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rid of the upgrade ver­sion that came with the machine (since I pur­chased it when Vista was on the verge of being superceded).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 1920x1200, 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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  • 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.

  • cja

    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.

  • shar­gash

    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. 🙂

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

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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