A Good Birthday Gift Goes Bad
My daughter Pamela is a student of the opera. She has little interest in computers beyond using them
for word processing and e-mail. I thought, though, that as fatherly
gesture it would be nice to
get her one for her twenty-first birthday. Since I wanted one that would not cause her any
troubles, I selected an IBM Aptiva E2N. My friends assured me that it would be
So, on September 2 of this year, I purchased an Aptiva E2N from MicroWarehouse in Illinois.
While I was at it, I decided to get their extended warranty as well, which they claimed would
include on-site service. Windows 98 was supposed to be installed. I also ordered an extra 32 meg of
RAM to bring her up to 64 meg.
But when Pamela set up the computer and tried to fire it up, it asked for the system disk. No
Windows 98. She responded to this by turning off the computer and going sailing. (At least her
priorities are right.) A couple of days later, she called IBM and they tried to bring up
the operating system using the recovery
disk. It didn't work. IBM promised to send her a new recovery disk.
What Extended Warranty?
Meanwhile, I talked to the good folks at MicroWarehouse to see about that on-site service.
It turns out that the "extended warranty" only takes effect after the IBM warranty expires. No on-site service during the IBM period.
Ok, so I don't think Pamela should have to put up with this. How about if I send back the computer? You advertise a 30-day return guarantee.
Ah, but in the 1 point type it says that for IBM computers there is a 15% restocking charge. All guarantee issues have to be handled through IBM.
I contacted the Attorney General's office in Illinois, but it turns out that if the return policy was written (in whatever size type), they are not guilty of fraud.
Meanwhile Pamela has a computer that doesn't work.
IBM To the Rescue – Sort Of
A week after IBM promised to send Pamela a new recovery disk, she still didn't have it.
I called IBM and it turns out the disk was on back order. I asked if we could return the
computer to them and I was told that this is a request that must be "processed".
A week later the recovery disk came. Pamela's birthday is now long past. She called IBM and was
again coached through the installation process, but it still didn't work.
She was then told to take the computer to an "Authorized Service Center".
Now one of the reasons I chose an IBM computer was that with my ThinkPad, if anything goes wrong
and they can't fix it over the phone, I can send it to Memphis and they will send me back a working
computer. Apparently this service is not available for the Aptiva line. If there are problems,
all you can do is take it to their "Authorized Service Center"
So, on October 10 my daughter schlepped her way from Baltimore up to Towson, Maryland's CompUSA
store, where she was given the
good news that whatever they do, if she wants them to reload Windows 98, it will cost
$100. Moreover, if they look at it and it isn't a hardware problem, it will cost $100.
Excuse me? I ordered a computer with Windows 98 on it. It doesn't work. I don't know why it
doesn't work. Who is responsible for that?
So much for IBM's "Authorized Service Center".
Then I called IBM and talked to a nice lady who, after some coaxing, said she would call
CompUSA -- what is their number? I don't know their number -- you can call Directory Assistance.
Well, actually, she can't, because she's in Dublin, Ireland.
Oh. And here I am sitting in Houston, trying to deal with my daughter's computer in Baltimore.
By the way, my request to return the computer is still being "processed".
The IBM lady said she would call me back in half an hour if I would get the telephone number.
I got it but she did not call back.
That afternoon I called IBM, but of course the afternoon crew is not in Ireland. Apparently they
are in South Carolina. And the notes in their computer left no clue as to what should be done now.
There was only an annotation that someone would call me tomorrow morning.
Not the next day, but several days later IBM did call CompUSA and determined what I knew
already: to reload Windows 98 will cost $100. If they look at the computer and nothing is
wrong with the hardware, that will cost $100. IBM will not reimburse me for either of these costs,
and CompUSA won't waive them.
And Then There's CompUSA . . .
So, grudgingly we placed the fate of my daughter's computer in the hands of CompUSA. We didn't
really have any other choice. Then we waited for them to get to it. And we waited. Maybe I
could give her the computer for Christmas? Her 30th birthday, perhaps?
Occasionally I thought it might be useful to call CompUSA. Big mistake. First of all, if you
select the technical support combination of telephone keys, you are informed that "CompUSA
offers exciting technical support services."
