The Twenty-Three Hundred Dollar DVD Drive

December 31, 2009 – How to spend $2,300 to replace a broken DVD drive in a laptop computer.

By The Cerebral Aesthetic Vagabond

Repair it? Fuggetaboutit!

My little saga began innocently enough with me attempting to install a new version of Linux on my laptop computer in the hope of extending its tired lifespan by a few more years. Nearly five years ago when I bought the laptop it seemed pretty fast, but lately it seems dog slow. So I thought installing the latest 64-bit version of Linux might speed things up a bit and support my wireless network cards, something the older 64-bit versions did not.

Fearlessly inserting the DVD in the laptop, I rebooted the machine, ready to obliterate everything on the computer for good. But to my surprise, instead of booting off the DVD I inserted, the computer booted up the same old operating system from the hard disk.

Suspecting that my DVD drive was somehow incompatible with the DVD I made, I burned a new one on a different type of disk. Same result. After a couple of minutes of investigation I ascertained that the motor that spins the disk was dead, but the read/write head was still functional. Nevertheless, unable to spin the disk, the drive was useless.

Internet Fails To Deliver

I headed to the first place I always head in such circumstances, the omniscient oracle we call “the internet.” I figured that within sixty seconds I could locate a replacement drive for fifty bucks. Ha!

Browsing HP’s spare parts website – HP acquired the maker of my Compaq laptop some years ago – was an exercise in frustration. Miraculously, I was able to find the replacement part, but there was no indication of a price, nor was I able to place the darned part in my “shopping cart”! This is a web site supposedly devoted to selling replacement parts, yet it won’t let me put parts in my shopping cart. Don’t get me stated on web site “designers” ... About the only people I have less respect for than product package “designers” and traffic “engineers” are web site “designers” who seem to favor cuteness over function. But I digress. After half an hour of attempting to purchase a stinkin’ DVD drive from HP’s web site, I gave up.

The best I could do was a refurbished drive for $120 or a new one for $220. $220?! For a friggin’ five year old laptop that can be replaced today for about $400? This is a part that costs $40 for a desktop machine. That $220, or even $120 just didn’t make sense. So I posted an ad on craigslist for such a part and to my surprise, someone contacted me with a computer like mine to sell for about $100. I thought that’d be a good deal because not only would I get a replacement DVD drive, but an assortment of other hard-to-find replacement parts as well.

I finally hooked up with the seller after several days of phone tag but disappointingly, his computer did not have a DVD writer after all, but a DVD ROM which was unable to read my DVDs, this despite my telling him repeatedly that I needed a DVD writer. So I thanked him for his trouble and went on my way.

I also called a “same day” computer repair guy who showed no interest in repairing my computer, failing to even reply to my e-mail. I don’t understand people who are supposedly running a business showing utter apathy toward a potential customer. But I digress ...

Computer Number One

Irritated at the seemingly designed-in obsolescence of my old laptop, I gave up any idea of repairing it, acquiesced to the manufacturers’ apparent scheme and bought a brand new laptop for $600. Ka-ching. My first impression of this new laptop, an HP G71 with an Intel T6600 processor, was extremely favorable. My latest 64-bit Linux operating system recognized everything in the new computer, including the built-in wireless networking, which was my primary concern, and the computer worked fabulously, for a couple of days anyway.

But before I explain that qualifying comment, let me say that I was so awed by the new laptop that my old desktop machine just looked sick and feeble by comparison. While the new computer would open application windows almost before my finger left the mouse button, the old one would chug and chug and eventually open a window, usually before I could fix a cup of coffee. Usually, but not always ...

Computer Number Two

Since Christmas was approaching and since my old desktop was nearly five years old, I decided to treat myself to a brand new one that I would build myself. I used to build my own computers all the time back in the day. Back then we actually bought individual memory chips in clear plastic tubes and stuffed them into sockets on the motherboard, of course, my new computer has 8,000 times the RAM of those computers I used to build almost thirty years ago. Today I merely had to assemble seven discrete components and that was it.

It was a little scary this time, though, watching my brand new computer boot up for one second and then shut down! I had no idea what was wrong, but the prospect of isolating the problem among seven components didn’t seem very appealing.

