Today's Topic



Got a Defective Computer?
Part III

Part I
Part II

Natalia J. Garland

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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.

There were 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.

My ThinkPad 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 functions.

My Toshiba Satellite

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 and efficient.

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 essay.

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.

Five Problems 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 luck.

(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.

(3) Computer 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.

(4) Computers 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 Computer Purchasing

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-year warranty.

(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 discovered.

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):

(1) Laptop 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 systems.

(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 overheating.

(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 again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2010 Natalia J. Garland