Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More on the Dell XPS M1530

More comments about the Dell XPS M1530, including a fixed keyboard bow and a warranty-repair on the fingerprint reader. See the original review at Review: XPS-m1530

As I reported last time, my new laptop was having problems with the "biometric authentication", otherwise known as a "Fingerprint Reader." With this, you can swipe your finger and have it automatically log you in, replacing the need for a boot-up password and it also works in some applications and websites.

At first I discounted it as a frilly-device, but truth-be-told, I came to like it and the more it malfunctioned the more I wanted it to work. The fingerprint reader mysteriously quit working on the day I changed the Windows login password and everyone, including me, agreed this was a software problem. Since a lot of money died buying this machine, it became a matter of principle: it was time to call Dell.

Dell Chat with India

I started a "Chat" session in Dell-India. I've used other vendor's chat sites before and if you are a good typist, it is often more efficient and faster than talking to someone on the phone. Plus, because it is transcript, you do not have to repeat everything you typed earlier when the case moves to second and third-level support, as my calls often do.

Working with an Indian call-center can be a strange experience; you have to be careful about slang and other idioms and sometimes they write a perfectly readable sentence that is vaguely off-kilter ("Hi, my name is Valendadk 798335. Do not worry, I will fix your problem"). Naturally, my problem was unsolvable and I am sad to report 4 hours later I was still on the Chat session.

Ultimately, they started asking the question I thought they would ask after the first 20 minutes. "Do you have a current backup" because we want you to restore your software to factory-OEM settings. For once I had the pleasure of saying I had already done that a week earlier and was unwilling to do it again (last month I trashed the entire machine while testing software and had to rebuild the disk). I was moved to second-level support. After a lot more futzing around and a move to third-level, everyone gave up and we agreed to end the call without a resolution.

Then they asked the fateful question: "Is there anything else we can help you with?" Yes there was: "Why does the keyboard have an ever-so-slight bow in the middle?" The hump was probably caused by a wire or something underneath and I was worried the keys would scratch the screen when the lid was closed. The tone of the Chat session immediately changed. Within a few minutes, they were scheduling a repair person who would replace the keyboard and "palm-rest assembly." The palm-rest-assembly contains a new fingerprint reader.

I protested. Why do this when it was clearly a software problem and the hump was not really causing an obvious problem? To my surprise, they more-or-less insisted, and a few days later, a Dell man came with the new parts.

Dell Onsite Service

Dell contracts their service and repair with third-party companies and my experience was good. Watching the repair man dissect the laptop was interesting. He started by putting two sheets of paper on the desk. By hand, he had drawn a series of circles, labeled "keyboard", "Screen Hinge", "backplane", "hard disk" and others. Without exaggerating, he must have removed 30 different screws, pulled a dozen wires, connectors, metal brackets and other do-dads. Each was placed in their respective circle. This is a very smart man who has done this before.


As he worked, he asked, "why am I even doing this when it looks like a software problem?" I shrugged, knowing he had read the transcript. He went on to say that this is one of the more complicated laptops to repair because everything is packed in tight, but you could tell a lot of thought went into the design. There are horizontal cooling fans, air-ducts and other internal features that spoke of a well-designed machine. There was even a slick heat-pipe that snaked its way through the motherboard, passing over 4 different chips.

Keyboard Hump

It took about an hour to repair the computer. The "hump" was gone and the fingerprint reader works perfectly, never failing. Replacing the hardware was an unexpected solution to the problem. While the laptop was being repaired, I did not have the chance to ask about the keyboard hump. But later research revealed the keyboard hump is caused by a mis-installed screw. Photo illustration, thanks to "Tux1530":


Although the Chat session was too long, they were always professional and to their credit, they worked hard on the problem. But I'd bet India was cursing my name when the ticket was closed. In an attempt to repair my world-wide image, I sent a note back to Dell, thanking them for the good service, both on the Chat and on the onsite visit.

A Year Later

Even after a year, the laptop still appears professional and stylish. It still turns heads when people see it; the thinness, the white-outside cover and stainless interior all contribute to an attractive and functional machine.

Originally, when ordered, Dell offered four colors: Black, Red, White and Dark Blue. The Red (which is a charity-fund raiser) comes with numerous other features and is considerably more expensive. White is no longer offered and I guess that makes mine a collector's edition.

Since buying the machine, I have also purchased a traveling power supply (see link below) and I recommend doing this for any machine that moves often.

Compared to 17" Laptops

The XPS 1530 has a 15.4" wide-aspect screen that comes in several resolutions. I chose the 1440 x900 pixel version and it was a good decision. The controversy over the glossy screen is gone and all of my friends and coworkers agree this was the right decision (original review: Dell XPS M1530).

However, since then, newer 17" laptops are on the market and these have huge, beautiful screens. When making a decision between the 15" and 17" laptop, the difference is in portability and weight. If you need a desktop replacement, consider the 17" models. But if you have to lug it through airports, give this careful thought.

Related Articles:
Initial Review: XPS M1530
More on the Dell XPS M1530
XPS M1530 Replacement Battery
Laptop Battery Care and Feeding
Dell's Slim Power Adapter
Review: Maxtor Mini External USB Drive
Review: Microsoft Wireless Mouse 7000

Windows 7 on the XPS M1530 - Initial Look
Windows 7 64-bit XPS M1530 Drivers


Top photo credit: Tom Baker (tbtech.info)

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