The Refurbished Risk

As someone who likes to build (and take apart and rebuild) just about anything, I have saved a lot of money over the years buying refurbished products.  Back in the day, I made regular trips to the old Compaq outlet in Houston.  I bought a lot of damaged and refurbished hardware there, including several of those wonderful Compaq keyboard scanners, a product that was far ahead of its time.  Most of the stuff worked fine.  Some of it had to be fixed, but there was only one computer that was so internally mangled that I had to take it back.  I saw and fixed many a blue screen of death (BSD) back then.  After HP consumed Compaq, I quit visiting that store.  I don’t know if it’s still there or not.  And I hadn’t seen a BSD since.

Until yesterday.

tx2525nr I have long been a fan of Woot, the “one deal a day” retailer.  Some of the items sold on Woot are refurbished.  I’ve bought several items from Woot and until now have never had any problems.  The other day, Woot was selling refurbished HP tx2525nr tablets for $699.  These boxes have 2GHz Turion chips, 3GB DDR2 of memory, a 12.1 WXGA touch screen, a 250GB hard drive and Vista Ultimate 64-bit.  Seemed like a good way to replace my trusty Thinkpad tablet that was long ago confiscated by my daughter.  So I, along with 511 others, bought one.

It came yesterday.  I set it up, went through the set up and registration process, and uninstalled all the crapware (less than it used to be, but still too much) that HP stuffs into its computers (why in the world do they make you check every one of those stupid HP games when you want to purge them?).  I connected to my wireless network and things were running smoothly.  For about 5 minutes.  As I always do with a new box, I went to the Microsoft Update site to update my software.  After installing the first round of updates, I get- you guessed it- a BSD.  I rebooted and the box restarted normally.  But when I tried to access the web, more BSD.  This time I had to remove the battery to get the box to restart.  And after that, it wouldn’t even boot.  BSDs galore.  The problem has something to do with the drivers for the wireless network card (a Broadcom 4321AG), but since I couldn’t get it to boot normally or access the web if it did, I couldn’t look for a new or alternate driver.

I don’t blame Woot.  The description clearly said the tablet was refurbished.  And if I had patience and several hours to kill, I could probably have sought help from HP.  But that’s not fun.

So I did what anyone else would do.  I wiped the entire hard drive.  And installed the Windows 7 beta.

I am already testing Windows 7 on another computer, so I have been through the installation process before.  Let me reiterate what others have said: the installation process is a breeze.  When the OS comes up, it automatically walks you through network connections and downloads updates.  I was able to reconnect to my network, access the web and even update some hardware drivers.  I lost some software that came with the computer, but some of it was unnecessary and I have alternatives for most of the rest of it.  I lost the fingerprint reader, but I found the drivers on the HP support site.  When I tried to install them, the fingerprint reader was not detected and I got more BSDs.  You can’t install these drivers in Safe Mode so I found the drivers in another format and tried again to install them via Device Manager.  More BSDs. And more, and more.

Ultimately, it fell into a BSD/restart death spiral.  By reinstalling Windows 7, I was able to interrupt the death spiral.  So the machine would boot, but without the fingerprint reader and, more importantly, without the ability to rotate the screen in tablet mode.

Since the early problems indicated an issue with the wireless card, I took it out and tried to install the tablet screen rotation application and the drivers for the fingerprint reader.  The rotation application installed without a hitch and worked upon restart.  The fingerprint drivers installed, and upon restart I could log in via the fingerprint reader.  No BSDs, at least not yet.  Eventually, I was able to get all the hardware working.  Well, except for the now absent wireless card.

During those happy and optimistic minutes I successfully installed some other applications: Microsoft Office, Evernote, Windows Live Writer.  The system seemed very stable.

But no wireless, which is pretty darn important in Tablet PCs.  So I marked a system restore point and reinstalled the wireless card.

