Geeks With Blogs
ICaramba Miguel Castro's blog about .NET and its effect on National Security, the Eco-system, and his daughter's sleeping patterns.

Click here for part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5

For those of you who don't know, I've been wanting to build a new development workstation for quite some time now. You would think that it would be an easy task and one that would not take very long to accomplish; but you would be wrong.  You see, I don't do anything the easy way.  Maybe this is out of sheer ego or maybe it's that I have some real luck issues, but if the fact here is that during this process (at least at the beginning of it) I became very well acquainted with Mr. Murphy -- of Murphy's Law fame.  I write this today for a couple of reasons.  The first is so that I can spare some of you the headaches involved, and the other to serve as some amount of instruction in PC building.  The former will not refer to headaches in the actual act of building my new rig, but more toward what I experienced when I tried to have someone (a certain company) do it for me.  I'll tell you the story, but I assure you now that there was light at the end of the rainbow.  If you do not wish to learn about my experiences leading up to the actual building of the machine, you can jump to that entry here.

In the Beginning...

This phrase usually starts with "there was darkness".  In my case it indeed does, but the light does not come until I gave up on dealing with [PC-Building Company here] and decided to go from scratch all by little lonesome.    I'm not out to slander the company I did business with and I'm not going to state their name publicly here but I am going to be factual as to what happenned.

Toward the end of April, I got online at this company's web site and started to spec out a new system.  The level of detail in which you can spec a rig was impressive, though I found out later it lacked certain important specifics.  The site allowed me to select every specific piece of equipment I wanted; and lack thereof.  This included case, motherboard, CPU, drives, video cards, etc.  What it did not inform me of was that certain cases were too small for certain chosen equipment.  I wish this was the biggest problem to come but sadly it was not.  I spec'd out a pretty high-end rig.  After all was said and done, I'd have broken the $4,000 barrier.  Now came the wait for arrival.

On May 11th, the new rig shipped.  After a week in transit, it arrived at my house in great anticipation.  This thing had a 2.93ghz quad-core processor, dual NVidia 8600 cards, 4gig of RAM, etc.  I went with dual cards because I already had a great monitor set up consisting of three monitors, a 24" wide screen in the center and two 21"s as wings.  I also went with 4gig of RAM because I intended to load Vista 64bit on it.  Upon opening the case, I noticed that the kind of equipment I had chosen had caused a great over crowdedness in the case.  This can be considered my own fault for chosen said case, but I still think that this company's web site should post this kind of information.  See, I went with conventional air cooling on this rig and the size of the CPU cooler was about the size of a friggin power supply.  It crowded over into the memory area so getting memory modules in and out would not be ease; as I would soon find out.  I got the machine hooked up and booted it fine.  After getting as far as installing Vista and Visual Studio 2005 I received my first visit from the famed BSOD (blue-screen-of-death for those of you that no habla).

Now here's where the fun begins with the online builder because you see, this blue screen occurred on a  reboot after installing some .NET Windows Forms controls.  In the interest of a reader possibly having the same stupid reaction to this that the online builder had, I will not specify which control suite it was; but anyone with any knowledge about this knows that it can in no way, shape, or form cause a blue-screen on reboot, especially one before the Windows Vista logo even appears.  Control Suites are simply .NET assemblies that exist on your machine and do not interfere with the booting process.  In fact I currently have and use all the suites from all the major vendors.  After attempting to reboot several times and still getting the BSOD, I broke down and contacted the online builder's tech support department.  The phrases "pass the buck" and "cover your ass" received a totally new definition when the techie got on the phone.  You see, yours truly was dumb enough to mention the control suite installation and reboot process so of course this was what he immediately blamed for the blue-screen.  Now, as smart as some of these guys seem to think they are, their knowledge is very vertical, meaning it is limited to hardware only and does not venture into the software arena whatsoever.  This means that my attempts to explain what control suites are, how they work, and what they install went like the resistance to Borg assimilation.  The tech asked me to remove all but one of the memory modules (I had 4 1gig modules).  This is where the case/equipment combination would prove fatal to the epidermis in my hand.  After a maneuver that can only be compared to Mr. Fantastic's limb contortionism, I managed to remove all but the first RAM module.  The PC still did not boot so then the tech, oblivious to the bloody condition of my hands, asked me to replace that one module with each of the others - one at a time - and try too boot with each.  This was also unsuccessful, though I did gain tremendous dexterity in my now rather useless right hand, a fact that sucked on many levels.  In any case, he did conclude that my new wonderful rig was DOA and asked that I ship it back.  Now dear reader, in the interest of keeping you looking forward to the rest of this story, I feel I should tell you now that this was the first of three returns.

