warm” especially — they turn the whites yellow.

The “Movie” setting is okay for movies or YouTube videos, but (as with the “Cool” setting) is unusable for writing or reading (which is mostly what I do).

§

There is a bit of Dell software, the Display Manager, that really adds nothing to the mix. Most of the same controls are available via the monitor menu.

It does have some features I don’t use, and it has the annoying property that the window closes itself if you leave it alone for a bit. (And it’s not because you clicked on something else — apparently it just gets bored and closes itself.)

I discovered a funny thing the other day. I was poking around some of the technical monitor settings and saw something labeled: DDC/CI (Display Data Channel/Command Interface).

If you turn it off, it disables the ability to control the monitor using software. Since the Display Manager doesn’t really offer me anything, I turned off that setting to see if the display got any better.

Wait, what?!

Then the Display Manager started complaining I didn’t have a Dell monitor plugged in.

Apparently without the DDC/CI, the software can’t even identify the monitor.

Seems kinda lame to me. A Dell laptop can’t identify a Dell monitor on it’s own?

But mostly the screen looks like crap, and the monitor’s mount is badly designed — so wobbly! (In a dark room, with the screen set to black by the screensaver, the monitor acts like a bright night light there is so much leakage.)

§ §

So I’ve had a low-level disappointment from day one. On top of that, there is the annoyance of constant Dell updates.

I’ve noticed that, often when the computer starts acting weird — especially if the weirdness is network related — and I reboot, I get a notice of a Dell update.

I’m not sure if the update is applied on the reboot, and the weirdness is related to just receiving the update, but it seems that way. Something about the process of receiving the update seems to freak out the computer.

And there sure has been a lot of them recently. Often once a day.

§

Huh?!

At some point, I started getting an Intel Optane Memory Pinning error every time I launched Chrome.

I assumed it was a Chrome thing, but then I saw it once when I launched Windows File Explorer.

So I poked around the internet and, on the Dell website, in the user forums, discovered that it’s some combination of a Windows update and something Dell didn’t do right.

The advice was to uninstall the Intel Optane package, which fixed the problem, but also removed whatever capability that package gave Windows.

One more Dell frustration.

§

D’oh! Also, ARG!

There was also the frustration that the Dell-supplied “Killer wireless” software, at some point, decided that, every time I boot the machine, it needed — just absolutely needed — to send me a pointless notification.

Clicking on the notification didn’t open the app, and I had no interest whatsoever in setting my internet speed limits anyway.

I was able to make that go away by turning off notifications for that app, but of course that means I won’t hear from it if it has something legit to say.

And wireless (WiFi) has been another sore point, but that’s a post for another day.

(I’ve been able to eliminate the router as the problem by getting a new router, but apparently am suffering from interference from neighbor WiFi systems… or something. I’m not getting anything near the bit rate I actually have coming into the router — nearly 100 mbs, but I’m lucky to get 35 mbs over WiFi.)

§

What the hell are “Details” or “Width” (or “Revive”)??

And then there’s the MaxxAudioPro, another Dell-supplied software.

The website for the maker brags about the software, but the Dell website forums are full of people who wish they could uninstall it because it over-processes the sound.

I thought it was just me; my ears are seriously defective. I was born with defective hearing, and decades of rock-n-roll has made them worse. (I’m probably close to being “legally deaf” if there is such a thing.)

I hated the way the sound sounded, but I never know if that’s me or not.

Apparently it’s not all me.

Notice in the screen capture that, despite saying the EQ is off, the EQ sure doesn’t seem to be off. If I select an EQ preset and then go back to OFF, the EQ settings flatten out.

§

There does seem to be something going on with screen handling.

Microsoft has some known issues (like orange screens!) in their latest Windows update, so I’m not sure if certain weirdnesses are related to that or related to something Dell’s doing.

The right hand doesn’t know where the left hand is at!

I use the Windows Task Manager fairly often, especially to check on my WiFi.

But lately, when it first comes up, it’s showing me the CPU graph even though I have WiFi selected (in the left column). If I select something else and then come back to WiFi, I get the graph I expect.

This might be a Windows thing, but last week I also got a Dell update for the video software, and this has been happening ever since.

§ §

Which brings me to this past week and the final straws.

There was a Dell update that was for the Killer Wireless and the video software. It required a reboot to complete the install.

