My Dog of a Dell (or is it Windoze 7?)

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You might be able to tell from the subject that this is not my usual debt-oriented post. Instead, it’s sheer frustration with malfunctioning computer technology. I don’t know whether the cause is the Dell Studio 17 itself, or Windows 7, but I have just endured over a dozen “Blue Screen of Death” crashes since about 1pm today (New York time–it’s currently 4pm), and this has taken the tally of crashes with this machine to well over a thousand since the first one occurred when I was making a live presentation to the U (short interruption here–the bugger crashed twice in the last 5 minutes and I am now editing this in safe mode!) UNEP (United Nations Environment Program), back in September of 2009.

Like most computer problems, it has been an intermittent one: long periods of stability have lulled me into hoping that the problem was over, only to have the problem recur just when I started to relax (it reminds of some relationships I’ve had in the past, but let’s not go there…). Not long before the warranty expired on this beast, I had Dell come by and try to diagnose the problem; the service technician found nothing, but replaced the hard disks, RAM and keyboard just in case (the numeric keyboard has always been dicky, both the old one and the new–I’ve given up using it because you have to type with the subtlety of Conan the Barbarian to be at all confident that a number you type will actually turn up in your document).

It then worked for a while, only for the problems to recur. At this point, I thought that perhaps it was a Windoze (sorry Bill) problem. I’ve had plenty of experience with flaky previous versions of Windows, and maybe, despite (or because of?) the hype about how great Windoze 7 was, maybe this time it was once again the operating system rather than the hardware.

So about a month ago, despite the hardship this causes with copy-protected software (where the authors seem to think that each new reinstall confirms that you are a pirate, rather than–as in my case–a captive trying to escape), I decided to do a clean install of Windoze 7 (64 bit Ultimate), getting rid of the upgrade version that came with the machine (since I purchased it when Vista was on the verge of being superceded).

For a month or so, that seemed to have worked: not a single crash.


Another half-dozen crashes have occurred since I managed to write the interceding paragraphs…

Then yesterday, I purchased an Ipad (this is just for forensic completeness–one of you hardware/software gurus out there might know that this is a consequential act) and installed Itunes so that I could copy material from the laptop to the Ipad. No obvious problem, apart from the hassles of having to use Itunes to copy files (and it crashed numerous times I should add, freezing in the middle of a file transfer and having to be shut down from Task Manager–PS, if anyone also knows a way to bypass Itunes to copy files to an Ipad, please let me know).

Then as I sat down in the lounge at JFK airport in New York to work on my students exam papers, the crashes began again. And they have been savage–everything from a 15 minute break between crashes (this current break may even beat that reliability record!) to repetitive crashes where the system would BSOD, reboot, and BSOD before I even had a chance to logon.

Fortunately I managed to capture some photos of the crashes–out of focus and with a grainy reflection of me holding the camera as well–and I have the Event Viewer records, some of which I’ll put up here in case any of you computer boffins out there can explain what’s happening.

But the bottom line is that I’ve had it. I actually purchased this beast with money raised from the blog (the balance there now is about $1200, nowhere near enough to purchase a replacement), so for that reason as well as my own financial limitations, I have tried to persevere with it. But I’ve reached breaking point. The tasks I have taken on are difficult enough without throwing unreliable computer hardware/software into the mix, so I am going to trash this machine and look for a replacement.



So can you computer savvy folk please answer the following questions for me:

  1. Am I just unlucky, or have other people out there had lemon experiences with the Dell Studio 17? Personally, I have had a great run with Dell hardware prior to this–Mephisto (as I have come to call this machine) is probably the 20th Dell I have owned, and the only one to be a source of grief rather than power. So is this individual machine a lemon, or is there something systemic with Dell these days that should steer me away from another Dell purchase?
  2. What computer company and hardware would you recommend? My minimum need is for a 17 inch screen running at 1920×1200, since when I work on monster ODE models while travelling I need as wide a screen as I can get (the biggest model, the 40 equation monster, requires both my 30 inch monitors back at home, so small screens don’t cut it for me). I also have about 500GB of data files and programs, and I would like to be able to move to a 64 bit address space at some stage, even though most programs still work in 32 bits (this machine has 8 gig of RAM which is why I have Windows 64 bit on it) so I’d prefer a machine that has the capacity for more than just 4Gig of RAM.
  3. Can anyone suss what in particular might be causing these crashes, from the Event Viewer screenshots here? If there’s any chance to diagnose the problems, I’d take it because I really don’t want to replace a machine that I deliberately featured up so that I could keep it for several years before it became redundant (this beast has 8Gig of RAM, twin 500GB hard disks, and a reasonable pre-i7 CPU).

And, in its usual Mephisto fashion, it is suddenly displaying some stability (about an hour has passed since the last crash) just as I am about to deride it to the world. But stuff it: this machine has made my life a misery while travelling, and I am about to get even.

Rant over. Advice appreciated.

About Steve Keen

I am Professor of Economics and Head of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University London, and a long time critic of conventional economic thought. As well as attacking mainstream thought in Debunking Economics, I am also developing an alternative dynamic approach to economic modelling. The key issue I am tackling here is the prospect for a debt-deflation on the back of the enormous private debts accumulated globally, and our very low rate of inflation.
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136 Responses to My Dog of a Dell (or is it Windoze 7?)

  1. Steve Keen says:

    Thanks Captain,

    Good at least to know that Windows 7 is solid. I have done memory tests before with no failures found, so my guess is, as noted by some others below, that it’s motherboard (and possibly heat fatigue) related.

    Fortunately the BSODs have stopped, and I’m also back home working on my reliable desktop as well.

