BestBuy and my Laptop Computer: 2002-2009    rev 10.13.2009 [the story ends here.] Back to Lessons

A "coast-to-coast-to-coast-to... customer satisfaction story, and then some..."

05.04.2003 [first blogging of this story...]

I retired in mid '02, and a month later, on vacation with my wife, found myself going through computer withdrawal. I'd grown accustomed to the high speed downloads, email to thousands of co-workers and hundreds of friends and acquaintances, ..... and here I was in a hotel in Raleigh, North Carolina with a LAN connection and nothing to plug into it.

I got the Laptop Bug. Had to have one. It ate at me for days. I'd been thinking of getting a laptop for months; I'd looked at some brands and compared features, but hadn't really shopped for one. But now it became a compulsion. I wanted one now!

One afternoon, we had some free time, so I decided to do some serious shopping. We went to several stores, and while the prices were close, BestBuy in Raleigh seemed to offer better warranty/repair, and had a model that looked good.

So I bought it. A Compaq. Presario 700 Series, Model 731US.

I mention the brand name for one reason.

Before BestBuy would let me take the unit out of the store, they offered a "Basic Setup" of the machine. I agreed. The price [free] was right.

They checked it out; I paid; the unit was mine. Back to the hotel we went, plugged it into the LAN socket, and I was on the web. Hooray!

Did I mention that the BestBuy where I bought the unit and they tested it out for me was in Raleigh, NC? Yes? Good.

I used the unit for several days, and then we drove to Chapel Hill, NC, to visit some friends. We had a great time.

Then, one night, it dawned on me that I hadn't checked to see whether the internal battery had yet fully charged. So, rather than futz around with software controls to read the battery's charge, I simply booted the machine, and when it was happily up and running, pulled the plug out of the wall.

The screen went black. All the lights went out.

Bad Battery!, I exclaimed, plugged the unit into the wall, and proceded to let the software check the battery.

No battery shown on the screen. Hmmmmmm........

Shut the unit down and figure out how to open the battery compartment.

No battery.

None, zilch, nada. Empty slot.

BestBuy had done a "Basic Setup" on the laptop, but never verified that it would run off the battery. Or that it had one. Too Basic?

Now what? Wait til I get home to California to work this out with BestBuy? Heck no! There must be a BestBuy near Chapel Hill....

There was.

While my wife and friends stood and waited, I brought the laptop into the Chapel Hill BestBuy and explained the situation.

"So," I said, "if you have a similar model in a box here, just swap it out for mine, or take the battery out of it and put it in mine." Pretty simple concept, right? Maybe not.

Here's where the "fun" began: it took no less than three or four "technicians", including one manager, to figure out and convince themselves, individually and collectively, that no matter what they did [since they didn't have any loose spare batteries in stock], I would end up with a laptop with a battery and they would end up with one laptop without a battery.

It seems that they puzzled over this for at least fifteen minutes, trying to figure out a workaround that would prevent them from ending up with a laptop with no battery. What if they took mine back and swapped whole units? No, that left them with one laptop with no battery. What if they took a battery out of a boxed unit and put it in my laptop? No, that left them with one laptop with no battery.

Although I'd done that math before I walked in the store, it took me nearly an hour and a half of waiting before the whole process played out: wait in line for service, explain the problem to technician, explain the problem to second technician, explain the problem to technicians' manager, manager finds a similar boxed unit, takes battery out [while trying to hide what they were doing from me], puts the battery in my laptop, checks that it booted, and lets me leave with no charge [no financial damage, that is....]

So, here's the deal:

  • How could Compaq ship a laptop out the door with no battery and how could BestBuy not do that basic test before letting me out the door the first time?
  • Why did it take over an hour for three or four people to convince themselves that I, the customer, was going to walk out the door with a laptop with a battery, and they, the seller, would have to end up with one laptop with no battery [and that any hassles that came with that problem were for Best Buy to work out with Compaq?!]

Follow-up: no more than eight months later, the laptop failed. Wouldn't boot. Same error message that I'd recently seen on my wife's PC when a memory DIMM failed. Took the laptop to BestBuy for warranty repair. They sent it out for test and repair, back to Compaq, estimating 8 weeks before they'd get the unit back into my hands. It only took seven weeks. To verify bad RAM and replace it? Or whatever was really wrong, since they didn't say?

I think I'll take it with me this year when we visit NC again.

