Dell is Dead, Long Live the King

I’m one of the last hold-outs from the early days. You know, one of those crochety old developers who still buys Dell because they make the best computers at the lowest cost. Last night was the last straw in a series of events that have spelled the end of their reign for me.

I recently purchased a brand new Inspiron 1525 and ran into a number of problems after the order was placed that resulted in a 6-week delay in receiving it. I killed at least three or four hours with customer service, and several reps were actually quite rude on the phone. It was very interesting to have them give me attitidue and then to have no recourse (i.e., I asked to talk to their supervisor and they kept saying he was not available. I called back, waited on hold for another 20 minutes and talked to a supervisor who totally blew me off). That put me on the edge.

Then last night, I restarted my laptop and saw this:


My six-week old hard-drive is failing.

Sure, I have backups, but six weeks ago I spent close to 20 hours installing Vista 64 and the other 40 apps I use on a regular basis. Needless to say I don’t have another 20 hours to kill. But after 30 minutes on the phone with an unhelpful (and downright nasty) Dell tech support rep, a new drive is on its way. Don’t invite me to your house this weekend; you know what I’ll be doing.

Next time it will be Sony or Toshiba. Or does anyone have other suggestions on good brands?

Dell is dead. Long live the king.

The day after this post went live I received a call from a Dell Level 3 Tech Support Specialist who was asked to contact me by Dell Corporate. The guy was a “Fixer,” and a good one at that.

The new hard drive had arrived by 7am that morning and the Fixer walked me through the install process and asked a few detailed questions about my previous experience with tech support. He let me rant for a few minutes, apologized, and got my system running again very quickly. He was insanely knowledgable – by far the best tech support person I had ever spoken with at Dell. Level 3, indeed.

He gave me his direct email and phone number and said if I ran into any problems to contact him. I re-installed Windows and my other apps in about 14 hours this time around, and was ready to work by the following Monday.

So at least one big company is listening. At the same time, if you don’t find a company with great customer service, or you don’t have a public soap box through which to voice your complaints, you’re going to be forever relegated to poor customer service prison.

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#1 xxx on 09.04.08 at 9:53 am

Not that it excuses Dell or anything, but you’re a software developer and you DON’T have RAID1 setup on your machine? I (and all other devs I know) run with a pair of disks exactly because of situations like this: it makes a single-disk failure a minor annoyance. Also, to be fair to Dell, disks fail unpredictably. Shit happens, that’s what the warranty is for.

#2 Rob on 09.04.08 at 10:10 am

I have RAID1 on my desktop, but RAID1 on a laptop?

#3 Rob on 09.04.08 at 10:12 am

BTW – I agree that hard drives fail, but after the long series of bouts I’ve had with Dell over the past few months, and the tremendous amount of time I’ve wasted due to an error on their part, this just adds insult to injury.

It’s not the HD failure, it’s the terrible customer service I experienced before and after the failure (I didn’t even go into my experience on the phone this morning, but it was abysmal).

#4 Jay Turpin on 09.04.08 at 10:19 am

Check out HP. We got an HP Pavilion DV9000 about a year ago and have been pleasantly surprised with it’s performance and reliability. And, contrary to all the negative things I have heard, Vista has worked great!

#5 Justin Hsu on 09.04.08 at 10:27 am

I always recommend Lenovo ThinkPads. Some people say that quality dropped in the ThinkPad line since Lenovo took over from IBM, but I don’t think it has. Plus, they have a laptop that can do RAID1 now. 😉

#6 Richard Kolkovich on 09.04.08 at 10:39 am

I wouldn’t want to carry the W700 (the new Thinkpad with optional RAID1) anywhere, but I don’t recommend any laptops but those coming from Lenovo. Their build quality is exceptional, and the keyboard is legendary.

If you have time (waiting for Foo Software to re-install, perhaps?), I highly recommend taking a look at the Design Matters blog ( Following that regularly has only made me respect Lenovo’s products moreso.

#7 Darren Stokes on 09.04.08 at 10:44 am

I’ve had good luck with Toshiba laptops lately.

I also highly recommend the Lenovo laptops as well. I had a T60 and loved it.

#8 Pete on 09.04.08 at 11:10 am

I just got a new HP laptop and I love it. The only problem was that I had to get a huge screen to get the resolution that I wanted.

I agree with all of the Lenovo recommendations as well. The Thinkpads have been a solid choice for a long time.

