SHCC WYSIWYG Article from February 2003

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This article appeared in the February 2003 WYSIWYG newsletter.

New Purchase Experience

by Rick Schummer

 First published on http://RickSchummer.com
(reprinted with permission)

I have made it a tradition with the Sterling Heights Computer Club over the years to share my story when I buy a new computer, so here it is. I recently purchased a new notebook computer from Gateway. I have been wanted a new machine for almost a year and decided now was the time to make the jump. So after much research I settled on the new Gateway 600X notebook. I looked at Dell and IBM machines as well this time around.

This is my third Gateway notebook. My first notebook was a 166mhz machine with a 12 inch screen, a 2GB hard drive, 40MB RAM, and a CD-ROM. It priced out at $5000 complete with the docking station and 17 inch monitor. I used this machine for 2 years and I still use it for a test machine and the kids use it almost daily for homework. It has been solid except for one crashed hard drive and recently the CD drive decided not to shut. It has been used almost daily for the better part of five years.

My second notebook that I have just retired to a test machine and a platform to play with Linux, is a 450mhz machine with 15 inch screen, a 10GB hard drive, 128MB RAM (upgraded to 224MB) and a DVD player. I used this machine almost all day, every day, for 3 years. It cost $4500 with a 19 inch monitor and docking station. It has been a great machine. The only real problems is that I have run out of drive space and the mouse pad has rubbed a spot into the screen (more on that later).

This machine is really loaded. It has a 2ghz processor, 512MB RAM, a 15.7 inch screen, 40GB hard drive, built in wireless (802.11b), and a DVD/CD-RW drive. With a docking station, external speakers and rebate, the entire package was $2600. I love computer economics. I wish cars could find a way into this business model.

So I get the new machine 2 weeks after I order it, which was before Gateway promised it.

It is a beautiful box, completely redesigned titanium silver. What I really like is the way they finally put the various ports and jacks in the correct place. The Ethernet and modem jacks are in the back, with the usual video, serial port, parallel port, PS2 mouse port, and power. The two USB ports are on the right side, but toward the back so they do not get in the way of the mouse. The PCMCIA slots are on the left side, also toward the back so anything I would plug into it will not get in the way. This is the first time I do not have any of the PCMCIA slots filled. All the normal stuff I used them for in the past (network and modems) are in the base unit. The microphone, external sound, etc. are on the left side toward the front. I rarely use these, but they are in a place that won't get in the way of the mouse, at least for right-handers. The screen is beautiful and runs at 1280x1024 which is my favorite and maximum resolution, even when connected to a 19 inch monitor.

The box is a half inch wider and deeper than my previous notebook. It is a quiet box except when the fan runs occasionally. Plugging into the docking station is weird; you snap it in by pressing on the top. I wonder of this is good for the screen? I hope so since it feels strange pressing on the top to get it docked. Undocking is not problem, just press the eject buttons on the station.

The machine is fast. It is running a 2ghz Pentium 4M, designed for mobile computers. Even Windows XP Professional boots fast! The CD burner rocks. Having one on a laptop is so cool, especially when working at a client site. In the past I was using a Zip drive for transferring lots of data, or a program that I created for them. These days are over. Watching DVDs is a treat. I was sick over the holidays and watched the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring in bed one night. The system ships with InterVideo's WinDVD 4 which is the product I was using on my old notebook. I really like this program. The internal speakers are pretty decent (when they work, see problem later).

I took 24 hours to uninstall a bunch of software I will never use (AOL, Money, Picture It!, Works, and Real Player) and then installed 64 packages I need on a regular basis. After I installed 50+ packages I noticed that my sound was not working. Wonderful.

So I called Gateway technical support. They had me reinstall the sound drivers numerous times and said it was probably a package I installed that killed the driver. They wanted me to reformat the drive and start over (losing 24 hours). No way! I knew the sound system was blown. I could hear a popping sound when I muted and unmuted the sound. So after explaining to the support guy my time problem they volunteered to send me a new drive to swap in and test. That drive arrived five days later. No operating system (which was promised to be loaded), so it took six hours to load the OS and base software to find out that I still had no sound. Support finally came to the same conclusion that I did almost 2 weeks before, the sound system was blown.

So they said they would replace the chassis with a refurbished unit. No way! I just paid for a brand new computer. I told the support guy that I would send the machine back, order a different one (or possibly order a machine from a different manufacturer). I told him to reconsider his offer because I was not in the mood to talk to the guys who wanted me to get a Dell. If I did that I would be out a machine for another couple of weeks and that would not please the customer. He did the right thing and I now have a new chassis from Gateway. I swapped the hard drive from one machine to another and whamo I have sound (with the exact same applications installed). It is a newer design as well, version 2 of the same machine.

One interesting difference between the last time I ordered a new machine and this time was the ability to track it on the web via the UPS website. I could see that it shipped from Taiwan to Alaska to the continental US, through Louisville, KY, and into the metro Detroit area. It was cool seeing all the stops it was making. Once delivered, I was able to see almost immediately online that I accepted the package. This is a cool use of the web.

So now that I have my new machine all up and running I take my previous notebook for service. The mouse touchpad started rubbing a rectangle on the screen within months of the purchase. I took it in several times to the Gateway Country store to be looked at. Each time they wanted a week to get it fixed. So I decided to wait until I had my new machine. I took it in with 1 day left on the warranty. They took the machine and I went to work. Thirty minutes later I get a call from the service department saying that it was considered normal wear and tear. No way!

 

So I made some calls and sent an important email to an important person at Gateway. This individual was kind enough to remember that this was a problem on my model and put me in touch with someone to get it fixed. Gateway sent out a delivery person from Airborne to pick up the laptop, overnight it to Texas to get the screen swapped out. They also replaced the offending touchpad with a version that is not "bumped-up". It is flat to the surface of the keyboard. This took one day and it was sent overnight back to me. While it took me a lot to get it fixed, it is fixed and working. The screen looks nice once again.

So what was the lesson learned this time around? Be persistent with the technical support people. If you are not satisfied with one, try another. If the second person does not help, ask for the second tier support. Persistency pays off most of the time. I am a very satisfied Gateway customer because a couple of service people went the extra mile to make sure I was happy. I also feel that using a larger computer manufacturer gives me the type of integration and support I have come to expect in the computer industry.

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