I’ve had some very bad experiences with the computer manufacturer Dell, ever since I first contacted them in 2010. You see, my old XP computer had stopped working and there didn’t seem to be any way I could get it going again, short of putting in a new motherboard-CPU combination, plus most probably a new OS. I figured it would probably be cheaper, in the long run, to get a brand new computer, and so I started looking around for good prices particularly on-line.
Off-line, you could get a new PC from a local builder, for around $800 which didn’t include a monitor or OS software disc. Most were small shops that just made a few hundred pcs in a back room somewhere. On-line, though, there appeared to be a couple large scale manufacturers who’s prices were comparatively good. My recently deceased computer which had started out running 95, then 98 until it finally got XP, had cost me all in all around $400 not including a monitor. And what I used it for, was mostly writing, and creating Epub type of publications, usually in PDF format. It took ages to complete a job, and then the final product appeared quite amateurish. I tried my hand at audio CD and movie DVD mastering, too. The XP type of software was easy to use and mostly automatic. But if you needed to edit your audio or your video, things got rather difficult indeed. Audio took about 15 minutes per 5 minute track to edit, in terms of noise reduction, application of equaliser effects, and change of format. Usually the result was excellent and burned to disc satisfactorily.
However, video was another issue entirely. Sometimes it took the computer 23 hours to process an hour long video! The first time it started to do that, I thought the system had frozen, and was almost ready to hit the re-set button, when I noticed there was a lot of activity in the CPU. So, I just adjust the power settings so the thing wouldn’t automatically switch to off after 4 or 5 hours and let it run its course. All I was doing as I recall, was changing some basic parameters of a video file. Some slight light/colour/contrast adjustment, frame size and audio rate. I wanted to put it onto a video DVD disc without any further encoding, so had to have a size which would fit. The software I used could do all of that, but was so slow it was amazing.
Eventually the file was created and played OK and looked fine, but as you can imagine I was a little pissed off that it had taken over 21 hours to do. Creating DVD folders was a much shorter task. Usually, the video I wanted to use was accepted by the authoring program, and all that needed to be done, was a recode to VOB specs. Took, usually, less than 2 hours for a 70 minute film. And then of course, after doing that type of thing for a year or so, the computer just completely packed up and wouldn’t boot, or do anything beyond POST.
So, I went looking for a new one which is how I came into direct contact with DELL. It was a choice between Dell, HP and one other brand I don’t recall the name of right now. But all had prices which were similar, and the specs of their machines were all just about the same. They were using the new 64 bit OS called Win 7, supposed because it was faster and would work on more advanced computers. My old one had been a single core 1.4 GHz Intel CPU, but I was about to get a dual core 2.9 GHz Intel CPU minimum! Make no mistake, my manuscript publishing, my audio editing and my video editing were not full time occupations. I’d do one of these tasks say about once a month and wanted it to take less than 2 days to complete. So, buying a new PC seemed like a good idea and a week after starting my “research” I put in an order with Dell Australia, to get one of their Inspiron computers, with a twelve month warranty.
It cost over $600 though, plus delivery from Sydney and took more than 10 days to arrive. Had to sign for it as it was delivered by a private contractor. I opened the box, which was huge and took out the keyboard/mouse and case and plugged everything in and powered it up. You can imagine how disappointed I was when nothing happened beyond a few beeps and post messages. For some reason it wanted a password, and I didn’t have it, so I tried contacting DELL by email first. No response for 4 days and then an answer that said virtually nothing. Then I tried a couple interstate phone calls, and the best they could offer was to sell me an installation disc for the software. Supposedly I could then install it all and get it working without the need for a password. So, I agreed to their suggestion and paid them another $60 for a software disc and just waited. After 12 days when nothing arrived I phoned them again and was told the disc had to be shipped from Malaysia and would not come for at least 5 weeks! I was outraged.
I checked through the entire warranty paper work that had come with the packing slip and found that I could return the whole thing within 30 days if it wasn’t satisfactory. I decided that’s what I’d do, and phoned Dell again and told them of my intentions. They were pretty annoyed but gave me some numbers for the paperwork and said they’d send some more stuff I had to use to return the package. It would cost me nothing, they said and I’d get either a refund or another brand new computer.
I opted for another brand new computer (at over $600), sent the huge box back via a private courier and waited. It took them 14 days to process the returned goods, and ship out another boxed computer. It seems they get deliveries of boxed computers from Malaysia where, I presume, they are built; they then sell the boxes at a large profit, leaving them unopened. Which means the machines have not been tested or anything. Labour is cheap in Malaysia you see, and quite a bit of the stuff that goes into making a Dell computer is actually manufactured in China, where wages are even worse! So, they do make a lot of money.