#9 Tim Weiler on 09.04.08 at 11:10 am

We purchased two new Dell Latitudes. Didn’t have a problem. I like Dell because they are so configurable.

#10 Brian D. on 09.04.08 at 11:19 am

I bought a Dell XPS M1330 a few months ago and I’ve had a lot of issues. My motherboard had to be replaced due to the Nvidia overheating debaucle. Sometimes the LCD backlight doesn’t come on (on first startup) but it’s just erratic enough for it not to work when I call in about it (a short, perhaps)?

Their support has still been pretty good, though. Maybe because my issue has been quite common?

I used to by Dell’s exclusively but after these last experiences I’m going to hunt for another vendor.

#11 Paul on 09.04.08 at 12:46 pm

I’ll be the odd bird and mention that an Apple MacBook Pro makes a damn fine Windows laptop.

#12 Andrew Cholakian on 09.04.08 at 1:06 pm

I’ve actually had great experiences with dell as a business client. I always get great, smart techs, almost no hold times, and good service. Of course we send a good amount of money their way.

I have heard that they are atrocious for small clients like you on the other hand Rob.

#13 Mike on 09.04.08 at 1:49 pm

Time to get a MacBook Pro! 🙂

#14 EJ Vincent on 09.04.08 at 1:52 pm

I’ve been a mac guy for awhile, but from my experiences working for tech support at RIT, I would agree on staying away from Dell. They are getting better on the quality of builds, but I’m still not a huge fan.

If mac isn’t an option (and I have not read your blog in awhile, but I don’t think it is), then I would recommend Sony on Lenovo.

#15 Jon Peltier on 09.04.08 at 2:06 pm

When I need a new computer, I usually just see what HP is on sale at Staples. I’ve had pretty good luck with HPs, the price isn’t bad, they’re pretty rugged (two Compaq laptops survived a flood last year!), and they’re pretty reliable. A good value.

#16 Bob on 09.04.08 at 5:02 pm

What about imaging your system?

#17 Rob on 09.04.08 at 5:06 pm

@Bob – I was just talking with someone about this. At this point I’m thinking about it 🙂

The problem is, this has never happened before. Typically I buy a new laptop every 2 years and do a single re-install every 2 years, so imaging the base install would be a waste of time (and money for the software to handle it). In this case it would have helped, but if I don’t buy another Dell perhaps I will be lucky enough to avoid this in the future.

#18 Sean Tierney on 09.04.08 at 7:17 pm

Apple. With any must-have PC apps running under either Parallels or VMware Fusion.


#19 Benjamin Meyer on 09.04.08 at 10:33 pm

I would also have to go with a macbook or pro laptop. It works well and you can run your choice of linux/win/osx. And for backups (if you use OS X) the time machine in os x is pretty slick.

At the end of the day hard drives do die no matter who you buy from. Just bad luck. So I wouldn’t hold just that against any one reseller. You will find someone who has bought a bad hd from every laptop vender. One nice thing about every mac laptop I have bought is the absolutely fantastic resale value. Makes upgrading easier.

#20 Karl Katzke on 09.05.08 at 4:05 am

I’ll chime another voice in about the MacBook Pro. Frankly, for about the same price, it beats the pants off of my Dell Precision M6300 in every category. Add in the excellent AppleCare and you’ve got a winner. Parallels, VirtualBox, or any of the other virutalization suites makes an excellent development environment for Visual Studio — When doing Winforms work, I keep two VMs running most of the time, one for coding and building, one for testing deployments.

I work for a Public U department that uses all Dell stuff. We’ve had lots of problems with the laptops of all stripes… even with the pretty darned good enterprise desktop support and parts/service warranties, we have something of a morgue back in the Tech’s office where we can cannibalize or swap out components when the head honco’s laptop dies yet again. And I haven’t seen anything better among the other brands … even Lenovos have fallen from the days when IBM made the virtually indestructable thinkpads.

#21 Eric on 09.05.08 at 7:47 am

Crazy, I had a similar experience with my last Dell laptop (an Inspiron 8600). The HD went kerflewey in less than a year and at 2 years the display started growing single pixel lines from top to bottom of the screen.

Even with that horrible experience, it was tough to shed my Dell loyalty. I went to Lenovo, buying a ThinkPad T61 and a year later I’m so damn happy I did.

