So, all year, I’ve been dealing with Dell; their computers, their Pro Support, their technicians. And from my experience, I’ve learnt many things, so I’m going to share with you as many of the tips and tricks that I’ve picked up as I can.
I’ve broken my tips down into categories relating to each step in the process of resolving issues with a problematic system. They range from dealing with the machine itself, to dealing with the Dell tech that comes out to fix the issue, if it comes to that. Some of these tips probably apply to other providers, but I don’t know for sure because I’ve only ever dealt with Dell.
Dealing with Dell Machines
There are quite a few tricks to a Dell computer that you can use when diagnosing an issue. The most obvious of these is one you may be totally unaware of, which is the on-board diagnostics. As far as I’ve seen, every Dell computer comes with a diagnostic boot option you can use to test the main components of the machine. To get to it, simply choose it from the boot menu, or just hold down the “FN” key (between the left CTRL & WIN key) as you power on the PC. This will automatically run a quick test. If the test finds an error, it will tell you in the form of an annoying beeping jingle, and an on-screen message, which includes a short description of the issue and an error code you can use when you contact Support later. Write down the whole message, or take a photo, as Support often seem to have no idea what the error code on its own means. If the test finds nothing, it will ask you if you want to run extended tests on the HDD and RAM. These can take hours, and sometimes find false positives, so only run them if you really think this is where your problem may lie.
Although the on-board diagnostics are good and quick, they don’t test everything, and they don’t let you choose what to test. For that, you need to get the full diagnostics from Dell’s website. It’s fairly straightforward to do. Just go to the Support section of the site, and follow the prompts to get to the Drivers & Downloads section for your model of computer. It should be in its own category called Diagnostics. Once you find it there, you need to download it, and run the installer to create a bootable USB. You may need a old USB because some diags can only be run off a 2GB or less drive. There are other diagnostics on Dell’s website, but they aren’t as good as these ones, if you can get them to run.
If the issue you’re having won’t let you even run the diagnostics, there are a few other tricks you can try to isolate the cause of your problem. If you’re not sure if the screen is working, you can test it alone by holding down the “D” key as you power on the machine. This should cause the LCD to cycle through a variety of full screen colours, before continuing to boot. Of course, this assumes that both the keyboard and the wires running to the screen are working.
If you have a laptop that doesn’t seem to be turning on and you’re not sure why, you can check that it’s not the power button by turning on the machine with this trick. Remove the battery and hold down the “FN” key (between the left CTRL & WIN key) as you connect the charger. If you’ve done it right, and your machine (including the keyboard) is actually working, the machine should start up just like normal.
Another little trick you can use to get to the BIOS menu quickly is by holding down the F2 key as the machine starts up. This can be particularly handy if you need to change some setting en masse.
If you decide you want to pull your machine open, but you’re a bit unsure on how, I found a list of service manuals on Dell’s website. The model list is a bit cryptic, but if you look hard enough, you’ll probably find your system eventually. They’re all here: http://supportapj.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/
Dealing With Phone Support
So you’ve still got an issue. Maybe you got an error code, or maybe you’re still completely clueless as to the cause, but it’s now time to call Support. Before you do call though, there are a few things you need to have and do to speed along the process.
- The computer’s service tag. This is a 7 character alpha-numeric code that identifies that device, and also serves as a serial number. It’s usually found at or on the back of the machine and will always end in an “S” or a “1”. Devices of the same batch usually share the same last 4 characters, with the last two usually being common for all devices of the same model.
- Any error codes, error messages, or similar information. You need to be ready to tell them this information, almost verbatim, so they can deduce what the issue is.
- In the case of accidental damage cover, photos and/or a story. Usually these days, they only ask for photos if you can’t give a detail enough account of how the device got damaged. And when I say detailed, I don’t mean a big deal. All you really need is something like “It was damaged in the user’s bag, to or from the office, and was discovered on the 12 of this month.” If they still ask for photos, you don’t always have to take new ones. Keep old photos and reuse them for different devices, as long as they’re reasonably similar.
- For any unusual faults, photos. If the issue you’re having is hard to explain or understand, they may ask you for a photo. Don’t waste time trying to explain how this connects to that, or the exact shape of the scramble you’re seeing, just send them a photo.
- Run the diagnostics. The support tech will nearly always ask you to run diagnostics, so beat them to it and just run them before you call, or even while you’re on hold.
