Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
A brand-new computer should work right out of the box. Mine didn't. I'll review my experience and the steps I took.
What if my new computer doesn't work?
You've shelled out the money and ordered your machine. You anticipate its arrival, and when it finally does show up you quickly open the box, set it up, and start to install applications and customize the system to your liking.
But what if your brand-new, just out-of-the-box system has a problem?
Well, it just happened to me. Let me tell you my experience so that you can see the issues I faced, and the steps I took to fix them.
In a previous article, What computer should I get? I detailed the decisions that went into my latest purchase of a Dell Latitude D600 laptop. At the end of that article I promised I'd describe how I went through the process of setting it up and customizing it once it arrived.
Unfortunately I didn't get as far as I had hoped.
Manuals - I've done this so many times that I rarely read the manuals any more. Naturally I recommend that you at least review any quick start or setup manuals that accompany your machine. I had ordered a port-replicator with the machine, which is a smallish docking station to which a keyboard, monitor, mouse, and other peripherals can be attached. Since it had been a while since I'd dealt with one of those (and in years past, they had been problematic), I paged through its setup manual. The instructions indicated that I needed to setup Windows BEFORE docking the laptop. Good to know because I almost did that wrong.
So I plugged in only the power adapter and turned on the machine.
Windows Setup - The first step with a newly built machine is to complete Windows XP Setup. XP had, in fact, already been installed on the machine, but the final stages of setup which customize it with your details still needed to be completed. That involved:
reading and accepting the Dell license agreement
confirming my country and keyboard layout
selecting my time zone
reading and accepting the Microsoft license agreement
choosing whether or not to enable Auto Updates (I selected no for now, so as not to interfere with anything I might do later - I plan to turn it on when my setup is complete)
entering the computer's name and description
confirming that the computer could not find an internet connection (I had not yet connected to any network)
declining the option to register online with Microsoft (particularly since I wasn't on any network)
declining to setup internet access (that's something I'll do later)
entering a user name for each person who will use the computer (in this case, one person: me)
It was at this point I got my first clue that something was amiss. Windows Setup needed to reboot to proceed.
Instead, it hung.
Continued Configuration - I also have done this enough times to be perhaps too forgiving. I simply forced the a reboot by powering down the machine and restarting it.
I docked the laptop in the port replicator. I changed the administrator password. I set up a network connection. But as I was doing all this (which I'll detail in a later article), I noted something odd. The fan started to run. That happens when the processor gets warm, and that happens when it's busy. It shouldn't be that busy.
100% CPU - I fired up Task Manager and noted that the CPU was pegged at 100% usage. My first thought was a virus. It was really unlikely that a virus was propagating on my firewalled network, but stranger things can happen. In all honesty I wondered if the machine had shipped with a virus already on it. So I installed my anti-virus updated its database and scanned away. The machine scanned clean. I also visited Windows Update, but there was nothing particularly interesting there either.
I attempted to reboot the machine. It hung.
After forcing the reboot again the processor was still pegged at 100%. I grabbed my copy of SysInternals Process Explorer to see if it would tell me which process was consuming all the CPU. No real help there as the process was the generic "System" process (not the idle process). But a clue: procexp also told me that between 5 and 15% of the processor was handling hardware interrupts. That simply shouldn't be if the machine is doing nothing.
Getting Help - At this point I decided I needed help. I went first to the Dell forums and posted a description of my problem. The very first response was "Send It Back!". While I could understand that response (a new machine should just work), that's a hassle and I at least wanted to give fixing it a try.
I called Dell support. To their credit, each technician I spoke to was helpful and listened to what I had to say and what I had done so far. The suggestions they made were reasonable. But the suggestions didn't help.
The final step a technician and I both arrived at was to reformat and reinstall Windows XP. Since I'd barely touched the machine, there was nothing on it that would be lost so this made perfect sense.
I inserted the CD-ROM (Always insist on getting a CD-ROM of any pre-installed operating system for exactly this reason.) Formatting went well, though slowly. I suspect the processor was still pegged at 100%. Windows "character mode" setup proceeded properly and copied all the files to the hard disk. Then it went to reboot.
You guessed it. It hung.
At this point I knew I was sunk. But I plodded on, forcing the reboot and allowing Windows GUI setup to complete. Then it went to reboot.
I turned off the machine, called Dell's "Customer Care" unit and arranged for an exchange. As I write this my "old" new machine is re-boxed and awaiting pickup and the "new" new machine is being built by Dell, hopefully to arrive next week.
I'll continue my "how to configure your machine" once that machine arrives and is working.
Some Lessons Learned - and items to remember:
Keep the original boxes and packing material. I typically keep it all for a year, but at a minimum keep it for the "easy return" period that your manufacturer has. For Dell, I believe that's 21 days.
Always get a CD-ROM of the operating system. You could be in serious trouble if you don't have one. I'm shocked that some other manufacturers refuse to provide one, and would never buy a machine from them.
Expect the best. A new machine should work. Period. Especially before connecting it to the network, and before installing any additional software. Take the time to check it out under those conditions.
Ask for help. The first response to my Dell forum posting was within minutes and dead-on accurate. The folks at Dell's technical support were also easy to work with and helpful.
Play nice. Firm, but nice. It doesn't pay to get upset or annoyed with phone support technicians - in fact doing so will typically only make matters worse. Escalate if you need to; firmly if that's what it takes, if but always, always, be polite and friendly. No technician is going to go out of their way to go the extra mile for an abusive customer.
Remember that "stuff" happens. I don't mean to make excuses for bad hardware or machines, but the fact is things can go wrong. Naturally there should be a high expectation of quality, so in my case if replacement machine also has a problem I'll return it and politely take my business elsewhere.
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