But the laptop never rebooted. Blank screen, keyboard backlight on (never went out), no buttons did anything, even if held down a long time.

I finally called Dell. Spent an hour or so on the phone, most of which was a waste. The agent (“Charlie”) told me to hold down the power button (which I’d done repeatedly before calling), and this time it worked — the laptop rebooted.

(I’ll mention that this sort of lockup had happened a few times before early on, but each time I was able to find some magic combination of the only two buttons available to reboot it successfully.)

Then Charlie went through the excruciating hardware test, most of which (like 40 minutes worth) tests the 3D graphics cards. About which I couldn’t care less, since I don’t play games (ever).

The thing is, when our call first started, my router crapped out in a way I’d never seen before. Both incoming DSL lines went red. Rebooting the router brought it back, but I’d never seen that happen before.

Not sure there was any connection, but a strange coincidence indeed if not, especially as the update involved the wireless software. (But how that update took out the router, I can’t explain.)

Other than getting the machine to reboot, nothing was accomplished in that call.

§

After that, due to the issues, I was more sensitive to how the WiFi was doing, and it was doing really, really badly.

I got the telco guy out, and he gave me a new router and also took it off auto and set it to use the best channel he could detect.

This post has gotten long, so I’ll leave that for another day. Suffice to say I went from really awful — and extremely inconsistent — results to a more stable result, but one that’s just barely adequate (25 to 30+ mbs).

§

Charlie wanted another go at trying to improve the WiFi, but another hour phone call just involved a lot of flailing around, re-installing drivers, killing various applications to see if that helped, but all to no real avail.

I finally told Charlie I’d had enough, and thanks, but we’re done.

§

A few days later I got an email from a Dell guy who wrote that he was “doing random audits on cases our agent had handled and I happen to come across your case.”

He wanted to offer assistance (after Charlie told me further efforts would be chargeable) regarding the “issue” I’d reported. (No real indication he even knew what that was.) He wanted to know when he could call.

Think about that for a moment.

If it really is random, then, what, I just happened to luck out somehow?

If it isn’t random (because Dell knows I have a blog and I told Charlie I was likely to be writing a post about my issues), then this attempt starts with a lie (about the worst thing you can do).

I sent a long email back explaining all my issues.

No reply so far.

§ §

I’d really hoped for better. I try to buy American (or at least as American as possible these days), but this has been a disappointment.

Suffice to say I won’t be extending the Dell support nor buying anything from them in the future. If I live long enough to need a new system, there are many other fish in the sea.

I will say that technology companies in general don’t seem to live up to very high standards. And I know how corporations behave. I’ve sat in meetings where the topic was the minimum amount of quality customers would tolerate before leaving.

It’s a pity we’ve come to this, but as my mom used to say: “This is where we are.”

Stay outraged, my friends!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

18 responses to “Bummer in the Dell

  • Wyrd Smythe

    While I was writing this post I noticed that various pages were taking a long time to connect to — requests got stuck in setting up the TLS. Some connections took so long I closed the page and tried again (which usually results in the page popping up immediately).

    I’ve seen that before. A lot. A reboot fixes it (usually), which I did after I published the post.

    And, of course, not at all to my surprise, when the machine rebooted I got a notification that Yet Another Dell Update had been applied.

    Sheeze.

  • SelfAwarePatterns

    Hmmm. I’ve had my eye on the XPS 13 for a while. Doesn’t sound like you’d recommend it. One of people at work uses one, and he likes it, but then he tends to be blind to problems with his favorite vendors, and Dell is one of them.

    My current laptop (that I’m typing this on) is a Microsoft Surface Book. I have ongoing issues with the touchpad, and after the Intel bug patch, the machine performs like a sick slug, but other than that it’s been decent. That said, there are internet stories from people who’ve had serious hardware problems, so I might just be lucky. It is nice that, since the CPU is in the screen/tablet, the bottom doesn’t get hot sitting on my lap.

    Previous to this I had a Macbook Pro, which I liked at the hardware level, but found working in the more limited Office for Mac frustrating. If/when I retire, that might not be as much of an issue. Maybe I’ll go back to another MBP, although they’re pricey.

    I’ve also used Asus and HP laptops. Can’t say I was impressed with either. The Asus one in particular had a terrible touchpad. Lenovo’s were pretty good, although it’s been several years since I used one.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I think, sometimes, that no company provides really good products across the line; there’s always something. I agree that Apple is pretty good hardware, but pricey and overly trendy — they often put style above common sense (but that’s a big part of what they offer: style).

