Alienware support calls to inflict some help
The system was somewhat unstable so I limited my range of uses and the set of applications that I loaded on the machine. I had done some troubleshooting, but wasn't planning to do more until late May. I had two weeks of class videos left to create, plus the usual end-of-term grading and conferences and grant proposals scheduled right after end-of-term.
Course videos took a long time to create (partially because the system was unstable) and I run a generally busy schedule. Through this term, I'd been working about 110 hours per week. I was looking forward to a break.
From the time that I received the computer, I didn't call Alienware once for support. I can read tech support information on the web without needing someone else to read it to me. I don't intentionally waste or abuse my support privileges.
I do make a practice of buying the best support contract the company offers so that I can expect good support when I really need it-- when I run into something that (a) I cannot solve and (b) I think they might be able to help me with, or when I am required to work with them to preserve my warranty. (Example: I expected to talk with Alienware in May or June to get permission to open the box, so that I could physically remove the Matrox card, which seemed to be one of the sources of instability in this system.)
I was surprised when, on April 7, one of Alienware's tech support staff called me to tell me there were fundamental problems with my system. He told me the Matrox card and the RAID controller on the motherboard were incompatible.
The support representative said he wanted to send me a card to swap into my system.
I've swapped cards in and out of computers for years. I was certified as a Level 1 Apple Service Technician back in 1981 or 1982. And over the many years in which I tested software, I frequently worked with open boxes on my desk, swapping various types of I/O cards ever day, to create new test configurations. This is rarely a big deal.
On the other hand, I've never claimed to be a hardware hotshot, and I don't volunteer to do hardware work. Mr. Dexterity, I am not. For example, when Apple passed me as a tech, the instructors praised me as an unusually good diagnostician, but even though soldering chips onto boards was a common task back then, they made me promise (and I was glad to agree) to never, ever to bring a soldering iron anywhere near one of their computers.
So I wasn't delighted about swapping the card myself -- and I had paid $300 for onsite tech support -- but I was surprised and pleased that Alienware was calling with a solution to my problems, so I agreed to put the card in the system.
(I was in fact so pleased that in a purchasing decision we were just making at Florida Tech, I chose to get an Alienware system for the school rather a different company's machine. In retrospect, that was a silly mistake.)
I did raise one issue. The technician said the problems I was having were caused by an incompatibility between the Matrox card and the motherboard. I told the technician that I had disabled the Matrox card because it seemed to make the system unstable. Reports I'd seen on the web (Matrox support and others) suggested that some of my problems were common to other systems--with other motherboards. Maybe the best choice was to optimize and stabilize the system with the Matrox card out.
The technician told me that he had a fix for this, and encouraged me to get the Matrox card working again, that I should do this to "get the benefit of the system" that I had paid for.
Alienware has this strong reputation for knowledgeable tech support. I had my doubts about re-enabling the Matrox card -- but this was clear advice from a senior tech support person representing a company that was reputed to be very knowledgeable about this type of system. This is what I was paying for when I bought this system. So, I accepted his advice.
I had no idea what a load of work I had just signed up for, and how consistently unsuccessful this work would be.