Mack Camera and Video Warranty Repair… Is it worth it?

A couple of years ago I purchased a Dell XPS M170 laptop brand new on ebay for $1755. It came with an extended 3 year warranty, and it wasn’t until I received my laptop that I realized the extended 3 year warranty wasn’t through Dell, it was through a 3rd party warranty provider named “Mack Camera and Video“. My XPS M170 has the same issue thousands of them do which is severe overheating, and powerjack problems. Before I sent this in, I did some google searches on Mack Camera and Video, and based on horrifying consumer feedback, I felt it was a complete gamble to send it in. I’ve read information ranging from Mack waiting weeks to acknowledge they even have the unit, to it being returned unfixed, blaming the sender for the condition of the laptop. One even claims they sent the unit insured, and it was damaged in shipping or in the hands of Mack Camera, and Mack sent it back via a different carrier in a different box therefore voiding the insurance claim of $1500 by the sender.

Why am I willing to risk sending my $1755 laptop under these circumstances? It’s simple, I’m unemployed and do not have the luxury of paying for a repair. Also, why should I have to pay, the thing is under an extended warranty?

To be fair to Mack Camera and Video, I can’t take the information I’ve been reading as the gospel truth as A.) There are always 2 sides to a story, and B.) There have been some postings of people who were very pleased with Mack Camera and Video, and those who are satisfied usually tend not to post about it, it’s always the people who feel victimized.

I’m going to update this during each step of the process and hope to provide some reassuring news to anybody thinking about using them… But time will tell.

12/31/2008: Sent the item via USPS insured for $1500

1/5/2009: Happy New Year! Received a confirmation Monday morning the unit has been received.  I like the responsiveness in the early stages!

1/6/2009: Entering the Repair code on their website gave me a new update:

Status Location: TECHNICIAN
Notes Parts, manuals, etc. have been ordered to complete the repair.

To me, this is good news.  It indicates they aren’t sitting on their hands, and at this point I’m only seeing professionalism.  Also, they take blogs seriously.  It took them about 30 minutes from the time my Blog started to respond to it.

1/7/2009:  Yet another update via email from Mack Camera:

We have ordered the parts to complete your repair.
It can take up to fourteen business days for us to
receive parts depending on availability.  We will
notify you when your repair is completed.

They aren’t keeping me in the dark.  Mack Camera has been professional during each step in the early going.   I’d anticipate that I won’t have any updates for a little while based on time needed to receive parts.

1/9/2008:  I was expecting silence for at least a couple weeks, and was surprised to see this update:

As Of Date 01/09/09
Status Location: TECHNICIAN
Notes The parts required to repair your unit have arrived and the unit will be repaired shortly.

Also worth mentioning, before I went to the www.mackcam.com website, I got an email from their technician Scott advising the computer is expected to be repaired by the end of today or Monday.  I still don’t have my laptop back so I can’t give a final analysis, but what has started as a huge gamble is starting to look like the best warranty service I’ve ever experienced.  I’ll keep posting until the process is complete.

1/12/2009:  Again, no need for me to go to the website for an update, I got an update via email from Scott.  The first email was advising the work is done on the laptop and it was at his desk for testing, and then a follow up email stating the laptop is in their shipping department and will be returned to me shortly.

This is almost unreal.. It’s been SEVEN business days since I sent the laptop in, and it’s ready to be shipped back to me?  I’m starting to sound like a pitchman for Mack Camera now.

1/13/2009:

Got an email with a UPS tracking #.  I’d expect nothing new will happen for about a week.

1/14/2009:

Got an email from Scott advising by mistake they left the PCMCIA cover at their location (forgot to put it back in the slot).  They are sending that part seperately.  I appreciate being told this before receiving the item.