The problem was this extra cable that was unlabeled and undocumented in the “manual” that came with the case and power supply. There was also this connector on the motherboard that was unlabeled and undocumented and of a different shape than the connector coming from the power supply. It turned out, however, that the four-pin connecter from the power supply needed to be plugged into the eight-pin connector on the motherboard, otherwise the thing would not boot up. Once I figured out how to plug a four-pin connector into an eight-pin connector, which, by the way, would be a good question to include on intelligence tests, the machine booted up perfectly and has worked flawlessly ever since. And I can heartily recommend the Intel i7 CPU. Wow! That thing is fast. It has four CPU cores, which is like having four processors in the machine but with the power consumption of a single processor. What’s amusing is that while the CPU chip is about the size of a U.S. half dollar coin, the CPU fan that sits atop it looks like some sort of jet engine assembly that weighs half a pound and fills the palm of my hand.

This new desktop machine is quite an improvement over my previous one, well worth the $1,000 cost. Ka-ching.

Computer Number Three

Getting back to the first laptop, the one that opened a rent in my normally tightly closed money purse ... The first time the display of the laptop went white, it persisted a mere fraction of a second, so I chalked it up to a “glitch.” But over the subsequent couple of weeks the problem occurred with increasing frequency and duration, to the point where the computer became nearly unusable. I found that wiggling the display could correct the problem, that is, until someone bumped the table, which would send the display back to all white mode. Given the relatively inexpensive price of the new laptop, were this a problem such as a dead caps lock LED or something equally minor, I would not have cared. But to have the display turn all white every few seconds is kind of a big issue for me.

Dreading the idea of returning the computer to the manufacturer, especially after my ordeal trying to find a replacement part from the same manufacturer, I went to the store where I bought the computer to see if they could help. At first, the manager and tech support guy seemed amenable to an even exchange of my computer for a new one. The tech support guy said if I came back the next day with the computer in original factory condition, he’d exchange it. So the next day I returned after 1 PM, which is when the tech support guy said he’d be in, but he wasn’t there. In his place were a couple of indifferent girl technicians. I asked one of them if the guy I spoke with the day before was in, and she didn’t seem to know who he was! Don’t people know who their coworkers are anymore? Nor was the seemingly amenable manager in. So I had to deal with this girl. Right off the bat she observed that I had removed the UPC label – yeah, to comply with the terms of the stupid rebate – so there would be a 15% restocking fee, which I estimated was less than $100. Considering the alternative of sending the computer to the manufacturer for a warranty repair, a hundred bucks – even though it didn’t seem fair – seemed like the easiest and most expedient solution, that is, until the girl finished her calculations. According to her calculations, after which I was so exasperated I didn’t even ask her to explain, I would have had to pay over $200 to exchange my three week old, defective computer for another of the exact same model! That just didn’t sound like a very good deal to me, so I picked up my neatly boxed laptop and walked out.

That experience learned me a couple of lessons:

1) Never buy products from this particular store again. The problem is, with the demise of so many retail stores, the number of choices one has is diminishing.

2) Never buy products that have rebates. Had I not sent in the rebate, I believe the store would have exchanged the broken computer for another.

Oh, well. Life is a series of learning experiences and I just learned a couple.

I still needed a working laptop, however. Actually, I need three computers, a desktop machine, a stable everyday laptop and a machine I can use for experimental purposes. In the past, I’ve had as many as four computers running simultaneously, all doing something different. I spend a lot of time testing out new operating systems, making sure software I create is compatible with different operating systems, running different kinds of servers, and so forth. So for me, having several computers at my disposal is normal. Anyway, since I needed a third computer and since the fiscal floodgates were already open, I decided to apply the $200+ I saved by not exchanging my broken laptop for another toward the purchase of a third computer! Then I could use the third computer daily while the first one gets repaired by the manufacturer, whereupon I could use the new, newly repaired computer for experimental purposes. So the third computer is an HP Pavillion dv7 with an AMD Turion X2 Ultra processor. I honestly didn’t mind buying a third computer, especially since I really wanted to try out this processor. I am very impressed with this processor! Subjectively speaking, I’d say it’s faster than the Intel T6600 and nearly as fast as the Intel i7.

The third computer is faster and functionally superior to the first one, but at the price of another $700. Ka-ching.

Summary

Sending the broken laptop in for repair wasn’t as objectionable as I expected. HP responded promptly to my request for service, and within three days of my contacting them the computer was on its way to the repair shop. They promise to get it back to me within a couple of weeks, at no charge to me, as it should be. Ironically, they notified me that they had mailed my rebate check for the computer even as I was arranging to get it repaired!

