Tag Archives: nvidia

Dell XPS M1330 – A Year In

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 can’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, it’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 M1330’s with the 8400M GS and two friends own M1530’s with the 8600M GT. Over the past year, those two M1330’s, along with mine, have all had their mainboards replaced due to dead GPUs. The two M1530’s haven’t run into any problems thus far. I certainly don’t mean to imply that there is a 100% defect rate for 8400M GS equipped M1330’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 ‘promotional’ 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 wouldn’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 hadn’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 he’d been on vacation and hadn’t realized that nobody had contacted me yet. He assured me he’d ‘track down’ 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 wouldn’t.

Since purchasing my M1330, I had been in contact with a product manager at Dell, who took interest in some things I’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 didn’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 wasn’t clear if the defective NVIDIA chips had worked their way out of Dell’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 couldn’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. I’m now using the still functioning system to write this update. It’s held up okay so far and I’m crossing my fingers for the next year or so that I’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, that’s simply not the case. I’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 hadn’t yet showed symptoms. This would be acceptable under normal circumstances, but not when there’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, I’d be livid.

I’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, it’s time for Dell to stop hiding behind the problem. While there were numerous frantic bouts of finger pointing in NVIDIA’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 don’t go knocking on Synaptic’s door if the touch wheel on my iPod dies. I go to an Apple store. It’s the same thing here. One of the advantages of ordering a pre-built computer is that there’s a central point of contact for any problems. I expect that support system to be there when issues occur. Of course, it’s important to note that Dell isn’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 I’d like to believe that the defective GPUs have worked their way out of inventory, there’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 doesn’t eliminate the fact that you could still run into hardware issues in the first place.

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.

8800GT Deal

I was treated to quite the deal yesterday when I found a GeForce 8800GT 512MB video card at Futureshop. I’ve written about how the fall video card refresh has been great for competition and prices, but I never imagined I’d be able to pick up a 8800GT for $199CAD. Granted, part of the reason was due to a pricing error on Futureshop’s part, which pushed the price to below cost. It was advertised as on sale for $259 from $309, but when I got to the Futureshop in Guelph (thanks for the drive, Justin :)), it rang up as $199.

Although the card is advertised as the stock clocked (600MHz core, 900MHz RAM), it comes clocked at EVGA’s Superclocked specs (650MHz core, 950MHz RAM), making it an even better deal. It’s one of, if not the cheapest 8800GT I’ve seen in Canada, not to mention being overclocked by default. The sale to $259 ends November 15th, so you’ve got some time to find a store with stock if you’re considering it. I was hesitant about getting the card before all this since AMD/ATI will be launching their RV670 based cards in about a week’s time. But at $199, I have absolutely no qualms – there’s no second guessing whatsoever.

And damn, there’s a huge difference from my 7900GTO. The Crysis demo is now playable with all settings at high at my monitor’s native resolution (1680×1050), as opposed to medium details and 1280×800 with the 7900GTO. The Unreal Tournament 3 demo is also playable with the highest detail settings and 1680×1050 as opposed to medium and 1280×800. The visual quality in these two games is absolutely amazing. I still can’t quite believe I’m getting all this for 2 bills. With an E6600 at 3GHz and stock clocks of 650/950 on the 8800GT, I’m hitting around 11.5K in 3DMark 06.

NVIDIA’s got a hell of a card here – let’s see what AMD can do against it in a week’s time.

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).