Got a Defective Computer?
Natalia J. Garland
Perhaps I was naive when I bought my new laptop computer, thinking
it would last almost indefinitely. I have had computer problems
before. When you have one computer that malfunctions, you can
regard it as a fluke, as the exception. But, when you have two
computers that malfunction, you cannot help noticing a pattern and
suspecting some sort of negligence on the part of the manufacturer.
Today, I will trace my experiences with three laptop computers
which I have owned over the past ten years. Two of these laptops
were defective. The brands were IBM, Toshiba, and Hewlett Packard.
Ready? Here we go.
My IBM ThinkPad
It was New Year's
Day in the year 2000 when I purchased my IBM ThinkPad i Series
1480. I paid $2,299.99 for it at a large computer store in New
York City. I still have the receipt. I had done my research
before making the purchase. PC World magazine had ranked this
computer as No. 1 in their January 2000 issue (as with most
magazines, each issue arrives on the newsstand the previous month).
PC World had three
categories of computers: (1) Power Notebooks: $2,700 and over, (2)
Midrange Notebooks: $1700 - $2699, and (3) Budget Notebooks: under
$1700. The IBM ThinkPad was rated No. 1 in the Midrange
category. It came with a 6.4 GB hard drive and 64 MB of RAM. This
was actually quite advanced, because earlier laptops only had 4 GB
hard drives and 32 MG of RAM. The ThinkPad came with a Celeron
processor. Various models of the ThinkPad had been given awards
and praises by Windows Magazine, Computer Shopper, JIDPO (Japan),
Laptop Buyer's Guide & Handbook, Mobile Insights, Mobility
Awards, Popular Mechanics, the New York Post, Home Office
Computing, and Worth Magazine.
immediate problems with the CD-ROM device. I had to call Tech
Support four times before they finally agreed to repair it on
July 27, 2000. Although it always malfunctioned, it was not until
it completely broke that IBM regarded it as a serious issue. Next,
there were problems with the dc/dc card. Again, I had to call Tech
Support a few times before they agreed to repair it on September
24, 2000. Each time I called Tech Support, they offered various
fixes, none of which was conclusively effective. To their
credit, when IBM would finally agree to make repairs, they paid
for transporting the computer and for the repairs.
As I reached the
warranty expiration date, I wrote to IBM on December 27, 2000, and
asked for a warranty extension. In those days, letters were still
a major form of communication and the way to conduct business. I
felt that, due to the above issues, there might be other problems
yet to occur. I also felt that, given the number of awards and
praises, IBM should be confident enough to guarantee their repair
work and to stand by their product. In response to my letter, I
received a phone call from an IBM representative. She seemed
combative from the moment I picked the phone and said hello.
She denied me an extended warranty and referred me a private
company that sold warranties on electronics and appliances.
I sent copies of my
letter to PC World Editorial and to the editor of Laptop magazine.
They never responded. I also called the Better Business Bureau
regarding IBM's refusal to provide an extended warranty. They told
me I did not have a case, and I felt like they treated me as though
I was trying to get something for nothing.
continued to work, although it became unsuitable for internet use.
It would freeze and I would have to power off. It is still good
for typing and simple tasks. The battery has completely died from
non-use. My ThinkPad sits on the shelf like an antique vase,
although worthless in dollars and cents. I even tried to donate it
just to get rid of it, but nobody wanted it. It looks as though I
will be keeping my ThinkPad. At least, it turns on and it
As soon as I was
able to afford a new computer, I started the research and shopping
process again. My second laptop was a Toshiba Satellite 1905. It
came with a 37.3 GB hard drive. I do not remember exactly how much
RAM it came with: I added more, bringing it to a total of 768 MB.
I think I added 512 MB, but I am not sure if that's right. I do
remember that the computer did not come as advertised--it was a
lesser computer than the one I ordered. I paid $1,700 for it. At
that time, in 2003, I had moved to a rural area. I ordered the
computer from an electronics store over the internet. I did not
immediately notice the difference in specifications. I later read,
from other customers' reviews, that this store had a tendency to
make errors in product descriptions.