1/20/2008:

Received laptop right on schedule, powered it up via the AC adapter showing that it does work now.   Looked at the invoice which explains the repair, and here is what it said:

“Removed cleaned, reinstalled heat exhanger (pix on file).  Replaced DC connector Assembly.  Heat Exhanger was clogged with debris.  No good for Computer.  DC connect was broken off board.  Not MFG defect.  Courtesy Repair”.

There was one hiccup which was I could not get my computer to recognize it had wireless capability at all.  I didn’t even get an option to view wireless networks in range, it did not think it had wireless.  I sent an email to Scott at Mack and he gave some suggestions and his personal extension to call for help.  It turned out somehow the driver for the internal wireless was removed.  It took me about an hour of playing around to figure this out.  Was able to burn the driver to a disk on my desktop, install it to my XPS, and now it recognizes the wireless capability (which is how I’m able to finish this blog on my fixed laptop).

Based on the lightning quick responsiveness and service, and not to mention the courtesy repair on the broken DC connector, the hour I spent figuring out the wireless is really nothing to complain about.  At this point, “Stellar” is the only word I can use to describe the service I received.  Out of thousands of repairs I’m sure they perform, there are going to be issues, and those issues are the ones you will see posted on the internet.  I couldn’t be happier.  Thanks Mack Camera!

Unsolvable Math Riddle

Can somebody out there please explain how this one can happen based on the riddles point of view:

3 men on a business trip decided to go in 1/3rd on a cheap hotel to save some money and found a $30/night place to stay for 1 night. They each had a $10 bill and give it to the clerk.
After the men walked away, the clerk realized there was a special and the rate should have been $25. She couldn’t figure out the best way to divide the $5 amongst the 3 men, so she decided to give each man $1 and keep the remaining $2 for herself.

Since the 3 men each paid $10, and then received $1 back, that means in reality they paid $9 each. $9 x 3 = $27 they paid for the hotel stay. The clerk pocketed $2. $27 + $2 = $29. What happened to the extra dollar?

Again, try to answer from the riddles point of view.  Of course I could go outside the riddle and describe it as follows:

$30 paid
-$5 Refunded= $25 in the Cashdrawer
$2 to the Clerk + 3@$1 Returned to the 3 men

That would account for all $30, but strays from the riddles perspective.  What happened to the $1?

DELL XPS – The $2500 rip-off and ridiculous fix

Even though I’m going into detail about just how bad and ridiculous the experience has been for myself and countless other Dell XPS M170 buyers and higher end Insipiron purchasers as well, this could be summed up in one sentence:  Dell sold “high end”, insanely expensive equipment with a major fault in the motherboard to thousands of people and doesn’t care a thing about doing whats right.

The Dell XPS M170: “The desktop replacement” as Dell advertised is about the coolest looking laptop on earth with it’s polished aluminum case and multi-colored LED “XPS” display.  Also, as advertised it actually is every bit as powerful as a high end desktop, and I can honestly say 2 years after purchasing it, it’s still ultra fast.  So whats the problem?

Very simple, the motherboards have a fault that has affected thousands of users beyond the warranty period.  The Laptops run incredibly hot, eventually destroy the power jack circuits, and this leads to the infamous loading screen message “Your AC power adapter type cannot be determined, hit F1 to power off”. There initially is a workaround, and thats to allow bootup screen to complete on battery power only, and then when it’s done you can put in the power adapter and run your laptop with the “minor” inconvenience that the power adapter will power the XPS, but will not charge the battery any longer.   Usually within a week or 2 of this, that option is gone because you can’t boot up with battery power once the battery loses it’s charge.  I then became a slight of hand master by powering up the XPS with the adapter in, and perfectly timing when the boot screen was finished, and within half a second of the “Power adapter ” error message being displayed, I’d yank out the adapter, and immediately press it back which allowed me to bypass the error screen,  but the problem is with the dead battery; about 9 out of 10 times the XPS would power down, but that 1 time it did work, I was in!!! Problem there was if the power cord just slightly wiggled, the adapter would lose it’s connection shutting down the XPS immediately.   Not bad for a $2500 gem.

