Tag Archive | dell

Dear Dell

What kind of booze-addled lunatic designs a server BIOS update that resets the configuration of the SATA controller, rendering the server unbootable?

What’s more, which moron on your technical author staff managed to completely omit even a mere mention of this idiocy from the installation instructions or the Readme?

Love and kisses (and a little bit of despair),
AngryTechnician

(For anyone else planning a BIOS update of a Dell PowerEdge R410, the 1.5.3 version added support for AHCI to the BIOS, and switches to this mode by default after the update. You’ll need to switch it back to RAID in the BIOS if you want your server to boot. You will be warned that “data loss will occur” but the RAID configuration should still be intact.)

Culprit

Ever since the Android 2.2 upgrade on my Dell Streak, one particularly annoying problem plagued me. Every morning after powering up my Dell Streak, the email application would crash, and my Exchange account would vanish from the device.

The application Email (Process com.android.email) has stopped unexpectedly.

It didn’t do it every time I powered on; just in the mornings. I suspect it was specifically happening after a power-on when there were new messages waiting, since a quick power cycle never left time for new messages to arrive.

I tried a shorter sync period (2 weeks instead of a month). I tried clearing the data of the email app and starting over. Nothing helped. I even tried living with just IMAP again for a while, which stopped the crashes, but for some reason push notifications didn’t work any more despite working fine in Android 1.6. So, after I became thoroughly bored with my new morning routine of re-entering my Exchange account details over breakfast, I sat down and had a think about what the cause could be. Other 2.2 devices weren’t this broken, or Google would damn well know about it. It had to be something specific to the Streak.

Then it hit me. The Dell Stage isn’t just specific to the Streak, it’s unique to the Streak. There’s a stage widget for email that I’d been using since it was one of the few parts of the Dell Stage I actually liked. But was it so horribly broken that it was crashing the email app every day?

Of course it bloody well was. I removed it 5 days ago and haven’t had a single crash since. Screw you, Dell. Now, can you please fix the intermittent touchscreen freeze while the phone is locked?

One day with Android 2.2 (Froyo) on the Dell Streak – better, but far from perfect

After the 2.1 update debacle, and a slightly misleading announcement a week ago, I finally received the OTA update to Android 2.2 this morning on my Dell Streak. Against all reason and sanity, I hit install and went for my breakfast, knowing full well I would spend the rest of the morning trying to fix my phone.

You know what they say about pessimists. They’re never disappointed.

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OptiPlex 780 USFF has COA sticker hidden on pull-out tab

Yesterday I was ranting on Twitter when I found that the 20 new OptiPlex 780 USFF machines I’d purchased to refit one of our ICT suites appeared to be missing their Windows COA stickers. Normally I detest stickers as an affront to product design, but given that these are legally required as eligibility for our site-wide Windows 7 upgrade licence under the Microsoft Schools Agreement, I was… unimpressed.

However, thanks to a tip-off from @manwithnoname, I have found that they are there after all – on a concealed product information tab that pulls out at the back:
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Myriad

I woke up this morning to find my PC in the lounge powered on. This is rarely a good sign, since it routinely goes into hibernation after its nightly backup at around 1am, so if it’s powered on unbidden when I get up, it means something didn’t go right.

It became immediately obvious that the machine was running outrageously slow, taking a good minute just to unlock the screen. An attempt at opening Task Manager hadn’t completed two minutes later. If I’d been in a hurry, I’d have simply rebooted, but since it was Saturday, I fired up my laptop and settled down to breakfast.

When I came back, this is what I found:

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I’ve got the power! Part 1: Windows 7 vs XP

One of the advertised benefits to schools of upgrading to Windows 7 has been the improved power management, which when used correctly, will decrease the power usage of computers throughout the school estate. But how is that actually achieved?  A lot of people, myself included, assumed that the bulk of the savings would come from better Group Policy support to implement power saving schedules, such as transitioning to Sleep mode after a set time.

Not so.

While that does help, there are significant benefits even without power management schedules. Simply put, Windows 7 uses less power. I measured the power usage of two computers; identical hardware, but with different software. One ran an RM CC3 build using Windows XP, the other ran Windows 7. Both machines were production workstations with all the normal software I install on them, and they were tested while idling at the logon screen. The machines themselves were 2009 Dell OptiPlex 360 workstations, and the power usage was measured using an in-line mains meter. I did not measure the monitor power usage.

Here’s what I found:

OS Idle Sleep (S3)
Windows XP (CC3) 55.0 W 41.1 W
Windows 7 45.0 W 1.7 W

There are two lessons here: firstly, Windows XP is shockingly bad in sleep mode. Given that XP came out in 2001, this shouldn’t be entirely surprising, but I was still astonished by how high the power usage remained even when the machine was supposedly in its low-power mode. To an observer, the two machines were indistinguishable from each other at this time – power LED blinking, fans off, silent operation – but the difference in power usage was outrageous.

