Computer buyers sound off

You buy a computer and hope it works. If it doesn’t, you may lose all the programs, photos, podcasts and other personal stuff you’ve put onto it.

Computers aren’t always reliable and sometimes break down just after the warranty expires. Manufacturers and retailers tell you to get lost unless you buy their costly extended warranties, which often fail to cover the parts you need.

Needless to say, I get lots of complaints from computer buyers. And while I have some success in getting them resolved, I wish I could do more.

In my experience, the brand-name makers don’t seem to care if a machine breaks down after the first few years of ownership. It’s not their responsibility, they tell owners. Time to shell out big bucks for repairs or buy something new.

After a recent column about Dell, I heard from other Dell customers, most angry but some impressed. I also caught a few complaints about HP and Acer.

These frustrated buyers sound similar to those with lemon appliances. After paying good money, they expect to own something for many years. So it’s a shock when the company sees their purchase as a disposable item, fit only for the garbage or landfill.

Author: Ellen Roseman

Consumer advocate and personal finance author and instructor.

20 thoughts on “Computer buyers sound off”

  1. Here’s my story.

    The monitor / screen on my Dell Inspiron 1520 laptop burned out on Aug. 5, 2009.

    For the previous ten days to two weeks, the screen had flickered at odd times; foolishly, I had blamed this on the cable signal.

    Tuesday evening (the 4th), a hot-to-the-touch black smudge began creeping up from the bottom right corner of the screen.

    Wednesday morning when the entire screen went black, my husband and I took the laptop to a nearby computer store. A faulty light was the immediate diagnosis by a young hot shot. The store manager suggested I call Dell before his people touched it.

    The short version: Dell said my 3-year extended warranty didn’t cover the screen.

    At that point, I asked the computer store to order me a new screen and agreed to pay extra to get it shipped here faster.

    When the store manager returned the repaired computer Friday afternoon, he also included the carefully packaged old screen and instructed us not to drop or bang it. Why? The burned screen was proof of a manufacturer’s defect: it hadn’t been soldered properly.

    An hour later when I called Dell’s Support Line, a young man informed me there was nothing he could do. At my insistence, he connected me to his supervisor.

    In turn, his supervisor informed me that if I’d sent the computer directly to Dell instead of going to a computer store and if Dell had found such a fault, they would’ve replaced it without question.

    Foolishly, she then referred to “customer usage”. Barely controlling my annoyance, I reiterated it was a manufacturing defect, for which I had the proof and would be delighted to ship it to them.

    Once I took the computer elsewhere, she said, it was out of their control and I would receive no reimbursement.

    I replied that for years, I’d heard many unpleasant things about Dell’s warranties, but not only had I defended Dell, my husband and I had bought four of them in seven years.

    From now on — and specifically with regard to verifiable manufacturing defects — I would tell everyone I knew how useless Dell extended warranties were.

    Furthermore, neither I nor my husband would buy another Dell … and oh yes, I’d like the balance of my warranty payment refunded, thank you very much.

    Her response was she’d forward my comments to someone higher than her, and I’d hear from them in 24 to 48 hours.

    I wonder if I’ll ever get that call…

  2. Having read your article, I just want to say that I have bought Dell laptops for many years and have had hardly any problems.

    Furthermore, when I have needed help (more often on how to do things rather than to fix things), a Dell person on the phone would patiently lead me through it.

    I would not hesitate to buy another Dell, though to be honest I didn’t know they were selling through retail stores nowadays.

  3. I wanted to tell you my story about Dell. I purchased a laptop this spring, I took it out of the box, plugged it in to start using it… and the first night it crashed at least 10 times.

    The next night I used it, it crashed about the same amount before I called Dell Customer Service.

    I had purchased a Dell computer with Vista 64-bit operating system. Their suggestion, maybe you should install the 32-bit operating system Vista.

    Two weeks later, I install the new operating system, it still crashed… and crashed… and crashed.

    It crashed while I was working using MSN, it crashed listening to CDs, it crashed when watching DVDs, it crashed while I was surfing the net, and the worst… it crashed playing solitaire.

    Finally, I was so frustrated I called Dell again, voiced my opinion, my frustration level… I’m usually calm… but I let the customer service agent have it…

    I clearly remember saying “Would you like a computer that crashed when playing solitaire??”… and “what kind of computer can’t handle playing solitaire???….”

    They allowed me to send it back and I was fully refunded. Unfortunately I live in the arctic, and we don’t have UPS or Fedex… so I had to pay the postage… it was the best $93 I ever spent…

    And I purchased a MAC. My Apple computer is the best.