Your options at this point are not very pretty:  Pay $600 for a new motherboard, or find a rare repair shop that can fix an individual circuit within the mother board for around $150 (www.laptoprescuer.com is one).  I chose the latter option, got my computer working again perfectly, but it’s a temporary fix because the real problem is the bad motherboard, so eventually the heat will destroy the power jack again which happened to me.  After a few months of successfull operation, seeing the “Power Adapter” black screen of death shattered my hope that my investment wasn’t as bad as first thought.

Now here I am pondering options:  “Do I pay $600 for a motherboard which could be bad again”?, “Do I pay again for the component fix so my XPS will work for another 3-6 months which is basically renting a usable computer that I own for $150 plus time lost”?  “Do I cut my losses and buy a different computer”?  Being that I’m currently unemployed, I can’t afford any of those options, but since I’ve only had the thing for 2 years I still think a $2500 investment should result in a usable computer.  Call me crazy, but I was hoping this would work at least 4 or more years.

The ultimate solution for this turned out to be comical.  I purchased an off-brand standalone battery charger on Amazon for $80.  Now the problem of the AC adapter not charging the battery has been eliminated, so I charge up the battery, pop it back in, and every single time I boot the XPS, it must be on battery power.  Once the bootup screen is done, I can then plug in my AC Adapter .  This is sufficient to make the computer work, but the comical part is “Why the *&#! should anybody have to jump through hoops like this just to boot up a $2500 computer”?

Dells fault in all this is glaringly obvious;  Thousands of high end purchasers are stuck with this issue because of a design flaw.  They should have recalled every single one of these things and given them a free fix, or a newer edition laptop with equal specs, and written it off as a loss.  Of course that would require caring about what the right thing to do is, so it’s far easier to stick each individual with this problem and move on to the next crop of buyers.  Shame on Dell for this, and while they are the superpower in the hardware industry right now, this type of mentality could bite them bad, and I hope it does.

Just look at what happened to the once almighty Blockbuster Video… Once Netflix came out and revolutionized the video business, Blockbuster tried to up the ante by offering delivery service as well as walk-in ability to their B & M stores.  Nobody, including me bit because we all remember the times we got it stuck to us for being 3 hours late returning a DVD, and Blockbuster had no mercy.  Dell is on par with that type of business model, and they will get zero loyalty from the individual consumers that took the biggest financial gamble on them.   Again, shame on you Dell.

Easton Customer Service Beyond Amazing

For anybody out there deciding on which $250+ composite bat to purchase, don’t forget that when you are buying that expensive stick, a large chunk of that money is going toward the warranty, and since thats the case with all bat manufacturers, make sure that not only is it top notch equipment you are buying, but also make sure you are receiving the best service possible.  From being a consumer of many high quality products for a long time, I can say that not only is Easton the best bat manufacturer from a customer service perspective, they are the best ‘company’ I’ve ever dealt with.

In 4/2008, I purchased a $250 LCN8 youth composite bat (pictured above) for my nine year old son.  The bat was incredible right out of the wrapper knocking the ball at least 20-40 extra feet than the old bat.  All was good until 2 months later.  He hit a bullet triple over the right fielders head, and after looking at the bat when the game was done, there was a huge crack on the inside half of the barrel.  2 months, and bat #1 was gone (still able to hit very well with it, but the umps won’t allow a cracked bat to be used in a game).  While Easton offers a 1 time replacement within 400 days of the purchase of the bat, It worried me that a 9 year old kid could ruin a bat in 2 months.

