Day 2 with a new Dell and Vista

Summary:I’m documenting my experience with a new Dell C521 that arrived last week. Day 1 was uneventful, as I unpacked the pieces, backed up the original hard drive and replaced it with a new larger drive, and installed a few updates. Well, uneventful except for the BIOS update I left running overnight… On Day 2, I get to put Dell's support to the test as the system is completely unresponsive.

Update 12-June, 6:00PM EDT: Dell has pulled the defective BIOS from its website and is working on a replacement. I exchanged e-mail with Lionel Menchaca, Dell's blogger-in-chief, who reports: "We recently pulled the later version of the BIOS for the same reason you describe in your blog. Version 1.1.4 is the current version that’s available, and it does not have the issue that causes the flash not to complete on some C521 systems. Our development team is currently working on a new BIOS version, but I don’t have a clear estimate on the timeframe at this point."

Coming in late? Get the first installment here: Day 1 with a new Dell and Vista. The executive summary? I’m documenting my experience with a new Dell C521 that arrived last week. Day 1 was uneventful, as I unpacked the pieces, backed up the original hard drive and replaced it with a new larger drive, and installed a few updates. Well, uneventful except for the BIOS update I left running overnight…

Morning. Birds singing, sunshine streaming through the windows, a fresh cup of coffee. Ah, it’s going to be a glorious day. Or maybe not.

When I last saw the new Dell, it was slooooooowly applying a BIOS update. At least that’s what it appeared to be doing. The results, in the cold light of day, are a spectacular failure. The front power light is glowing solid amber (it’s supposed to be green). The screen is dark. Hitting the power switch causes the CPU fan to rev up to Space Shuttle noise levels, but the power light stays amber, the hard drive is ominously silent, and the screen remains black.

About this time, I come up with rule #2 of BIOS updates: Don’t even think of launching that updater until you see what has happened to those who've gone before you. At the Dell Forums, I find this guy, whose C521 “doesn’t work” after a BIOS update. This guy adds his tale of woe:

I was asked to download the new BIOS and did so according to the instructions, but now I am having trouble. Dimension C521 I get a blank screen and the fan starts going to hyperspeed (Loud). Nothing will appear on the screen (minutes) and it does not sound like it is loading anything.

Meanwhile, this guy is on motherboard #3:

I recently purchased 3 C521's. I did a bios update from Dell's site to one of them and it never booted up again. [T]he second board died with a solid amber light, no error codes. No solution again, Dell is sending a replacement board. The tech rep was initially claiming that it was my fault that I used the Dell's validated bios update and the motherboard died, soon to realize how funny this claim was and ended up sending a new board after consulting his supervisor. …

The good news is that Dell’s online support is fast and accurate. I spend roughly 20 minutes online with a polite support rep who confirms that the motherboard is toast and schedules a tech to come out and replace the motherboard and CPU fan assembly. Although the service commitment is for 24–hour support, it will take a day to get the new part to the tech and another day for him to get to me. The machine goes on the shelf.

So, Day 2 is a write-off. To Dell's credit, the repair process goes flawlessly. I get a call from the tech, who schedules an appointment in my office for the next day at 11AM. he shows up at the appointed hour with a new motherboard, and 20 minutes later the system is up and running again. I ask if he's seen other people experiencing this issue, and he tells me about two C521motherboards he replaced on the previous week for exactly the same issue. Then he flips through the remainder of his list and notes that he has an appointment later that day for another C521 with a dead motherboard.

In fairness, most people who buy a new Dell won't run into this issue, and it's probably not Vista-related. Still, I've decided to restore the original backed-up image and start fresh tomorrow, just as if it were Day 1 again. You can read it now: Day 3 with a new Dell and Vista.

Topics: Windows, Dell, Microsoft, Software

About

Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

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