Product reviews are always a double edged sword. They are mostly written after a short amount of time (relative to the useful life) with the product, in order to inform interested early adopters. On the other hand, the short time also means there are things that canâ€™t be thoroughly tested, like reliability. After over a year with the Dell XPS M1330, loving the laptop, blundering through a GPU failure, and having people tell me that my review should be updated with the developments of the NVIDIA GPU defect, itâ€™s time to provide the entire ownership experience.
The M1330 was one of the most talked about Dell laptops pre-launch and even today, it remains quite popular. However, many discussions of the M1330 of late labour over the NVIDIA GPU die-packaging defect and its effect on the M1330. While Dell and NVIDIA are adamant that the defect is contained and relatively rare, my experience has indicated otherwise. Two friends own M1330â€™s with the 8400M GS and two friends own M1530â€™s with the 8600M GT. Over the past year, those two M1330â€™s, along with mine, have all had their mainboards replaced due to dead GPUs. The two M1530â€™s havenâ€™t run into any problems thus far. I certainly donâ€™t mean to imply that there is a 100% defect rate for 8400M GS equipped M1330â€™s. It simply points to some bad luck and coincidence, but also indicates a wider-ranging problem than Dell is letting on with the laptop. Statistics demands it.
When Dell first acknowledged the GPU defect via the Direct2Dell blog, it was towards the end of my summer university semester. Hoping to avoid any problems associated with the GPU, I preemptively called Dell support to see if I could purchase a warranty extension. After my explanation of the NVIDIA defect, and hoping I could get a cheap extension as a result, perhaps around $100 for a year, I was quoted $300 for a single year or a â€˜promotionalâ€™ price of slightly over $550 for two years of standard coverage. Unable to control my laughter, I asked how much an out-of-warranty repair was: $250. I decided to take my chances.
My next step was to attempt a replacement of the possibly defective GPU with a defect-free one. Citing standard warranty procedures, technical support informed me that the GPU would only be replaced if it could be diagnosed as defective within the warranty period. No amount of explanation (or Direct2Dell references) was able to change their mind.
Now, fast forward to the middle of final exams, and literally two days after my warranty had expired. Poof. My M1330 boots to a screen filled with colorful vertical lines. Dell technical support forwarded me onto out of warranty repairs, despite pleas to make an exception, both due to the defect as well as being so close to the warranty window. But seeing as I was up the creek without a paddle, I decided to tough it out. I was in the middle of exams and I wouldnâ€™t have the repair completed before they ended in any case. In the meantime, I found myself in a seriously awkward position. Being a computer engineering student, well, my computer was a priceless tool for my studies. I was fortunate enough that a friend had a laptop he could loan me, allowing me to continue studying. Clearly frustrated with Dell, I posted a stinging but professional comment at Direct2Dell, stating my displeasure.
As a result of the comment, I was contacted by a community liaison, who informed me that he would set me up with someone who could help me with my issue, despite being out of warranty. I was pleased by the turn of events and thanked him profusely.
That is, until a week passed and I had heard nothing back from anyone at Dell.
Shortly afterward, Direct2Dell posted some information about a 1 year warranty extension for systems affected by the NVIDIA defect. I was absolutely relieved that I hadnâ€™t purchased the exorbitantly priced warranty extension and would soon have my laptop repaired through normal channels.
With warranty extension information in hand, I called technical support, and despite pointing out the Direct2Dell post, I was again denied warranty service. Technical support knew nothing about the warranty extension and would not repair the laptop under warranty. Some more emails to the community liaison turned up the fact that heâ€™d been on vacation and hadnâ€™t realized that nobody had contacted me yet. He assured me heâ€™d â€˜track downâ€™ who was responsible. Then more silence.
I was seriously stuck between a rock and a hard place. It was nearly three weeks without a working laptop and I still had no indication that anyone was even willing to help, despite two potential solutions. It was at this point that I did something I promised myself I wouldnâ€™t.
