Dell XPS 15 (9550) Review & My Disastrous Experience with Dell

This post has been rewritten since original publishing. Blog mea regulae meae!

With regard to the acquisition of computers, I have a rule – buy business or enterprise class hardware. Yes, they are more expensive, but more often than not, the hardware and technical support you receive are better than consumer grade hardware. Business class products are typically engineered to last longer as companies tend to buy large quantities of computers and don’t rotate them out for several years at a time.

Recently, I broke that rule and through my own doing, paid the price.

Several weeks ago I decided I wanted to sell my beloved Fujitsu Lifebook U904. It’s somewhat of a collectible, in my opinion, given they didn’t sell them for very long, making it a limited edition of sorts. I created an eBay account just to sell this item, and after a few scam attempts, sold the computer to a good home. I was undecided in which computer the Lifebook would be replaced with. Another Fujitsu perhaps? The previous one never gave me an ounce of trouble, despite it’s awful trackpad and “shallower than a kiddie pool” keyboard.  Unfortunately, as of this writing, Fujitsu doesn’t seem to sell a ultrabook or ultrabook-esque notebook with a QHD+ resolution, or higher, like my U904.

In a market where the PC is allegedly dying as more and more people use tablets or convertibles, I was somewhat limited in choice. Then I noticed many blogs were covering the newly refreshed Dell XPS 15″ with the Skylake processor from Intel. It was pure happenstance I found one in the Dell Outlet with the configuration I wanted:

  • Intel “Skylake” i7 quad core processor
  • 16 GB RAM, user accessible and upgradable
  • 512 GB SSD, also user accessible and upgradable
  • 4K Infinity Edge Display
  • among other core features…

The laptop was priced well for a refurbished model, and surprisingly came with a 1 year warranty, instead of 90 days or similar, as several other manufacturers do. Little did I know my experience with Dell would end in frustration.

“Frodo, Throw it in the fire!” I heard in the distance as I unboxed the notebook for the first time. I should have listened.

My refurbished Dell XPS 15″ 9550 series arrived several days after purchase, saran wrapped to a bit of cardboard inside of a nondescript box. Physically, the computer was perfect. No extra ledges, scuffs, or marks for a refurb. Having read on the Dell subreddit, Dell’s own forums, and the XPS forums on Notebook Review, I was aware of numerous complaints regarding assembly quality. To see the computer didn’t look like it came out of a junkyard was a big relief.

On first boot I was presented with Dell’s semi-custom Windows installation loaded with Dell crapware, trial antivirus, and asking for all sorts of information. I expected this. As is often the case with consumer-oriented consumer purchases, the operating systems are customized by the manufacturer (OEM) and loaded with rarely used utilities, possible spyware and certificates that shouldn’t be there. My first step was to download the Microsoft Media Creation Tool and create a bootable USB thumbdrive with a ‘blank’ Windows 10 download. While the Media Creation Tool downloaded Windows and configured the thumbdrive in the background, I visited the Dell Support Site to download key drivers, like chipset, USB, WiFi, etc. Things even Windows 10 doesn’t always recognize at first. It was then I discovered what would become the first in a litany of problems with this refurbished computer – Dells own support site didn’t recognize my system tag. In fact, their site said my computer was manufactured in an unknown country, January 1, 0001. I’m pretty sure Dell wasn’t around back then.

Initially, I contacted Dell’s technical support team who informed me this was an issue that their Customer Service team would need to resolve. I must admit, I was already unhappy and didn’t care if it was an alien support team on Jupiter who needed to resolve the issue. In what universe does a well-known computer manufacturer ship a computer with a serial number (system tag) not in their support system? The tag is literally etched into the computer. There must be a computer system keeping track of which computer got which system tag.

Nope. Not at Dell. The company’s internal operations teams are apparently run by a pair of goldfish. As a result, my only option in downloading drivers was to use the “Show all drivers for this computer” option, which, because I wasn’t sure what device models were in the laptop wasn’t helpful.

dell_goldfish

Fed up with traditional lines of support, I e-mailed the man himself – Michael Dell. If you’re ever in a pinch with Dell, unhappy with something, or not getting anywhere with their support, feel free to e-mail michael@dell.com. The e-mails don’t actually go to him, of course. They are fielded out to the “Advanced Resolutions Group”. An Executive Care Team or Level 3 team, if you prefer. Lots of companies do this actually and usually you are assigned a competent, helpful individual who has special access to assist you in the resolution of your issue. Unfortunately, “competent and helpful” are most definitely not what I received. Below is the e-mail I sent:

Greetings,

Hopefully one of the two e-mail addresses to which this message has been sent are valid. I recently purchased a Dell XPS 15” 9550 from the Dell Outlet. It’s barely 2 weeks old.

