GUI Bytes

A Tale of Two Techies

when you buy an assembled computer you should be able expect that everything works properly

Last fall I bought my seventh computer. Three of the last four came from Gateway, the lone exception being a used computer I bought for my son. Support for my first two Gateways was excellent. The technical support staff understood the both hardware and software, and diagnosis was swift and sure. If replacement parts were required they were quickly shipped. They also knew their limits, and quickly called for additional support when needed. All in all it was a great operation, and I was quick to recommend Gateway to anyone planning to buy a computer.

Based on past experience, I confidently ordered my latest computer from Gateway. I should have sensed something amiss when the sales rep quoted prices that were different from those advertised on the company's web site, and tried to convince me that a recording CD drive wouldn't work unless I also had a standard CD drive.

Ignoring the warning signs, I placed an order. Despite calls and e-mails that listed a 6.4 gig hard drive as part of the order, it arrived with a 3.2 gig drive. The sales rep sent the correct drive out by UPS, promising that it would be configured for my computer.

After installing the new drive, the computer was slower than my old 386, the CD drive wouldn't work, none of the special buttons on the keyboard worked, and one of the stereo sound channels didn't work. Obviously, the replacement drive was not properly configured for the rest of my system.

Why is this a big deal? When you buy an assembled computer you should be able to expect that everything works properly. If setup isn't part of the price, you might as well buy the parts and put them together yourself - it isn't as complicated as you might think.

After getting things going again I called to report the audio problem, and the techie quickly decided it must be the motherboard. He sent out a new one, and said someone would be out to install it. After a couple of weeks I wrote to the company (by real snail-mail!), explained all of the problems, and said I was still waiting for the techie to show up. No response. A few weeks later, customer service called to ask for the old motherboard. "I'll send it in as soon as you install the new one."

They scheduled a service call for the next day, a Saturday. Unfortunately, they gave the techie my office number instead of my home number, but he was a good guy and came out on Sunday. We had a nice chat. I explained to him how to remove the CPU from the motherboard without damaging the mount, and later showed him how to install the cross-brace; then he got stuck in my driveway and I had to shovel him out.

Individually, these are not serious problems. Every company turns out a lemon now and then, every sales rep has a bad day, and every technical support rep has a bad day. Combined, they do little to inspire faith in the supplier.

I haven't bought anything from Dell or Micron, so I don't know if they do any better. Believe it or not, I still want to like Gateway, partly because they were so good in the past, partly because the tech reps I dealt with were so good, and partly, I suppose, because I like their boxes with the cow spots all over.

the other story

A couple of years ago I bought an eagle TR-3  tape backup drive from Exabyte. I removed it from the old 386, planning to install it in my new computer.

Unfortunately, I forgot that the tape drive came with a special cable that connects both the floppy drive and the tape drive to the floppy drive controller. I left it in the 386, which went off to school this year.

When it came time to re-install the tape drive I realized that I needed the special cable. I sent an e-mail to Exabyte, asking what type of cable was required so I could buy another one. One e-mail, one phone call, and they sent a replacement cable at no charge, even though the tape drive was waaay out of warranty.

1999 Sheldon Wolfe, RA, CSI, CCS, CCCA, 
on the web at 
February 1999

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