Dell XPS M1330 – The Cursed Laptop

To put it mildly, my Dell XPS M1330 experience hasn’t been the smoothest. Starting with a ridiculous 6 week wait for the laptop to receiving one that wobbled with an uneven base, the M1330 certainly had a troubled birth. Then a couple months later, the original 6 cell battery already had a large amount of wear after very little use. While certainly a nice laptop, I don’t know if it was worth the trouble. And now, as I type away with a dead M1330 beside me, I’m definitely regretting my purchase.

Ever since posting a comment regarding my 2-days-out-of-warranty dead M1330 on August 12th, I’ve been in sporadic contact with a Dell community liaison representative, who promised to get me in touch with someone who could resolve the issue. Seeing as the 1 year warranty extension on my laptop wasn’t unofficially announced at Direct2Dell until August 18th, I didn’t have much choice but to go along at that point.

However, after hearing nothing back after almost a week, I decided to inquire with the representative about getting in contact with a support team that could help. Asking whether I should go through normal channels or wait for someone specific to contact, I was informed to wait to see who was assigned to the case.

Fast forward another week and at this point I decided that I had put my laptop’s fate in another person’s hands for long enough and called Dell technical support myself. Unfortunately, that did also not solve the problem at all. The XPS technician I spoke to knew nothing about a warranty extension and referred me to out-of-warranty service. Fair enough, so when I mentioned that Dell had indeed extended the warranty on my machine, I was transferred to Customer Care to confirm. Upon getting a representative on the line there, I was told that I could only purchase a warranty extension if I was still covered under warranty, despite me making it very clear that I was after a specific warranty extension offered by Dell for the GPU issue. Seeking some information about the Dell warranty extension for my model, I was transferred again… To technical support. I hung up at this point.

Now I understand that this is NVIDIA’s part that failed, but I bought it as part of a complete package and support must go through Dell. NVIDIA may be to blame for the hardware issue, but I’m placing the terrible service and general lack of knowledge of the situation squarely on Dell. Not only have I been without my laptop for the past 2 weeks, no one, and I really mean no one has been able to help me, despite indications on Direct2Dell otherwise.

The GPU problem along with the terrible service makes me regret recommending and helping two friends purchase Dell XPS laptops over the past 6 months. I would feel partly responsible to those people if something were to go wrong with those systems.

Dell Acknowledges NVIDIA GPU Defect with ‘Fix’

Having a laptop (Dell XPS M1330) equipped with an NVIDIA GeForce 8400M GS, I was understandably curious about the reports of widespread defects in the die packaging of the G84 and G86 discrete video chips. That means all 8400M, 8600M and 8700M video cards are included in this issue. NVIDIA reported they would be taking a $150 to $200 million charge related to the repair and compensation to hardware manufacturers for the defects. It was that number along with some more recent reports that really put the extent of the problem into perspective.

A couple days ago, Dell officially acknowledged the problem with a post to the Direct2Dell blog. Along with the acknowledgment were ‘fixes’ for the problem for various affected laptops, in the form of BIOS updates. Now I say ‘fixes’ in quotes because these aren’t fixes. The defect centers around weakness in the die packaging. Packaging material is failing at a higher than expected rate due to both temperature variations and high temperatures. For laptops, poor thermal conditions and temperature fluctuations are a sure thing and Dell’s solution is to run the fan longer and harder, in an attempt to maintain a more constant, lower temperature. However, this has the side effect of degrading battery life and increasing noise. These are hardly things we, as customers, should have to bear due to a known manufacturing defect. Why should we be the ones to pay for their faults? The BIOS updates are mere bandages designed to control the amount of problems encountered.

We’re not talking about early adopter issues like with the Phenom’s TLB bug. These NVIDIA mobile chips have been selling for more than a year and it has only recently become apparent that the problem is quite extensive. Whether NVIDIA and/or the manufacturers were aware of the problem earlier is a whole other can of worms I’m not quite ready to open yet.

Dell says they’re going to work with each issue on a case by case basis. From my point of view, that means if you’re out of warranty, you’re screwed unless you complain a lot. But I don’t want to have to jump through hoops to get service on an acknowledged issue. After learning of the problem, I preemptively called into Dell, with the goal of extending my warranty. My standard 1 year warranty is up in a couple weeks’ time and to save myself the hassle of a possible issue down the road, I wanted to cover my bases. However, after being quoted $300 for a single year’s extension or the ‘promotional price‘ of $550 for 2 years, I decided to take the chance and go warranty-less from here on out. If I have to fight tooth and nail for the issue I hope I never have, you can be certain I’ll do so.

I applaud Dell for acknowledging the issue that NVIDIA’s been somewhat cryptic about, but at the same time, I cannot condone the ‘solution’ that’s beeing offered to customers. Running the fans more is not a solution to a hardware problem. How about offering warranty service for customers who run into the problem down the road, even if it’s outside of the standard warranty period? It seems to me the level of defects are outside of normal levels and that would be a fair tradeoff. Read: Xbox 360.

Lionel over at Direct2Dell has made it clear that there will be more updates as they become available; I’m certainly interested in seeing what more Dell is willing to do to address the issue.

Finally Some Competition

I purchased my current video card, a 7900GTO 512MB, around a year ago when NVIDIA started clearing stock after the GeForce 8 series launch. As a rebadged and lower binned 7900GTX, it was a hell of a steal at under $300CAD. Since the launch of the 8 series, NVIDIA hasn’t faced much competition in the retail graphics market. ATI’s (or should I say AMD) R600, aka HD2900 was only able to keep up with the 8800GTS 640MB, assuming anti-aliasing wasn’t enabled. Due to the lack of competition both in terms of performance pricing from AMD, the price of the ‘performance mid-range’ 8800GTS didn’t fall more than 20% since that launch a year ago. For the computer industry, that’s hellishly little depreciation.

Which is why I’m happy that NVIDIA and AMD are doing their fall refreshes, but not of their top end. The performance mid range ($200-300) which has been severely neglected by both companies is getting an influx of cards. NVIDIA’s recent launch of the G92 based 8800GT will slot in around $200 for a 256MB version and around $250 for the 512MB version. Those prices are supposed to drop even lower, but with the sky-high demand and poor supply, price gouging has occurred, sending the prices up towards $300. Even still, less than $300 for a card that mostly outperforms the 8800GTS 640MB, which was recently priced around the $400CAD mark is quite an achievement.

On November 19th, AMD is expected to launch a slew of products, including Phenom processors (K10 for the desktop) as well as RV670-based HD3850 and HD3870 video cards. One of the headline features is the inclusion of DX10.1 and Shader Model 4.1 support. Whether these features will be used in upcoming games remains to be seen, but you can be certain AMD will tout its advantage of the 8800GT that doesn’t have support for anything newer than DX10. The cards should slot in from ~$180 to $240. Hopefully this launch will bring down some of the gouging on the 8800GTs. It remains to be seen how these cards will perform in comparison to the 8800GT as well as the outgoing HD2900’s.

I’ve put in a pre-order for an EVGA 8800GT Superclocked, but with supply so scarce, I doubt I’ll get it much before (if before at all) the November 19th launch by AMD. I’m sort of hoping it won’t be back in stock until some leaked performance numbers for the RV670 creeps out. That way, I’ll have a chance to cancel and order the HD3870 is it’s good, or otherwise still be in line for an 8800GT that will eventually be mine. And what good timing with all these new games coming out (Crysis, UT3, Gears of War for PC).