Unfortunately, the Dell website, including the little “my account area” where you can view your products list, financing information, etc and the support website don’t seem to register or recognize the service tag on my laptop.

I’ve been unable to get through to someone on the phone – except once, where after waiting for quite some time on hold to reach technical support, I was told this is an issue for the customer service department, and was transferred into a queue that surely exists only to keep people on hold. I’m hoping someone on your management team can ask someone to add my service tag to the system so I can download the correct drivers and see my warranty information in the system.

I’m not opposed to returning the computer, if it comes to that. I really like it, it seems to work well, but your website doesn’t like my service tag. I can’t even download a copy of my Operating System from the downloads area due to a “system error”, and as far as the warranty system is concerned, it says my computer was manufactured on January 1, 0001 in an unknown country. While the binary in that is somewhat humorous, 01-01-0001, it’s quite frustrating.

Here’s some screenshots. The first one shows your product support system, which does list the service tag and express service code, but the drivers for the system aren’t all there. In fact, I have to use the “show all drivers for the 9550 series” to get to them. And as you can see, the warranty information is incorrect. The second screenshot is what happens when I click the “Add to my products list” from the product support page.

I also reached out to your social media team, but this is seemingly more mystifying than time travel, and they directed me to a generic drivers page with a wizard that eventually takes me to the “show all downloads for the 9550 series” page which doesn’t exactly help. When there’s so many variations on configurations, and the support site doesn’t show yours accurately, it’s difficult to know which driver you should download.

Are you able to ask anyone to help rectify this? I would really appreciate it! 🙂 Here is some relevant order information:

Customer Number: <blanked out>
Dell Purchase ID: <blanked out>
Order Number: <blanked out>
E-Mail address associated with my Dell.com Profile: <blanked out>

Regards,
Mike Thomas

About 30 hours after sending my e-mail I received a call from the Advanced Support Group. The individual tasked with resolving this case assured me she had spoken with the technical and customer service teams and was able to have their internal system updated to reflect my laptop’s system tag. I kept her contact information just in case I had any further troubles.

Installing Windows 10 from scratch on the XPS 9550 series with a single SSD hard drive

Dell has made the poor decision to ship it’s various XPS 9550 series laptops with RAID enabled, even if they only have one hard drive. This means when you initiate a new Windows installation, Windows setup will not see the hard drive. It took some digging, but you’ll need to download the Intel RST (Rapid Store Technology) driver from Dell’s support site. Unzip it, and copy the files to the thumbdrive where your Windows install is. Just put the RST drivers in a folder called drivers so you can find them easily. When you reach the hard drive selection screen in Windows Setup, select “load driver” and navigate to the drivers folder and after a few minutes, Windows setup will see the disk drive and you can proceed.

But honestly, if you only have the single hard drive, you don’t need RAID. If you wanted you can disable it from the BIOS, enable AHCI, and install Windows without the funny driver requirement. I had mine configured this way in the end and noted a performance increase in startup and shutdown.

With a fresh Windows installation, drivers from the Dell support site installed, Windows updates completed, I thought I was golden. I had spent hours configuring this computer and began experiencing freezes in the taskbar. Anytime I received a notification from Windows or any other app capable of sending notifications, the notification would freeze on the screen and cause the taskbar to freeze, inhibiting access to the start menu, until the process was terminated and the taskbar restarted. I have a video of this below:

The fix was to erase the computer again, and install drivers sourced from Intel.com, not Dell.com. It seems the issue is caused by bad drivers from Dell for the integrated graphics card. The drivers from Intel.com work just fine and resolved the issue.

In the interim, I began shopping around for accidental damage insurance and extended warranty options. Both from Dell, and other companies, like GoCare and Safeware. Dell’s website is apparently incapable of providing costs for these features online and asks you submit a form so one of their sales team can contact you. Having done so, a few days later I received an e-mail from an inside sales representative at Dell asking me to contact them by phone to offer a quote. I don’t do verbal quotes. I don’t trust them (verbal quotes, to be precise). I find humans to be manipulative and dishonest creatures and wanted a written quote. I replied, asking for an e-mail quote but didn’t hear back for several days.

