Trouble with Dell support

I love Dell’s higher ed support. Their consumer-grade support, though, leaves something to be desired. A few years ago, we bought an Inspiron Mini 9 for my wife and it’s recently been having a few problems. First, the AC power adapter wouldn’t stay plugged in, so we had it replaced. Then the battery wasn’t holding a charge, so we had that replaced, too. Most recently, the laptop would shut off if the AC adapter was wiggled, even though the battery (according to the OS) showed a full charge.

I tried the easy fixes first. All software packages were already up-to-date, so I thought I’d try the newest BIOS. Except that Dell no longer provides the DOS-based BIOS packages, only the weird Windows installation program. The community provides some Linux support that Dell refuses to, but there’s no BIOS repository for the lpia architecture. I was able to update the BIOS by extracting the package in a Windows VM and then finding a few utilities to throw onto a USB stick. Sadly, it was all for naught, so I surrendered and contacted Dell support.

They sent a new motherboard and a technician. When the technician saw the motherboard, he was dismayed. On the Inspiron Mini 9, the motherboard does not contain the AC adapter port. So he sent the part back and asked for the correct part to be sent. The new part was again a motherboard. He called and spoke to a support rep who insisted the right part had been sent. Finally, he gave up and said I should just send it to the repair depot. He was clearly frustrated, but he wasn’t making any progress.

I was tired and cranky by that point, so I decided to get on the Dell support chat. Over the course of the next hour, I very patiently tried to explain to the person I was chatting with that the motherboard is not the correct part. Apparently, it got escalated up a rung or two and resulted in a conference call between the service rep, the technician, and several managers. On this call, they came to the conclusion that the motherboard was not the part I needed. There’s a small cable that connects the AC adapter to the motherboard that isn’t listed in any service manual or parts list. As it turns out, that’s shipped with the plastic base. So a few days later, the technician was again at the house with a new power cable…and also another motherboard.

In the two months since, the laptop has worked well, but I’m really put off by the whole experience. Why sell a product that you have no intention of actually supporting (see also: Nokia)? But if you have a Mini 9 and you have power problems and it doesn’t take three trips to get it fixed…you’re welcome.