The company sent me a RMA slip and Fed-Ex ground label so I packed up the rig and sent it back.  You should know that this company is in the west coast (Los Angeles County) so the trip there took a week.  Remember that I had the machine in my possession for less than 24 hours.  After the machine arrived, it took 3 days for the support department to get their hands on it.  The guy that took charge of my rig is "stupid support asshole #1" but I'll use SSA1 for short.  I talked to SSA1 after he had about 4 days to mess with my rig and he told me that he was waiting for a replacement CPU; that mine had "gone bad".  He claimed that it would be about a week, but since I would be on the road for a while consulting and teaching, I figured I could derive my patience from that fact.  During this week, I got back on the builder's site and noticed that they were now offering RAM in 2gig modules not only 1.  I called them and asked if I would be able to swap mine out while it was in their possession.  To my surprise, they said OK and that they would charge me the difference; which turned out to be about 20 bucks anyway.  After thinking about it further I called them back and asked if I can purchase two more 2gig modules for a total of 8gig of RAM - I use VPC quite heavily as well as Flight Simulator (another memory hog).  They agreed so I was not totally unhappy -- yet.  After a few more days, I called back to check the status of my wonderful new system which at this point, simply looked pretty.  I was told that SSA1 went on vacation so I was now speaking to SSA2, who told me that my rig was under the desk of SSA1.  He said he would take over the situation and actually sounded quite nice and sincere - boy was I naive.

About a week later (by this time, the machine had been in their possession for about two weeks), I receive a package in the mail - the friggin memory !  They couldn't just put it in the machine before they ship it back to me; oh well, such is life.  The next day, I got the email that the rig had shipped -- ground !  OK, another week goes by but like I said, I was heavily traveling so I wasn't home too much anyway.  My close friends are now starting to wonder where in the name of all that is holy is this patience coming from.  I unpack the rig, open it up, install the additional memory, connect it to just one monitor, and power up.  And wait.  And wait.  And curse.  And wait.  Nothing, not even a boot beep.  Now, the motherboard I had chosen is an Asus Striker Extreme which has an LCD display in the back, which now spelled "CPU INIT".  I call tech support back and get SSA2 on the phone - yes, him specifically.  Thank goodness my hand had healed by now because yes, he had me go through that whole memory bank swap again.  This time, even a blue-screen would have been welcomed - I got nothing.  No boot beep, no nothing.  While on the phone with him, he mentioned he's had problems with this motherboard; a fact that I confirmed by surfing some forums for about five minutes.  He recommended I ship the unit back so he can swap out the motherboard with an Intel one that he personally recommended.  Time to box it up again.  This time, they wanted me to pay for the shipping so now the screaming begins.  I guess the fit I through paid off because their shipping department agreed to pay for the return shipping and split the shipping back to me with me 50%.  I reluctantly agreed; what else could I do?  So now it's another week back to California.

The rig arrived at their site a week later and was in the hands of SSA2 about 3 days after that.  He said he needed to order the motherboard and that it would take about a week to get in.  He also stated that one of the memory modules was bad and needed to be replaced - remember I had installed the other 4 gig in there before I returned it, so now the rig had 4 2gig modules in it.  After about a week, I called SSA2 back to check on the progress.  He told me that there was an Intel recall on the motherboard and had installed the EVGA n680i instead - nice of him to let me know ahead of time - no worries, it's a good motherboard and incidentally the one I would be using in the future myself anyway.  He also told me that the memory was now on back order and suggested that he sent me the rig with the 4gig in it and later ship me the additional memory when it arrives - I agreed.  At this point it's about 6 weeks after the first arrival.  So anyway, SSA2 claims he is ready to ship my machine back to me.  By this point I have been researching equipment pretty heavily and am starting to regret the rig's configuration for a variety of reasons.  The time between his claim of shipping readiness and the actual shipping was about a week - once again, I was on the road so I simply dealt with it.  Another week went by and the machine arrived at my house.