      You’re maybe in the same boat I was: Work was pretty strictly Windows, so my personal gear usually was, too. So many of my regular applications, plus any software I wrote, ran on Windows. And there’s just no way I’m going to run a Windows emulator (on either *nix or iOS). I do sometimes think I could make a jump these days, but it would be starting over in so many ways. (And I really don’t care for Apple’s software design sense.)

      Obviously I wouldn’t recommend Dell at this point. The laptop isn’t awful and probably comparable to anything else, but I am severely disappointed in the peripherals. (As is often the case, the laptop might be better if you removed anything installed by the vendor and went with a straight Windows install.)

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        These days, for me, work is more Windows. But that’s varied with the regimes. When I had my Macbook Pro, we were encouraged to be familiar with multiple platforms. We’re currently between regimes right now, so not sure what the new OS politics will eventually be.

        I ran Windows in virtual machines on my MBP, and it wasn’t bad, although I can’t claim it was problem free. And I occasionally run Windows and Linux systems in VMs on my current machines. It saves a lot of work from the old days when I had lots of separate boxes lying around, and being able to take a snapshot before installing something or changing the configuration in some risky manner is pretty handy. It’s also really handy for the developers who need to run multiple incompatible development environments.

        On reloading Windows, I’ve had pretty mixed success with that. Usually when I do it, I have weird driver issues I can never completely resolve. It’s one reason I like to get my new work laptops out of the box before the PC support group has a chance to screw them up. For personal machines, I usually leave the pre-load, but remove the more annoying add-ins.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “But that’s varied with the regimes.”

        I know what you mean about regimes, although in my case it was more about domains. The Company was essentially Windows based (IBM or HP, depending on the era), but there were segments that were Unix or Mac based. Because I changed positions roughly every seven years (usually at my choice), I experienced all three domains.

        In fact, in one of the position changes, I was hired to support high-end Macs, but by the time I was able to wrap up my projects and make the move, the Corporate Masters had decreed and end to Mac support (which really pissed off a lot of lab guys who loved them). So I ended up training for skills I never used (and my Mac experience and knowledge is still the weakest).

        The good news is I ended up getting seriously into Unix in that position, and it ultimately became one of my favorites. (Until I ended up with a really crap boss — young idiot with a chip on his shoulder — and determined to move on.)

        By the time I retired, all desktop computing was Windows, though. Corporate “one size fits all” philosophy. (And their “buy it off the rack” philosophy pretty much ended any enjoyment I had, since I was an expert “tailor” writing bespoke applications. It’s a big part of why I took early retirement.)

        “And I occasionally run Windows and Linux systems in VMs on my current machines.”

        There are advantages, I’m sure. File sharing is probably a lot easier. And I suppose these days the CPUs are more up to the task. In the early days I did a lot of assembly-level (or C) coding and never liked having many layers between me and the metal.

        I did a little bit of mobile device coding, which uses emulators on (typically) Windows, and I’ve some some exposure to cross-platform coding, so I do know what you mean.

        “For personal machines, I usually leave the pre-load, but remove the more annoying add-ins.”

        That’s kind of been my strategy. I removed nearly everything of Sony’s from my Vaio, and I’ve been eyeing what Dell crap I might get away with removing.

        I used to build my machines from components and just install Windows (or, far enough back, MS-DOS). Haven’t done that in ages!

      • SelfAwarePatterns

        “And their “buy it off the rack” philosophy pretty much ended any enjoyment I had, since I was an expert “tailor” writing bespoke applications.”

        That’s pretty much the direction of IT these days. Custom apps are becoming a rarity. Our new stuff amounts to gap applications, small apps written to fill in missing functionality in the commercial stuff. Even the integration work is being done with specially designed integration products.

        “I used to build my machines from components and just install Windows (or, far enough back, MS-DOS). Haven’t done that in ages!”

        Same for me. The last time I did it, Windows 9x was still the main OS. I spent a lot of time perusing Computer Shopper, finding the right motherboard, hard drive, video card, power supply, etc. Different era.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        “Even the integration work is being done with specially designed integration products.”

        Yep. A lot of what I did in the later years involved data integration. The stuff I wrote was always much better (and less buggy!) than the purchased products. (Which makes sense: tailored clothing is always better than off-the-rack. It’s just not cheaper.)

