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Friday, June 1, 2007
Packard hell

If you are thinking of getting a Packard Bell personal computer, my advice is to give it a miss. Indeed, ask plenty of questions and do your research before buying any proprietary computer. As far as Packard Bell is concerned you only get a year’s warranty. Normally the hard disk inside would carry up to a five-year guarantee direct from the supplier, and the monitor three years. Most motherboards and CPUs also come with three-year guarantees. So one wonders why Packard Bell lacks confidence in the way it puts the hardware together. That’s the first thing.
This machine, an Extreme Gold HD5500-TV, wasn’t cheap at R9 200 plus the cost of a monitor. It was bought from Incredible Con in October 2005 and within the year (fortunately) it had to have a new DVD-Rom. But there were also configuration issues from day one, especially with the TV card.
The warranty for this UK product is handled by local company Independent Computer Support Services (ICSS). And as a technician remarks, “We only service the warranty work, we don’t deal with configuration or hardware problems.”
So, not much of a service there.
It was within a few weeks that the ‘No TV Tuner Card detected’ message came up. It was a pretty puzzle since I could see the card, even if the computer could not.
Mid October 2005 saw me under instruction from their helpline running ‘Smart Restore’, a packaged installation service on the Packard Bell system disk. After reconfiguring everything, re-activating various software products and re-running virus and operating system updates it was some nine hours later and approaching 10 pm before we were back up and running.
I had to go through this excruciating procedure again six months later to resolve the same problem. At one stage a technician suggested some users go out and buy a separate operating system and start again. But if you did that there would be no way to get hold of the other software bundled in the Packard Bell support disks (for which you had paid a licence) such as Power Cinema, for example, or Norton Anti Virus, so you would have to buy those again too. All in all he was suggesting an expenditure of up to R2 000, with no guarantee of success But why should you have to spend more money on their problem?
But now, I am sorry, I really must put my foot down! Come February 2007 with, yes you guessed, ‘No TV card detected’, I decided as a matter of vehement policy not to reformat the hard disk. Surely, by now Packard Bell would have sorted this out? Hours of research on the Internet proved fruitless. There weren’t even any instructions for the specific TV card anywhere to be found.
A Packard Bell software program called ‘Snapsys’ may sound clever (it is supposed to look for hardware changes and provide maintenance utilities according to the manual), but I have never found it on the computer, nor on the support disks. Then again there is no guarantee it would have helped if I had!
Roman Pillay was supposed to come back with some answers during February, but a month later he had to be chased. “The UK Company hadn’t come back with any information,” he explained lamely.
Finally, Packard Bell suggested moving the TV card to another slot, which indicates it doesn’t know much about its own machines. There are only two slots of the type needed on the motherboard concerned. The other is occupied by a modem card. Swapping the two would be an idea, but the components on the modem then interfere with a cable plugged on the edge of the TV card — in other words, not really possible.
Loading some half dozen drivers from various Internet sites didn’t seem to resolve the problem either. There’s nothing worse than hours and hours of dead-end fiddling. They then have the cheek to want to charge you R250 an hour for their time! What about mine?
I worked out I could have built a similar machine for about R6 500 and get many of the major components replaced under warranty within a three-year period, not one. So what, I must wonder, was I paying for? Indeed, what would you be paying for?
I am certainly not paying ICSS any money to collect the computer and fiddle around with it. For one thing, allowing your hard disk to leave the premises is quite dangerous from a security point of view. For another, they would probably simply reformat the hard disk using what they call a ‘tattoo’ of the original default system set up. I’ve already done that myself three times.
If I was prepared to pay for a new TV card ICSS would replace it, but I don’t see why I should. In any case, after a month I am still waiting for a quote and, more importantly, a proper description and documentation about the TV card hardware so I can do my own research. All it says on the card is ‘Made in China TV7131’. Somewhere else on the Internet it talks about a Philips SAA chipset, so you are none the wiser.
One day very soon I plan to pull the whole machine apart, and rebuild it in a new case with a new operating system. I will obtain separate drivers to load individually with each hardware component. Then maybe I’ll get this 3,4Ghz machine to work as fast as my old 1,7Ghz, which I built five years ago - and get the TV card to work. There will be no Packard-Bell badge on the no-brand case either — some small compensation I suppose. By Nigel Benetton
Copyright © 2007 Nigel Benetton. All rights reserved Insurance

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:20.5 1st June, 2007
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