Although my three week long, $2,300 computer buying spree sounds extravagant, consider that I got three computers for that sum, whereas my one dog tired, five year old computer cost me $3,000! My, how computer prices have declined!

I already got rid of the laptop with the broken DVD. Now if only I could get rid of the old desktop machine ... It weighs only fifty pounds ...

Epilog: Windoze Versus Linux

My travails with computers these past weeks were evidently infectious, and I was called upon to help someone sort out problems with their computer running – ugh – Windoze. I used to be a fan of MS, but their increasingly brutish business practices over the years turned me off. In addition, having used open source software, including Linux for a decade has continually impressed me to the point that every time I have to touch Windoze I wonder why people put up with it.

It’s like some sort of opaque mystery box. Things happen to it that cannot be explained. Things suddenly behave differently without explanation. Even Windoze experts – I’m certainly no expert – tell me that it should be reinstalled from scratch once a year to clean it up.

Anyway, my “customer” had a computer that couldn’t connect to the internet, they couldn’t find their browser bookmarks and the computer was infected with a virus. I got the virus removed and restored internet connectivity. For some reason, Windoze decided to change the internet configuration to use a proxy server, which is not present. The most bizarre thing was the browser, which behaved differently every time I ran it! I must have run the browser – not Firefox, by the way, but the “other” browser – half a dozen times and each time it behaved differently! Different home pages would appear, sometimes the bookmarks would appear, and sometimes they wouldn’t. And that bizarre behavior occurred after I reinstalled the “other” browser anew, a procedure which took ten minutes – compared to ten seconds for Firefox – and required two reboots of the computer! Holy cow! Firefox behaved consistently and worked perfectly every time on this very same machine.

My advice to my “customer” was to do what Windoze experts tell me to do, which is to erase the hard disk and reinstall everything from scratch. But my customer is an older gentleman who gave me a deer-in-the-headlights look in response to my advice, evidently terrified of coping with any changes I might make to his computer. So I left his computer in as good a condition as I could and advised him to be patient while his many programs load before he attempts to use the internet. “Application pollution” is one of the best reasons to periodically reinstall Windoze, as an expedient means of erasing them all and starting fresh. It seems like every Windoze application wants to load itself at boot time, whether the user intends to use it or not, an excessive number of which can add a lot of time to the boot process.

Another observation I have about Windoze versus Linux is that while most people are either ignorant of, or afraid of Linux, for many people Linux is probably a better operating system for them. It’s less vulnerable to virus attacks, mainly because its smaller market share makes it a less tempting target, but also because it’s not so riddled with boneheaded security weaknesses. Linux also has available to it fewer applications and peripherals that tend to mess up the operating system. People seem to install such things willy-nilly in Windoze, never appreciating the ramifications of “application pollution” until their computer slows to a crawl. Since many of those hardware and software doodads aren’t available for Linux, people can’t get into trouble by installing them. Linux has better segregation between ordinary and administrative users, the former having limited capabilities to alter important system files. Finally, Linux doesn’t have a central “registry,” which, however well intentioned, has become a popular, tempting target for viruses and obnoxious or just plain incompetent programs. I have spent considerable time searching registries, hunting down and extinguishing every reference to an unwanted application that refused to go away quietly.

As I have written before, Linux, especially combined with the multitude of other free, high-quality software available, such as LibreOffice and Java, is every bit as capable as Windoze, if not more so. I have seldom run into a situation where I could not get Linux to work with some hardware device. Sometimes it takes a little more effort, but it’s worth saving, what, $400 every time MS comes out with their latest and greatest. Almost every version of Linux or UNIX that I have acquired I’ve downloaded for free. Recently I broke down and paid for a collection of DVDs containing Debian Linux only because it is comprised of 9 DVDs which I didn’t want to spend 36 hours downloading! But the cost for those 9 DVDs was a mere $21.

Of course, I realize that convincing someone who is afraid to fix their broken Windoze system because of the changes that will entail is extremely unlikely to embrace the changes involved in switching to Linux, but speaking from experience, it’s well worth making the effort to do so.

As a final observation, I believe the operating system for the Mac, that epitome of user-friendliness is based on Linux.

The End