Now, for those of you who think this could not get funnier, just wait.  I took the case out of the box and already noticed something wrong.  Have you ever purchased a light bulb that already sounds like there is something loose in it?  Well, here comes my light bulb.  One of the memory modules was "floating" around the inside of the case, most probably wreaking havoc during the cross-country flight.  I plugged everything and booted it up.  Well, let me be more specific; I turned it on.  It didn't boot at all; it didn't even give me the boot beep.  This could not be happening !  I got back on the phone with SSA2 to express my discontent - this is putting it mildly.  He claimed he tested it fully and that something may have been damaged by the rogue, runaway, memory module.  He said he needed to put me on hold to grab another customer.  Fine I said.  Luckily I have a secondary workstation and a laptop with which to work or I would have been in serious trouble.  After about 20 minutes I hung up and called back.  Now, I should state here that every call I have made to this company (oh ok, I'll tell you their initials - CP) took about 15 to 20 minutes to reach the tech.  This time I reached the person I'll call SSA3.  When I asked for SSA2, I was told he went to lunch.  Yes, you heard right !  The son of a bitch put me on hold and went to lunch !  Some of you are probably really wanting to know who this company is so if you reach out to me personally, I will tell you who it was that I had the misfortune of choosing as the company to build my new Dream Machine.  I told SSA3 that I wanted to return the whole thing and get my money back; and it was here where the clusterf$%k potential really reared its ugly head; but not before he actually attempted to get me to go through that little blood-letting memory-swapping troubleshooting technique.

SSA3 informed me that they only had a 30-day return policy and even then with a 15% restocking fee.  My dear readers, have you ever heard of a Cuban Temper?  Have you heard the rumors, or read the myths?  It's only analogous to a combination of Alien-vs-Predator, Hiroshima, and telling the crowd at Woodstock that the rain will cancel the concert.  Yes, a 30-day return policy, I repeated back to him; only I haven't had the computer for 30 days -- you guys have !  This went on for about 15 minutes but believe it or not, I actually won this one.  I also through a fit about the restock fee but ended up settling at 10%.  Yes, this whole fiasco, which ended with no computer, would cost me over 400 bucks.  About 20 minutes later, I get a voice mail on the phone which sounded not-so-good in tone.  It was from SSA3 and he claimed he needed to speak to me about my machine and that it was important.  Oh boy, the things going through my mind now spanned the entire spectrum of human emotion - the dark side of it.  I called SSA3 back, which of course took about 20 minutes.  He told me that they had decided to waive the restock fee in its entirety.  After all this, they actually still assumed I had a sense of humor left !  I also remembered that I had some memory on back order and that it was on a different order number.  I explained this to SSA3 and he assured me that it would be refunded as well.  About two days later (and several follow-up phone calls), I received an email with the RMA/Refund number and also a shipping label - wow, were they turning over a new leaf?  I hadn't even been charged for the 50% shipping I agreed to earlier.  I knew this silver lining would be replaced by a dark cloud when I shortly thereafter received another email -- the backordered memory had shipped !

I instantly called SSA3 back and told him that the memory had shipped.  He said he would put a stop-in-transit immediately and for me not to worry about it.  I also told him I had shipped back the rig.  I guess I wasn't too surprised when a few days later the memory arrived at my house.  Oh and by the way, it wasn't even the right memory.  After calling SSA3 and informing him of this, a fact to which he did not show any surprise, he sent me the RMA and shipping slip so the memory was back on its way to California.  The rig took a week to get back, of course, and about another week for the refund to process, but eventually it did, as did the refund for the memory.

This concluded my adventures with CP and also concluded any possibility of ever doing business with them again.  I don't know what the cause of all this was but believe it or not, I actually saw it as a blessing.  As I stated earlier, I had already begun to research equipment and had regretted several choices on this rig's specifications.  So now was my chance to do it right and do it myself.  I had the money but more importantly, I now had the knowledge and experience of not only what I wanted, but what I didn't want.  I also had some pretty respectful resources to advice me here and there and to them go my eternal gratitude.  Among these are

Richard Campbell, Eric Harrison, and Scott Hansleman

Click here for part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5

Posted on Thursday, October 11, 2007 7:32 AM | Back to top

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