I repair my own PCs. But in the case of a laptop, you just can’t get replacement parts on your own. My laptop was serviced today and here’s how things went under Dell’s On-Site Service (Singapore).
My Dell Studio 1457 has served me really well for two and half years. I went for setup which balanced mobility with power. Back then, there was no such thing as Ultrabooks and MacBook Airs were considered a luxury. The Studio 1457 is really powerful system packing a Core i7 720 processor with a Radeon 4530 GPU. A 4530 may not be your usual top of the line mobile GPU in 2009 but it was able to run all my games without a hitch.
Great Production Machine
It served me through 3 summer jobs/internships. Handled everything from video production to gaming. Obviously, it handled huge spreadsheets without hiccups.
This machine still continues to punch above its weight even now.
The only upgrade I carried out was to swap out a 500GB hard disk that had bad sectors after a drop and put in a Crucial C300 128GB SSD. This machine still continues to punch above its weight even now.
Hiccups and Death
The downside to the Studio 1457 is heat. As you would expect, packing a powerful processor and a discete GPU within a rather slim chassis results in a really hot laptop. Remember, this machine is 2.5 years old. Passive cooling and other methods weren’t that great then.
Over time, heat damages electronics. About a month back the GPU started posing serious issues. BSODs, intermittent screen black outs and sometimes not wanting to display anything during boot up. Sometimes artifacts appeared. It was a clear sign that the GPU was on its last legs.
I decided to extend my warranty. I paid S$250 for a one year warranty because I knew I was going to need it and that replacing an OEM GPU is going to cost a lot of I had it serviced without coverage.
The downside of mobile devices is you can’t fix it yourself unlike PCs. Almost every part is customized to the manufacturer’s requirement and you can’t get a replacement part off the shelf. The warranty extension was approved. 3 weeks later, the GPU gave way.
Calling – Nightmarish System, OK Operators
I made a call on Wednesday and was in queue for 50 minutes. At that point I hung up. Dialled again and this time the queue dropped to 4 minutes. I’m guessing the call queues were jammed and I was previously queuing on a dead line. Good thing it was 1800 number and I had plenty to do in that 50 minutes. That was a stupidly long wait.
When you call up these guys, you need to remember they are running through a standard operation procedure. Don’t act smart but know which buttons to hit.
The operator that served me did a good job. When you call up these guys, you need to remember they are running through a standard operation procedure. Don’t act smart but know which buttons to hit. If your Dell ever goes sideways, run the PC diagnostics because that was the golden key that got me my appointment fixed in 3 minutes.
Of course, the operator wanted me to run through certain tests but it was pretty clear at that point that no matter what was tried – the screen wouldn’t turn on. Prior to my GPU giving way, I confirmed my intuition when Dell’s PC Diagnostics program simply hung up during the Video Memory segment. Not surprising at all. Told the operator that and he immediately told me he’ll get a technician to my place.
I was offered on site service which came as a minor surprise. I had expected Dell to pick up my laptop, send it to Malaysia where they are based before sending it back to me. On site was nice. Better still, the technician was ready to come the next day. Alas, Wednesdays were full days for me so I told them I’d take a Thursday morning slot.
On Site – Fast, Effective & Friendly
The technician who came down was both experienced and friendly. As a geek myself, I can tell when a person is knows what to do intutively or is following some training procedure. This guy knew his stuff. In fact, I knew he was ignoring some minor safety procedures which I had no qualms with. I ignore those myself.
My entire motherboard had to be changed. The Dell 1457 has its discrete GPU attached to the motherboard to save space.
My entire motherboard had to be changed. The Dell 1457 has its discrete GPU attached to the motherboard to save space. The laptop was not easy to disassemble. This is basically how it goes.
- Unscrew all the screws below and remove all components possible.
- Remove the sound bar. That is actually a key area that has to be disassembled before anything can continue.
- Pry open the keyboard and the area binding it. Use plastic spudgers to prevent damage.
- Remove all components and now you have access to the motherboard.
I remember older laptops where all you had to do was to unscrew the base and you had full access. The Studio 1457 was a lot trickier to get in. Both top and bottom had to be removed.
The cooling design of the system was a little strange. A giant heatsink sits over 3 components – CPU, GPU and what I believe was the North Bridge. I’m not sure if this is smart or stupid but it did mean space was saved and only one fan was needed.
The heatsink was popped off and placed on a new motherboard. At that point, the technician did not reapply thermal paste but did so when I told him about it. To be fair to him, it didn’t reduce the temperature of the CPU and GPU. I had quite a bit of Artic MX4 to waste anyways.
I was surprised that the fan was not clogged with dust and neither were the innards of my laptop even after 2.5 years of heavy use.
I was surprised that the fan was not clogged with dust and neither were the innards of my laptop. After 2.5 years of heavy use I was almost certain it would be dust ridden. But it turned out to be pretty clean.
The machine was put back together and it ran well. Problem solved. Here’s to another 2 years or so because I would probably hand it down to my dad as his main PC. This was another reason I decided to get a full year’s coverage.
Words from the Technician
The techncian was a nice person and we had a friendly chat as he fixed the laptop. I got to understand quite a bit on how things worked on their end:
- The service provider that takes care of repairing PCs is not from Dell. It’s a Singapore based company that Dell has sub contracted to.
- The technicians are assigned based on where they live. The guy servicing my laptop lived within a 3km radius from me and he would spend most of his time in the same area unless there was a surge in demand in other areas that required more hands. In fact, his next stop was just 800m from my place.
- Most technicians do not drive around. They either use the bus or take a cab. All transport expenses can be claimed.
- He told me it was almost beneficial all the time to extend the warranty for a laptop. Nothing new to me though, if I did not have warranty coverage, I would have paid close to $400 for this repair. Instead I saved myself $150 and have 11 more months of warranty left.
- It is good business for Dell as well. Replacement parts are not always new. The older your machine the more likely it was a refurbished part. But the consumer has his hands tied because components are unique to the manufacturer (laptops). So Dell (or any OEM) can charge artificially high for a refurbished part. They don’t mind cutting into that if an extended warranty means customer retention.
On site service is really nice. Everything was fixed within an hour and I did not have to wait for things to be shipped back and forth. Neither did I have to walk into some service center as was the case for HP.
If your laptop seems to be on its last mile and remains a good reliable machine that you want to continuing using – get that extended warranty. It’s well worth it.