#22 veenker on 09.05.08 at 9:46 am

I’m sold on Macs. Mac at home – issued Dell Lat. D620 for work. Can’t offer advice on how Macs work for the developer, but I can say that for work, using Vista and imaging has helped. However, my last Macbook did crash after one year of heavy use. The Apple Care was magnificent – free upgrade to a larger harddrive, and because the OS on was Tiger, they gave free upgrade to Leopard. Not quite full repayment for everything that was lost (stupid, stupid mistake not backing up and blindly believing Macs were invincible), but helped to soften the blow.

#23 Mike on 09.05.08 at 10:19 am

“I’m sold on Macs. Mac at home …. Can’t offer advice on how Macs work for the developer” –veenker

It all depends on what kind of development you do. Since Rob is a .net guy, Mac probably doesn’t offer him much. Mac OS X is essentially a really well designed customized gui on top of a Unix type OS. Any development one can do efficiently on Unix/Linux systems can be done efficiently on a Mac. Java, Perl, PHP, Python, C, C++, Ruby, etc. Using virtualization or dual boot, it is easy to run Windows when needed, but I believe that is the solution you choose when you need Windows 20% of the time, not 90%.

For the developer, there are three choices.

1) If the developer concentrates on the MS development stack, or if the developer focuses on software that must tightly integrate with Windows, then he should use a Windows powered workstation. Otherwise he should use a Unix family workstation for there rich and powerful development tools and easy migration to Unix family servers.

2) If the developer is not targeting close integration with the Mac OS X gui, and doesn’t require commercial software that is only supported on the Mac or Windows platforms, they can use Linux or Mac OS X. Occasional Windows only tasks can be done with virtualization.

3) If the developer is targeting tight integration with Mac OS X apps or the gui, or requires commercial software not supported on Linux, then use Mac OS X.

#24 MattyJ on 09.06.08 at 2:59 am

I’ll throw my hat on the HP pile. I bought an ‘upper middle-class’ laptop at Costco about six months ago (Pavilion DV 9000) and I love it. It’s a bit hefty in the size and weight departments but I dig the dual core 64-bit AMD inside. And unlike you (Rob) I’m a bit tubby, so my lap can handle it. 🙂

Full disclosure: The very first time I booted it I had a 64-bit Linux DVD in the drive and I haven’t looked back since, so I’m not sure how it performs with Vista, but it screams with Linux.

My only two complaints are:

1. Does a laptop really need four USB ports?
2. This is just a personal thing, but the trackpad can stand to be moved about half an inch to the right. The way I hold my hands I often hit it with the inside of my left hand. However, there is a switch on it to turn it off, if I can just remember to do that when I’m typing anything of length.

#25 Jim Deville on 09.08.08 at 5:19 am

I’d vote Mac as well. My MBP is running awesome with Win Server 2k8 on the Windows side. I don’t see why you wouldn’t go with a Mac even for 90% of the time. They have good quality, good Customer Service, and good features. Not to mention, even if you are a Windows developer, the world could use more Windows developers with experience in a good UNIX system, and a well designed system.

#26 Mark Fletcher on 09.09.08 at 10:58 am

I’d go with Mac as well. A MacBookPro running Bootcamp – runs windows just as well as any PC Brand Laptop, and the build quality is top notch to boot!

#27 Chris on 09.09.08 at 2:46 pm

Go with a MacBookPro. Period. Great hardware, and via virtualization (Fusion, Parallels, etc.) it even runs whatever version of Windows you need (XP, Vista, Server 05/08); only it runs faster than a native box. Best of all, you can backup/move the VM image over to an external device whenever you like. Portability is one of the best reasons to to use VMs.

BTW – don’t believe all the crap you get thrown about performance suffering as a result of working in a VM. Contrary to what a lot of folks say, your performance in a VM will be great.

I’ve been working on OSX as well as in several Windows VMs (doing Visual Studio development) for a couple of years now and I don’t plan on ever going back to a Windows only device anytime soon.

#28 Karthik Hariharan on 09.10.08 at 9:04 am

sorry to hear that your Dell failed. I have never been a big fan of Dell laptops for developer use.

My personal recommendation to most devs is to stick with Lenovo. Yes its utilitarian and the least sexy piece of hardware, but its reliable, fast, and comes with the least amount of pre-installed crap one could ask for. The obligatory reformat when you first get it is unnecessary!

