Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Just When You Thought It Was Safe To...

Hate Dell.

Had 2 problems on Saturday, as LavaN describes here
- the "back-light" in our Samsung Syncmaster 204T, after a bit of vigorous dusting. Well - average dusty, and then vigorous pulling to try to get it to raise back to the right height.

Good news - it's under warranty, and Samsung offers a replacement program (same or better monitor, you get the new one and send back the old one, which they fix and pass on to the next person).

Then there was the home laptop - Dell Inspiron 500m. The damn "loose" power cord finally caused it to die. Nope - not the AC Adapter, but the DC Jack it plugs into (little metal cube at about 1 o'clock from the fan). Damn Dell "advanced" power-supply, that guarentees you can't use someone elses, as there's a chip in the AC Adapter that talks w/ the laptop, and won't recharge the battery unless they say Howdy to each other. Unlike most AC Adapters, that slip onto a metal pin, since the Dell needs 3 connections (power, ground and signal), the metal pin is replaced by a plastic protrusion, which has connections on inside and outside. Kind of like a cross between a coax and a power plug.

And the AC adapter part slides onto it, connecting on the outside of the ring, inside of the ring, and the pin in the middle. Well - that's what it's supposed to do. Only has 3 problems:

  1. The AC Adapter plugs "straight" into the back of the laptop, instead of using an angled plug that's less prone to wearing out. Don't know why the Dell ones fail for me, while the IBM ones I use at work don't, but they do. See Exhibit #2.

  2. Don't know why, but the either the adapter plug expands, or the DC Jack end contracts, cause the combo loosened up after the 1st year. Power cord kept falling out on it's own - you'd get the low battery alarm, and then notice that the power plug was just sitting on your leg instead of powering the laptop.
  3. Plastic - somewhere between styrofoam and balsa wood for strength. Didn't last. Broke off. Caused short. Caused fire / melting components. Caused laptop to no longer get power. Caused laptop to break.

Since the laptop was >1 year out of warranty, I figured I'd take it apart and see how bad the damage was, and if I could potentially fix it. Motherboard looked fine, but the DC Jack was deformed, and clearly smelled of burning.

So - I took the hard drive out, opened up the desk top, slapped on a 2.5" IDE to 3.5" IDE converter, and booted up the desktop to recover the data. Now we run into problem #4 - if you use the "HDD Password" (aka Hard Disk Drive Password) to prevent thieves (or at least hinder non hacker types) from being able to use your laptop if it's stolen, it also makes the hard drive non-readable in any other system, until you disable the password.

Google it - find out there's a few DOS utilities for helping do this. Go try them out - they say I have the right HDD Password, but can't disable it. I take a guess and figure maybe if I get the "Master" (instead of my User password), I'd be able to overcome this, so I fire off a note to Dell support.

Get a reply the next day from Dell support, which said

  1. The laptop is out of warranty

  2. But, because they give excellent support, if I want to send it in, they'll gladly take a look at it , and let me know how much to fix it.

Now, I know the answer to #2, unless I get lucky and get a service technician who's hands don't drag on the ground. Default answer is the mother board is bad, and it'll need to be replaced. $435 plus labor.

Don't want that - I want the $20 DC Jack replaced. If it works, great. If it doesn't, frack the machine, I'll get a new one. But this isn't what my email to support was about. All I wanted to know was did Dell ever set the Master HDD Password, and if so, what was it, so I could disabled the User HDD Password.

So I reply to their reply saying:

  1. Previous reply unacceptable
  2. I don't want a fix or even a diagnosis
  3. All I want is to get in touch with someone who's heard of HDD Passwords before, and can find out if they did set a Master HDD password, and if so, what is it.

Get a reply late today that best thing would be to call and talk to a technical support person directly, so it doesn't take a long series of email exchanges to resolve. But, I can try email again if I really want / need to.

Call up Dell tonight, and while I'm waiting, take the HDD out of my work laptop, and slip the HDD I'm trying to "unlock" into the work laptop. Boot, get the password prompt, type in the password and it goes through - aka the password storage wasn't scrambled, so maybe the HDD is fine. Since my home laptop HDD is for a very different system, the work laptop BIOS nicely informs me I'm crazy, and asks me if I'd like to go into BIOS Setup instead of trying to boot. Exactly what I want. Try to disable the User HDD Password, and the IBM BIOS Setup Utility tells me I can't do that without first entering / unlocking with the Master HDD Password. Try every password I can imagine I could have set the Master HDD Password to, to no avail.