    It plays solitaire, I email, I listen to itunes, I have used the bluetooth technology, I have used the webcam, I’m getting more accustomed to the close buttons being on the top left side…. and I LOVE MY MAC, and it hasn’t crashed once.

    I will never buy a Dell again… I wouldn’t use a Dell computer for personal stuff… even if I was given it… However I would take it, if it was free… and sell it to some other fool.

    Thanks for writing this article. I wish I had read it prior to my foolish purchase.

  4. I am a student who purchased a Dell Inspiron 1545 laptop at the end of February and have not been able to use the purchase for school with the non-stop defect and Dell’s inability to directly repair the problem when I send it in.

    After many of the ordeals, I have had friends who are interested in a laptop that can handle like a desktop computer, and have kept many updated on my matter.

    This led me to generate a website, especially after Dell had lost an adapter I had sent in with the second exchange laptop I had received. I had to send pictures for the technical support and manager of the area to understand the problem with the adapters they were sending.

    After all the ordeals, I am on a third laptop replacement that a Dell Manager had assured me was not a refurbished, although seems very much, as seen on a section of my site (, and does not look like a brand new system.

    I understand the policy is to provide refurbished systems after 30 days. However, after assurance by a manager, I am supposedly receiving a brand-new system.

    At the moment, this laptop is the third exchange and currently is being examined and hopefully being repaired by Dell; although their sub-contracted work has been poorly done.

    Being a student, I want a computer that works, and was amazed by the laptop’s ability to handle many engineering softwares that the average old generation cannot run with speed and ease.

    Unfortunately, in seeking a laptop from Dell, I have not used the laptop at school.

  5. Well, I was impressed how quickly they handled everything after I contacted the Michael Dell email. The actual address I used is

    Obviously it’s not his real email, and there are reports on the Internet that the email address actually goes to Dell’s Global Escalations Department.

    The system they built was brand new and it arrived within 10 days.

    After that they kept bugging me about returning the older system. They sent me a prepaid UPS label by email. I printed the label and ordered the pick-up the following day. They kept calling me asking where the old system is, and I was like if you actually bothered to check the tracking number you provided, you would see that UPS picked up the system over a week ago. Idiots!

  6. I recently had my first experience with “Dell Hell” since purchasing a new Dell computer. I have been in “Dell Hell” before with my older computers but never to this extent.

    When Dell operated their tech support from India, the common issue was language – i.e. the tech support people understood basic English, but not idioms and local expressions.

    Now, in the new “Dell Hell” from the Philippines, the English is good but the level of deception is very high.

    On one evening, I spent three hours on the telephone, got only a bit of information, and was transferred from one location to another at least 5 times, possibly 6.

    1) After waiting 48 minutes on hold, I was told that I had a “business” computer and not a “home” computer and I would be transferred to the “business” computer tech support. (Later, I confirmed that I indeed had purchased a “home” computer.)

    2) A transfer to 1-866-507-3355 resulted in me being told that they only handle calls from the United States.

    3) A transfer to 1-800-847-4096 was Canadian tech support, but they do not support “XPS” computers.

    4) A transfer to 1-866-398-8977 resulted in being told that this is a United States “XPS” tech support and they do not handle calls from computers bought in Canada.

    5) A transfer to 1-888-257-6372 resulted in being “Dell On Call” only for computers bought in the United States.

    Along the way, I was told that I would have to pay for “Dell on Call” software support. My response was that I paid $129 when I purchased the computer for 13 months of Dell On Call support.

    I could not convince the person on the phone that I had the Dell on Call service and they could not deduce that from my computer Service Tag number or my Express Service Code.

    The new “Dell Hell” in the Philippines is a masterpiece of deception.

  7. To Michael Dell (

    Dear Michael,

    I am writing this email after several weeks of frustration with Dell Customer Service.

    I recently purchased my third computer from Dell. It was a laptop for my niece’s birthday. When she opened the gift and turned it on, the internal mouse did not work and neither did an external mouse.

    I phoned technical services and after about 45 minutes the technician could not get it to work, so he told me that I would have to call customer services on that next Monday to get the problem resolved.

    I didn’t think there was going to be any problem, as it should have been a straight exchange: The defective computer for a new one that worked. Was I ever mistaken!

    The first person that I talked to tried to tell me that I should send the computer back and they would fix it. I explained several times that this was a brand new computer that was never used and I didn’t want it fixed but wanted a replacement.

