Saturday, June 2, 2012

Second Dell power supply failure inside a month

I'm once again growing bitter with Dell.  My XPS 15 (L502x) had a power supply failure, couldn't have been more than a month ago.  Thankfully, I was still a few weeks away from the 1-year warranty expiration, so I promptly contacted Dell and, with slightly less trouble than I expected, had it swapped out.

I wasn't home when it failed. I returned home to find my laptop completely off, which is not how I left it. I tried turning it back on, but it would not turn on. I noticed the blue ring on the power connector (coming from the power supply, not on the laptop itself) was not illuminated as it normally is. This was a clue that the power supply had failed. However, I could not turn the laptop back on until I reseated the battery.

Unbelievably, about 20 minutes ago my (new?) replacement power supply went belly up. This time I was using it when the whole thing just shut down. First thing I looked at was the blue ring on the power connector, and sure enough, it's off. I unplugged it and tried to turn the laptop on, as it has a full battery, but just as before, it would not turn on until I reseated the battery.

My warranty expired today, June 2nd. And it's Saturday to boot. I probably won't get a replacement until Wednesday at the earliest. I'm pretty sure if I saw someone walking in front of my house right now with a Dell name tag on, I'd probably hurt him. I'm fairly bent, can you tell?

I considered contacting Dell and pleading my case with them, fully aware that they would likely delight in telling me "oh, that's too bad, your warranty is expired."  I even went so far as to try to initiate a live chat with their support, but their system is not currently accepting connections. All I get is a message stating that their reps are busy and the queue isn't open, and that I should call instead. The last thing I want right now is to hear a foreign voice pissing me off even more, so to heck with that.

I also weighed the option of finding out how much it would cost to extend the warranty, and if it struck me as too much more than I could probably get a new power supply for, I'd tell them to forget it. In the end, I just can't put myself through dealing with Dell support in my current mental state. They are usually too much for a sane man, so I'm definitely going to have to pass.

I'm using up about 50% of my full battery to do two things: order a new power supply from Dell for $100, and post a blog about my disdain for the situation I find myself in. I'm on my laptop for hours every day. The next several days are going to be painful... again.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Laptop with unknown stuck key

I was asked to work on this laptop to address a slowness problem, a Dell Inspiron 1501. I booted it up and first noticed that a disk check was scheduled. It would go to that point where it said press any key to cancel the disk check, and then it cancelled itself out. It was as if I had pressed a key, but I wasn't pressing anything.

This obviously struck me as odd. My impression was that a keyboard key was stuck, but I could not find any keys that appeared depressed at all. So I continued on, as there was nothing else I could do just yet.

I was going to connect it up to my Wi-Fi, in case I needed to do anything online. So I brought up the window to configure the connection, hit caps lock and saw the expected balloon notification that caps lock was on. But I noticed that the balloon was disappearing within a second or so, it was just "blinking out" by itself. Again, I'm thinking stuck key, but which one?

I couldn't find any keys that seemed stuck, and there was no unexpected text output. Still, my sense was that a key was in fact stuck, but I was hard pressed to determine which one. I pulled up Windows On Screen Keyboard (osk.exe) to see if it would show me any active keys, but that revealed nothing. I also tried mashing across all the keys on the keyboard. All that accomplished was to open a bunch of random programs and activate several Accessibility features. I shoulda done that with the computer off :\

I started to think that either the keyboard was on the fritz, or perhaps something spilled on it causing one or more keys to behave as if stuck. But the latter seemed pretty unlikely to me, so I dismissed the idea.

I plugged in a USB keyboard, and was planning to disable the built-in keyboard via the Device Manager, but no can do. Apparently, one is not allowed to disable this device. I tried uninstalling, but that required a reboot, and that just led back to Windows re-detecting and reinstalling the device automatically. Poop.

I did some Googling and came across various ideas, one of which caught my attention. The suggestion started with updating to the latest BIOS version, but it already was. Next was to unplug, remove the battery, and hold the power button for 3 seconds, three times. This is similar to what I've always known as a "static dump," but I'd never have thought it could solve this type of problem. I did it anyway, and was pleased with the result. However, I only held the power button once for 10 seconds. I don't know about that three times thing, seems hokey. Interestingly enough, the forum post I found happened to be regarding the same make and model of laptop. Go figure.

Whatever was going on with the stuck key syndrome was causing other weirdness too, which I didn't realize until after it was fixed. For instance, the mouse keys on the touchpad seemed less than responsive. I'd have to either press them multiple times, or press them more firmly, before I saw a result on-screen. Also, the tap-to-click feature of the touchpad was not enabled, but I like the feature so I enabled it. I found that this too was behaving similarly, working but requiring several taps to get it to register. I was prepared to chalk this up to parts wearing out on an aging laptop. Clearly, that was wrong.

Before I got that solved, I was going to start addressing the slowness issue with a defrag, but since the disk check was scheduled, the defrag wouldn't run. I felt much more confident that the stuck key issue was fixed when the disk check actually ran and completed. Then, I did the defrag, yay.

