what i watched last week
music friday: carla thomas

adventures in customer service

To cut to the chase: sometimes you really do just have to update the drivers.

I’ve had my Dell XPS One 27 Touch for about six months now, and in general, I’ve been happy with it. Windows 8 is having growing pains, at least for desktops (yes, I’m showing my age, I still use desktop computers), but the machine itself is very nice, with the most stunning graphics I’ve ever had. Still, not long after I got it, I started having an occasional sound glitch. It’s a bit hard to describe … kind of like when your speaker wires aren’t connected properly. It happened often enough to bug me, not often enough to convince me to fix it. But I knew that sometime before the one-year warranty ran out, I’d have to deal with it.

In the last month or so, though, the entire machine has become sluggish. Things take forever to load, to process, to, well, anything. It got to the point where I was getting crashes (which haven’t been a regular part of Windows in years). On one of those crashes, the computer did an “Automatic Repair”. On another, it restored an earlier version of Windows. It was time to get it fixed. So I went to the Dell support site, and, being a good customer, I did whatever do-it-yourself stuff they had before I started bugging someone.

I ran a bunch of tests, and passed all … all but one. That was the SMART short self test, which failed. So I began a lengthy session in chat with customer support.

I got someone named Samarjeet, who was very helpful and very patient. OK, I was patient, too … this took awhile … but it was clear early on that Samarjeet knew what they were doing, which sadly isn’t always the case. I explained about the failed SMART test and the sluggish performance, Samarjeet asked a few questions, and then said I’d have to replace the hard drive, which I expected. They were going to send someone out to do this (part of the one-year warranty service). In my mind, these weren’t connected, but for some reason I decided to bring something up:

Steven: "there is one other problem, not as serious, that may even be connected to the hard drive problems ... should I wait and talk to the technician about that when he comes, or do you need to write it down for him to know in advance"

Agent: "Please let me know all the problems you are facing with the system."

Steven: "occasionally, there is a sound glitch ... a slight pause in the music or whatever, accompanied by a bit of a buzz (sorry, I know this isn't much of a description!) ... doesn't seem to be attached to any particular piece of software, can happen with Spotify or YouTube in a browser or whatever”

Agent: "Thank you for confirming that."

Samarjeet then informed me that the problems might be connected, and that they would have to solve the sound problem before they dealt with the hard drive. I loaded one of those “let the other person control your computer” programs, they fiddled around, downloaded some drivers, then gave me links to four other drivers that needed to be installed. Finally, I got an appointment for a phone checkup on Wednesday to discuss the changes we’d make, and to make the appointment to fix the hard drive.

You know where this is heading. The computer has run just fine all day long. No sound glitches, no sluggish performance, no crashes. I ran the SMART self test again, and this time the computer passed. I’m wary of saying it’s all fixed, but I suspect that’s the case.

I get frustrated when a problem arises and “experts” say “check your drivers”. It’s such an easy answer, and it assumes we’re dunces who don’t know anything. I always set my computers up so I am notified when updates are available (Windows, drivers, software, etc.), although I don’t use automatic updates … I like to know what’s being “updated” before it happens. I don’t know why my computer had some outdated drivers, and it seems to me I should have gotten notification at some point.

But that’s not really what matters in this case. What matters is that it may well have been a simple case of updating drivers, which is why that’s often the first thing you are asked about. I know just enough about computers to get myself into trouble. I think I know more than I do. Samarjeet had me update the BIOS … was that especially important? I have no idea. I just know that at this moment, the computer is working.