Dell & Alienware Reliability Issues

I just had two Dell systems unexpectedly fail on me that I had previously written good reviews for. This is something one unfortunately cannot anticipate until it happens. I’m updating both original reviews with links to this post, as in view of this lack of reliability I can no longer recommend these products:

One system I reviewed that has not failed is the one not made by Dell: the discontinued Sony Vaio Duo, bought March 2014. I had been using it until I got the XPS 15, then put it into storage, and upon buying the X51 (over two years later!) decided to give it away since I didn’t need two backup systems. Turned out it recharged fine, worked well, and continued working for the happy recipient until the end of 2016 when we lost contact. That’s what I call quality! Now on to the contrast with the sad Dell cases.

Dell XPS 15: Power Failure

I had used the XPS 15 continually for about seventeen months, at which point I replaced it with the X51 and put it into storage. When I ran into SSD trouble with that system nine months later (see below), I pulled it out of storage – and discovered it was completely dead. It would not run on external power, with or without its battery installed, and the battery did not seem to recharge either. I could have tried a new battery pack but didn’t want to risk that investment, in case something else was defective. One might write this off as an expected failure of a completely discharged lithium-ion battery, if not for the striking contrast with the Sony Vaio Duo that had survived a much longer time in storage.

Alienware Andromeda X51 R3: SSD Failure

The X51 failed much faster, though not as completely. After only nine months I started seeing mysterious Windows bluescreens, soon followed by an even more mysterious message: “Internal hard disk drive not found.” My configuration has two internal drives, 256 GB SSD plus 1 TB magnetic disk. The failure concerned the SSD which held the operating system, so the computer couldn’t boot anymore.

Researching this error I realized I’d been sold a lemon. The Alienware forum produced numerous hits for this message, on a variety of Alienware models. The standard reply of checking or resetting BIOS options did nothing for me. One customer tested the SSD in another system and found it intact; another reported that Dell replaced both SSD and motherboard to get the system working again. I suspect the failure point is the peculiar custom 20-pin PCIe slot on which the X51 puts both graphics card and SSD, splitting off 16 pins for one and 4 pins for the other, though I cannot know for sure.

I do know that once I simply removed the SSD and reconfigured the system to boot from the 1 TB magnetic disk, located on a separate SATA connector, all these errors vanished immediately. They have not returned for several days now, despite frequent reboots during reinstallation of Windows and all my applications. Whether SSD or PCIe splitter are to blame, no premium system should experience a catastrophic failure after only nine months of stationary use.

More Failures (2017-05-01)

Philip Greenspun bought a Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 that exhibited a series of technical defects right out of the box. Dell refused a return. For my part I forgot to add that both of my Dell P2415Q monitors (otherwise fine) occasionally claim to receive no DisplayPort signal until I pull the power cord and plug it back in – just powering off and on won’t work. Stay away from Dell!

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