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HP a6610t CTO Desktop

The HP a6610t CTO Desktop PC we ordered in November 2008 was received - with the harddrive mounted incorrectly within the chassis and a loose screw inside...

Note the hard-drive is installed cock-eyed. A loose screw was found loose in the chassis as well.
Note the video card which is supposed to support VGA+DVI+HDMI. I only see DVI+HDMI. Kinda hard to use two monitors with only one monitor port.

Big on HP

I've been big on HP for years. For nearly a decade, I've recommended HP almost exclusively to anyone needing them. In my past experience, HP computers were reliable, well built and their support, while not always in the US, at least had a good grasp of the English language so you could carry on a real conversation. That beats the Dell "baby in a buggy" type experience I've had prior hand's down.

In the last month alone, I've recommended HP desktop computers and laptops to no less than a dozen clients, three of the local clients went on to purchase them and I proceeded with the installation and configuration of the machines on their networks. While functional, there hasn't been a clear distinguishing reason for purchasing HP recently. Nearly all of the hard drives were Seagate, Hitachi and Samsung, which are so unreliable they could save time by including an RMA in the original packaging. Sigh.

My most recent personal purchase is my own desktop from 2006, an HP a6150y, which has served me mostly well. It had a Samsung hard drive in it, which failed after about 4 months - of course - but that's peanuts considering what I've seen from other vendors.

Then it happened: My wife needed a new computer.

The First One

We started researching options and features at HP over 6 months ago, and planned to buy in late September. The computer I selected and originally purchased for her was an HP Pavilion Elite m9400t, with a number of customizations.

It arrived about 10 days after the order, and, since I'm a technical consultant, the first thing I do with new hardware is test it. The Samsung hard drive in that machine was failing. It had experienced literally millions of seek errors by the time I stopped the test (at a rate of about 80 per second). I contacted HP and requested a new Western Digital replacement drive. The technician assured me that a new drive would be shipped as soon as he could get his "shipping system" back online.

One thing you should take from this, if nothing else, is that you can trust Western Digital hard drives. Meanwhile I purchased a Western Digital hard drive locally and installed it, and proceeded to spend days of my time reinstalling the OS, and configuring the applications, software and environment for my darling wife.

A week later, having as yet not received a replacement hard drive, or even notification that a replacement hard drive was being sent, I contacted HP for support on a different issue (stability), and decided it was probably best if I sent the machine back. The replacement hard-drive? Never even queued for shipment.

Take Two

We waited another week, did a little more research, and ordered another one. This time it was the HP Pavilion a6610t Customizable Desktop PC — customized, of course. Today, I wake up to my darling wifes excitement about her new arrival. It's here. The first thing she did, even before I was conscious, was to open the case and check the hard drive vendor. To her surprise and disgust, there was a loose screw in the case, and the hard drive, as you can see in the picture above, isn't properly installed in the computer. It's literally screwed up. I wake with a sigh and check for the second-most-important factor: video support. It's immediately obvious that it's missing a VGA port. How am I supposed to connect two monitors to a machine that only has one DVI port?

This time, instead of spending over a week configuring and trying to use the machine I figure it's best if I actually try to resolve the issues first.


So I first logged onto "chat" support so I could get a replacement hard drive and the correct video card sent to me. There's hope, right? My unfailing optimism can really be a let-down sometimes.

Another half hour on Chat and the technician acknowledges that it should have VGA+DVI+HDMI, and agrees that the improperly seated hard-drive should be replaced, but says neither of those things are within his abilities. But I can call Sales Support and "the necessary help will be done". Whatever that means.

My first call to the Sales Support number ((888) 999-4747) is disconnected after I sit on hold for about 10 minutes.

The second time I figure I'll try a different option, "Technical Support", and maybe I won't get auto-disconnected. I'm connected to a computer that verbally asks me questions to determine what product I'm having issues with, and eventually tells me that telephone support for my product is "no longer available," but I can stay on the line to discuss purchase of a support contract. How nice.