The Toshiba came
with an Intel Pentium 4 processor and an ATI graphics chip. I
never had a problem with it. Never had to call Tech Support. And,
it continues to work just fine. Eventually, however, the touchpad
stopped working. I solved that problem by purchasing an external
touchpad and also a mouse. Then, the touchpad started working
again. It is unpredictable. Sometimes it will work for a short
time, but then it will stop. The adaptor also wore out, and I had
to purchase a new one. The Toshiba also came with Windows XP which
I personally regard as the best version of Windows. It was clean
Since the Toshiba
touchpad no longer worked dependably, and since the computer was so
old, I decided to update myself with a new laptop. New models had
180, 250, 320, and even 500 GB hard drives. They had 2 to 4 GB of
RAM. It seemed unimaginable. I felt behind the times, and I
wanted keep up with technological advances. However, the new
laptops were styled very differently--lightweight and, in my
opinion, sometimes flimsy; short but wide; and some had rubbery
keyboards that seemed to float on a gel-like base.
The computers that I
liked the most cost between $700 to $900. However, each of these
models had construction or styling peculiarities that made me
unwilling to spend that much money (even though they were much
less expensive than the computers of yesteryear, my financial
status had changed). I was not going to be happy, so why spend the
money when I still had a functioning computer at home? However, I
kept looking. Every week after work, I would stop at an office
supply store to see what was in stock and what might be on sale.
My HP Compaq
Finally, I saw the
Hewlett Packard Compaq Presario CQ60-210US. It was a basic
computer by today's standards, but seemed far superior to my old
Toshiba. It had a 250 GB hard drive and 2 GB of RAM. It came with
an AMD processor and an NVIDIA graphics chip. Most important to
me, it had a firm keyboard, sturdy lid hinges, and a smooth-working
touchpad. It felt comfortable. I paid $399 for it, and got $60.00
off a new printer.
When I got home and
opened the printer box, it was filled with torn wrappings and
pieces of tape, and the instruction CD and ink cartridges were
missing. The printer was there, but I was suspicious of its
condition. I returned the printer--also a Hewlett Packard--and got
a refund. The salesman offered me a replacement. He had one other
in stock, and offered to open the box and show me the insides.
However, my trust and confidence were frayed, and I turned it down.
Within three months,
I had a problem with the Compaq. I called Tech Support, and they
were able to resolve it. (I think I may have accidently caused the
problem myself, but the Tech Support agent was kind and did not
accuse me. She knew how to fix the problem, and she did her job.)
The computer worked fine after that and I was quite satisfied with
it. You already know what happened next: one year and eight months
after the purchase date, after the warranty had expired, the
computer began overheating and the screen went blank and black.
This was due, apparently, to a defective NVIDIA graphics chip--and
this topic has been discussed in Parts I and II of this extended
Rather than go
ahead and have the computer repaired--it was in the repair shop--I
decided to see if Hewlett Packard would help me as they had helped
others with this problem. Since there was no information on the HP
website, I called Tech Support. The agent said HP could not help
me because the computer was out of warranty. He referred me to the
NVIDIA lawsuit settlement website. However, the settlement
website's list of affected computers did not include any Compaqs
purchased in 2009.
So, I called Tech
Support again. The agent told me that my computer was out of
warranty, that there had been no recall for this model, and that no
problematic issues were known for this model. I was assertive. I
kept requesting help, but HP was not going to accept any
responsibility for having manufactured a computer with a defective
part. They would, however, repair it at my expense. I also called
the office supply store where I had purchased the computer, but
they said they were unaware of any HP computers having defective
graphics chips and they refused to accept any responsibility for
having sold me the computer.
