May 3, 2008

The Cursed Build

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This is a documentary of a nightmare come true. Back in mid-February, I decided to order the hardware needed to build my new desktop computer. Newegg shipped them to me very promptly, being a reputable e-tailer and all. You can imagine the excitement when I received the last package in the mail. The hours immediately following were spent putting all the pieces together. Then, the time finally came to push the power button. However, the situation suddenly became problematic and complicated. Something in my desktop was DOA. The hard part is, of course, figuring out what that something is.

Whenever I powered on the system, it would stay on for only a few seconds before shutting off, without producing any visual or audio output. The strange thing was, after about two seconds after shutting down, it would start up again, repeating this cycle indefinitely. I consulted a few friends on what the problem could be. The classic diagnostic approach is to remove components until it works. I did so until I was down to just the motherboard, processor, and memory— still no luck. I tried removing the memory next, but it still exhibited the same problem. At this point, there weren’t many choices left. My friends and I guessed that it was probably a bad power supply, or a bad motherboard. But I went ahead and checked for the rare grounding issue. I took what was left out of my case and tried putting it on my chair so that nothing could possibly short out. As I expected, it didn’t work. So I packed up my power supply, hoping it was the right one, and sent it back to Newegg the next day. Total additional costs: $15.

Two weeks later, in early March, I got my replacement for the power supply. I tried it with the components out of the case again, to prevent any possible grounding problems. Unfortunately, it had the same exact problem again. So before I packed up my motherboard to send back to Newegg, I checked for the rare possibility of my heatsink shorting out the socket. The aftermarket heatsink I chose uses a metallic backplate, and a quick internet search turned up a few reports of the backplate being the culprit. This heatsink, the Zerotherm Nirvana, is designed in such a way that makes working the special spring-loaded screws nearly impossible. While trying to uninstall the heatsink, I completely stripped the screws, making the unit unusable. I tried the stock heatsink that came with the processor, but yet again, the exact same problem came up. I immediately ordered a different heatsink on Newegg (obviously not using the same one again) and sent my motherboard back to them the next day. Total additional costs: $90.

Two more weeks later, in late March, I got my replacement for the motherboard (and of course I already have my new heatsink). I’ll save you the same, boring story. It didn’t work. In fact, the only time it appeared to work was when absolutely nothing was attached to the motherboard, not even the processor. I was about to give up and just say that I had a bad processor, which is extremely rare. Thanks to Google though, I found some details about my motherboard that I hadn’t known. Apparently, it behaves this way whenever it can’t boot. Well, the one last thing to try then is to plug every necessary part back in and use only one stick of memory. And that was it. It turned out that I had a bad stick of memory. But the story does not end here. I had to replace the bad stick. The next day, I called up Patriot, the manufacturer, to ask about warranty options. I could no longer use Newegg because I had passed the 30-day warranty period. Newegg’s service is truly a luxury in comparison to Patriot’s, as I eventually found out.

The way Patriot’s technical support is set up, the caller hits an answering machine when all the operators are busy, instead of being put on hold,. If you actually wanted to talk to someone ASAP instead of waiting for them to call you back, you basically just have to keep dialing until you get through. This may seem like a minor annoyance at first, but if it takes many calls to resolve an issue, this becomes pure tedium. After numerous calls trying to convince them that I cannot send back the entire 2-stick kit because I need the working stick in order to keep using my computer, we finally settled on a compromise. They would downgrade my warranty to cover just one stick, match my shipping method when sending the replacement, and get everything processed and tested in three business days. I actually had to send in my RMA form twice and talk to the supervisor, because the operator apparently could not find the first one I sent in. There’s another annoyance… and evidence of their incompetent support staff. I sent my bad stick to Patriot via second-day air shipping by the end of March. Total additional costs: $110.

Shortly afterwards, in the beginning of April, Patriot received my shipment. I got an e-mail from their RMA department telling me that I only sent back 1 stick, even though I already told the department that this was what I planned to do. Anyway, after five business days, when I was supposed to receive my replacement, I called up Patriot again to find out what was going on. For some reason, the idiotic service operator tried to convince me that only three business days had passed. I did not even bother trying to correct him; I just asked him when my shipment would be going out; he told me it would be the next day. Of course they had lied and my shipment did not really go out ‘tomorrow.’ I don’t even remember how many times this process repeated itself, where I would not get it on the date I was told and I’d call them up to get another bogus answer. Their explanation for the delay was that, apparently, they needed to manufacture another stick of the same spec as the one I sent in to replace it, meaning that they had absolutely none in stock, anywhere. Eventually, in late April, I did receive an e-mail from the RMA department giving me my tracking number. Despite my constant reminders, however, they messed up the shipping method, failing to match my second-day air and instead giving me 1-week ground shipping. It has taken until now, the end of April, for me to finally receive my replacement. Surprisingly, it actually works (much to my relief). Clearly though, I’m never buying another Patriot product again due to the horrendous customer service. Total time spent: 2.5 months.