Damn, I got a Dell. Now what?
June 18, 2008 12:11 PM   Subscribe

Would reinstalling XP mean I don't have to deal with Dell?

About a month ago, I bought a Dell Inspiron 530 with a quad-core 2.5g processor as a replacement for my six-year old Dell. Since day one, this machine hasn't worked right - the latest, and most persistent, problem is that switching between user profiles (there are two) results in an approximate 10-minute (sometimes as quick as two, often 10-15) inability to do anything - can't ctrl-alt-delete, can't alt-tab between apps, can't do anything but shut down and start over. This happens regardless of which user profile is switched to - both profiles exhibit the same behavior, and it happens every time a switch is made.

My experience with Dell support through all this has been frustrating at the best of times. They're really not being of any help, nor do I expect them to be any time soon, which is a whole 'nother rant that I don't want to get into here (which also means I would appreciate any "should have bought a Mac"- type posts being kept out of this thread. I'm annoyed enough with my purchase as it is.).

Because it's a new computer and has been rife with trouble, I haven't really put anything on it except Firefox and iTunes, so my first instinct in the absence of anything resembling warranty support from Dell is to reinstall XP using the disk they provided with the computer. Is this too extreme? Does anybody know anything else I could try that might help?
posted by pdb to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Reinstalling XP certainly wouldn't hurt, but if you're having a hardware or a driver issue it may not help anything either.

Dell's support is indeed not what it once was. However, Consumerist.com suggests writing to Customer_advocate@dell.com. Full article here So if the reinstall doesn't help and you truly have bad hardware, perhaps e-mailing that address will yield you better results.

Good luck!
posted by arniec at 12:17 PM on June 18, 2008

Reinstalling is worth a try. However, you're just putting the machine back in its original state, which may have the problem built in. The other thing you should do is uninstall all the unnecessary software built in to the machine, especially any all-in-one security suites. (All you really need is antivirus and antispyware).

Some people might consider this heretical, but you can probably solve this problem with Windows Vista. You might be able to get a free Vista upgrade from Dell since you bought the machine so recently. Otherwise, you could buy a retail upgrade version. The advantage with a retail version is that you can do a clean install without the extra crud that Dell puts on their consumer systems.

Busting a few myths, Vista will run great on your hardware. Chances are very good that every application and piece of hardware you use will work fine on Vista. Vista has been very, very reliable for me. I consider Vista to be substantially better than XP, and I'd be willing to be it will solve your problem if a reinstall doesn't.
posted by cnc at 12:36 PM on June 18, 2008

I have a Dell 600m, and I got annoyed by all the needy, attention-seeking software that was included with my computer. So, I reinstalled the Windows XP disc that came with the computer. I like it a lot better now, but I did have to find all the correct drivers. It wasn't too difficult, they're pretty easily to download from the dell website. I needed wifi chip driver, graphics card driver, sound card driver, laptop tools driver and ethernet card driver. Everything else worked fine with the bare XP installation.

Take care to differentiate between the XP disc and the Re-installation disc you probably have. The latter will re-install the image on your hard drive that it had when you took it out of the box, along with all the annoying software.

No idea if this will help you with the problems you're having, but I did find it to be nicer without all the clutter on my computer.
posted by bluejayk at 12:44 PM on June 18, 2008

I have this computer. What can I say? It was very cheap. I got a four year warranty where they'll come out and do a service call the next business day. I needed at least one computer that would always be fully put together instead of being in a state of partial disassembly waiting for me to get around to doing that one thing that I was going to get around to any day now. If you got this computer for the dirt cheap prices it was going for a few months ago you got a good deal even if you're feeling a bit ripped off at the moment.

Vista was pretty slow with the 1 gigabyte of ram it came with but I didn't see the behaviour you're describing. I wound up putting 3.5g of ram in, dual booting debian, and running virtual box whenever I needed windows. I don't spend a lot of time inside virtual box but the Xp guest seems to work fine. If a problem develops with a win XP guest I'll nuke it and start again.

a) upgrade to the latest bios. It won't fix this problem but it's a good practice to keep up with bios revs.
b) The thing doesn't like fast memory. I wound up leaving one of the factory modules in to slow things down so that it would work.
posted by rdr at 12:50 PM on June 18, 2008

Definitely reinstall if you have a real XP disk, and are comfortable reinstalling the necessary drivers. If all you have is a restore disk, it may or may not help, since it will have all those cruddy applications installed with it. Stay away from Vista unless you have, or want to install 2Gb of memory.
posted by DarkForest at 1:42 PM on June 18, 2008

What I would do (in order):

1) Find any geeky friend. They will have a spare hard drive. Have them help you slap it into the computer, disconnect the old one, and use the rescue discs with the "new" hard drive. Create a second user. Check to see if the problem still exists. If it goes away, then yes, reinstalling XP does sound like a pretty good option. Be sure and backup your data (twice, since one backup set is not sufficiently backed up). If you wind up having to restore, but it fixes the problem, you can post the list of installed apps from the Control Panel here and we'll tell you what you can safely uninstall.

