It’s a story of a Dell Laptop, named the Inspiron 5150 and it’s full of problems

About a week ago, when I was in the midst of several crises, I had a Dell Inspiron 5150 left with me to look at. I had seen it once before to replace the keyboard (I remembered that it had a nice design to allow easy access to swap a keyboard – something that is usually hit or miss with laptop design.) Anyway, this time it was blue screening before it would let you log in to Windows XP. I booted it up and saw the Welcome screen and before my mouse pointer made it to the username I saw the bluescreen.

I did a quick google on the error and the first area of interest was memory, so I rebooted to a memtest x86 check of memory and everything seemed healthy, so I rebooted into safe mode and as administrator started to poke around and see what was running at boot. I saw a slew of suspicious programs in msconfig and set about disabling them to see if that would at least get us a login. Reboot… Indeed it did, login, type password and…. Windows needs to be activated. OK – maybe the owner has done a Windows reinstall at some point to fix some of the problems they’ve had. I plug into the network and try, activation fails. So, it appears I’ll need to call, I move it to a table and reboot to safe mode with networking (in case a bug may be blocking the network connection) and it still won’t go. So, I go back to pure safe mode to check and see if I’m locked out of that at this point, no I browse over the list of disabled items to see if I’ve found the magic bullet that kills WPA… Everything disabled is from an unkown publisher (in the services category). I try re-enabling one and get the blue screen upon reboot. At this time the PC nags that it’s battery is about to die. (45 minutes or so into the process.) So I go and scratch through the bag. No power supply…

When I go to pick it up, the user comments “that’s funny, I always leave it plugged in”, meaning you would think the battery would hold out longer on a full charge. I kind of dismissed it, thinking maybe he forgot, but anyway….

I get another chance to look at it today. I plug it in and press the button. Nothing, no power no boot, nothing. I check all cables, unplug re-plug, still nothing, just a little yellow “battery low” kind of blinking indicator. So, I pull out a multimeter and test the power supply it’s providing the ~19 volts that it’s rated at.

At this point I get online and start googling. It seems the Inspiron 5150 suffers from a flawed design. I find COUNTLESS complaints in Dell’s support forums that match one of two scenarios. Inspiron 5150 suddenly stopped charging the battery/suddenly stopped running off AC… and “slight pressure on underside of case causes sudden/abrupt shutdown.

Among the numerous forum and blog posts on the topic we go here, replaced motherboard, here summary of lousy laptop and potential lawsuits. Dell support forums on the system shutdown with pressure applied to “right spot” on case, another Dell support bad motherboard on the inspiron 5150 thread, another Dell Support thread on the issue, a different forum with similar posts relevant to the Dell Inspiron 5150, October, 2005 news artical about one persons experience.

Another ezboard thread on inspiron 5150 problems

Same 5150 users forum with category lists, notice the most active category at the top has to do with 5150 motherboard shutdown discussion.

Newsgroup thread on the issue and another.

Techblog on Dell’s evolution… including current customer service issues.

Texas Attorney General site for complaints against Dell. (No need to be a Texas resident to file a complaint.)

Here is at least one lawfirm looking into issues related to this and several other Dell laptop models. (Similar issues.) They also would like to hear from others with similar experiences with the same or other laptop models.

There are also several companies claiming to be able to fix the issue for less than Dell does… (Dell currently for out of warranty machines looks to charge ~170 to “diagnose problem”, then 400-500 for the motherboard replacement (which is subject to the same design flaw.))

Some of the companies offer fixes as cheap as ~$100, but there do seem to be multiple problems. The cheapest fix site claimed to replace the DC input jack, other run upwards of $200 to replace the system board with a modified board that supposedly will prevent eh problem from recurring.

One site that claims a fix for the issue, notice their link at the top of the page to another page on the OTHER common problem with the 5150.

More Dell gripes

At this point I could keep going on with links, I’ve found more newsgroup posts, forum posts, blog posts and pleas for help than I can count on this specific set of issues with this laptop. I know that online you’ll hear bad reviews of most anything. In fact, when people have a negative experience with a product or service they’re MORE likely to mention it than a good experience, but… it seems fairly obvious with this overwhelming “chatter” on very specific issues that there is a serious design flaw in the Inspiron 5150, Dell tap-danced until the thing went out of Warranty and to this day doesn’t acknowledge their fault.

If you’ve had bad experience with a Dell Inspiron 5150, feel free to comment on this post. I’ll try to keep you updated on class action suits as I find out about them.

Kind of makes “dude you’re getting a dell” sound like a threat….

update 11/14 – just found a Raleigh laptop repair shop opining on the same issue. It seems they found over 500 complaints on the issue in Dell Support forums in spite of the fact that Dell Support is deleting some posts on the matter. They also mention that this is the worst response to a hardware problem they’ve seen from a company (that’s still in business) after ~13 years of laptop repair.

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