It turns out I did take it with me, but it wasn't worth it..... Just before the trip, I discovered that the laptop

  1. locked up after anything from zero time to anywhere up to minutes or an hour after booting up, and
  2. the DVD drive which played DVDs last year when the unit was new, didn't play DVDs any more, since the "repair" last year.

So, it came with me to play with and see if I could use it for anything or troubleshoot it, but I gave up, shut it down, and brought it home, pretty much unused.....

It went back to Best Buy last week for repair. Smarter this time [or at least, better educated,] I, stood in the right line, got attention much sooner, and discovered that I'd actually bought the extended warranty on the laptop, so this repair, too, should be free. And this time, they didn't forecast 8-week turnaround and deliver in 7 weeks... no sirree.... they forecast two weeks.

I'll publish an update in a few weeks, along with information on how it works. If it doesn't, wouldn't you think it's time for me to be given a replacement machine? Nah... They're having too much fun with it. August 6, 2003: no word yet from them.

08.06.2003, while surfing some other stuff.... I ran into this quote from "Site 76: Info and a caller's guide":

Speaking of which, IF YOU HAVE TO TAKE YOUR COMPUTER INTO AN AUTHORIZED SERVICE CENTER, AVOID BEST BUY AND RADIO SHACK LIKE THE PLAUGE!!!!! [sic] They'll mess things up, or try to charge you, or just generally make your experience more horrible.[etc., rated R for language.]

They called the next day, August 7, and said the unit was ready. I picked it up, checked that it could play a DVD [it did!], and took it home. It seemed to work fine for several days. I loaded Logitech's mouse software for the USB mouse I've been using with the unit since I bought it, and then hooked up to the web to download about 33MB of Microsoft Windows Updates.

At approximately 25MB of download, the system locked up. Since it had taken about ten minutes or more to get a clean login to the Updates site, due to the worm panic coming up the next weekend, rebooting meant re-logging in to Update and reinitiating the download. Another twenty-some minutes into the download, the system stopped again. ctrl-alt-del did nothing, the mouse pointer froze, and only holding the power button would stop the machine.

I am going to unload some software to see if there is interference between the Logitech USB mouse and the touch pad in the unit, which I think I noticed. If that does not work, I will return the unit again to Best Buy for repair, with the complaint that the unit freezes up.

More news as soon as it happens. Today I got an email asking me to fill in an on-line questionnaire about my level of satisfaction regarding my latest repair experience at Best Buy. I was honest, and copied their customer relations email link with the same text I'd entered at the end of the questionnaire.

Update: 04.18.2004.

We're planning a week's vacation soon, and it's been most of year since I tried to use the laptop. Maybe I'd like to take it along again... you know how wild the stock market's been recently, and I'd like to see how my stocks are doing.

My wife informed me that there was a new BestBuy in the new San Jose Santana Row shopping center, at least 15 miles closer than the one I'd gone to last time! Off I go, laptop in hand, on 04.18.2004.

Jeff, the very pleasant and helpful service desk manager takes the laptop and all of my receipts and concludes that, yes, I still have more than a year to go on the extended warranty, and he'll "call me tomorrow" with any news. I requested that, since it had been in for repair so many times already that would they pleas junk it and replace it? Jeff notes that on the repair request sheet. The laptop and I bid each other farewell again.

No phone call.

Update: 05.02.2004.

UPS delivers a big box to our house this afternoon. From BestBuy. It's the Laptop!

Check the repair sheet. What did they find, what did they do?

  • Failure verified
  • Locks Up
  • Repair: Reseated CPU
  • Repair: Added Thermal Grease
  • Repair: Reseated Fan
  • Repair: Resoldered Memory Socket
  • Repair: Reseated Memory
  • Burn in.
  • Final test
  • Cleaning
  • Quality Inspection.... all pass.

Let's check it out! Battery's nearly fully charged, and it boots up! Where are my applications, like Microsoft Office 2003? Gone.
Ok, is anything else there? Can it still play a DVD?.... Yes!
Well, let's check Microsoft's Update links and at least get the software up to date.

18 Critical Updates, 17 WinXP updates, about 6 Driver Updates are missing.

Funny, it was up to date just a month ago before I gave it back to them... Gee, they must have wiped the C: drive and done a full reload of WinXP, because it didn't even have SP1 on it.... an update that's about or nearly a year old!

Ok, log on and start installing updates.

Hmmmmmm.... a lockup. Touchpad/cursor is stuck. Ctrl-Alt-Del doesn't work. Hold the power button until it goes off, power up again, and repeat the whole download process, with software install. Come back in fifteen minutes.

Locked up. Ok, do this reboot/logon/download routine four more times.... Locks up.