  2. cja says:

    I did the same, only more recently. I had a HP laptop with a Windows 7 OEM, but eventually the disks started failing so I replaced them and installed Ubuntu.

    I use Linux (servers) a fair bit in work, but never used to use it at home. Apart from being free, it also seems to be much quicker (no waiting for the Windows 7 blue ring all the time), no doubt because it’s less bloated.

    I use VirtualBox inside Ubuntu for running a version of Windows XP for when I need specific Windows apps – mainly for software and drivers for my multi-function printer, and for MS Office.

    I’ve some issues with Ubuntu – e.g. my built-in webcam doesn’t work, and I had to find a manual work-around to install a 64-bit flash player – but otherwise it’s pretty easy to get up and running, and would get my recommendation also.

  3. shargash says:

    I’ll second the stability of Win7. I’ve been running Ultimate 64-bit on 4 machines, 2 of the laptops, for months and have yet to have a single BSOD. In addition to hardware, it could also be device drivers. As a rule of thumb, most things you install that require a reboot could cause a crash. It could also be a driver provided by Dell, though that wouldn’t apply if you used a Microsoft disk to do the re-install. As to laptops, we’ve had 5 Asus laptops over recent years and been very happy with them. All are still functioning, the older ones having been handed down to relatives. The main drawback is that support (which I’ve never had to use) would be a bear here in the States. I’m not sure about down under. You’re a lot closer than we are. 🙂

  4. Eric Morey says:

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Alienware is wholly owned by Dell. It has been this way for years now.

  5. Eric Morey says:

    System76.com has laptops preinstalled with Ubuntu. I recommend them for new laptop and desktop purchases.

  6. Eric Morey says:

    I tried posting something similar before but it didn’t show up. So, sorry if this turns out to be a sort of double post. I recommend system76.com for new laptop and desktop purchases. They exclusively sell computers with ubuntu preinstalled.
    When using ubuntu you should take a look at sagemath (http://sagemath.org/), whose mission is defined as “Creating a viable free open source alternative to Magma, Maple, Mathematica and Matlab.”

    Caveat: I use Ubuntu and OpenOffice (now renamed LibreOffice). When viewing your lecture slides there are obvious errors in the rendering. There may also be issues with slides created using LibreOffice when viewed with MS Powerpoint. But I don’t actually know for sure. A number of people recommended for me to use LyX/Beemer/LaTeX to create slide presentations in PDF format for compatibility across OS environments.

    I hope this helps.

    Your Behavioural Finance 2010 lecture slides have been eye opening for me as a CFA candidate. I’m sure to spend a lot of time on your site.

  7. Steve Keen says:

    Thanks Eric,

    Yes I know Dell owns Alienware. However I also had some lengthy experience with computer manufacturing standards decades ago when I was Software Editor at a couple of Australian computer magazines (Australian Computing and Your Computer–both now defunct but in their day the best mags in Australia). In about 1989, my then wife pressured me to buy a cheap computer, so I did for about $3,000–and it even came with a “free” Laser Printer!

    In one week, the power supplies of three separate machines all failed. I tried to return the computer, to be told that I could, but I had to keep the “free” Laser Printer at a cost of $1500.

    I won that little battle via the Consumer Protection system, but it taught me a thing or two about the quality of components and I wrote a large piece on it for (I think Your Computer).

    Bottom line is that I expect that Alienware buys gear that is further up the chain from Dell itself–not quite milspec, but better able to handle the loads that are imposed by a heavy feature list than a Studio 17.

  8. Steve Keen says:

    Thanks again Eric,

    The spam filter caught your piece as potential spam simply because of the URL in it–this often happens with first posters. I also have to vet a first comment as well, after which you’re part of the community.

    Mephisto is behaving itself for now (though I bought a laptop cooling pad yesterday since I’m off to the sub-tropical parts of NSW today, and it is feasible that its failures are to some degree heat related), so I’ll stick with it for a bit longer. But when I have to replace it, I plan to go with installing Ubuntu as the base system and then running Windows within it as a virtual machine. Some of the advice I got on this forum about the advantages there–particularly being able to move the whole system to a new machine without having to reinstall copy protected software–was pretty convincing.

  9. Steve Keen says:

    PS Thanks re Sagemath; I am aware of it. I am addicted to Mathcad though for its user interface, which is so much more a pure mathematics one than any other program.

  10. Denis says:

    I used PCs for years, until my Vaio got stolen in Mexico.

    I ended up borrowing a friend’s Mac for a month. There was a slight learning curve initially, but I ended up doing the same kind of stuff (in my case, web programming) with slightly different software.

    Upon returning to Europe, I initially considered getting a new Vaio. It then occurred to me that, during the previous month, I could not remember spending a minute trying to “fix” the Mac or work around its quirks. Not once. Plug a printer, it works; a mic, works too; a camera, check. It was plug and play, as opposed to the plug and pray I had become used to.

    Since then (4 years ago now) I’ve been using the same MacBook. There have been occasional glitches, mind you, but not anything comparable to what I had on PCs running Windows or Linux.

    Adding insult to injury, the MacBook’s battery life is, 4 years down the road, still a stunning 4 hours or so. I hear the MacBook Pro and Air boast 7 hours or so. I won’t even consider a PC when I feel like replacing my MacBook.

    Regarding Windows software that never made it to the Mac, my only thoughts are: I’ve never lacked alternatives which are just as good if not better; macports and the like boast thousands of FreeBSD ports; and in a worst case scenario, you can always install a Windows Emulator.

    Have I mentioned the stunning battery life yet? Oh yeah, I did.

  11. Pingback: My last Dell–or HP | Steve Keen's Debtwatch

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