GripeLine by ED

Sound and Fury for Dell

As long as we're on the subject of soundcards, another reader recently had an issue over a Sound Blaster board. But his problem wasn't with Creative - it was in trying to get Dell to send him the $99 card that he'd paid for rather than a cheaper unit. And what's really remarkable is the amount of noise he had to make just to accomplish that seemingly simple objective.

"I purchased a brand new XPS-420 with all the trimmings from Dell for $3,000 cash," the reader wrote. "The problems began when, after reformating the drive to remove all the bloatware, I tried to install the driver for the Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeMusic soundcard I paid Dell $99 for. I tried the driver on the Dell CD that came with the computer and it would not work. I got error message stating: 'Setup is unable to detect a supported product on your system. Please ensure that your product is properly installed before running this setup program. Setup will exit.' Next, I went to the Dell website to the driver section customized for my XPS-420. I downloaded the driver for the soundcard, tried to install it, and again got the same error message. I downloaded and installed all the other drivers they had there. None of them would work. Then I went to the Creative website and downloaded the driver from there. When I tried to install that, I got the same error message."

The reader spent the requisite half hour to get a Dell tech support person on the line, who of course forced him to download all those same drivers yet again without success. "I then noticed that Microsoft Update had a driver update listed for my PC called 'Creative X-Fi Audio Processor (WDM).' I asked the tech if I should let it download and install and he said to give it a try. This driver worked, and he told me that it was no wonder the other drivers hadn't worked - I obviously didn't have a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeMusic soundcard on the PC!"

"Now the nightmare begins," the reader continued. "I told the tech I wanted my existing sound card replaced with the card which I bought and paid for. After being put on hold numerous times so he could check on something or the other, he finally agreed and told me my soundcard would be shipped to me. This whole conversation took about four hours. After I hung up, I reluctantly opened up the case and examined the soundcard, comparing it to the ones on the Creative site. I was surprised to find that it was definitely not the XtremeMusic with a 4-pin Molex connector costing $99.99 but the inferior Xtreme Audio PCI Express with an Optical in and out Toslink jacks selling for $49.99 on the Dell website. Being heavily into audio, this was an unacceptable substitute."

When the replacement arrived, however, the reader immediately realized it was the exact same soundcard that was already in his PC. "To add insult to injury, the box the soundcard came in was labeled '*Refurbished*'." The reader called Dell back and, after another four-hour conversation, was promised that this time they'd send the XtremeMusic version. But the second replacement board turned out to be yet again the $49 Sound Blaster, still with a refurbished mark on the box.

"Annoyed, I called Dell and explained what had happened and demanded to speak to a supervisor. The tech support person told me that it really wasn't a refurbished card, and he couldn't let me speak to a supervisor because he couldn't leave his post. I told him this wasn't the army and insisted that I speak to someone in charge and that I was a paying customer who spent a lot of money on their merchandise. Finally he obliged and I spoke to a very understanding manager, and after telling him the whole story again (apparently Dell doesn't keep very detailed customer service notes), he apologized profusely and told me that because of my trouble, they would ship the XtremeMusic soundcard to a technician who then come to my home and install it free of charge. He put me back on with the tech support person to make the arrangements. Again, this whole conversation took about four hours."

When the on-site technician called to set up an appointment, the reader had the foresight to ask him to check the model number of the Sound Blaster he would be bringing. Sure enough, it was the $49 model. "Furious, I called Dell again. This time, I was bounced around from department to department until I got connected to a person at 'Customer Care.' I complained about all the aggravation I had to go through to get a replacement for a simple soundcard that I already paid for and not installed and they having shipped to me wrong refurbished ones three times. This time, the Dell rep changed his tune completely. He told me that there was nothing he could do, that was the soundcard that comes with the XPS-420. I told him no it was not, to go to the Dell website section where you build your XPS-420 PC and he would see clearly that the Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi XtremeMusic soundcard is listed as an option. I also told him to refer to my invoice which clearly lists the Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi XtremeMusic soundcard on it."

The reader was then passed on a Customer Care supervisor. "This supervisor was very rude and unprofessional, not even taking into consideration that I shelled out three grand for one of their PCs. She kept insisting that I had gotten the right soundcard. I pointed out if that was so, why did the card I have look different than the XtremeMusic soundcard that's listed on their own website and Creative's, why doesn't the XtremeMusic driver isn't able to install on it, why was the Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi XtremeMusic soundcard listed on my invoice and why did they ship me three replacement sound cards? All she would say was that the soundcards were 'interchangeable.' I told her that was ridiculous and I was incredulous that Dell would be doing this to me over a $50 difference in price between two soundcards. She told me there was nothing more they could do, that I could return the PC if I wanted. I asked her, return it for a full refund? She said no, a 15% restocking fee would apply. I said no way I was going to give Dell $450 of my hard earned money and have nothing to show for it, that plus all the aggravation Dell put me through. I threatened legal action and she referred me to the Dell legal department."

By this point, of course, the reader was only pursuing the correct soundcard because of the principle of the thing. "I had called Creative to see if I could order a XtremeMusic soundcard from them and they told me it had been discontinued, replaced by their $149.99 X-Fi Xtreme Gamer. Why is Dell selling discontinued equipment in their PCs? At any rate, I mailed a certified letter to the Dell Computer Corporation about the whole matter threatening legal action if they did not provide me with the soundcard I bought and paid for. Worse comes to worse, I'll take them to small claims court."

The reader was serious about his willingness to sue Dell over this $99 board, and I think his letter to Dell conveyed that. Ten days after sending the letter, he got a call from someone at Dell's "Executive Support Team." A few days later, the reader wrote me again. "Surprisingly, I received my SoundBlaster X-Fi XtremeMusic soundcard via UPS yesterday. I installed it myself and it works great -- a happy ending to a frustrating experience."

But both the reader and I suspect that, even after all of his Xtreme persistence, it was only the letter threatening legal action that finally got Dell to budge. "The evidence is pretty clear -- up to that point, they were just trying to deceive me. Dell finally got the message that I would pursue this, and I think it made good business sense for them not to get into an expensive legal battle over a $99 product, as well as the negative publicity they would be subject to. Unbelievable what I had to go through over a lousy soundcard. But what really makes me angry is how many other people they have doubtlessly done this to who don't even know it. That's the real injustice."

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