    I was told I would be transferred to someone who could help me but was disconnected instead. This actually happened several times until I finally go to speak to someone again and explained my situation. This person told me that I would have to go online and re-order the computer. I could not understand this, as she had all the details right in front of her.

    After a week of trying to get through to this person, I tried calling again but talked to a supervisor in Technical Services only after I demanded to talk to one. Zubair was extremely helpful. He explained that this was an out of the box problem and he would expedite having my new computer sent to me. He called me several times to ensure that the process was working.

    We sent the old computer back and within a week we received the new one.

    After all of this, I thought I was finished, but two more things happened. First, I received several calls from Dell asking whether I had shipped the broken computer back. I replied to the message but then received two more calls. Thankfully these calls have now stopped.

    Second, I noticed there was a $490 difference from the original order and subsequent order, but I was still being charged the original monthly payments.

    I phoned Dell and the frustration exercise started again. I was sent to Dell Financial, who told me that I needed to deal with Dell Customer Care. I went back to customer care and was transferred several times until I was eventually cut off.

    I did try to sent an email through your customer support online but there was no section title. Total frustration.

    I have worked in the Customer Service industry for over 30 years and can tell you that this is the worst customer experience I have ever encountered.

    My company has also sent some customer service offshore and has had several difficulties but is working through them.

    I found that most of the representatives I spoke to were reading off a script. If I deviated from that script, they got confused by either the language barrier or the fact that they didn’t understand what I was trying to tell them.

    My niece finally did get her computer two months after her birthday and she is very happy with it. Her aunt has very serious doubts that she will ever buy from Dell again. I now just want to have this billing issue resolved.

  8. I purchased a new computer from Dell on July 28/09, model Inspiron 537s with a Windows Vista operating system. It was on the understanding that I would qualify for a free upgrade to Windows 7 when it becomes available.

    When I tried to register, I was told that to qualify I required the Home Premium version instead of the Basic version, which was standard on this model.

    I made many telephone calls to Dell, pointing out that this was my first purchase of a new computer and that picking a particular eligible computer and not being familiar with operating systems was a big challenge. As a 75-year-old, I thought they would consider my plight.

    They suggested that I had 30 days to return it. However I have already paid to have my information transferred to the new one. I would now pay for the information to be reinstalled on the old one, then pay again to have the information transferred to the new model.

    Dell is still advertising on TV that buying a computer with Windows Vista entitles you to a free upgrade to Windows 7.
    It does not state that you must have the Home Premium version to qualify, which fooled me and still continues to fool the general public.

  9. You have carried some complaints about Dell. But in over three years of owning their laptop, I have only had excellent service.

    Calls are answered promptly and staff will stay on the phone until your issue is resolved.

    Being computer illiterate, I have spent considerable time on the phone with their tech support, who have helped me even with problems not related to Dell, e.g. setting up my router(purchased at Future Shop) or with software problems.

    I intend to purchase from Dell again.

  10. I have reached a total roadblock and am requesting your help, Ellen. This is my situation.

    I bought an Acer laptop at Best Buy, Toronto, in September 2007. As I paid with my CIBC Visa card, I was automatically given an extra one-year warranty on the product.

    In April 2009, the right hinge that holds the lid broke and partially split the side of the lid that holds the screen. Because of this damage, I can no longer close the lid, hence the laptop must remain open at all times.

    As my warranty with Acer had expired in September 2008, I contacted Elite Insurance, which is the CIBC Visa-appointed insurance company. They requested I get a letter from Acer to indicate the damage as being covered by the original Acer warranty.

    I contacted Acer and was asked to send the laptop along with $490 U.S. for repairs. However, Acer will not provide me with a letter.

    I went back to Elite, where the unhelpful and condescending service representative suggested I send photographs for them to assess the damage. I did so promptly and they came back saying the claim was being denied, as the damage was due to accidental impact.

    In fact, the explanation they provided was not even where the damage was! So, in my mind, they did not assess the claim accurately.

    I was frustrated because I use my laptop as a desktop and do not move it at all, so there was no chance of my having thrown it around to cause the damage.

    When I called Acer’s customer care, I was told this kind of damage would be covered under their warranty, but again, they cannot provide a letter to state that.

    I then went to CIBC customer care and they responded saying the same thing – if a letter cannot be provided, there is not much they can do, as Elite can only assess the damage from the photographs! I pointed out that Elite was overlooking the actual damaged area, but that did not change CIBC’s opinion.

    I honestly feel Acer is not being helpful at all. Once their product is purchased and the warranty expires, it seems they do not care about their customers.

