Dell Laptops – Thermal Issues, Laptop Replacements & Unacceptable Customer Service

Dell Laptop on FireWhat do you get when you cross a Dell laptop, overheating issues and Dell customer support…  If you can spare 5 minutes for a quick read I can answer that. In short you get a lemon, a load of stress and a long time with an inoperable machine. For any of you that own a laptop, Dell or otherwise, I write this article to outline my case and publicly tell the tale of what I have gone through. I not only welcome your thoughts as comments but also your stories of issues you have faced with Dell or even another manufacturer.

To set the scene in mid 2009 I purchased a shiny new Dell M4400 Precision Mobile Workstation, at $7500 AUD it really was the top of the range and bleeding edge system which I believe was the first Dell business laptop to contain a quad core CPU (the Intel Q9300). After moving houses I began to notice thermal issues with the laptop (about mid 2010), in my previous house I was always in a very warm room so during the summer months had an air conditioner running right next to the laptop) therefore it was not till I moved to a new house that these issues became apparent.

Any time the laptop was used in a room with an ambient temperature above ~23-24 degrees Celsius the laptop throttled the CPU by 87.5% (rendering it unusable) and while it was in a usable state would output heat that would burn your hand if you left it in front of the vent for more than a couple of seconds. In October 2010 after doing my own diagnosis and deciding there was a genuine hardware issue I logged a call with Dell under my 4 Hour warranty (which I paid a large premium for which entitles me to a technician and parts on site within 4 working hours). After breeching the service level agreement (SLA) due to part availability and having to get parts from interstate the tech replaced the heatsink and fan in the laptop in the hope that this would resolve the thermal issues. Over the coming months this proved to be an ongoing issue and therefore I logged a new call to Dell.

This brings us to the fun part:

  • Dell on site to replace CPU, new part is a dud and tech has to come the following day with a new part as Sydney only had a single unit in stock
  • New CPU does not resolve issues, on site tech admits there is something seriously wrong.
  • On site tech boots the laptop the moment the computer booted up the CPU was idling at 65 degrees Celsius, the rated maximum for the Intel Q9300 is 70 degrees Celsius. The tech from dell on this occasion looked at me and said the guys back in the office have no idea how you have worked for this long on the laptop… he agreed it was obviously a fatal design flaw and the Dell M4400 model was never designed to handle the thermal dissipation required to cool the quad core CPU.
  • Dell takes my M4400 offsite for two days for internal testing. They attempted various CPUs to try to rectify the thermal overheating. Alas they were not able to and in turn were able to conclude that I had a wonderful $7500 Lemon.

After all this I was tossing up between a refund or a replacement system and as Dell informed me that the refund would only be ~30% of the purchase price I opted for the replacement. I was informed this would be about 10 working days (or at least that was my understanding, the account manager said today that she stated 10-14 working days, YAY for he said/she said). Regardless of this fact after the order FINALLY being placed today I was informed that the laptop would in fact be 14 – 21 working days… Now… a little maths for you. I pay through the *nose* to get a 4 hour warranty, I am then told it doesn’t cover a replacement laptop and that requires additional time… something that I never believe it stating it was restricted to. However even if we say take 10 working days at 8 hours a day, a 10 day delay is over 20 times the 4 hour warranty I signed up for.

The puzzle that Dell does not seem to appreciate is that when I purchased this Laptop, I paid a massive premium to, according to my understanding, resolve any issues within 4 working hours. If there has to be a slightly longer duration to cover lemon replacements… OK I can accept that however I fail to see how 28-42 times the duration that I deemed to be appropriate repair and resolution (i.e. 14-21 working days x 2 possible repair windows every 8 hours for a working day) is deemed to be a FAIR time for replacement.

After speaking once again to the account manager today I was told to blatantly and rudely to “deal with it” and if I wanted to I could “take it further”. So I have, called up customer care and requested a call from the complaints manager, and I have logged a call to fair trading. So as I have had to deal with these consistent issues, constant warranty (SLA) breaches, constant unavailability of parts and the fact that Dell really does not seem to be able to get me a replacement system in a fair and reasonable time frame I decided I had to share.

What I ask of you fine reader is… what would you consider to be a fair time for replacement… I told them 5 to 10 days as I realise they need to get the order from Malaysia but even 10 working days I feel is pushing far beyond reasonable when you consider that upon purchasing the system originally I did so with the understanding that any issues would be resolved in a very timely manner. I use the system for work, study and personal affairs and therefore without a working laptop I struggle immensely.

So go nuts… what are your thoughts?