The system is running better now, I'm sure due in part to the defrag and my other routine maintenance tasks, but I think also it feels snappier because the touchpad is more responsive now. Such an obscure problem with an odd fix. Who'd a thunk it?

In the end, the fix for the "phantom" stuck key was to unplug the laptop, remove the battery, and press and hold the power button for 10 seconds.

Here is the forum post that inspired me. Thanks, Dracia.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Dell Downloads not working

I've had plenty of trouble getting My Dell Downloads to work properly. The problem I seem to have is that the pages loop back on each other, most of the time either taking me in circles, or just refreshing the current page. It's stupid, really.

The site claims that only Internet Explorer is supported. Indeed, it uses an ActiveX component to scan your computer, so IE is obviously the only option. But I've tried it on two different computers with Windows 7 and IE 9, and also on an XP system with IE 8. All of them behave the same, it doesn't work.

I must have got it working at some point because when I log in I can see my own laptop listed, which I purchased last June. But I do remember that it was a headache, I just didn't remember how, or what I did to get it working. I forgot, and like most things that I forget how to fix the first half dozen times, I eventually get my wits about me and blog post it so I can save myself from future headaches, and hopefully other people can benefit too.

Just got the wife a new laptop, a real cheapie, but it'll do for now. My first order of business is usually to reinstall the OS to get it running lean and clean. Before I do that, I like to download all the drivers from, but not all the pre-installed software is available through the support site. The stuff that Dell wants to keep a little better protected is behind a wall, the monstrosity that is My Dell Downloads.

Ok, it's not all that bad. It's got a fairly clean interface, and looks easy enough to navigate, if it only worked as advertised. Part of my problem was not knowing what to expect it to do. The other part is that it's just poorly executed. When I can finally get it working, it's just alright with me, oh yeah.

Let me first get to how I got it working. I tried several things, including adding sites to the Trusted security zone, compatibility mode, and turning off the pop-up blocker. I couldn't get the ActiveX to install, and could rarely even get it to prompt me that it wanted to install. The magic finally happened once I added two sites to my Trusted security zone (IE > Internet Options > Security tab), and dropped the zone to the Low security setting:
In the past, I've used Dell's website to track Dell computers for my job and my side work clients, through the 'My Systems' list (mainly to track warranty status), but in My Dell Downloads you can only add a computer from the computer you're adding. And I'm not currently seeing a way to remove computers once they've been added. For these two reasons, I'd suggest only adding computers you own, or that you are sure will never need to be transferred to someone else's account. I've not tried adding the same computer to multiple Dell accounts, so I can't tell you if that will work. Considering the access it gives to "protected" software, I doubt it will.
(Note: Dell's 'My Systems', as I think it was called, is apparently obsolete, replaced by 'My Products and Services'. Luckily, the first time I accessed it, today while looking for 'My Systems', it "found" and offered to import the old records into the new system. Gee, thanks Dell. Not sure why this wasn't automatic.)
I suppose that once you've successfully installed the ActiveX and added your computer to My Dell downloads, you should bump the Trusted sites zone back up to the default, Medium security level. You can leave the sites in the Trusted list. I plan to edit this post with screenshots of the process once I can gather them properly. I'd love to see replies letting me know about how you make out, if my instructions have helped you, if I have missed anything, or if you found another solution. Let me know!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Firefox ain't what it used to be!

I've been a raving fan and user of Firefox since it was still called Firebird. I do use IE and Chrome periodically, but thought nothing would ever shake the hold that Firefox has on me. I no longer hold this belief.

The reason is Mozilla's somewhat newly adopted rapid release cycle (version 10 just hit my system). It's causing my can't-live-without plugins to stop working, like every other week! Mozilla is putting a burden on plug-in developers, which I believe is unacceptable. I have never been closer to dumping Firefox. If this nonsense doesn't change, I'll have to go quietly into the night. For now, however, I thought I owed at least the courtesy of making my frustration known.

I went to the Mozilla site to submit my feedback, but lo and behold, their feedback form doesn't seem to accept more than a sentence and a half. My modest paragraph wouldn't take, and I found no readily accessible alternative to presenting my frustration to Mozilla directly. Hence, I'm back here, posting to the public (a.k.a. me, myself and I).

My current plug-in of concern is Tab Utilities. A damn-fine plug-in if I do say so myself. I refuse to browse without it. I know a little bit about the structure of Firefox plug-ins, perhaps only enough to be dangerous, which leads me to believe that it's much more likely a simple version number issue, and not an actual compatibility issue. I could go in and modify the plug-in manually to make it work with version 10, but I'm sick of doing this!

I usually turn off auto-updates in Firefox settings, but I use so many darn computers, I don't always remember to do it on all of them. I recently got a new work computer, and forgot to turn off auto-updates, so now Firefox is gimped for me at work. So lame.

I also have a potential problem in which I cannot log into our company website. I'm still troubleshooting that, and don't know for sure if it's related to the latest Firefox release, but it's sure looking like it so far, especially since I have so few working plug-ins left. I'll see if I can't post an update if I figure that out one way or the other.

Mozilla, hear my plea! Stop the madness!