I stay on the line so I can at least get directed to the right department. There's obviously no good reason for a computer that was just delivered by FedEx to have exhausted it's telephone support. So there must be some mistake, right? After another wait, I'm connected to "Ryan", to whom I explain the situation and provide the order number. He keeps addressing the computer as a laptop, even though I assume he has access to the build information in front of him, but it's hard enough to understand him through his thick accent, and he says he's going to be connecting me to the proper channel to address my issues, so I don't take the time to correct him.

Finally, after another ten minutes on hold, I'm connected to "Tiff", who has a thick accent of her own, but not quite as thick as Ryan's. She asks me to confirm that I'm calling about a laptop, and I explain that Ryan assumed it was a laptop, and I didn't want to waste my time explaining everything to him if he couldn't help anyway, and tell her what is going on: the improperly seated hard-drive and the wrong video card.

I'm sure she thinks she's being helpful when she says she can have me ship that computer back and they'll ship me a new one, but she refuses to address the actual issue about the missing VGA port on the video card. Finally, she offers to do a "build" on the site to try to recreate the exact model and options. I agree, and provide her the correct options for the customizations while she fiddles with the site. At least, I try to.

She asks me which hard drive I selected, to which I respond 500gb. She says that isn't an option, and that the largest hard drive available for this computer is only 256mb. I tell her that the hard drive most assuredly was configured at 500gb and that it sounds like she is asking about the video card. She replies that the 256mb hard drive is the best option available.

I tell her that 256mb Hard Drives were never available, "even when hard drives that small were being sold, they were typically 210mb or 240mb, but I've never seen a 256mb hard drive." She becomes frustrated and shortly tells me that the graphics adapter is limited to 256mb. I agree, and she continues to attempt to configure the same machine. As if somewhere other than the video card feature is going to tell her that the VGA port isn't available "because..."

On My End, At My Wits End

Meanwhile, I'm fed up. I've already Googled alternative quality PC sales and the one that jumps out at me is Alienware. I've worked on several in the past, and they've been a pleasure to work with. Not without problems, but the problems I've seen were directly the result of users abusing their machines. For example, a client that put his nifty P4 Laptop on his lap on a fuzzy blanket. The fans were choked and died, and later his hard drive died. Not surprising, in the least.

So while I'm in the process of configuring an Alienware Area51-7500 desktop, "Tiff" finally takes me off of hold and very abrasively tells me my options are to return it for a direct replacement or for a refund. I opt for the refund, can I get an RMA number please? When she returns with the RMA information, I take a few moments to tell her that this is the second HP I've returned in the last month, and "support" has been abysmal. I'm a technical consultant, and I'll never make the mistake of putting my own clients through this again.

The End?

I've printed off the RMA and FedEx shipping label - the computer will be packed up as soon as I finish typing. My wife's new Alienware machine will take a little longer to arrive, but will be here within two weeks. And it cost a bit more. In my experience proper support, and proper command of the English language, without infuriating accents trump prices anytime. If the Alienware computer doesn't come with a defective hard-drive, loose parts or crapware on it, I'll consider it a 100% victory.

I am concerned that Alienware is now a subsidiary of Dell, whom I despise more than you can possibly imagine, but reports online and their own documentation all assert that Alienware is still independently operated and isn't integrated into the rest of Dell.

What's more, in the last few years, HP has never approved me for credit, even for this inexpensive $650 a6610t. Alienware approved me within about 20 minutes. That's a very nice feeling. I guess the $100,000+ in hardware sales I make and refer to HP each year isn't enough to earn any form of respect from them. So far, I consider their ultimate failure a win. I'm out several days of time for labor, and weeks of irreplaceable patience, but they'll refund all my money, and they pay shipping costs both directions. If nothing else, I want to say thanks HP, your concept of "getting personal" isn't for me. And I've given up thinking HP will be worth my time or money ever again.

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