Immediate BSD.  After a couple of reboots, I could get to the desktop and everything worked for a short while and then: BSD after BSD.  So I removed the wireless card, leaving me with an immobile mobile device.

I googled the wireless card and didn’t find any newer drivers.  I scanned the computer with Driver Scanner and it said all my drivers were up to date.

But the fact remains that the computer implodes when the wireless card is installed.

It has an ExpressCard slot, so I grabbed an ExpressCard wireless adapter and installed it.  So far this seems to work, though at the cost of the card protruding an inch and a half on the side of the computer.  I also ordered a different internal wireless card to see if a different brand with a different driver would work.  My guess is that it won’t, and if it doesn’t I can always put the new card in an another laptop.

After hours of work, it looks like this is a problem without an acceptable solution.  I have no way to know how many others who bought from Woot (or elsewhere) are experiencing problems, but at least a few are based on the discussion board at Woot.

In sum, this sucks.  Maybe I can get some help from HP.  Maybe I can’t, since I went to such extensive measures to fix the problem myself.

Either way, it’s a good lesson on the risks of buying refurbished products.

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Why HP is Kicking Dell’s Ass


I’ve been a Dell guy for a long time.  Until I started building my own desktops, I bought a series of Dell desktops for me and my wife.  My first three laptops were Dells.  We used to have Dell desktops and laptops in my office.  I recommended Dells to teens of people who came to me for computer advice.  I am a long time Dell shareholder.

But the fact is that HP is kicking Dell’s ass.  Here’s why.

My office (which has thousands of computers) switched from Dells to HPs a year or so ago.  I have asked several of my friends who work for other big companies about their experience and, while Dell still holds a lot of market share, it is clear to me that HP is gaining share.  HP has the momentum for business users from what I see and hear.

When the power supplies started exploding on my self-built primary computer, I decided to buy a second computer to use as a backup- for both data and use when my primary computer is doing its fireplace imitation.  I went to Micro Center and looked around.  It was all about HP there.  I looked at a nicely priced HP Media Center computer and then came home to buy a Dell online.  I couldn’t find one I liked as well as the HP for the same or a better price.  I went back to the store and bought the HP.  It has worked like a charm, even through a Vista upgrade– and I didn’t have to wait for it to be manufactured and delivered.

HP has a virtual lock on retail shelf space as far as I can tell.  If he wants an HP,  Average Joe has to pull into the first computer store he sees.  If he wants a Dell, he has to go online, build it, send his credit card information into the big, scary internet…and wait.  Traditionally, Joe might be willing to do this, because he got a better bang for his buck and better technical support.  Dell seems to have squandered that giant advantage.

Next, my wife wanted a new computer for her birthday.  She uses computers for email, Photoshop and light word processing.  She told me what features she wanted.  I found another HP desktop that had exactly what she was looking for.  The price was right, and again I could buy it and bring it home right away.  Suddenly I had more HPs than any other brand of computer in my house- that was a weird feeling.

Finally, I decided I needed an alternate to my trusty Thinkpad X41 Tablet to take on business trips when I need a CD/DVD player and a little more H(orse)P(ower).  I looked at Dells, but the ones I liked cost more than I wanted to spend.  So one day I’m walking into a CompUSA to buy a useless Windows LifeCam (which managed to crash Vista and never worked once- more on that later) and I see this huge, 17 inch widescreen HP Pavilion laptop (model no. dv9225us).  Vista Ultimate, 64 bit, 2G of RAM, built in webcam, very nice speakers, HDMI output, etc.  For less than $1500.  Other than the unavoidable 64 bit compatibility problems (some applications aren’t compatible with the 64 bit version of Vista), this is one heck of a laptop for the money.

In sum, it looks to me like HP has the momentum across a very wide spectrum and in a very big way.

Momentum that changed me from a guy with a house and office full of Dells to a guy with a house and office full of HPs.  Sure, I feel a little disloyal, but other than that, it was a no-brainer.

And, yes, I bought that laptop.

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