Because of my
previous experience with IBM, and after reading other customers'
reports of negative experiences with HP, I felt it was useless to
pursue the matter any further. I could fight to the bitter end, or
I could face reality now. I decided to purchase a new computer and
totally sever any reminder of Hewlett Packard--that's just how I
felt, right or wrong. I decided not to get the Compaq repaired.
I went back to the computer repair shop. I swapped the computer
for what I owed for the diagnostic work. I wished the repairman
a Merry Christmas. 'Tis the season, and it was my way of coping.
Another Way to
Look at It
By the time I
purchase my fourth computer, I will have spent approximately $5,000
on computers over the past ten years. That amount does not include
what I have spent on a printer, ink cartridges, paper, software,
storage devices, cables, USB hubs, media card readers, and books
and magazines. I wish I had that $5,000 in the bank right now.
That averages to $500 per year; plus my monthly internet bill. If
I did not need the internet for news, research, and e-mail, and if
I did not have a website to maintain, I would go back to using a
typewriter. And, it may seem like e-mail is for free but,
depending on how many e-mails you send, writing a letter and buying
a postage stamp might be cheaper.
However, there is
another way to look at it. You can purchase a laptop computer for
as low as $299 nowadays (a real laptop, not a netbook). There
seem to be some decent ones marketed for Christmas sales that are
advertised at $399, $449, and $499. Let's say I purchase a new
laptop for $499. I could purchase a new laptop every year for the
next ten years--thereby avoiding out-of-warranty breakdown
issues--for another $5,000.
My point is that
dependency on computers--not a bad thing in itself--means
dependency on computer manufacturers and the stores that sell
computers. Based on my experience, only 1 out 3 computers was a
good one. Moreover, it did not matter if the computer was high- or
low-priced, or if it was basic or fancy. All three of my computers
were made by companies that had good reputations. And, even though
my Toshiba remained problem-free until it got old, I would not be
surprised if there are some customers who had bad luck with their
Toshibas from the beginning.
with Computer Manufacturing and Sales
Allow me to
conclude by summarizing a few points. I will start by sharing my
Five Problem Points with Computer Manufacturing and Sales which I
gathered from my experiences with computer ownership,
manufacturers, stores, and from my research for this essay.
(1) It is difficult
to know which sources of information to trust when you begin
shopping for a new computer. You can read computer magazines,
technology website reviews, customer testimonies, and talk to
salesmen--and still end up with a defective product. Without
reliable information, getting a good computer becomes a matter of
(2) When you seek
help from Tech Support agents, they begin a process called
troubleshooting. This makes sense when it is done properly.
They rule out the least complicated problems first, and then move
on to those that are more severe. The hope, for you and the
manufacturer, is for a simple solution to a simple problem.
However, it is possible that the troubleshooting process is
sometimes abused. A temporary solution might be offered in order
to avoid an accurate and costly solution (costly to the
manufacturer) to a severe problem. This can be done repeatedly
until the computer is out of warranty.
warranties are inadequate. All computers should come with a 2- or
3-year warranty. If computers were built right, with quality parts
and proper construction, there is really no reason that
manufacturers could not offer a limited lifetime warranty.
Customers should not have to purchase a new computer every year
(or every 2 or 3 years) because of computer failure.
should be properly engineered; and inspected and tested at the
factory. If computers are built in other countries and then
shipped to America, there must be supervisors hired in those
countries and put in charge of quality control.
(5) The parts used
and the type of construction should reflect the purpose of the
computer. If a laptop, for example, is going to be used for games,
CD's and DVD's, photography editing, uploading and downloading--all
of which can exert the system--then such a laptop must be
engineered and constructed to perform these tasks effortlessly. If
a laptop is going to be used only for school or business, then
simpler laptops should be made for basic word-processing and office
programs and at a low price. Simpler computers should not be used
for playing games, etc., and manufacturers should not preload such
programs on these models.
Four Rules of
When I purchase my
next computer, I will follow my own Four Rules of Computer
Purchasing. I do not like these rules, but I think they are
necessary for self-protection.