Ok, kids, leave the unit plugged into the wall in the Locked Up Condition and take it back to Best Buy tomorrow, again.

But this time, I'm going to get a firm answer for "at what point do you replace the unit or do you want to talk to the Action Line Guy at the San Jose Mercury News?"

Update: 05.5.2004

Back to the store. Now they're getting a little frustrated by their own back-end process, but seem to have no alternative until the Service guys stop "fixing" it and declare it hopeless and junk it out. Somewhere around this time, they check the Compaq manuals for the model number of the laptop that they should replace this one with. This one doesn't appear on the chart. It's two years old, now, and a dinosaur. A non-person of a laptop.

Symptoms writeup: [hard to read because their laser printer was low on toner. I told them how to temporarily "refresh" the toner cartridge.... System locks up. This is the fourth [illegible] has sent computer out for service. Requesting junkout. [followed by three prior tag #'s]. If comes back not [end of text.. no more room in description field. Memory is so expensive nowadays, programmers need to conserve it, right?]

Update: 05.20.2004

It's back at my house. UPS 2-day delivery. I'm starting to wonder when these guys are going to figure out that the shipping and repair costs will overwhelm the cost of a new laptop....

  • Failure Verified
  • Passes burn-in inspection [!?!?]
  • Bad blocks on HDD [hard disk drive]
  • Replaced HDA [hard drive assembly]
  • Restore OS [scraped it clean again... another Windows Update in-plan]
  • Passes Quality Inspection.
Took it home; started Windows OS Update. System locked up. Back to Best Buy the same day. I'm providing better service, now.

Repair Tag: A369xxx: "System locks up after about an hour of use [do the repair techs ever read this field?]. 5th time in for repair. Customer requests junkout."

See you soon, laptop!

Update: 06.08.2004

It's back at my house. UPS 2-day delivery. Does this look familiar by now?

Check the repair sheet. What did they find, what did they do?

  • Failure verified
  • Locks Up
  • Repair: Reseated CPU
  • Repair: Added Thermal Grease
  • Repair: Reseated Fan
  • Repair: Resoldered Memory Socket
  • Repair: Reseated Memory
  • Burn in.
  • Final test
  • Cleaning
  • Quality Inspection.... all pass.
DOES THIS look familiar this time? It should: they did exactly the same repair on 3 June that they did on 29 April!

Update: 06.09.2004

Off we go to Best Buy. I forgot my folder of documentation, but figured they have all the miserable history in their computers, and they do.

Service Request A369xxx: "System locks up after about 1 hour of use. In for service SIX [sic] previous times. Customer demands junkout. [followed by six prior service request numbers...]."

By now, the sales manager is wondering why I'm not climbing down their throats with anger, and repeatedly thanking me for not blowing up at them. "Why should I," I reply,"First, it won't help, and second, it'll just [tick] you off!" We laugh, and get down to business.

I ask again, what's next. Now they know me by sight, though they don't have my phone number memorized yet. "you'll get a replacement unit of up to the original purchase price." Sounds fine to me. I've had no use of this one for two years, and today that purchase price buys a much more powerful laptop!

So I go window-shopping for potential replacements. As I'm poking and pushing buttons, I notice that the laptop at the end of one of the display rows doesn't respond to the touch-pad. Nor does it respond to "ctrl-alt-del", either! It's locked up, and it's not even the same model as mine!

I beckon a salesperson over to show him [a mistake]. "After all, you don't want a frozen unit on display, do you?"

Sales kid [I'm about 35 years older than he is, at least, so I can get away with that] begins to explain to me the many things that can cause a system to lock up like that. Thanks. But if it locks up again in about an hour, I promise you that nothing you do to that machine will prevent it from freezing up again.

This is a great indoor sport!

Update: 06.11.2004

Called the customer service line [1-888-237-8289] to see if the unit had been scrapped out. A very nice lady told me that the unit had been shipped via UPS on 06.10.2004, and gave me the UPS tracking number. I informed her, fairly politely, that if the unit locks up again in my home testing [downloading the inevitable updates from MicroSoft...], I will take the unit back to the local store, choose a replacement model, and leave with the new one and not the old one. "This unit will NOT go in for repair again. I thanked her and wished her a great day, and the phone conversation ended. The helpline people are very helpful and considerate, but it appears that the repair people don't have any visibility to the "Symptoms" field of the Service Order, or choose to not read it, or don't believe "SIX previous times. Customer demands junkout."

Well, more to come, soon, I expect! What if it works when it comes back to me ?!