By this time, I've gotten thru to the first level of Dell support, and have been basically told to GFY. Push back and the support tech says he shouldn't even be talking to me, as he's just a "home / home business rep", and can't see my records, as I purchased it through their Business group. Cool - this laptop was part of a "home PC program" thru my work. Cool part is the Business techs tend to be a bit more savy.

Get thru to Business support group, explain my problem to the guy, going back to the home laptop being totally dead, due to a melt down in the power system, and explain to him that all I'm trying to get from Dell support is if they ever set a Master HDD Password on these machines, and if so, what the heck is it. This was a fun process, as the Business support tech wasn't just a script reader, like the first two I dealt with on this issue, but knew less about these things then I did. So I walked him through how what a HDD Password was for, how it's setup. How I should be able to disable it, but it's not working, and the BIOS utility is telling me I need the Master HDD Password.

This process takes about 30 minutes, as the tech support guy chats with me for 2-3 minutes, taking notes, and then going off to talk with some more senior one, and coming back with either more questions, or things to try that I tried 3 days ago.

After the 3rd or 4th round of this, the tech comes back and says "the whole reason you're doing this is because of the laptop not working. Tell me again how it's not working." So I go into the story, in more details, including my wife using it at the time, low battery beep, plugging in the cord, no joy, then burning smell and scream from the Mrs. (LavaN that is). Tell him what I tried to get after that, and how it always comes back as the laptop ain't getting no juice. Which is why I opened it up, and am trying to download the data onto the desktop.

Off again to chat, back online, making sure that no one was hurt, there was no fire or anything. Says they have an unusual response.

  1. They never set Master HDD Passwords, so don't know what it is, so from here forward, there's nothing they can do to help me with that.

  2. But, they are concerned that the laptop failed in this way, and if I'm willing to accept that they might not be able to give me an identical system, they would like to send me out a replacement, and one that I should be able to plug the existing hard drive into and boot and have all my data.

The replacement may take 2-3 weeks to get here, as Inspiron 500m / 600m / 700m systems haven't been built for a while, but he thinks they should be able to find one and get it out to me pretty quick. No cost to me. Sorry for the problems.

So - just when I thought it was safe to really start hating Dell, they do this.


Rhonda said...

A replacement!?!
Wow you lucked out!
Now there's something to smile about...

Nava said...

That is an incredible story!
I still cannot believe it.
I mean, hey - you, of all non-confronting people - have topped even the ultimate GaLittle!!!

And the most incomprehensible point in this saga, to me, is that you, The JohnnyB, voluntarily picked up the phone to initiate a phone conversation, like, on the phone, with several people, on the phone, and spoke - on the phone - for over 2 minutes.


Life never cease to amaze me.

Applauding with admiring eyes,


JohnnyB said...

And you missed the converstation - it wasn't just the usual Minnesotan mono-syllable charm. Full sentences - 3 and 4 syllable words.


Nava said...

Whooooooooooooooooa!!! I am speechless!, does that mean you have lost your long nourished phobia, and can start talking to my sister on the phone?

MB said...

so, does that mean you ... can start talking to my sister on the phone?

LOL! One step at a time there, woman! Don't wanna overheat the process, now do you?


I'm really glad they're sending a replacement, despite the warranty deal. I'm a "Dell Certified" tech, which just means I get to order replacement parts w/o having to talk to their monkeys. Niiice! But it only applies to my specific company. {sighhh}

Anyhow, I've never seen any PC come with a password protected hard drive, and wonder how that works since I thought all that stuff took place in the Bios, which would moot the password point on any other system. Strange indeed...

Hope that replacement does the trick.

CherkyB said...

You know what's funny as hell? That you have a context-sensitive ad right now that says "Got a Beer Belly?"

I didn't know AdSense actually looked at the photos for context.

Nava said...

I think now it's pretty safe to start hating Samsung...

Nava said...

Yep - definitely safe to hate them!

Rhonda said...

JohnnyB throw us a bone here and post something.
It's just not right to make us wait and wonder when you'll grace us with a new one.
I keep checking everyday...have you abandoned us?
surely there must be something to write about?

Nava said...

Getting safer to hate Samsung by the day!

CherkyB said...

If there isn't some action on this blog soon, I'm moving it to the "dead blogs" link list. Fair warning.