Since purchasing my M1330, I had been in contact with a product manager at Dell, who took interest in some things Iâ€™d written about the laptop. We built up a friendly relationship over the past year, which I valued. It was based on mutual respect and I didnâ€™t want to jeopardize it by using him as a backdoor resource. Yet, given the situation, I saw little alternative. I contacted him in his official capacity as a Dell employee, voicing my displeasure.
Not expecting any less from a person of his character, I received a timely response. He had personally contacted some resources to see what was happening. Not long afterward, both the community liaison and an executive support representative contacted me regarding repairs.
There was still one more obstacle. Even several weeks after the acknowledgment of the GPU defect, it still wasnâ€™t clear if the defective NVIDIA chips had worked their way out of Dellâ€™s supply chain. Questions to that effect to Lionel Menchaca of Direct2Dell fame were either curiously sidestepped or simply brushed aside, with an explanation that the warranty extension would cover any issues with the GPU. The non-denial certainly sounded like the replacements would still be with possibly defective parts.
I attempted to ascertain from the support representative whether the replacement parts were defect free. All I got in response was some nonsensical explanation that GPU errata were common and that this one had been fixed. As a note, an erratum is a logic error within a computational device, something that is indeed fairly common, but causes only computational errors (which can lead to system instability and corruption). The weak die and substrate packaging material was a hardware defect that could cause physical, hardware failure, not an erratum. I was disappointed that even an executive support representative was either misinformed or thought they could slip one by the customer. Not having much choice regardless (I couldnâ€™t even downgrade to the integrated Intel video if I wanted to), I went ahead with the repair.
Really the only bright spot of the experience was the surprisingly quick turnaround time for the return to depot repair service, which took less than a week, round trip, with both to and from shipping paid for by Dell. Iâ€™m now using the still functioning system to write this update. Itâ€™s held up okay so far and Iâ€™m crossing my fingers for the next year or so that Iâ€™ll use this laptop.
When everything is said and done, the main point here is that Dell is treating the situation as if everything were business as usual. Unfortunately with the defect, thatâ€™s simply not the case. Iâ€™d like to hear a confirmation that parts being used in new systems are defect-free. Otherwise, even with the warranty extension, the 8400M GS could still be a ticking time bomb in the M1330. I also would have liked to avoid the 4+ weeks without a laptop. I asked for a reasonably priced warranty extension due to the defect and was rejected. I asked for an in-warranty replacement of the stated defective GPU and was denied on the basis that it hadnâ€™t yet showed symptoms. This would be acceptable under normal circumstances, but not when thereâ€™s an acknowledged manufacturing defect. Those 4 weeks without a working M1330 worked out to 8% of the ownership time of the laptop at that point. If a new car had to spend 8% of its first year with a mechanic, Iâ€™d be livid.
Iâ€™d like to see better communication between the different branches of Dell. While communications can be difficult in a large company, the disconnect between Direct2Dell, which is supposed to be an official voice of Dell, and technical support was simply unacceptable.
Finally, itâ€™s time for Dell to stop hiding behind the problem. While there were numerous frantic bouts of finger pointing in NVIDIAâ€™s general direction, the customer purchased the finished product from Dell. Dell needs to be responsible for the ups and downs of the product life cycle. I donâ€™t go knocking on Synapticâ€™s door if the touch wheel on my iPod dies. I go to an Apple store. Itâ€™s the same thing here. One of the advantages of ordering a pre-built computer is that thereâ€™s a central point of contact for any problems. I expect that support system to be there when issues occur. Of course, itâ€™s important to note that Dell isnâ€™t the only manufacturer affected. HP and Apple have both acknowledged the issue as well.
The Dell XPS M1330 is a great laptop, unfortunately affected by the NVIDIA GPU defect. While Iâ€™d like to believe that the defective GPUs have worked their way out of inventory, thereâ€™s been no official confirmation either way. With the warranty extension well established at this point, you can be pretty certain that any issues will be resolved; however it doesnâ€™t eliminate the fact that you could still run into hardware issues in the first place.