#29 Alek Davis on 09.10.08 at 9:55 am

Buying a laptop is pretty much a gamble. Unless it’s a ThinkPad (which tend to be more reliable, although you will pay a premium — I would say 25% more — for this), any brand/make can brake. I’ve seen my own and my friends’ Dells, HPs, Sony, and other makes break (both cheap and expensive models). My approach is to buy the cheapest model with the most features and pay using a credit card, which extends warranty. If it breaks, at least, I’ll have a better chance to get repairs covered, and if not, i.e. if it’s out of extended warranty, I won’t feel for spending too much money on it.

#30 Dave R. on 09.10.08 at 1:43 pm

I wouldn’t bother with a Mac – they’re overpriced and you’ll just be paying the ‘Apple tax’. Don’t think that you’ll get any better class of hardware when compared to Lenovo, Sony or any other tier 1 manufacturer.

VMs will always suffer from performance degradation, plus you’ll have to give them a wodge of memory for their dedicated use. You’ll also have to have a licence for Windows for each host install.

I’m still using a 5 year old Sony Vaio at home. It’s been a great machine, but is probably showing its age now. I won’t buy a new Vaio because the latest keyboards are awful (like the non-Pro MacBooks). I recommend trying a few in the shop to gauge their feel.

Hard drives fail regularly. Sign up to Mozy and back up all your source to the cloud for free (well 2GB of it anyway). Microsoft’s Live Mesh will give you another 5GB of synced up repository. As for your regular apps, I have a DVD-RW that I keep up to date, but you could invest in a USB key and keep them on there – a lot of apps even run from USB flash devices now.

Anyway, sorry to hear about your bad luck. I think that support is very important and it’s disappointing to hear that Dell have seriously let you down in this regard.

#31 Kent on 09.11.08 at 8:04 am

This is why I have moved to VPC on my laptop for my development system. I back it up daily onto a USB drive and my network. If I have an issue due to hardware it is as simple as moving over to my desktop until the replacement hardware/ laptop arrives. I too went through the 20 hours of setting up a laptop and swore I was not going to go through that ever again…

#32 Anonymous on 09.11.08 at 6:48 pm

The hps dv6000 and dv9000 sucks a lot. They have a nasty overheating issue that burns up the wifi and video boards. After waste a lot of time and money with the HP, and had decided to buy and MacBook Pro and I’m very, very happy with it.

#33 Mike on 09.12.08 at 10:23 am

Dave R. – “I wouldn’t bother with a Mac – they’re overpriced and you’ll just be paying the ‘Apple tax’. Don’t think that you’ll get any better class of hardware when compared to Lenovo, Sony or any other tier 1 manufacturer.”

Mac laptops are actually quite competitive with similarly equipped tier-1 laptops. The ‘Apple tax’ really isn’t an issue any more. To add to it, Apples hold their value much better than non-Apple laptops. In three years, you can sell your used MacBook Pro for much more than the you could another laptop, and you’ll make back much more than the initial difference in price.

The issue with comparing Apple laptops with non-Apple is that most other manufacturers provide a much larger array of features. You are more likely to find a laptop with exactly what you need. You may not want a built in video camera, or built in 802.11a/n networking alongside 802.11b/g/n. Or you may want a two hard drive laptop with built in RAID.

With Apple, you have 3 laptops options. You have 2 or 3 CPU options for each, can choose the amount of memory pre-installed, the hard drive size, and matte or glossy LCD. That is basically it.

#34 Parker on 09.15.08 at 7:45 pm

I would also have to say DELL support sucks, even for businesses as we are. We just had a laptop crash the other day, and have purchased the 1-day support. It’s been 3 weeks and they still have not made it out. One of the many customer support people I have talked to said maybe you should buy an extra laptop to have on hand if your developers can’t be down for a period of time. I said are you kidding me, that’s why we bought they 1-day support, because they can be down for a day, not 3 weeks. He didn’t seem to understand and repeated “Maybe you should buy an extra laptop.”.

Personally, I have very good experiences with HP. Especially if you can find a decent model at Best Buy and purchase the warranty. Then anytime anything goes wrong they will give you a new one off the shelf immediately.

#35 Burag on 09.16.08 at 10:43 pm

Being a .NET developer myself I would definitely recommend SONY. So far they have the best machine + customer support combo I have ever had.