(1) I will
immediately register my computer and cope with any unwanted
advertisements from the manufacturer. This way, the manufacturer
can notify me of any defects or recalls. I will not rely totally
on Windows Update, Health Check, System Information, Performance
Logs and Alerts, Event Viewer, or the manufacturer's website (such
as Drivers and Software update download pages).
(2) I will buy a
(3) I will keep all
receipts even beyond the warranty expiration.
(4) I will continue
my product research even after purchase--reading technology
websites and blogs to see if any defect issues have been
That's a lot of
busy work, and stress, just to own a computer. It should not be
necessary. Customers should be able to trust manufacturers that
a computer will last more than one year. I still have the
instruction booklet from my HP Compaq. After I purchased the
computer, brought it home and opened it up, I peeled a sticker
off it and pasted it inside the back cover of the instruction
booklet. The sticker reads: "BUILT TO LAST."
The Lesson I
Learned about Owning a Computer
Finally, I learned
a lesson from all this. It is a lesson that might save money
as well as eliminate unnecessary stress.
Just because your
computer is old, just because the model is extinct and no longer
manufactured, just because it is not as powerful or fancy as the
new models: that does not mean your computer is useless. If it
still functions, it is a good computer. If it does everything you
need it to do, then why purchase a new one?
Of course, people
who love gadgets and technology, and who have disposable income,
will frequently purchase computers and stay updated with all the
technological advances. And, today's new computers can do some
things which older computers could not do or could not do as well,
such as digital photography editing. But, if your old computer
basically serves you well, you might consider keeping it. It
might be an alternative to gambling away your hard-earned money.
[NOTE 1: The
Hewlett Packard company was made aware this essay would be
published on this website by 12/31/10; Hewlett Packard was provided
with the URL of this website; Hewlett Packard was invited to
respond to this essay.]
[NOTE 2: This essay
is based on personal experience. The author is not a computer
expert. The author does not accuse any individual, company, or
store of malicious or illegal intentions or actions. This essay is
not intended to serve as advice regarding computer or related
purchases, but only to expose a specific problem and to share a
personal experience that seems to be based on that problem. The
author has relied on a computer repairman's assessment of the
computer in question, and on the symptoms of NVIDIA failure
which include: sudden overheating, no video, black screen. The
author does not intend any generalized statement on the overall
quality of any computer brand or model. This essay is subject to
error.] (Written 12/20/10: bibliography available.)
After doing more
computer shopping and talking to more salesmen, I have uncovered
the following opinions (again, the reader is responsible for
assessing the validity and reliability of this information):
computers are built to last approximately two to three years. The
reasons are: (A) Laptops are built fast and cheap. (B) In order to
sell new Operating Systems (such as Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7),
the computer must begin to fail so that people will buy the new
(2) It is not
uncommon for people to return new computers to the store within the
14-day store return policy, or to attempt to return the computers
after the 14-day period. The typical problems are: electrical
surge damage, moisture damage, broken fans, overheating caused by
graphics chips, and damage to the motherboard caused by the
(3) There can be a
variation of quality among laptops within the same brand and model.
Let's say you buy two identical laptops for your two teenagers,
Tony and Olivia. It is possible that Tony's laptop might be
defective right out of the box, while Olivia's might not begin to
manifest any malfunction until three years later.
While shopping this
week, I found an unusual computer at Big Lots. It was a
refurbished desktop computer: Hewlett Packard DC7000 Series. It
had an Intel Pentium processor, a 40 GB hard drive, 1024 MG of RAM,
and Windows XP. It included a keyboard and mouse, but the monitor
was sold separately. The price for the computer was $169. I think
this shows that a basic computer, for school or office, can be
built and sold at a low price. In fact, compared to the prices
(not quality) of laptops nowadays, this computer was probably
overpriced even at $169. (Written 12/22/10)
Until we meet