2) Try upgrading all the device drivers. Just pull down the latest versions from support.dell.com and install them. At a minimum, check chipset, audio, video, network, and any integrated card readers. If it came with a modem, and you're not using it, pull it out.

3) Try the same thing as step 1 but with Vista. You could probably find a buddy with a disc. If you install it, but don't activate, it's really no harm, no foul. It's become a very mature OS with most of the bugs shaken out by this point. I've upgraded my parents PC and my wife's since SP1 came out. They both love it. If it fixes your problem, buy it. Use the "Change CD Key" wizard to put in YOUR cd key, activate, and you're back in business.

If none of those solve it, post back here and let us know. If something does work, backup the whole PC with DriveImageXML.
posted by mysterious1der at 1:51 PM on June 18, 2008

When I am faced with a new Dell, my first instinct is to wipe the hard drive and do a fresh install from a known-good OS disk (meaning one without proprietary OEM added crapware). I have taken this approach since 1997 or so. Because I nearly always end up as the "tech guy" in my lab, I've done this a lot. HP computers are not much better. Find a good disk, with a legitimate install code, and nuke the sucker.

Caveat: Working at universities means I nearly always have access to legit copies of OS and productivity software for use on the lab systems. If you don't have a disk for the bundled stuff you actually need, try a reinstall rather than a nuke + install.
posted by caution live frogs at 2:10 PM on June 18, 2008

Dell isnt there to fix OS issues. At most, I'd expect them to guide you through restoring the recovery partition.

Did the computer work properly when you got it (out of the box, no apps installed)? If you run through recovery and its still acting wonky, I'd have the computer RMA'd and get another one. Sounds like defective hardware.
posted by wongcorgi at 2:17 PM on June 18, 2008

wongcorgi - no, the computer hasn't worked properly since day 1. First I got a "keyboard error" whenever I tried to boot, then the problem I mentioned above started happening. What is RMA'd and how do I go about initiating that process?

caution live frogs - I ran the Decrapifier when I first got the machine to wipe out all the unneccessary crap that Dell loads on their machines.

arniec - I like the customer advocate email idea. Thanks for that.

Off to try to create a viable computer! I'll post updates. any other ideas, keep 'em coming.
posted by pdb at 2:28 PM on June 18, 2008

RMA basically means to return the computer for a new one. My guess is that you don't have a hardware problem.

I would:
* Update BIOS
* Check to see if it has the profile switching problem
* Reinstall XP
* Check for problem
* Uninstall unnecessary software manually (not using the Decrapifier)
* Check for problem
* Run Decrapifier for anything you missed
* Check for problem
* Update Dell drivers
* Check for problem
* Install your software
* Check for problem

Unless there is a hardware problem, Dell isn't going to be able to do much for you other than to walk you through this process. You need to figure out if this problem exists on a clean machine or if it was introduced at some point. That's why I suggest doing one thing, then testing for the problem, and so on. If you do four or five things at once, there is no way to tell which one caused the problem.

If the problem persists, consider using a clean Vista install. You can get 2 GB of RAM for $25 after rebate, so don't let that be a barrier.
posted by cnc at 3:12 PM on June 18, 2008

Having worked at Dell in tech support myself, I would expect that the only result of a call to them would be in your reinstalling the OS anyway.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:48 PM on June 18, 2008

I called Dell when a drive crashed on a lappy I bought from them two years ago, sortof demanded that they send me not only the XP OS disk but also disks of the other software and the drivers that was loaded onto that puter when I purchased it. They did it with no whining at all, in fact they overnighted it to me.

I read (somewhere or other online, so it must be true) that Dell had sortof decided to supply people with the disks rather than make them buy the disk for ten bucks when purchasing the computer, and not just 'restore' disks but real OS disks; I'm not sure if that's true or not. But I can tell you that the Indian guy I spoke with was ready to rock and roll as soon as I told him I needed an OS disk; phone call took maybe 20 minutes.

Do you have the XP OS disk from your old puter? Install using it and using the key off your new machine maybe?

I wish you good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 8:53 PM on June 18, 2008

Before doing anything, checkout Dell Support Forums.
Find out if anybody is having the same problem.
posted by boby at 11:33 AM on July 27, 2008

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