Yes you pay a premium on your laptop but it really comes in handy. There is a lot of thought that has gone into the design of Sony laptops and they have the best customer service I’ve ever dealt with.

My machine supposedly has a heating problem (I have not noticed it yet) and they offer an in-house fix plus an extension to my warranty for another 2 years. That’s what I call caring for the customer. Having used compaq, dell, hp and IBM I would say IBM is the only that came close to Sony, not too sure about the new Lenovo customer service though..

#36 Puay Aun on 09.22.08 at 8:37 pm

Bad luck I guess and this underlines the importance of good support personnel. I’ve been using Dell notebooks (Most recently an Inspiron 1520) the past few years and no significant problems.

There was one time when we deployed over 100 Acer PCs for our clients and 50 of them crashed due to HDD failure so I guess it happens. What made it worse in your case is the lousy support.

Where support is concerned, I have contacted Dell twice before and my colleague has as well. It’s quite good over here and very responsive. Most recently, I encountered a warning that my battery was about to fail (with 1 more month to the end of warranty). Called up Dell and the replacement was delivered the following day… no questions asked. Prior to that was an issue with my keyboard and as well, they were here within 24 hours and the technician assisting me on the phone was also professional, friendly & helpful.

#37 Puay Aun on 09.22.08 at 8:39 pm

One more thing… My girlfriend uses an HP notebook.. Don’t remember the model but she’s been having problems and support’s not up to mark. I guess the reason why I’ve stuck with Dell is the positioning of the buttons on the keyboard. I don’t like IBM, Lenovo, Acer or HP much cos I always end up searching for the Prnt Scrn button or the Del button. So matter of preference and again, depends on luck.

#38 Rolle on 09.23.08 at 3:45 am

I don’t think there is a specific brand that is much better than the other. We’ve had problems with Dell, HP and IBM. The difference is usually the support we get, where IBM has always been great. (But we actually prefer the Dell laptops though…haven’t found an IBM that I liked yet/fulfilled my needs). HP? Never again. I had the same experience you had with Dell…

#39 Edward Ocampo-Gooding on 09.25.08 at 6:40 pm

Sony is a new kind of hell.

Buy a Macbook, Fujitsu Lifebook, or Thinkpad.

#40 Garrett on 09.26.08 at 3:19 pm

I’m focused on .NET development and have been using a MacBook Pro now for a little over a year. I run XP inside of VMWare’s Fusion and have my full development environment setup. I’ve been really happy with it, and very productive without having to deal with random system issues to take up my time. It’s a great machine.

#41 Joseph on 09.28.08 at 9:44 am

I have had nothing but headaches with Dell also. I just bought an HP and I love it. I think that I would go HP Lenovo or Toshiba. Stay away from Sony too.

#42 Quinn on 10.02.08 at 6:07 pm

I have a Dell 1530 XPS with no issues or concerns beyond the norm…I do think the keyboard and mouse pad are top notch as well as the hinge design. I was fearful about the screen size but I dont mind it and its much lighter than my old Dell 9300 ( which is still working just fine ).

Running a virtual on a usb portable SATA hard drive is pretty slick and you always have your machine with you no matter where you go. PLUS a back up of your complete virtual is just a copy job away.

Dell XPS1730 has dual internal SATA options for Raid 1 but they are $$$

Going cheap look into HP ( they have a duo core, 4 GB RAM, 12 cell li-po for $799.99 at best buy ).;lst

Going for Broke look into a Lenovo X300 ( if you use your discover card i think you get 5% cashback PLUS if you cash in your discover rewards for a Lenovo gift card they double your reward )

#43 Vikram on 10.10.08 at 3:06 pm

I’ve been buying ThinkPads for the last decade, and won’t use anything else. The build quality is great, but the service is even better. Paying for next-day on-site service pinches up front, but has saved me from downtime on a few occasions — they’re easy to deal with on the phone, and really do get the machine up and running the next business day. And they’ve got an unparalleled international network of service centres. I travel a lot, and I’ve always been able to find a service centre close by. Like I said, combination of quality and service is unbeatable, and well worth the additional cost.

#44 DaveL on 03.03.09 at 1:09 am

We use HPs as I absolutely must have a trackpad and hate the eraser nubs which eliminates the ThinkPads for us.

The machines have withstood some serious abuse by our employees and held up well. In addition, it’s very easy to find a local HP-certified repair center to get stuff fixed for any issues we’ve had.