I contacted Easton by phone and explained the situation, and my concern that should he ruin another bat in 2 months, we just invested $250 to RENT a bat for 4 months and have nothing.  They told me that model did have an issue with cracking, so they would send the upgraded 2009 model (LCN11) our way and that should ease our concerns.  I shipped out the old bat, and on the 10th day from sending it, I had the brand new bat in hand and was very excited… Until we took that bat out of the wrapper and starting hitting.   It had the pop of a $40 aluminum Target quality bat.   I took my son out, and we both took turns trying to beat the ball up with it to break it in thinking it might just be a different bat that isn’t so hot out of the wrapper.  After about 200 hits, it was just obvious this bat had a sweet spot about the size of a dime.  I thought we were out of luck and would need to go purchase a different bat from a different manufacturer…

But just to make sure, I called Easton again advising them I have their 1 time replacement bat, and it was dead out of the wrapper, and asked if there are any options I have all the while thinking they could easily tell me to send it in for inspection, and then say there is nothing wrong with it.  The rep admitted that every once in a while you can get unlucky and have a dead bat.   Based on the fact I’d only had the bat less than a week, they didn’t even ask me to send the bat in for inspection, and instead are sending me in a brand new replacement (2 day delivery) and including prepaid postage for me to send my dead bat back their way.  I’ve never heard of a company going off the honor system with such expensive equipment, but they have taken the loyalty I’ve always had to their brand (I have one of their slowpitch composites, my daughter has a fastpitch composite), and now that loyalty has changed to an exclusive relationship.  As long as they keep making quality products, I will keep buying them.

How to renew Microsoft Live Onecare without paying full price!

Onecare

 My one year subscription to Onecare ran out yesterday, and wouldn’t you know when clicking on the link to renew it, you are asked for either a PIN # or a credit card # to renew, but are not given a renewal price!  Since I refuse under any circumstance hit “submit” before knowing what I’m submitting, I called in to support to ask what it costs me to click that button.  The cost is $49.99 per year, and it covers up to 3 pc’s.  Problem with that price is I can go to Amazon.com right now and get the boxed version of Onecare for $12.99 plus shipping and taxes which also covers 3 pc’s, which is exactly what I did (how in the world is it less expensive to buy a boxed version which required packaging, distribution, and shipping than it is just to renew by using the internet?).  Here is a quick and easy step by step to renew your subscription via purchasing a boxed version of the product:

****Update to renewing Onecare.  Previously I mentioned buying a cheaper boxed version is the best way to go, and in some cases it may be, but it’s now easy to go to ebay, and just buy the product code for onecare which comes in an instant email.  Make sure the seller is reputable, and this saves time and materials****

#1.  Buy the boxed version, but DO NOT install the CD!!

#2.  go to the following website:  www.Billing.MSN.com

It will ask for you to enter your MSN user ID (If you already have Onecare, you already have this ID and password)

  • Scroll down to “Windows live Onecare”, and click it
  • Click “Renew This Service”
  • Click “If you have a prepaid card, click “here” to enter the PIN” (The PIN is actually the product registration key found on the back of your Onecare CD case)
  • Enter the Product Registration Key from your boxed version of Onecare, and now you are up and running for a much lower cost. 

*Final Note: Doing it this way helps you avoid being autorenewed with a charge going to your card.  You can decide on your own whether to renew again or not.

I hope this helps!

-John

Potential Dell Customer, You Have Been Warned

dell_sucks_draft.jpg

I’m not even sure where to start when describing my experiences with Dell.  Do I start with the cheap components manufactured in China and Malaysia, or with the Customer Service Loop you are sure to get stuck in when you need support?

I’ll start with the components, because I have purchased 3 monitors from Dell, two 19″ flat panels, and one 21″ widescreen flat panel.  Both 19″ flat panels went out on me within 15 months of purchasing, after very limited use.  Unfortunately, the 2nd one went bad right after the warranty was up so I didn’t get to swap it for a refurbished unit as is what happened when the first monitor went bad within 40 days of purchase.  The 21″ widescreen hasn’t gone out, but at about the 13 month mark started blanking out for about 2 minutes every time I switch identity on the computer (this did not happen with the previous monitor). Back when LCD flat panels were a novelty, I bought a 15″ off brand (Sylvania) from Costco, that was in 2002 and there has not been a single problem with it 5 years later.  LCD’s are supposed to last for years, and I now spent $300 to RENT a 19″ LCD monitor for a year, and the resolution wasn’t even that good. 