(Extended) Batteries Not Included

Several days after requesting quotes for an extended warranty and accidental damage protection, I decided to order the Dell Battery Companion. It’s a battery that you can use to power your laptop when it’s internal battery is dead or dying, and also charge your tablet or phone from it’s 2 built in USB ports. It was also on sale for $99 + tax and I had a $4.00 Dell Advantage Rewards Gift Card to use, so why not. After adding the battery companion to my cart and entering my gift card number, I proceeded to pay for the remainder on my Dell Preferred credit account. Upon reaching the last checkout screen, I noticed the balance displayed did not reflect the gift card. Fortunately there was a “chat now” button on the screen. The text of the chat is below. The Dell rep told me this would be okay and that the proper amount would be reflected on the final invoice total. Having it in writing, I proceeded with the order.

chat

I later found out I was billed incorrectly. The $4.00 was not applied to the order. Additionally, when I went to the Dell “My Account” page to view the order details, I received a message that I was not authorized to do so. Speaking with a few people from customer service, they were befuddled, and one of them didn’t believe me. Here’s a cleaned up screen shot of that error:

dell-billing - Copy

While waiting for the item to arrive, I received a reply to my earlier inquiry about extending the warranty and adding accidental damage protection:

Hi Mike,

I apologized for the late reply, it seems that there’s a problem with your service tag and we can’t create a price quote on your system, I tried looking for a solution that’s why it got delayed, my manager suggested to please try to call Dell technical support department to assist you on your warranty extension @<blanked out>

Sincerely,

<blanked out>
Inside Sales Representative I

I knew this was going to be related to the system tag issue I had when I first acquired the computer. It has continued to haunt me. Frustrated due to the issue with incorrect billing, being lied to, and an inability to see my own orders and invoices, I reached out to the representative in Dell’s Advanced Support Group for help. Below is the e-mail I sent:

Hi <blanked out>,

Thanks for your reply. I am almost 100% certain I know from where this issue stems, and have looped in <blanked out> from Dell, a member of the Advanced Resolutions Group to ask for her assistance. Initially when I purchased my XPS I discovered the System Tag was not correctly entered in the Dell system and thus, I was unable to use the Support website to download the proper drivers and see system information, or even warranty information. I reached out to Dell Executive Care and <blanked out> contacted me to aid me in resolving this issue.

<blanked out>, I am working with <blanked out>, or trying to, to see about getting quotes on extending my warranty and possibly adding accidental damage protection to the computer, however <blanked out> appears to be having a very similar issue with my system tag. Is it possible for you to look into this and work with the team who corrected the Dell.com Support Site initially?

I’d also like to add in – a few days ago I purchased the Dell Companion 18000 Mah battery accessory for my XPS. It was on sale for $99 and I had a $4 Dell Advantage Rewards card entered into the checkout. During the checkout, the purchase amount total was displaying $106.99, which is the amount before the Dell Advantage Gift Card was applied. Skeptical, I used the live chat feature to chat with Tip_Ferry M who assured me that on the final invoice the actual amount would be reflected.

I am sorry to say, it was not. My Dell Preferred account was billed the full amount without the gift card wasn’t used.

In addition to this, I am actually unable to view the billing details or invoice for the order on the My Account section of Dell.com, as it informs me I am not authorized to see the information. (There’s an image of this attached to this e-mail).

<blanked out>, since I’ve bought my computer I have experienced the following:

• The system tag was not properly inserted into the Dell Support system.
• I was unable to download drivers or the Dell Operating System recovery image as a result.
• I was also unable to see accurate warranty information.
• I have been disconnected and lied to by support staff on the phone and in live chat.
• I ordered a battery accessory, and was incorrectly charged – after being told that wouldn’t happen. Chat ID 74085183. (PDF attached of the chat log)
• I am unable to view the invoice for that order because “I am not authorized” which is ridiculous.
• And now, After attempting to attain a quote from the Dell Sales Team for extended warranty and accidental damage, they can’t generate a quote because there is again, yet another issue with my System Tag.

Let me ask you? Would it be easier just to send my computer back and order another one with a “working and functional” system tag? Because I can put it in a box and UPS it back to Dell today if that’s the case. This is ridiculous. Ridiculous.

You see, I was going to return it a few days ago because I was having some weird issues with it that I thought were hardware related. After looking around on the internet, I did manage to resolve the issue and for not returning the computer, Dell’s Customer Service offered me $120.00. I have to say. That’s not enough for this. I’m not one to ask for discounts on items, but anyone can see this is becoming a time sink. I have spent hours trying to work with Dell’s “customer facing” support (i.e. not involving Executive Care, or the Advanced Resolutions Group.) I have also worked with the Social Media team, who have been quite helpful, and I really appreciate that they are 24×7.

Each time I try to do something with Dell, be it order a new accessory, access the support site, try to upgrade a service warranty or get a quote on something, or contact technical support I run into this headache with the service tag.

When Michael Dell bought back Dell’s shares and made it a private company, I thought things would improve. It looks like they haven’t, and while I wouldn’t call my XPS a lemon, per se, the system tag definitely is and is inhibiting the enjoyment I should receive from a computer that was rather pricey, even at Outlet cost.

What are my options with this issue? As I said, I’m happy to allow you to work to resolve the issue. If you are willing to extend any discounts to me for the inconvenience, I’d be grateful of course.