- Run any other test they are likely to ask you about. For example, if the keyboard or screen isn’t working, test it with an external one or different one; if the machine won’t start up, take out one of the sticks of RAM. I realise this sort of thing isn’t always an option for less techy people or home users with less resources, and that’s ok. That just means that you’ll have to take the more unsure approach when you explain the problem. Every bit of information you have about the issue speeds up the diagnostic process for the guy on the other end of the phone.
There are two approaches you can take when lodging a service call. You can take the specific and direct approach, or the cautious and unsure approach. Each serves its purpose when necessary. When you’re sure of the part at fault, or the cause of the issue, you can take the direct approach and just tell them that the part has failed. This is the approach you would probably take if you have an error code. If you don’t have an error code but want to take this route, you may be able to use one from the cheat sheet below. This process is much quicker than the unsure approach and can be sped up further by answering the support tech’s questions with the optimal answers (i.e. “Yes, I’ve tried that and it made no difference”, “No, there were no other errors”). A word of warning when taking this approach: if you lie, or say something that’s not accurate, you may end up getting caught out either when you are further questioned by a technician, or the problem isn’t resolved after the part is replaced. If you’re unsure, don’t wing it. Let the guy on the other end of the phone work out the cause. This is the unsure approach. If you haven’t been able to nail down, with a fair amount of certainty, the cause of your issue, tell the support tech everything you know and have tried and let them work out the cause. The only problem with this approach is that support techs have a habit of suggesting you try a variety of ridiculous fixes before they come up with the answer. For example, a BIOS update will never fix a machine if it was previously working and hasn’t been altered at all. The same is also true of most driver issues. If they start talking like this, tell them that you don’t have the time, or access or you’ve already tried it .
Dell Cheat Codes **Warning – Please only use these codes for niceness, instead of evil**
- Motherboard – Err. 4600:021E – “Internal CPU Temp Undefined”
- HDD – Err. 0F00:1344 – “Can’t read, Replace disk”
- HDD – Err. 2000:0142 – “HDD self-test fail”
- HDD – Err. 0F00:065D – “DST Selftest Read error”
- HDD or Motherboard – Err. 2000:0150 – “No hard drive detected”
- AC ADAPTOR/ Charger – Err. 3600:0749
Dealing with Techs
So, if it gets to the stage where a technician is sent out to fix the problem, you’ll definitely need a few tips for dealing with them.
- Be friendly – Be nice to your Dell tech, and he’ll (usually) be nice to you. The techs I’ve met have had a fairly hard life working for Dell, with long hours, dealing with difficult people. Don’t be another one. A happy tech is a quick and efficient tech. If he’s regularly coming out, you can form a bit of a rapport with him and he might even do you a favour ever now and then.
- Don’t leave the tech alone – It’s a bit of an unspoken rule at the House that you don’t leave the Dell tech alone, because he might nick something. The Professor told me about one tech who tried to make off with a whole bunch of extra screwdrivers. Another tech has openly told us about how he pilfers parts from Dell. While that’s not quite the same as stealing from a client, I wouldn’t put it past him, so it’s best to keep an eye on them. This is where being friendly can come in handy, so as not to seem too suspicious.
- Test and check the system before they leave – Techs are always in a hurry, and may often forget to reconnect something, or may miss something . I once had an argument with a tech over if the screen he had just replaced was suppose to be a touchscreen or not. He claimed that you couldn’t get this model with a touchscreen and even rang Dell to check. He wouldn’t do anything until I got out another one of the same model and showed him proof. He’d simply forgotten to connect the touchscreen module. Whenever a tech leaves, we usually find a few rogue screws on the table or on the floor. If you can find the before he leaves, you might just be able to get him to put them back where they belong.
In the end, it comes down to doing your best to diagnose the issue so that Dell Support can sort it out for you. By collating information about the problem, you empower yourself. The more information you can give them, the faster it’ll be fixed. Go along with them, but keep a grain of salt for everything they tell you.
So, what did you think of that? Have you learnt any useful lessons from my experiences? Do the tips and tricks work for you? As always, if you have something to say, like a reply or a suggested blog topic, feel free to tell me in the comments below, or on my Facebook page.
- Asking for Help – Dos and Donts (justonesandzeros.typepad.com)