Second update for 06.11.2004.... Ah, what a miracle "communications" is... I linked to the UPS tracking site, and discovered that the tracking number she'd given me was for the unit being shipped to Camarillo, CA, not to my home. It's on its way to the repair facility there, and should arrive on Monday, 06.14.2004! So, it's not coming back to me yet, and maybe they'll junk it out after all!

More news to follow... stay tuned to this channel. Cheers!

Update: 06.17.2004

Got the laptop back via UPS, again. They "repaired it on 06.14.2004, labeled it "DOA" [Dead On Arrival], verified the reported failure, and "No Trouble Found."


And the Repair Steps look strangely familiar...

  • Burnin Inspection
  • Functional Test
  • Repair: Reseated CPU
  • Repair: Added Thermal Grease
  • Repair: Reseated Fan
  • Repair: Resoldered Memory Socket
  • Repair: Reseated Memory
  • Cleaning
  • Quality Inspection.... "Quality Accept Pass".

"Third Time's a Charm"?

No. This time, they didn't wipe the hard drive, so I couldn't use the Microsoft Update process to exercise the unit to see if it would lock up.

I didn't have to; within about five minutes of powering up, the machine froze.

In addition, new "features" appeared: a keyboard malfunction which requires pressing f1 to continue booting. After that, parts of the OS boot process seemed to go much more slowly than before. And I'll ignore for now the fact that the touchpad didn't seem to work; the USB mouse did, so the laptop was in a condition I could continue testing.

On the first reboot, it didn't lock up in the first ten minutes, so I played Spider Solitaire for about an hour, winning two games! Tired of that, I downloaded some files from the Microsoft Update Library and set the machine upon the task of installing them.

It took about another hour and a half before the machine froze again.

Off tomorrow to write this update, then take the laptop back to Best Buy at Santana Row, San Jose. What do you think will happen then?

Update: 06.19.2004

It's over, and bless their souls at Best Buy, Santana Row, San Jose, I'm a happy camper.

I know they had to jump through some management hoops to do this, and it obviously wasn't an easy process for them, but they took the old laptop back and offered me a fair replacement.

I, as you might expect, and especially you would if you know me, coughed up some money and upgraded to a very nice new model. And, of course, I invested in another extended service plan!

The 1.8GHz Athlon machine has been replaced by a 3GHz Pentium 4®. I brought it home and discovered that I didn't have to go through the usual hour-plus of loading WinXP Home; it was already loaded, along with many other applications. I downloaded a slew of Windows OS updates, and they all installed with no problems, and the laptop never even burped once. Not one freeze-up, lockup or sneeze.

Thanks to Ray, Jeff, Ed, and about four other guys whose names I can't remember, who helped me through the process today. You did good, and yes, I am a happy camper now!

I think some of these folks at Best Buy did learn a few things along the way about some of their business processes, thanks to me, and maybe their management and IT people will be able to implement some changes in their repair process which I believe I uncovered. Take note:

  • If a customer return form has a field in it for description of the problem, that field must be visible to the repair people; no if's and's or but's.
  • If a product is returned more than once for the same problem, the repair crew had better have visibility to the entire repair history, and they'd darned well better look at it, whether this is accomplished with carrots or sticks! [I recommend carrots!]
  • Once a unit has gone back several times, the local sales people should have the power to authorize a junk-out or other kind of replacement without having to go back through the service chain, where it appeared that this power rested.

    And during the whole process, over nearly two years, I kept my cool, didn't yell at anyone, and only raised my voice when some communication links had broken and needed to be reconnected quickly. The guys at Best Buy I dealt with kept their cool, too, and focused on my "customer satisfaction" even when I'm sure they felt that they were pushing a big rock up a steep hill to try to implement a solution.

    Thanks, again, guys, and this case is closed! I'll be back, but in the future, just to buy things. I hereby recommend this store to friends, neighbors and relatives.


    We planned a trip cross-country and back this new year, 2006, and I, of course, planned to take the new laptop cross-country with us. About one week before we left on our initial voyage, something funny happened with the display. When the system booted, the screen would flash with one of several colors, then appear as if one of the colors was "turned up" all the way. Upon closer examination, it also showed a strange effect: as if every other column of pixels was turned off.

    If I opened and closed the lid, the colors might change, or might not, and after three or four swings of the monitor top, the colors would look fairly true, but the "every other column of pixels was missing" stayed.

    At the high resolution, native to the screen size, most text was illegible, due to the missing pixels. I turned down the resolution and the legibility increased to "usable...barely."