    Their Mississauga office staff have just directed my calls to the call centre and their technical people have told me over and over again to send the laptop for repairs. So where do I go?

    A laptop serving as a desktop should last at least 4 years, if not more. And just closing the lid every day should not cause the hinge to give up that easily, as this is one necessary function. I have had Toshiba laptops in the past and have never encountered such an issue.

  11. The story starts with my son’s ACER laptop computer. First, my son’s laptop fell on the floor at school resulting in a cracked LED screen.

    I proceeded to fill out the repair form online, which showed the status of my warranty to January 2010. Unfortunately, it doesn’t cover dropped laptops, no matter how new. This doesn’t come up on the repair forms.

    After driving in the product to the repair centre with the docket number already processed, they informed me of the charge of $199.99.

    I said how can I be sure you people will not say it will cost more after the repair? The gentleman at the repair desk said that is the maximum allowable charge on a repair (at least for the laptop).

    When asked about shipping, he said that was included.

    Well, after only one day, they shipped it back fully repaired. My story only gets interesting from here. After receiving my MasterCard bill, I notice it totalled
    $254. (The laptop was $399.99 new.)

    When inquiring about the cost, I was switched to a U.S. customer service board, which told me, “Oh, we are a U.S. company, so we have to charge you in U.S. funds.” This with
    no previous warning and I already paid for this computer in Canada at Staples and had it repaired by Canadians in Mississauga. What BUNK!

    This should not be allowed. This sneaky underhandedness and lack of explaining anything to the consumer ahead of time or in print at the point of sale should require a refund of unexplained charges.

    Well, instead of the customer being right or to keep a positive image of their company – they did not apologise for the “oversight”. Instead, they made clear that they were an American company and needed to be in American funds – no apologies.

    I said to the customer service rep that I buy from American stores like Old Navy a lot. The exchange is “built in” to the price so we know what we’re buying. That’s even how cars are sold up here!

    Well, the complaint I have isn’t so much about the
    cost, although it is steep for a relatively cheap and quick repair. Not to forewarn the consumer at the point of charge is just rude, inconsiderate and anti-Canadian.

    My last words to people out there — don’t buy ACER!

  12. Buying cheaper computers like netbooks may help. Buying from a retailer with friendly return policies helps too. Costco allows returns within 90 days and increases manufacturer warranties to two years. That’s reassuring.

    A hard disk backup strategy is a must. Portable hard drives are convenient and easy to use. An online service provides additional insurance.

  13. I really need your help in dealing with HP Canada with respect to a laptop computer I purchased in May of 2007.

    My warranty is expiring and I have had SO many problems with it that never get complete resolution. I really feel like my back is up against the wall at this point.

    I purchased an HP DV9381ca 17″ laptop from Costco, which had a one year warranty from HP. In November 2008, it stopped working.

    I googled the model number and found out that HP had recalled it and extended the warranty to two years. I called HP and they led me through a whole bunch of diagnostics and concluded that it needed to be returned to them for repairs.

    I received it back in December and they had replaced a whole bunch of parts, including the main board. It worked for a few weeks, only to have the exact same issues crop up again.

    I sent it in yet again and they replaced a bunch of parts a second time, then a thrid. I have the paperwork to back this up.

    The final time I sent it in, they did cosmetic damage to the finger reader, which I chose to ignore because it still functioned and the computer seemed to be fixed.

    Last week, I was using it and it became inordinately hot yet again and started dropping the wireless connection. I installed a system utility that tells me just how hot my graphics processor is running at and it is running as high as 82 degrees C, which is 40 degrees hotter than it should be. This is a sure sign it will stop working shortly because the inside components are heat sensitive.

    I am also getting a yellow line down the screen on boot up and the screen dims out, which is indicative of graphics processor issues.

    I contacted HP online support and was told I would get a call back in 48 hours (or maybe a week). No call. I contacted them again and again was told 24 hours. Again no phone call back.

    I am at my wit’s end. This machine has a Nvidia geforce go 6150graphics processor in it that has an inherent design flaw and leads to overheating.

    Simply replacing this card with the same card leads around in the circles I’ve been led around in.

    I am very concerned about how I have been treated by HP. I find it very disturbing that my warranty is coming to an end and I am getting the runaround and nobody calls me back despite my persistence. I also find it alarming that all HP seems willing to do is a makeshift band-aid repair with the same defective parts.

    At this point, I think the only reasonable fix is replacing the machine because it is unreliable. I am, quite frankly, afraid of it catching fire it gets so hot.

