ME and Ophelia

Friday, January 30, 2004

Is the perfect laptop a fantasy?

Over the past seven weeks, the Dell Latitude C400 notebook that I am using right now has developed problems. I'd purchased it last June, direct from Dell in Ireland, and chose that particular model because it was (and still is, I believe) the most lightweight notebook - with the power of a good desktop - on the market.

For the first six months it was really quiet and ran just fine. After that, I became aware of the fan whirring and revving up more often than not. A heat problem seemed to cause the machine to switch off, without warning, every half hour.

After spending three hours on the phone with Dell in Bangalore, a Dell engineer visited me here a few days later on Friday December 12, and replaced the fan. Ten minutes after he left, the notebook shut itself off. He was recalled right away and returned here on Tuesday December 16, to fit a different type of fan. On Wednesday December 17, he returned with a replacement keyboard and fitted a new motherboard. All that was left of the original notebook, costing me £2K, was the screen, hard drive and bottom half of the casing. The on-site Dell engineer found nothing wrong with the original fan or the first replacement fan. He'd consulted over the phone with his tech supervisors in Dell Ireland. So far, no-one at Dell Ireland or Bangalore has been able to identify the root of the problem. I guess we were all just hoping it was the fan and/or motherboard and keyboard.

The day before yesterday, I emailed Dell because the notebook still switches itself off, without warning, at least 3 or 4 times a day. Usually, it happens when I'm searching the Internet and publishing to my blog. I believe there's something fundamentally wrong with the design of this particular model. Perhaps something to do with the chip, or the the ultra slim casing not providing enough space inside for air to circulate and cool.

After first replacement fan, which was identical to the original fan (plastic with 8 spokes) was replaced with (what Dell Bangalore described to me over the phone as) a "better fan" (plastic with 12 spokes) the buzz of the notebook switched on sounded loud. You can tell if the notebook is switched on from the next room. Most of the time it interferes with my concentration. The fact that the fan had been re-designed, tells me that other Dell customers have encountered heat problems. My fear is that this is a problem that Dell has no way of resolving because nobody at Dell could figure exactly why the problems arose in the first place.

Up until last year, I was pleased with Dell's after sales service but I'm deeply disappointed with this notebook and regret not purchasing the 17" Power Book from Apple as I'd originally planned. Back in the 1980's my first office desktop was a Mac. I was a fan and vowed that my first home computer would be a Mac. Unfortunately, last April, following half a dozen phone calls - over six weeks - to the Apple Centre in Bristol, my confidence in their customer service disappeared when the sales literature, spec and quote never arrived, as promised.

Dan Gillmor, a journalist in Silicon Valley, reports that IBM is now making the chips Apple will use in new-generation computers. His post on how the make a better Mac laptop has attracted some interesting comments.
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Update: This post has taken over three hours to publish because my notebook switched itself off three times. A letter to Michael Dell is being constructed from the information contained within these four posts. If anyone reading this has Michael Dell's latest email address, I would be most grateful to receive it. Thanks.

Note to Pete, if you are reading this, I've just found this while searching for Michael Dell's email address: GRRN Web Action Center. Later on, I'll add it to the comments box of yesterday's post on Epson.
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It will either undermine or support all other media

Dan Gillmor writes: "Nine years ago, the amazing Doc Searls wrote this essay, redefining marketing in an Internet world. It's still a prescient piece, as his first rule suggests:

"The Internet is the ultimate base medium -- it will either undermine or support all other media. Think of the Internet as a phone system, a postal service, a library, a distribution hub and a yellow pages -- all in one. Only, unlike all those traditional institutions, nobody controls it. Anybody can participate in any of those roles."

Dan's post attracted interesting comments from Morden Mars and Doc Searls, basically saying there's little in the essay that wasn't anticipated 24 years ago by Alan Toffler in The Third Wave, which forecast of the forthcoming era of the "Prosumer". And that Toffler was credited as a source in The Cluetrain Manifesto and deserves enormous credit for anticipating the Information Age and the shifts in power it would bring.

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 1/30/2004
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