        Ah, well, I’m a dinosaur. I’m glad I’m out of it. (Don’t miss it at all.)

        “I spent a lot of time perusing Computer Shopper, finding the right motherboard, hard drive, video card, power supply, etc.”

        Ah, the good (?) old days. 😀

        I have a buddy who, mostly for budget reasons, did that for longer than I did, but he, too, eventually succumbed to the easy way.

        It got to the point that, unless you really worked at it, the prices didn’t end up being that different. The advantage was you could build exactly the system you wanted. Max RAM, best drives, etc. But the gear is generally so good these days it hardly matters.

  • Alien Resort

    We bought a Dell laptop recently and the headphone jack doesn’t work. Soon after two of the three usb ports quit working. I discovered that one of them will power only a mouse dongle so now we have two ports, as long as one is dedicated to the wireless mouse.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Bummer! What model laptop? Did Dell give you any satisfaction?

      • Alien Resort

        Inspiron 15. We bought a usb earphone port. We’re living with the 1.5 usb ports. My wife can’t be without the computer long enough to send it back for repairs.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        See, if it was my company, I’d provide the ability to send you a loaner. You could then send your unit for service in the same shipping box. When it was returned (in the same or similar box), you’d send the loaner back in that box.

        But then I still believe customer service should be a thing. (In many ways, it’s about the only thing a company has anymore to distinguish itself from the crowd.)

  • James Cross

    How much of this is Dell vs. Dell/Windows?

    I have Dell from work that is nothing to brag about but does more or less work okay. I have an HP at home which has had a lot of weird WiFi, Bluetooth, Chrome, and printer behavior.

    I can never tell whether my issues are HP or Windows.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      “How much of this is Dell vs. Dell/Windows?”

      The monitor, keyboard, and mouse, hardware issues are Dell, certainly, although I’m not sure how much of the slight video weirdness is on them. I think my WiFi issues might be environmental.

      The constant stream of updates, and maybe how my computer gets weird when they send one, seem to be Dell issues. That MaxxAudioPro is a 3rd party vendor they selected.

      But, yeah, it can be hard to separate the OS from the vendor in many cases.

      I can say I haven’t been experiencing the major problems reported about recent Windows updates. No excessive CPU usage, no orange or red screen, no complete loss of Wifi. I count my blessings.

  • James Cross

    Wireless mouse has always been a pet peeve of mine anyway. The batteries always fail at a time when you don’t have any replacements. That must be a wireless mouse corollary to Murphy’s Law.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      The mouse delay issues drive me crazy (although the keyboard is more a battery eater than the mouse). And it’s a pretty crappy mouse physically, to boot.

      I buy those mondo-sized packs of AAA cells exactly so I don’t get caught with a dead device. It’s not like there’s an alternate wired connection available. Gotta fight Murphy at every turn!

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Dell’s last email to me suggested I take the machine in for a hardware diagnosis before the warranty runs out. Maybe I’ll see if there’s a Dell service outfit in the area, but I’m less concerned about the WiFi issue (which is shared by my Apple devices) than I am about the many other issues.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Speaking of which, I mentioned in the post how a weird router problem seemed to coincide with my laptop locking up.

      Well, it happened again.

      I came home from a walk yesterday and noticed that, on my router, one of my DSL line lights was red (not green like it ought to be). Rebooting the router didn’t help.

      I figured I ought to start from scratch, so I shut down my Apple devices and rebooted this Dell from Hell laptop… And it kind of went insane. Did not reboot, but it acted like it wanted to. Keyboard lights would come on and go off, the battery light flashed a few times…

      I disconnected everything (power, external disk, monitor) and finally got it to boot, but then got an error about BIOS setup. I continued and got a clean boot, but the clock was off — late by about four minutes or so (that was what the error had complained about, the clock).

      The clock caught up, and another reboot went okay, although I got a dialog box I’d never seen before, apparently related to the Intel Optane system (see mention of which in the post). The dialog said everything was working okay and didn’t seem to need anything from me.

      Of course that first successful reboot mentioned a Dell update had been applied, and so did a later reboot I did just to see if things were working okay again.

      And now I have notice of yet more Dell updates pending. That’s three in one day.

      Fucking Dell. Never again. Never ever again.

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Third Dell update of the day… [sigh]

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