Or, I am happy to box it up and return it to Dell and order something from HP, Fujitsu, Lenovo, etc. Or maybe just re order from Dell, but get the Precision Workstation 5000 model. I believe it comes with “Business Class Support” and a working system tag?

Feel free to contact me phone at your convenience, or e-mail. My number is <blanked out>. I am on the east coast and available daily from 12 pm eastern to 12 am eastern. Noon to midnight, essentially.

<blanked out>, I appreciate your help and apologize you have been dragged into this mess. Hopefully we can all come to an amicable solution.

Regards,
Mike Thomas

Shortly after sending this e-mail, I received a call from the individual in the Advanced Resolutions Group. The conversation degraded quickly after she wasn’t able to separate issues in her mind. She seemed to focus in on only the issues with the service tag, not the overcharging for the battery companion, or that I was lied to/given incorrect information by the live chat person. Never did I expect her to snap her fingers, wave a wand, etc and fix it then. I was willing to wait a couple days for her to coordinate with the various teams for a resolution. After all, Dell is a large company with offices and staff around the world. It’s not as easy as walking down the hall and asking someone “hey, why isn’t this working?”. Unfortunately, she didn’t see it that way and asked me the one thing you should never ask a customer:

“What do you want me to do about it?”

If steam could exhaust from one’s ears, it would have been coming from mine. I told her to initiate the return process for everything, I’d send it all back. This isn’t worth it. Really, I didn’t want to. I had spent a week or two installing and configuring a stable Windows installation on the computer and it was working fine. The battery companion was working well and would have proven to be a nifty accessory. But if I was to continue to have any sort of business relationship with Dell, I wanted assurance of a few things. Namely:

  • That future orders won’t tell me I’m not authorized to see my own billing information.
  • That I won’t be incorrectly billed for products I purchase from Dell.com.
    • And let’s be honest, it was only $4.00. I’m latching on to that issue because she didn’t offer to do anything about it. Her suggestion was to save the card and use it on my next order. Why would I do that? First of all, they (Dell Advantage Rewards cards) expire rather quickly, and secondly, how can I be assured that the card will be debited correctly on the next order? What will make that next order any different than the battery companion order? Wow, what a solution you’ve given me! Try again, but it’s still going to fail and we’ll end up where we are now.
  • And that I wasn’t going to continue to have issues with the system tag when I tried to upgrade/add on to my Dell services with regard to this laptop.

After hanging up, it was only a few minutes before I received the 2 UPS labels to send the items back. I thought it appropriate to write this individual back and answer her question – What do you want me to do about it. Below is that e-mail.

Hello <blanked out>,

Thank you for your phone call. I have received 1 of the UPS labels, though I am unsure which item it is for.

While we were on the phone, prior to initiating the return you asked me what I would like you to do…. Presumably to resolve this. Although we are in the process of returning these items, here is the answer to your question.

1. You could contact the individual responsible for the staffer I chatted with using the live chat service regarding the incorrect information they gave me about my order. Their managers could then aid in retraining the individual, or correcting any confusion on policy or the way the Dell checkout systems work.
2. You could contact the team who manage the Dell My Account “Recent Orders” system and sort out why I am unable to see an invoice for the battery companion order, and instead see “not authorized”.
3. You could follow up with the inside sales person, <blanked out>, about the quotes for the extended warranty and accidental damage protection, since you had the support team refresh the system tag.
4. You (as a representative of Dell) could make more of an effort to ask me to keep the computer and perhaps offer a discount for the numerous inconveniences I have experienced. Yes, I’ve already received one from the regular support team, but that wasn’t because of inconveniences really. That was just because I called and asked to return it. They are trained to offer discounts to get customers to keep their products. The inconveniences I’ve experienced greatly exceed anything I have experienced from a computer company.

You see, I really like the computer. I like the idea of the battery companion.

I don’t like engaging with people for hours on end, being lied to, overcharged, and having to go out of my way to get help, or telling you “what you can do for me”.

I was/am perfectly willing to allow you the time needed to do the items above. I realize you can’t snap your fingers and make it happen. But, it seems you weren’t totally understanding that while we were on the phone. My frustration with having to explain how this should be resolved is why I resorted to asking you to initiate the return.

Regards,
Mike Thomas

Following this, her reply merely consisted of clarifying which label went on which product box and apologized for the inconvenience Dell has caused me. Again, apparently oblivious to my willingness to work towards a solution for this problem which really is an issue with their CRM, Billing and Invoicing System, etc.

Having the nerve to ask me “What do you want me to do?” is preposterous. You are in an advanced resolutions group. Notate the issues I have and use the collective knowledge of your team and tools at your disposal to sort out a resolution for each one. It’s not hard. But don’t “give up” on a customer because you feel you can’t satiate their frustration. That’s just shitty customer service and in my opinion, she should be fired.