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Jul 23 2009

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Dell Latitude E6400 Sales & Support

Note: Although my sales & support experience with the machine were generally positive, my experiences with the machine itself were not.  I have since sent it back to Dell.

I just had some really good customer support experiences with Dell.  I know, some of you are going to think this is impossible, but it really happened.

Ginny’s laptop is getting kind of old … it’s an Inspiron 8600, almost out of warranty, and the screen hinge is pretty loose.  Plus she needs another computer, with more video capability, to play with Second Life.

I figured it was time for an upgrade.  I was also thinking it was time for my laptop to upgrade also.

So I ordered a new Dell Latitude E6400 laptop for myself, from Dell’s Small Business division, and will give Ginny my Latitude D630 (which has more CPU power, memory, and better video than her Inspiron 8600).

The basic configuration is …

  • Intel Core 2 Duo 2.66ghz with 6M of L2 cache.
  • 4gb RAM
  • 250gb Disk
  • 14.1″ display
  • Intel wireless A/G/N card.
  • Bluetooth
  • Windows Vista Ultimate downgraded to Windows XP
  • Docking station & laptop stand.

Originally I ordered the system with the 2.66ghz CPU and 3mb of L2 cache.  A bit of research indicated I really should have ordered the same CPU with 6mb of L2 cache (based on the type of work I do on my laptop).

I got on a customer service chat via Dell’s website and chatted with Connie who was able to cancel my original order and send me a quote for the correct CPU.

Interestingly, when I started the chat, Connie immediately indicated that she was based in Dell’s Oklahoma City support center.

This was on Friday.  Delivery estimate was for the 27th.

Tuesday, the machine arrived.

Everything looked fine … I booted the machine up and started to configure it.  So far no problems.

When I got home I continued to configure the machine … setting up the docking station and hooked it up.

Everything SEEMED to be working OK … but I noticed that there was no “Undock” option in Windows.  A bit of further digging and I noticed that Windows didn’t even seem to KNOW that the laptop was in a docking station.

I also noticed that I was having problems with my wired network connection … every few minutes the network would report that the cable was unplugged for a few seconds, and then go back to working correctly.  I tried plugging the network cable directly into the laptop and didn’t see the disconnect / connect problem.  I figure there’s either a problem with the docking station or my network wiring.

A bit of searching on the internet also turned up some forum posts indicating that the E6400 didn’t have an undock option because it was supposed to just be hot undocked.

The problem with a hot undock without notifying the OS that it’s about to happen is that external devices that are in use are not notified that they are about to be disconnected.  I also like to tie hardware components to specific hardware profiles … so, for example, the wifi card isn’t active when the laptop is in the docking station.

The only problem with the order was that Dell seemed to have forgotten to ship the operating system install media AND license keys.

So the next day I bring the laptop and docking station into the office, and plug it in to see if the docking station is the problem.  Three hours plugged into the companies network and no disconnect problems.  OK, so the networking problem has to do with my wiring.  Annoying, but nothing I can’t deal with.

The lack of an undock option is more annoying … so I get onto Dell’s support site and start a chat with Christian.  I explained the problem and ramifications … and he understood my concerns.

He did some research and had me try some registry hacks to get the undock option back.  No luck.

He was ready to log an onsite repair call to replace the mother board … when I noticed an entry on Dell’s IdeaStorm site … E6400 Bios update for docking in XP.  So it appears that this isn’t an isolated problem.

Chrstian did some further digging and came back with this from the design notes on the E6400 …

The Latitude E-Series Docking Solution have not any connectivity with the PCI Bus. Therefore, do not trigger hardware profile creation within the operating system. This feature design was changed to better support hot docking and undocking.   However, there are a lot of feedback on this already and the engineering department are already working on the next bios update for this.”

OK, so Dell knows about the problem and is (theoretically) working on a solution.

Of course the docking station doesn’t have an EJECT button, like the dock for my D630 does, but at least I will be able to have hardware profiles.

I also mention the lack of OS install media (I was expecting both Vista and XP install disks) and the missing license keys.  Christian told me the license key was actually inside the battery compartment (which is a good place for it, so it doesn’t get rubbed off).  He setup a shipment of the missing install media.

All in all, I was quite pleased with the responses I got from both Dell SMB sales and SMB support.   In all my experiences with Dell, I’ve only ONCE been disappointed by their SMB division (when I got some push back on replacing the motherboard on a PowerEdge SC600 that was acting flaky, it was resolved on another call one week after) … and almost always been disappointed by their consumer products division.

My advice to anyone purchasing from Dell: Even if the computer is for your personal use, buy from their Small & Medium Business division.

Oh yeah, one other thing … when I was originally pricing the system … I ran it through Dell’s Employee Purchase Program (EPP) site and the regular SMB site … and found that the price that the EPP site came up with was $200 more than if I ordered directly from their main site.

5 comments

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  1. Quentin Jackson

    I should be more specific – when I refer to ‘this problem’ I am referring to the undock option not being present and the resultant flat battery I get after undocking.

  2. Quentin Jackson

    This problem appears to still exist on Dell Latitude E7440. Still pending further investigation as getting solid answers is difficult. Dell have advised me most recently that hot undocking is only supported under Windows XP.

  3. David

    FWIW: There still hasn’t been any change on this problem … Dell has acknowledged the problem, but hasn’t done anything about it.

  4. Russell Johnson

    I still wonder about this, because Microsoft is very explicit in TechNet: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc754084.aspx.

    Removing a portable computer without using Undock can result in system instability, data loss, or even hardware damage. To avoid loss or damage, use Undock to undock your computer, or shut down the system and undock the portable computer while your system is off. Undocking a portable computer while it is in either standby mode or hibernate mode can result in data loss and system instability.


    1. david

      Russell: I concur … Even if there wasn’t a MS tech note about it … ANY person familiar with hardware would say that doing a hot undock without notifying the OS is just plain stupid.

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