This time the computer worked right out of the box, and after a one hour set-up which involved a lot of pre-installed Dell type software, I managed to reach a desktop. It seemed to load slightly faster, and the graphics were definitely better. But I soon found that with a little pressure, the screen often froze, graphics became distorted or garbled and speed greatly reduced when the memory was full. Admittedly, I could now do a 90 minute DVD encode in less than an hour, but video editing was still slow and cumbersome. I read somewhere that if you put in a graphics card and more memory, it would help the machine work faster with certain tasks, such as video encoding. So, I went and bought an extra 4 Gigs of memory at a cost of around $150, plus a graphics card with CUDA acceleration for $140. It was easy to set these up and the machine did perform better.
But then the software disc arrived, which I’d paid for, and rather than the OS which came pre-installed, it was for something called Windows 7 Basic. It couldn’t be upgraded, didn’t have half the inbuilt stuff of the pre-installed software, and didn’t come with a key, which meant it could only be used for 30 days, or temporarily. It really was a rip-off!
Dell had some software installed automatically which was supposed to create a re-set disc which contained a mirror image of the PC as it was at the time the discs were made. I did this, made 2 sets and put them aside for a rainy day. These sets took 2 DVDs each and I checked them out only to find they could only be used to do what Dell described as a “factory re-set” wherein your hard disk is reformatted etc. But there was also some stuff that would backup documents/music/videos and with a little extra effort, software and downloads. Again, I did this 2 or 3 times using at least 3 DVDs each time.
Two years later, the computer was still working reasonably well. My only comparison being the old failed XP box. But the hard disk was getting close to full and its warranty had expired. It was a WD Caviar Blue 500Gb made in Thailand with a Sata 3 link. I went to Dell on-line and ordered another and they gave me the price of over $120 plus postage. I wasn’t thinking at all really, so went ahead and ordered the thing. It took 2 weeks to arrive, again very slow, and worked first time once installed inside the case. But in the meantime I had found some on-line stores selling hard drives for less than $70. Even a 500GB Caviar Blue WD was selling at less than $80, which amounted to a saving of $55! I didn’t buy one though, but kept it in mind. Instead, I got an external USB3 Seagate 2T Expansion Drive for $88 which I picked up from a local store called Officeworks on Portrush Road. Again, this item worked first time, and seemed to be much faster than the two internal hard disks. I thought maybe it was because of the USB3 thing, but my PC didn’t use it, only USB2.
Dell’s equipment has been designed for specific types of roles and so one of the main problems I encountered when trying to “up-grade” the hard ware, was the power supply. It was rated at 300 watts, and I needed at least 450 watts for the graphics card, the new memory, new hard disk plus the external 2T drive. What would happen is the computer would just shut down when I was trying to get it do very intense applications usually involving video encoding and/or playback. It couldn’t handle DVD playback at all, and kept freezing, and once it happened you had to re-set to get the computer working again, but obviously losing any work you hadn’t saved.
I was able to author a 120 minute video DVD and encode it, taking less than 40 minutes, if the original video file was in a format which didn’t require a hell of a lot of processing. But it was still too slow.
Then one day the Dell just stopped working. It was about 2 years out of warranty (warranty was for 12 months only) and nothing I did helped. I took it to a computer repair shop on Portrush Road and paid them $60 to try to fix it. They came back 5 days later with the diagnosis there was a short circuit in the memory module slot and could not be repaired. A new motherboard was required. Again, they said the type of CPU was old fashioned and the socket in the motherboard was out of date. Which meant getting a replacement MB was going to be difficult and expensive. On the other hand I could get one of the latest i7 CPUs plus motherboard, for less than $450!
First I tried replacement boards. Dell wouldn’t get me one at all. The socket type was out-dated and so the only boards I could find were located in Hong Kong and China, most were used, and were selling for over $100. I tried one, took a month to get here, but didn’t work flawlessly, so I looked for another, preferably brand new. Nothing was available for less than $150 plus post! Then I saw a $20 board, same make as the Dell, and took a chance and bought it. Now the problem was my software wouldn’t work. I couldn’t use the Factory re-set disks. They would appear to load and install the system taking at least 35 minutes, but when you tried to boot, it would fail and a blue screen appeared. Apparently, Dell had a security fix so that you could only use the DVDs on the original equipment. Otherwise, you’d be able to install the software on any computer! The software checked some chip on the motherboard to determine if the computer was the original, and when it found that it wasn’t, it couldn’t install the operating system so that it would function! Very tricky, because I couldn’t even use the Windows 7 Basic installation DVD, as I didn’t have a key, and the only way to get one was to buy a different edition of Windows 7, not an OEM one!
Again, I was stuffed and it was costing me a lot of money.
