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Why I won't buy a Dell next time

Or, Reason #11 to buy a Mac

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Vista capable?

Next, I recall that this machine was labeled "Vista capable" on the Dell.ie website when I bought it. I installed Vista on it, and filed a couple of reviews, here and here, registering my various disappointments and doubts regarding the new OS. The machine might be ready for Vista, but Vista clearly isn't ready for it.

Creative Labs still has no decent Vista drivers for the X-Fi card. They work up to a point, but I've had problems with one speaker dead, and the whole sound system disabled when certain options are chosen in the Creative Audio Console, requiring the driver to be re-installed.

But Dell's own Vista X-Fi driver was a complete disaster for me. Installing it blue-screened Vista and required a cold restart, after which the audio was again disabled. I re-installed the latest Vista X-Fi driver from Creative, and now have a semi-functional sound system again. Needless to say, the sound card works beautifully with XP.

I have doubts about Nvidia's Vista driver for the GeForce 7900, too. The Nvidia Control Panel hangs and fails to apply changes when one adjusts desktop colour settings. The graphics card fan runs continuously under Vista, causing unnecessary noise and distraction. Yet the fan works as it should with XP, coming on as needed to cool things off and shutting down (or going very quiet) soon thereafter. But I wonder whether this is a driver bug, or whether Vista consumes so much GPU power for its little shiny icons that the fan simply has to run continuously. If so, the few improvements in Vista over XP aren't nearly worth the cost in loud, irritating fan noise (to say nothing of the cost in sticker price).

I bought the machine just before the Vista roll-out. Microsoft's untimely delay in launching the OS was a blow to the OEMs' Christmas shopping extravaganza, and this concern spawned the stopgap solution of labelling pre-Christmas PCs "Vista capable", loading XP on them, and issuing vouchers for Vista upgrades.

The voucher gimmick has been plagued with problems, especially inadequate fulfillment resources, but also varying prices for shipping and handling depending on the OEM's arrangement with Microsoft's grossly overextended fulfillment partner, ModusLink. I never received a Vista voucher from Dell, but with the Irish Post being what it is, it's entirely possible it did send me one.

Now, admittedly, I have all of these problems, and a couple more, running the machine with Linux. The X-Fi card is completely dysfunctional: I have no sound at all. The video card fan runs continuously at its highest speed, making the noise absolutely intolerable. The machine is useless to me with Linux. But we all know that device makers rarely concern themselves with the needs of Linux users; and besides, this PC wasn't labeled "Linux capable". It was labelled "Vista capable". And so it is, I suppose, if "Vista capable" means merely that the system has the raw computing power, RAM, storage capacity and graphics capability that Vista so unreasonably demands in exchange for a little bit of eye candy. But most consumers will interpret "Vista capable" to mean that all of the hardware will work as it should, and that simply has not been my experience.

The not-quite-Christmas Vista roll-out has got to be a disaster for OEMs, which are stuck between their need to placate Microsoft and keep its advertising dollars flowing, and their need to ship computers that work properly to their customers. However much trouble Vista causes, MS makes money because OEMs are stuck buying and installing it. The OEMs get customer complaints about the voucher gimmick, increased support calls when things fail to work as advertised, and a blow to their reputations when customers sense they just paid a great deal of money for something that isn't quite right.

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