Before I get off the component issues, I need to mention that I have a DELL XPS M170 laptop.  Top of the line, about $3000 when it came out, and every time I start up the laptop with the AC adapter plugged in, I get the following message:  “The AC power adapter type cannot be determined.  The system can only boot with a 130W power adapter or greater.  Strike the F1 Key to continue”.   Keep in mind it IS a 130 watt power adapter I’m using, and not only do I have this booting up problem, but the battery will not charge.  The worst part about this???  It’s a known problem since as early as 2002,  you can google that error message and find thread after thread with Dell customers complaining about this, and I bought the computer brand new in mid-2006! 

Now onto the Customer service issues.  I actually had the audacity to purchase my brand new laptop from a 3rd party dealer instead of going directly from Dell and I’ll explain why I’m mentioning this in a moment.  About 6 months into having it, the DVD player would not play DVD’s.  I called Dell to explain the problem, and they asked me for the “service tag” on the laptop.  I provided it as it’s printed on a sticker on the backside and very easy to find.  The customer service rep came back and said this computer is not registered under my name, it’s under another name.  I advised thats most likely because I bought it from a dealer who bought a large quanity of Laptops from Dell, so it’s probably under his name.  I then asked if I could get help with the issue.  I was told I’d have to contact the original purchaser of the laptop and have them call in.  What??? are you serious?????  I tried to get ahold of the people I purchased it from, and their business had closed, so here I am with a $3000 laptop without a working DVD player and fearing I might be stuck.  I called back to Dell and had a rep tell me I just need to contact a department that can get the unit transferred to my name.  I called the 800# and got a fast busy signal, then dead air.  After a few more tries, I contacted Dell by email advising of the experience and was given another # to call, I called and they had to transfer me somewhere else, and no joke I ended up getting xfred 4 times until I was back where I started.  I gave up at that time and decided to live with a $3000 laptop that won’t play DVD’s.

 Now here we are 15 months into ownership, and a new problem comes up, and it’s not one I can live with, it’s the AC power adapter issue mentioned above.  Since the AC adapter won’t charge the battery, I can’t power up my laptop without the AC adapter, but because the computer doesn’t recognize it’s own AC adapter I can’t power it up with it either.  I have a $3,000 paperweight for the time being.  Obviously, I need help and when I called this time, not only did they give me the speech about the laptop not being in my name, they said there is a financial problem under the name on the computer.  While they refuse to say what the financial problem is, it became obvious that this dealer bought a portion of laptops on credit, sold them all for full price to customers like me, and then didn’t pay his bill.  Now that is unfortunate and I see why Dell has a problem with him, but if I walk into a Target to buy a Sony camcorder, and then Target goes bankrupt with Sony as one of their creditors, I doubt when I call Sony for support they are going to say “Sorry, we can’t help you because Target didn’t pay their bill”.  Dell somehow feels they have the right to do this, so i have one of the worlds most expensive paperweights sitting on my desk all because of policy.  Dell is definitely the McDonalds of the computer industry, and I expect less than perfect customer service, but I feel like I’ve been robbed.  If you purchase Dell, and an issue occurs down the road, don’t say you didn’t know what you were getting into. 

P.S.  The $3000 laptop always ran very HOT.  so much so that putting it on your lap caused minor burn marks, and it was so hot that the glue that holds the rubber stoppers on the bottom turned to liquid which of course got all over my couch, and made the rubber padding fall out.  This was a huge disaster.  I had doubts about spending so much for a machine, and I should have listened to myself.  Better yet, I should have listened to a techie friend I have who warned me Dell products are not near the quality perceived. 

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