Opening Pandora's box

The following is a slightly edited version of the letters I've sent to the store I bought the IBM clone computer from.  Slightly edited, in that the company name has been removed from the message, and the tenses changed to a more third party conversation style.

Now (June 2002), I couldn't be stuffed about keeping it secret which company jerked me around, anymore.  It was Cherry Computers, in South Australia.

17th December 1999

On the 30th of November I paid for a computer system from xxxxx company, and was informed that it ought to take about 5 days for it to be built.  It finally arrived on the 11th of December, after (apparently) spending the better part of a week waiting for a Zip drive.

Right from the word go it didn't work.  Basic things, such as opening HyperTerminal, caused the mouse pointer image to freeze on the screen, but let an invisible mouse pointer still work around the screen and activate parts of the GUI.  Errors when using media player, blue screen errors when trying to play MPEGs.  I was given to understand that these things are tested before releasing a system, yet I managed to kill it within the first two minutes of use, without even trying anything fancy.

One of the prime parts of the set up was a DVD player.  This didn't work  Causing instant blue screen deaths; after inserting a disk, a program automatically popped up for playing the disks, which promptly crashed.  Un-installing and re-installing, got it working for a while, but then it crashed again, and then wouldn't even allow itself to be un-installed (same blue screen crash when attempting to un-install).  I haven't even got around to testing other things on the system (another major part of the system is a CD burner).

I contacted the support line, who said that it just needed a VDU card swapping over—it's incompatible with the MPEG card, in their opinion—and that it could be done in the store, as they had techs in the stores who did simple things like this, even though all their system builds were done elsewhere.  I brought it back to the store on Monday the 13th of December; and was told it had to go back to a different place, and it ought to take about two days.

On, Friday the 17th of December, I rang the store to see if there were any news, only to be told that the system hadn't even been looked at.  This did not bode well for their customer service; I'd now been waiting 18 days for a system, one that was delivered faulty in the first place, obviously inadequately tested, already paid for, and is now still being ignored.  I told them I expected some priority to be given to this situation, and I shall be calling, yet again, early next week and expect to hear something that I want to hear, for a change, or I shall be strongly considering demanding a refund and taking my business elsewhere.

28 December 1999

What I've experienced since then:

I finally get the computer back on Thursday, December the 23rd, after finding out a couple of days ago that they've solved the problems (motherboard replaced, and its BIOS re-flashed; the video card replaced because of hardware conflicts; and a conflict resolved between the sound card and the MPEG decoder card).

Now I find:  The A drive (LS-120) is inaccessible, it's also mounted as the I drive (which is accessible, but not bootable from).  I'm still getting MMSYSTEM266 errors when trying to use the MPEG card.  And I've not even got around to trying much else.

I read the help text that comes with the MPEG card, and it warns not to put the MPEG card in the first PCI slot (where it currently is inserted), as it conflicts with the AGP VDU video card.  I unplug the MPEG card, and put it into PCI slot 2.  This fixes the error messages with video/MPEG functions.

I have a fiddle with a few BIOS settings for the floppy drive (leaving everything else alone), trying to (a) get the A drive accessible, or (b) at least be able to somehow boot of a floppy disk in it, whatever letter the system wants to call the drive.  No luck.

I ring the store, get passed to a tech who doesn't seem to know much more than I do, who then passes me onto another tech as he just comes in, who does know what to do.  I'm told to change some hard drive BIOS settings from “NONE” to “AUTO” (they had set it on “NONE”), then which settings to suit the floppy drive.  This fixes the A drive problem.

So this allegedly fixed, tested, and working, system was sent back to me with incorrect BIOS settings.  If I, the customer, a new IBM computer owner, hadn't been of the technical sort, the “new owner” wouldn't have had a chance in hell of getting this system to work.  Having got this working, myself, I now proceeded to fix other faults with the system.  Such as:

The LEDs on the box front not working.  The power LED was plugged in reverse polarity, the HDD LED was plugged into the keyboard lock pins.

I found the CPU fan wasn't plugged in at all.  The CPU thermal sensor that comes supplied with the motherboard, according to the manufacturers manual (and web site), isn't present.

I decide to straighten up the rather noticeably crookedly mounted LS-120 drive, and find the HDD is sitting in the frame with one screw half hanging out.  The removable frame that holds the HDD and floppies isn't (a) inserted into the chassis properly—it's hanging out of one end, and (b) only two of the three screws to hold it in place are present.

And I'm yet to try out everything that this computer is supposed to be able to do.  I'm eventually intending to put Linux on it too, but so far this computer and LInux won't have a bar of each other.  Red Hat Linux won't find a drive to install itself to; and Caldera Open Linux doesn't find the mouse, or manage to progress through it's install screen after picking the language to use (using the keyboard).

Future note:  I did get eventually Linux onto it—after a few years someone developed support for the I/O hardware on this motherboard.

But what did I pay for?  I bought a system from a company, expecting that they'd supply a working system.  If I wanted to build it myself, then I'd have bought the parts, for much less money, and done so.  I have serious doubts about the company's ability to fulfil any future warrantee obligations after all this debacle.

I'd like a job at this company please.  I couldn't possibly do it any worse than some of the existing staff.  And I, at least, read the manuals, and actually, really, test the system by using it, not just letting Windows check itself for hardware conflicts (it's not reliable).

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