Apparently these exciting services don't include their actually answering the telephone when you
call. Instead you get to listen to some lame comedy routines which get even more lame the more
often you hear them. But the Technical Support desk doesn't answer the telephone.
Occasionally I could get through to an operator (although often she doesn't answer the telephone,
either), who sometimes could page them, whereupon I would discover that my daughter's computer
hasn't been worked on yet.
Finally, on October 20 (CompUSA has had the computer for a week and a half by now), I managed to get an operator and
asked to speak to the manager. I was turned over to a manager, who, after some
rummaging around (he didn't really know the tracking system that well) was able to learn that
Pamela's computer had indeed been assigned to someone, but that technician wasn't in that day
(Tuesday). He should be in tomorrow. The
next day (Wednesday) I called the manager again and was told that it really would go on the bench
I gave it a day and called on Friday. Oh, it turns out that my guy only works weekends. And by
the way, my contact is only acting manager on Tuesdays, not Fridays.
So, I asked to speak to the real store manager. I got the name of another manager.
I left a message on his voice mail which was apparently emphatic enough that when I called later
and reached him, he said, oh, yes, you're Pamela Hay's father! I described my situation and he
said he would put someone on it that afternoon.
To his credit, apparently he did, because that evening Pamela got a cryptic message saying that
there was indeed a hardware problem.
Ok. What kind of problem?
Monday the 26th I called throughout the day. Technical Support still didn't answer the telephone.
(They insist on keeping Technical Support "exciting".) The
operator didn't answer. The second manager didn't respond to my repeated messages on his
voice mail. Finally, on Tuesday
(it is now two and a half weeks since we handed the computer over to CompUSA, and I am really
getting tired of that comedy routine on hold), Mr. Greenburg called me and told me that the
would be worked
on that evening.
At this point I decided to go back to MicroWarehouse and return the computer anyway, even if there is a
15% penalty. By now it's worth it to me, just to get rid of the damn thing. I called them and
got a return authorization number.
The Computer is Dead! (Long Live the Computer!)
The next day Mr. Greenburg called me back to tell me that the system board is shot and they have
to order a new one. I ask why they would charge IBM for the labor of re-installing a new system
board when it would be cheaper and simpler for everyone if IBM would just send us a new computer.
Apparently IBM doesn't work that way. Indeed, they never take computers back, even if they are
faulty. That's why MicroWarehouse has the restocking fee.
(Oh, and I read this week that about 5% of IBM's computers are "dead on arrival",
but they don't take them back. What kind of policy is that?)
I concede, by the way, that had I bought the computer from CompUSA and not MicroWarehouse I would
not have had this trouble. CompUSA will in fact
fully refund the cost of the computer if I return it as being
faulty within thirty days. They are professional enough to do this even if IBM won't support them.
Still, they should answer their phones!
Ok, go ahead and send for the new parts. We've waited this long, we might as well wait a little
(Meanwhile, on October 30, IBM announced a new $599 computer that has all the stuff I just paid
$799 for. I thought you were supposed to at least get to turn a computer on before it became
And the Problem is . . .
Finally, on November 11 (remember I originally bought the thing on September 2), I got a call from
CompUSA's Service Department to say that they had replaced the system board and it turned out
that that wasn't the problem. It was the extra memory
that I had bought from MicroWarehouse and that they had installed that was faulty. The CompUSA
people took it out and now the computer works fine.
Which means that it was MicroWarehouse's original installation of memory that caused us all this
Ok, now let me see if I understand this:
MicroWarehouse sells me a computer, but they aren't responsible for it once it's delivered.
Even though they install additional components, they can't be bothered to turn on the computer
to see if it all works. They're not really responsible for anything, and their Extended Warranty
is basically worthless.
IBM will not accept a returned computer even if it is inoperable (which apparently it is about
5% of the time). They will hold your hand over the phone(figuratively speaking) as you struggle
with software, and they will pay for their "Authorized Service Centers" to work on hardware, but
no one at IBM is responsible for the combination of hardware and software.
CompUSA will fix hardware, but they don't actually have enough technicians to meet their demand,
so heaven only knows how long it will take. (I suppose that's what makes their technical support
so "exciting".) And they charge extra for working on software. They aren't responsible for the
combination of software and hardware, either.
And I am supposed to persuade my musical daughter that computers are really great things?