    I took it to Best Buy in San Jose, CA, and got the same story: 6-8 weeks to turn it around and no, they couldn't guarantee the the repair techs wouldn't erase the hard drive and reload it with a fresh O.S. in order to fix what seemed to be a hardware problem in the display electronics somewhere.

    I chose to take it on the road without repairing it, and that's where we went. Cross-country [three timese!]. Now I'm in Raleigh, NC, and there's a Best Buy or two within about five or ten miles of our new house. I bought a new desktop PC to replace the one... oh, I forgot to mention... after we returned to California from the first two cross-country legs of the voyage, I rebooted the desktop. It booted correctly, but after I returned to the room about ten minutes later, the monitor screen was black. The PC had stopped. I tried rebooting. Nothing happened; no response to the power switch! Oh, well, I won't want a desktop until we're moved in to our new NC digs, so that can wait. Now we're moved in, I've bought a new desktop and ported most of the files from the laptop to the new desktop, but the laptop still won't start.

    Time to re-engage with BestBuy.

    Soon. Or maybe early next year some time...

    rev... 02.01.2006

    Took the laptop to BestBuy last week. Yep, they can't promise they won't reformat the C:\ drive as part of the solution to a bad video driver chip, probably on the motherboard, so I scraped all of my personal data off the drive and deleted all non-vital programs. They say that they should have some info in about two weeks. This is a bona fide hardware problem, as far as I can tell, so we'll see what happens. More to come, of course.

    rev... 11.09.2008 Last rites and revision for now...

    When I described the problem to Ken, he told me it's not the video driver chip, it's a video interface chip which, after operating at excessive temperatures for too long of a time, essentially "desolders itself" from the PC board it was attached to. That, in fact, is why the colors change and they symptoms are intermittent. Even the first symptom I noticed, the disappearance of EVERY OTHER vertical pixel column, was related to that same cause.

    The cure: Describe the model number and serial number to the HP helpdesk in India [usually], and when the customer assistance person tells you that the unit is out of warranty, ask to have them either get their supervisor on the phone or suggest that "this is a special issue for HP and the answer is not to pay for repair... it will be a covered repair by HP."

    And keep saying that until they agree.

    When I did that, in a few days, HP had sent me a prepaid shipping box for the laptop and I called the carrier for pickup.

    The same unit, repaired, was delivered to my front porch within about four or five working days, and it's worked just fine ever since.

    On the other hand, I also loaned it to my brother, to replace his old, slow, bulky home desktop PC. The laptop has worked fine for him, so far. But I made sure he understood one specific thing: keep the shipping box I'd sent it in. And if the screen ever shows strange colors, just ship the laptop back to me and I'll have it taken care of.

    rev... 10.13.2009 The Story Really Ends Here...

    I was glad I kept the shipping box. About a year ago, my brother, who lives in Florida, had some problems with the PC he was using. It was old and underpowered even for the light work he did on it, and it was gasping it's last breaths. Rather than buy a new PC or laptop, I volunteered my "old" laptop as a loaner. It had been working well and we'd bought a new, smaller laptop for my wife and me to use when we traveled, and I almost never used the old one. So, using that self-same shipping box, I sent my laptop to Florida for his use. I told him to keep the box in case the laptop crapped out so he could ship it back to me for yet another round of "please fix me... I'm a special case."

    Naturally, he lost the box.

    The laptop worked well for him for about a year or more and then "stopped." We couldn't tell if it would boot or not because, while the "front panel lights" blinked merrily away, absolutely nothing appeared on the screen. "Ship it back to me," I suggested, and a week or so later, I got to test the unit at my home. Exactly as predicted, no screen. I hooked my desktop monitor to the laptop's output and couldn't get any output to appear there, either.

    Ok, let's try HP again and see if I can get yet another swap out of this lemon.

    And that's where the story ended. Per the support folks, not only was the laptop out of warranty [which it had been the first time, too,] it was now "formally obsolete": repair parts are no longer available.

    So, the support tech and I bottom-lined it like this: you can't replace the lemon because it's out of warranty and you can't repair it because "it's more than five years old" and as such, HP takes no responsibility for making repair parts available at all.

    Yes, he agreed. "That's it." If your laptop is more than five years old and fails, set your expectations as follows:
    1. Buy a new laptop
    2. Turn the old one into a lamp or drive over it with your truck
    3. Recycle it if you can find anyone willing to take it off your hands
    As the old saying goes, "EOF".

    First rev, 05.04.2003