This had all been carefully engineered by Dell to maximise their profits. These days they even sell computers with high end graphics for $8000 or more! You could just about build your own machine with equivalent specs for less than $1500 including the graphics card. And that’s almost what I ended up doing. Built myself an i7 CPU based Windows 8.1 Pro system with 20GB of fast ram memory and a fairly standard graphics card, for less than $1,000. It turns out the graphics card wasn’t necessary for video encoding because Intel have embedded encoding in the CPU chip. All you have to do is enable it, use the correct encoding software (not usually free), and it works as fast if not faster than a standard CUDA graphics card. The only issue I have encountered since using this new computer I put together, is the overheating of the CPU. It isn’t a fixed frequency and can be over-clocked easily to get up to a 20% (4.5MHz) speed increase. When an application, like a video encoding one, uses all the available speed and memory, it generates a lot of heat and uses more power than is recommended. Temperatures reach 90 degrees in seconds, and then automatic shut down ensues. I’ve sort of solved this issue by using one of those small water coolers with a radiator. Cost me less than $70, and most of the time keeps the CPU temperature below 62 degrees even when its running at 100% use and 25% over wattage! This temp, 62 degrees, is a little high, although Intel say the CPU can work OK up to 72 degrees C; larger water coolers costing $150 are supposed to solve this problem and keep the CPU at a consistent temperature of less than 52 degrees, which is very cool. Higher temperatures mean the CPU will burn out and not last as long, despite a 3 year warranty. Using it at under 50 degrees will increase lifespan to 8 or 10 years at least.
Anyway, the fact is I can now author a 120 minute DVD in less than 8 minutes, which includes encoding. Video editing/encoding takes a little longer, usually 40 minutes for a two hour film that needs a lot of processing for video effects and frame size. Handbrake is one of the fastest apps for encoding and changing frame size; you start with an HD frame of at least 1990 by 1220 and bring it down to standard DVD 720 by 576, in less than 25 minutes for a 2 hour movie. This means a file that starts out at 25 Gigs can be reduced down to 5 or 6 Gigs in size without losing any video quality. As for word processing and creating Epubs/PDFs, it takes less than 90 seconds for even the largest file (250 MBs); audio is much the same, 30 4 minute tracks, which are being equalised and reformatted, takes less than 3 minutes!
So far as collusion goes, it’s obvious that the software creators and Dell work together almost as a team, to increase profits for everyone involved. With Microsoft it’s some deal which sees them selling rights to software which is going to be used by equipment manufacturers. The customer doesn’t usually get an actual copy of the software. What he gets is a computer with the software installed on it, and if anything goes wrong, repair is extremely tricky. My doctor, for example, uses a Dell Inspiron computer that is on his desk; he writes patient notes with it, checks on-line for the latest medications, and sometimes checks symptoms that way too. He has no back-up plan or any other computer to store data. And he told me that he did once have a serious problem, when, it was claimed by a repairer, the PC got infected with a Virus from the internet. He couldn’t access patient details, or write into their files. Couldn’t retrieve any data at all. And was prepared to accept the loss of everything. Fortunately for him, a professional computer repairer was able to get all the data back, remove the offending “virus” and make the computer work again. You’d have thought the doctor would have learned a lesson from all this, but he didn’t alter any of his practice. Didn’t get another backup computer, or use cloud storage. Just carried on with the same old machine which he said had cost him over $300 to get repaired from the Virus attack! Anyway, he uses Windows 7 and another program written for doctors and is quite happy with the way it works normally. My problem is that I paid good money to Dell and came away without an operating system installation DVD. It’s lucky for me there’s a store in town called D.Y.I. that will sell you sealed software discs for about 150% less than what “normal” stores charge. I wanted Windows 8 PRO and at Officeworks they were going for more than $350, while at D.Y.I. they sold for less than $160. The trouble with D.Y.I. though, is that it doesn’t stock older software packages, like Windows 7, or Vista or even XP 32 or 64 bit. And what I really wanted was Windows 7 because after 3 years of using it, on the Dell, I had gotten very familiar with the way it worked. There’s a new experimental version of Windows out now called Windows 10, which sort of uses a Win 7 type of desktop and taskbar. I got a free downloaded copy yesterday direct from Microsoft. It will expire, and stop functioned in February, around the 15th, next year. Once that happens it can’t be re-activated. You’ll need to get a new key, and re-install the whole system again. My bet is it will be a popular system and also costly. XP, when it first came out sold for less than $45 even at retail shops; after that, prices sky rocketed until Windows 8 saw over a 150% price increase; And what really bothers me is how Microsoft founder Bill Gates sees himself as having so much money that he can literally give billions away and still remain amongst the mega-rich of this planet! Why didn’t he just lower the prices of his products?