The second lesson appears to be that Windows 7 draws less power when you’re not using it. Later on I tested both machines using a CPU stress test, and they pulled the same amount of power, but when left idle, the Windows 7 machine averaged 10W less.

I should note that it’s entirely possible the RM background tasks were responsible for the latter discrepancy; I didn’t have a non-RM XP machine to test. No such difference could explain the sleep mode difference. Similar results emerged on different hardware, so this didn’t appear to be an anomaly with the Dell machines.

So, how much is that in cold hard cash? We’ll look at some more surprising results in part 2 later this week.

Now I remember why I hate smartphones

On Friday, I picked up a brand new Dell Streak from my local O2 store. It’s the first non-Nokia phone I’ve owned in more than a decade, and the first smartphone I’ve had for 5 years.

Since 2005, I’ve been something of an oddity in my profession, in that I’ve eschewed expensive gadgety phones in favour of something simpler. The most advanced feature I ask for in my phone has been ‘sync address book to PC’, right after ‘send text messages’ and ‘make phone calls’. It became a point of honour that I spent so little on them. My last phone cost £29.99 on PAYG in 2008, and in the intervening years I topped it up with £15 of credit exactly twice.

It wasn’t always this way. I used to have smartphones (such as they were at the time) even before I went to university. However, I got sick of them. It only took me a single weekend with my new one to remember why.

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It’s getting hot in here

Over the weekend I saw yet another update by someone on Facebook blaming Windows for the fact that their god-awful HP laptop was overheating, and singing the praises of the Mac they would soon be receiving, in the vain and misguided belief that all Mac laptops run cooler than a penguin’s posterior whilst sitting on an iceberg in the middle of the Antarctic winter. At night.

This is the world in which technologists are now forced now live: one where actual technological advantages are usurped in the eyes of the consumer by mindless and unsubstantiated claptrap put out by marketing. Where buyers believe the only differentiator between laptops is whether they run Windows or OSX, and that sole difference is to blame for everything. The next time someone complains about Windows making their laptop run hot, I’m going to boot it into Linux, fire up MPrime, and stuff it where the sun doesn’t shine. If it happens to be a MacBook… well, we can skip booting into Linux, and they can be thankful for rounded corners.

The even greater irony is that, if anything, the biggest complaint I ever hear about Apple laptops is how hot they run. It’s one of the few complaints Apple owners will ever admit to having, other than being forced to constantly admire their smug expression in the shiny exterior.

A little diversion shortly followed to calm my nerves:

Number of Google search results for x overheating problem, with x being one of the following 5 computer manufacturers, in descending order:

HP 614,000
Apple 525,000
Dell 376,000
Toshiba 273,000
Acer 231,000

Disclaimer: this study is utterly unscientific and these figures mean absolutely bugger all, serving no purpose other than the entertainment of the author. They certainly should not be considered representative of the number of people complaining about Apple laptops overheating, and should absolutely not be considered in the context of Apple having the lowest US market share of the five manufacturers listed here at the end of 2009.

Dear Dell

Arriving in my office at 8am to a blinking orange power LED on the workstation on my desk is not my ideal start to the week. Component failure affects all manufacturers, but the fact that I knew before even starting troubleshooting that a flashing orange power LED on an OptiPlex means a PSU/MB failure suggests that this happens more often than it should. The service manual for the OptiPlex 960 lists 23 different combinations of diagnostic lights. This is the only one I know by heart.

Next week I’m visiting a school that buys a lot of Lenovo. I don’t want to have to learn a new set of diagnostic lights, but I still haven’t quite forgiven you for all those cheap capacitors you used in the OptiPlex SX260 series. We shouldn’t have to fall out over ropey power supplies, but I won’t hesitate to switch  if I’m looking at another repeat of half my workstations failing 6 months after the warranty runs out.

Love and kisses,
AngryTechnician

Intruige and Disappointment

I spent most of yesterday with my school’s ICT Co-ordinator at BETT; my first time at the show, which turned out to be thoroughly useful and interesting.

One of the most intriguing products I saw on display was the PVI2600 Pro-Vue Interactive Projector from CIE Group. Back in 2007 you may remember a series of YouTube videos of innovative uses of the Nintendo Wii remote by Johnny Chung Lee, then a postgraduate student at Carnegie Mellon University. One of his projects was to show how the Wii Remote could be used to track an infrared light source on the end of a pen, turning any surface into an interactive whiteboard. At the time I wondered how long it would be before similar technology was commercialised, and yesterday I saw it not only on the market, but at a reasonable price, integrated directly into a high-quality front projection unit. The result is a potentially highly-portable interactive surface so large, you need an extra-long pen to reach the top of it:

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