Thanks for the memory, Dell

I wrote the other day about my great experience with Dell. I mentioned how impressed I was with their service re my recent order for a memory upgrade.

As I mentioned in that post, delivery of the order was delayed with the revised delivery date of August 4. So my expectation was set based on Dell’s timely communication with me on the progress of my order.

So when the doorbell rang late yesterday afternoon, I was surprised to see the DHL guy with a package from Dell containing my order – two Kingston 512-meg memory modules.

Great nevertheless! Now I can pump up my PC’s memory to 2 gigs sooner than my revised expectation.

Upgrading memory in a Dell Dimension XPS Gen5 desktop computer is a straightforward procedure. Extremely well and clearly explained in the owner’s manual. I’ve done this kind of thing on desktop and laptop computers many times before so it presents no issues or concerns, especially when you purchase the memory upgrade directly from the manufacturer of your PC.

So last night I installed the upgrade.

Actually, not quite.

I followed the instructions to the letter, installed the memory, closed up the PC, reconnected everything and switched it on, paying close attention to the little diagnostic lights behind the panel on the front of the computer.

Oh dear, lights 1 and 3 stayed lit and I see this on my screen:

System halted! Mixing ECC and non-ECC DIMMs is not supported on this platform.

True enough – the manual explicitly says “Do not install ECC memory modules.” According to my PC’s setup configuration screen – the one you get to when you hit F2 during startup – the installed memory that shipped with the computer when I bought it last year is non-ECC.

(For a quick explanation of the differences between ECC and non-ECC memory, this FAQ at 4AllMemory.com is a good one.)

A check on the Kingston website on the part number for the new memory modules – KTD-DM8400AE/512 – clearly shows that they are ECC memory.

WTF, I thought!

So I called Dell Support here in The Netherlands. No luck, just a recorded voice stating what the Monday-Friday office hours are (it was about 7.30pm when I called).

So it was Friday night, the start of the weekend, with therefore no expectation that I’d be able to get something in process with Dell before Monday for getting hold of the correct memory modules. Bummer. So I filled in a support request on the Dell NL website.

Mistakes can happen and I’m not using this post as an excuse for an anti-Dell rant. On the contrary, this latest development hasn’t changed my view that Dell makes great PCs and my experience of their service is good (as say others in Europe like Stephen and Stuart). I’d be writing this post whether the computer was made by IBM, Sony, Hewlett-Packard or whoever.

What does disappoint me a lot, though, is that I ordered the memory upgrade from Dell with the clear expectation that they know everything about my computer through its service tag and express service code and my customer number. These things enable them to easily identify every single component in the system they built, including knowing what type of memory it should have. I paid a price premium getting it from Dell, worth it for peace of mind (I thought).

What would be nice would be a response to the support form I filled in on the website. Even a little email acknowledgement. And then a phone call on Monday morning (or, better still, sometime this weekend: my contact details are here).

So a bit of a dent in my enthusiasm for Dell at the moment.

[Update @ 11:52] Just checked my email, and there is an acknowledgement from Dell XPS Tech Support re the online support form I filled in last night. It re-states the memory spec for my PC, confirming that it is non-ECC memory. The email says to call sales and give them that information.

Well, it’s a start for Monday I suppose.

[Update 31 July @ 12:30] I couldn’t get hold of anyone in sales at Dell NL this morning. Instead, I had a five-minute phone conversation with a friendly, helpful and responsive Customer Care agent.

She acted as I had hoped and expected – apologies for the incorrect delivery; she’ll put in a new order for the correct memory which I should expect to receive within a week. Email confirmation to come with new order number so I can track the progress online. Then, Dell will arrange for the incorrrect delivery to be collected.

Thanks, Dell, I’m quite happy with how you’re handling this.

[Update 2 Aug @ 09:30] Yesterday I received email confirmation of the replacement order. I had to call Dell, though, as that replacement order was for only one memory module. Oops, they said. So then another email confirmation arrived for the second module.

So, two separate orders, both showing zero cost to me (thanks, Dell); hopefully they’ll both arrive at the same time. Then last night, two Order Watch emails saying the orders have been shipped from Dell’s manufacturing facility in Ireland. Good news.

Or maybe not.

While checking the order status on the Dell NL website – which indeed shows that things are in transit – I reviewed the original system configuration of my PC as shipped from Dell a year ago. Easy to do this when you have your service tag.

The memory specification is described thus -

1024Mb dual channel DDR2 533MHZ (2X512)

Comparing that description with the memory upgrade orders I received yesterday, the memory is described differently -

Memory Single Channel 512Mb 533Mhz DDR2

That certainly looks like a different memory type to me. Is it correct for my system? I don’t know. This Intel article about dual and single channel memory doesn’t enlighten me much. So another email to the Dell sales guy with a very specific question -

Please reassure me – is the memory upgrade that you’ve sent correct for my system?

Will he know? Well, based on his performance so far, I don’t have much confidence. But I’ll give him a chance to answer.

