Robert Hampton

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9th June 2007

Oh, Hell

Dell’s support tool normally sits unobtrusively in my system tray, happily lurking in the background as I work, secretly recording all my activies and forwarding them to the US Government (that last part is is a lie). Until earlier this week, that is, when a message popped up: “BIOS Update Available” — recommended to keep your system up to date.

Well, I like to be up to date, so I downloaded the update and ran it. It popped up an ominous message about unplugging all USB devices except the keyboard and mouse. That done, I ran the update. The program chugged along merrily enough, slowly counting up to 100%. When it had finished, it popped up a message which was succinct and to the point: “FAILURE! FAILURE! FAILURE!”

Now, I’m fairly confident with computers, and even I found this message alarming and unhelpful, so God knows what your average Joe MySpace would have thought.

A quick trawl of the Dell Community Forum revealed other people had experienced this problem, and — crucially — had been unable to restart their computers (which makes sense, as the BIOS is the bit that starts the computer up, so if that’s fucked, nothing is going to work). These unfortunate souls had to return their computers to Dell.

At this point I was wishing I hadn’t tried to do the update at 11.30pm when I was already feeling tired. Anyway, time to contact Dell support. Their phone lines were closed at that time of night, so I dashed off an e-mail. The contact form asked for my daytime phone number, so I put my work phone number in. Because that’s where I am in the daytime. That done, I went to bed (leaving my computer switched on all night).

2.05pm on Friday, I get the call. The conversation below is paraphrased, partly because I can’t remember exactly what was said, and also because I couldn’t hear much of what was said, as the nice lady on the other end of the phone sounded like she was speaking to me with a sock over the phone. And she’s in a tank of water. And the phone isn’t in the tank of water with her, it’s at the other side of the room. But between the phone and her is a large sheet of double glazing.

ME: Hello?
DELL: Hello, this is [x] at Dell. I received your e-mail about a problem with your computer.
ME: Yes, I just need to know if this is something I can fix or if I’m going to need to return it to you.
DELL: I’ll take you through some steps to try and restore your machine to a working state. Are you in front of your computer now?
ME: No, I’m at work right now.
DELL: OK then, I’ll send you an e-mail requesting the times when we can call you.

Sure enough, the e-mail arrived. “We can call you,” it said, “anytime between 9am and 6pm Monday to Friday.” — Well, that’s great, I’m normally at work then. As I’m sure most people are. By sheer dumb luck, I’ve taken this week off, so I would have been available to speak to someone on the phone if necessary. Unfortunately I forgot that when I replied to the e-mail, and put “phone me after 5.30pm”, which is when I get in — if I don’t go to the gym after work and the train is bang on time.

Obviously this snafu with the call times would have caused some delay with getting things sorted. So I scanned a bit further on the forum, and found a poster who said that he was able to fix things by simply running the BIOS flash utility again and again, until eventually it worked. This made no sense to me: it’s a computer, executing the same set of instructions repeatedly — why would it work the ninth time when it didn’t work the previous eight times?

So anyway, that’s what I did (bear in mind that flashing the BIOS is a slow process which takes at least an hour, and the computer locked up solid while it was doing it), and lo and behold, eventually it worked! Well, I think it has… I left it running this morning while I went to the gym, and came back this afternoon to find my computer merrily displaying the Windows login screen, which means it has successfully rebooted. And I’ve shut down and restarted a couple of times this afternoon, and everything is fine. So (touch wood), it’s fixed!

Hurray for not having to send my computer back to the manufacturer. Because… well, there’s stuff on the C: drive that I don’t really want anyone to see, if you know what I mean.

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