    My patience and time are running thin and I feel as though I have been more than patient up until this point. I would really grateful for any help I can get in dealing with HP.


    From Sandra Benjamin, HP spokeswoman:

    Hi Ellen, thanks for forwarding. Wanted to let you know that we have followed up with CC and her unit is being replaced with a new one.

  14. I acquired an HP Pavilion laptop in January 2007. The warranty is for one Year.

    In 2007, I received a note from HP saying that the motherboard of this laptop has a defect and the warranty was extended for an additional year.

    I do not use the laptop much. Besides being slow, I did not see any problem with the laptop.

    A few months ago, the wireless stopped working and I had a Chat Support suggesting doing certain things, which I did, but it did not resolve the problem.

    After investigating online, I understood that the cause is the defective motherboard.

    I called the support to have it repaired, as it is a known manufacturing default, and I have been told that the warranty expired in January 2009, and I am 5 months late.

    In fact, yes, the problem took an additional 5 months to show up.

    As I don’t use this laptop extensively, the defect did not appear until June 2009.

    I asked to speak to a supervisor, but the girl at the support centre said there is no supervisor here!

    I called a number of times until I was able to speak to a supervisor, who explained that the warranty has expired and the cost of the repair is about $400 and he is the last person I will talk to.

    My laptop’s wireless is not working because of a known acknowledged defect by HP, and yet HP won’t do the repair under the pretext that the warranty has expired.

    No manufacturing company that has a respect for their products and their customers will accept not to repair a known acknowledged manufacturing defect.

    I exhausted my capabilities to make HP repair my laptop. If you can help, I will greatly appreciate it.


    Sandra Benjamin, HP spokeswoman:

    While the computer was clearly out of warranty – a warranty that had been extended by a year already – we have now offered Mr. B a one-time free repair for his computer to help resolve this issue.

    I trust this will be satisfactory to everyone.

  15. With tens of millions of computers being purchased every year, thousands are bound to develop problems. Those are the ones you hear about; happy customers rarely complain, so it gives one a skewed idea of reliability.

    On the other hand, it’s common knowledge that hard drives have a normal useable life of 3-5 years, so you should go into a computer purchase with reasonable expectations.

    I’ve had very good luck over the past decade with IBM (now Lenovo) laptops and desktops. In my experience, their hardware quality control is excellent and they’ve been very solid.

    I have zero complaints about the four or five IBM/Lenovo machines I’ve owned, including my current Lenovo desktop machine that I use for work. The software (Windows) is another story, but that’s getting better too. I have high hopes for Windows 7, which will be available next month.

    I’ve also been a long-time Mac owner (since the 1980s when they first appeared on the market), and my impression is that Apple’s quality control is very hit and miss. The machines are brilliantly designed, but frequently plagued with hardware problems.

    My current Mac laptop is the only Mac I’ve ever owned that didn’t develop serious hardware issues within the first year, and several of my Macs had problems right out of the box. If it weren’t for the rock-solid and user-oriented software, I’m not sure I’d keep buying Macs.

    The fact that I’ve never had an operating system crash in more than 8 years on a Mac is a strong selling point, not to mention the fact that I don’t need anti-virus software or have to deal with the many compatibility headaches and system instability I encounter in Windows.

  16. Typical positives for buying a Apple/Mac product aside, their customer support is legendary, frequently ranking near or at the top of customer satisfaction surveys.

    In my own personal case they replaced a Macbook battery that was far outside of warranty because their diagnostic software showed it “Failed” versus “Wore Out”. No questions asked, zero cost, just a fast and friendly swap to a brand new battery.

    They’ve also stood behind a faulty power adapter and other small things here and there that any other manufacturer (much less the nameless clone manufacturers) would laugh at you for even suggesting they should care about the problem, much less fix it for you at no cost.

  17. Ellen, just to thank you once again for doing what you do for us. I want everyone to know how very helpful you have been to get through to companies that won’t even listen to customers who are facing difficulties with their products. Although I was not able to resolve the issue with my year old Acer notebook, you did make it possible for them to contact me personally and explain their position, which I was trying unsuccessfully for 6 months. Acer was not willing to do anything for me nor take blame for what I still consider to be a defect. They were just making decisions from photos I sent of the damage rather than making arrangements to have the notebook checked over by their Mississauga office. Thanks to you, I got the opportunity to tell the Acer rep that I would never consider their product again because they don’t stand behind them. And I won’t – even though they come up with pretty good sales, why I wonder?
    Ellen, Thank You, for being our voice. It is very much appreciated. The very best to you.

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