One strong feeling I have with this little saga so far is that the person I’m dealing with at Dell here doesn’t seem to know anything about my particular system. Did he actually look at the spec before entering the order into his ordering system? It certainly doesn’t look like it even though he has access to information that describes everything about my system including the memory type required. He has the service tag and the express service code. He’s even got the memory spec as reported by XPS Tech Support.

I’m beginning to surprise myself at how patient I am re all this and my willingness to continue dealing with a sales guy who just doesn’t give me much confidence that he knows what he’s doing as far as my order is concerned.

Patience is a virtue, so the saying goes. Or is it really?

[Update 4 Aug @ 11:30] One of the new memory modules just arrived in the post. I suppose it is according to Murphy’s Law that only one of the modules arrived.

The description in the packing list says:

CUS, DIMM, 512, 533, 1R, NECC

I think it’s safe to assume that ‘NECC’ means non-ECC memory, so that’s correct at least.

What about single channel or dual channel? I did hear back on that late afternoon yesterday from the Dell sales guy:

I just checked with our Technical Support deparment, the 2 Single Channel memory modules should work in your system without any problems.

Ok, “should work” might be fine but is it the right memory? I asked. I recall from the Intel doc I mentioned in the main post that mixing dual- and single-channel memory will likely produce a performance hit, ie, reduce overall system performance.

Here’s what he had to say:

I understand what u mean, I will discuss this with our Technical Support department so they can confirm this. If so dual channel memory modules will be ordered.

I’m getting a strong sense here of the blind leading the blind.

So why am I not going directly to Customer Care or Tech Support over this? Surely that would get to the heart of the matter and get things sorted out quite quickly?

I guess part of the reason is seeing how this plays out. I’m dealing with the Dell employee with whom I placed the order. He’s still in charge of the process. If he can’t deal with it, then he’ll bump it over to who can.

Plus he did add this in one of his emails yesterday:

I do apologize for the way this all went wrong, hopefully we can get you a fully upgraded working system as soon as possible.

Such words go a long way to smoothing troubled waters.

[Update 4 Aug @ 18:00] Well, perhaps some better understanding has arrived at Dell NL as an email late this afternoon from my Dell guy says this:

Monday our customer care department will order the 2 x 512mb DUAL CHANNEL DDR 533Mhz modules.

I haven’t quite broken out the champagne – that will happen when the correct modules finally do arrive, they’re installed and everything’s works properly. So next step for me is carefully check the order doc when it arrives. Looks like sometime next week.

While I’m still calmly patient, I do wonder what would happen if I got on the phone and freaked out at Dell to express my anger, etc. Would that suddenly and magically accelerate things? Would it mean an express courier arrives on my doorstep on Monday? Probably not. In any event, I don’t feel angry, though.

Disappointed, certainly. And I will recount this sorry tale the next time I recommend Dell to anyone as some cautionary advice on what to potentially expect if you have to buy a memory upgrade from Dell NL.

Maybe Jeff Jarvis was right after all.

[Update 11 Aug @ 11:40] Having been on the road for much of this week, I’ve not kept too close an eye on where we are with this order.

I did receive a revised order doc from Dell via email on the 7th. The order status on the Dell NL website shows that the order was shipped on the 8th and will be delivered via UPS. That status page says to expect delivery anytime up to the 18th.

As it’s Friday – just before the weekend again – I decided to track the order via the UPS website to see if I could discover an actual delivery date, hopefully a lot sooner than the 18th. But entering the Dell order number, or any other number shown on the online packing list from the Dell website, produced no results.

So I called UPS, spoke to a very helpful customer service agent. He could find no reference to this order in his system. (Aside: I thought his reaction when I got him on the phone was quite interesting. When I mentioned I was calling re a Dell order, he said. “Ah. Dell.”)

So I called Dell NL Customer Care. Spoke to a helpful and friendly agent, one I hadn’t talked to before. He knew my name, though, and about this little saga. He found my order info in his system. First thing – it’s not coming via UPS (info on the website is incorrect) but by post. Delivery could be any day now. Nice to know!

My patience is now running pretty thin. He could tell that. So he made a very personal gesture – would I like to have a Dell 512-meg memory stick as his personal expression of apology for the mess-up over my order? That’s a nice gesture to which I accepted.

So a bit more waiting with renewed patience.

[Update 11 Aug @ 18:30] Literally five minutes after posting the previous update, the doorbell rang. It was the postman, with a package… from Dell!

Yay! The order arrived, and before the weekend!

No prizes for guessing what happened next – I installed the memory modules. And, they work correctly. So my PC finally is pumped to 2 gigs of RAM.

So ends this little saga.

Well, almost. I have three packages sitting here containing various memory modules – the collective representation of a farce – which Dell will arrange to pick up. That should then be the end of it.

About Neville Hobson

Entrepreneurial business communicator with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Co-host of the weekly business podcast For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report. Also an occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.