When Buying PCs, Always Bring your Live CD!

So many of us have bought computer hardware just to get home and realize that there are serious issues with hardware compatibility. So I had an idea….
Next time you go into Best Buy or Circuit City or $RETAILER, why don’t you bring your Kubuntu Live CD (okay, you can bring an Ubuntu Live CD if you really want) with you? I did that today, and it actually went really well. Here’s the story.
So I ordered a Dell OEM Ubuntu Inspiron 1420 on the 23rd of July. Today, the 15th of August, Dell still hasn’t shipped my order. So I call them up to see what’s going on. They won’t give me any update other than telling me that it’s in production. Meanwhile, I notice all sorts of public outcry from all sorts of folks about how they’ve been waiting weeks beyond their “Estimated Ship Date” and still have yet to receive their machines. This is obviously not something that is going to make me very happy at all.
So today when the guy was giving me the run-around on the phone, telling me that my order “could ship on time, but it could also not ship on time,” I just canceled. I’ve had enough of Dell’s guff, and I went out on the prowl to find a machine that will work for me. I went everywhere. I went to Radio Shack, Best Buy, Circuit City, Simplified Computers, Computer Deli, and Microcenter. Nobody had anything I was interested in except that Circuit City had this neat little 13.3″ wide-screen Toshiba U305-S5107 that looked kinda neat. So I called their manager later in the evening and asked the guy if I could bring in my Kubuntu Live CD and test it without installing anything. The guy said sure–much to my shock and amazement–and so I went in there and took a peeky-peek.
What I found was very disappointing but also very promising. Disappointing because the Toshiba model completely failed my test, but very promising because Circuit City seemed very willing to let me test these machines to my heart’s content. This particular Toshiba model actually didn’t work with my Kubuntu 7.04 Live CD at all. The ACPI didn’t work–couldn’t restart or suspend–there was no audio, the wireless device didn’t work, the bluetooth device wouldn’t work, and it seemed like the graphics card wasn’t going to play nice either. I’m glad I ran this test and it really helped me make a better purchasing decision.
WARNING: If you do decide to do this, please don’t screw it up for the rest of us. Be courteous when you run your tests. Most of all, don’t install anything. I understand that many of us consider Windows to be the ultimate computer virus, but if even a handful of folks screw around and start installing stuff, it could really make it harder for the rest of us to be able to test this hardware with our operating system of choice.
At the end of the day, I ended up ordering the 12.1″ Darter Ultra from System76. I just want a machine that will do what I need, and I’m not interested in screwing around with hardware compatibility anymore. System76 is promising a 8-10 day turnaround, so I’m really looking forward to my new machine. Here’s hoping System76 really delivers on their promise.

18 Replies to “When Buying PCs, Always Bring your Live CD!”

  1. Let us know how it goes with the System76 system and purchasing experience. I’m going to be in the market for a new notebook in the next few months or so, and system76 figures highly on my radar.
    Your LiveCD PC test is highly intriguing. How hard would it be to put together a LiveCD or LiveStick (USB thumbdrive with Linux + storage for data) whose express purpose is to gather data about the system, to help support it in the future? You know, figure out what devices it has, put it through some paces (maybe with user feedback along the lines of “did this work?” like the sound diagnostics, grab the DSDT and BIOSes, maybe allow the user to press any special keys (e.g. Play, volume, etc.)

  2. I purchased my laptop from System76 about 6 months ago. I received it in less than 5 days. I couldn’t be happier with my purchase. Everything has worked beautifully. It updated to Feisty Fawn with no problems. I’m now running Beryl with all the 3D Desktop goodness. The only “flaw” I’ve encountered (if you can call it that) is I managed to burn out the built in speakers by playing “Trigger” with the volume maxed out. Good Luck!

  3. Joseph: That’s not a bad idea, I don’t think they’d be too upset about you doing that either, as long as you were forthcoming about what you were doing.
    I didn’t ask a sales guy at first, I went directly to the manager. The guy seemed very interested in helping me out, and was very polite. I would go straight to a manager for this one, too. Salesfolks are often uncertain about what they can and can’t do, so you may get some resistance from them.
    Gerald Butler: Thank you for your review of system76! I’m super-stoked about my order, and I really hope it shows up as quickly as yours did. I’m moving in two weeks, so I’m hoping that it gets here sooner than that. I’ll also be running gutsy on my system76, so that’ll be fun, too.

  4. I actually tried this at Future Shop when I bought my laptop last summer. The head of the computer department was very emphatic that he didn’t want some other operating system running on his machines. Thankfully, The laptop I got ended up working perfectly.

  5. Hello,
    I have ordered some weeks ago the new Dell XPS 1330, and I have exactly the same issue, everyone is delayed, and Dell don’t seem to take this probleme seriously. My new ship date is estimed to be the 28/09 !! for an order in mid-july.
    Really Dell is not so professional that I thought…
    I am actually thinking about cancelling my order, but the question is then, what computer buy ?
    Good luck with your new computer , and I personally discourage everyone to buy Dell anymore 🙁

  6. That’s a great idea. Let us know how you get with System76.
    I like Joseph’s idea of some sort of quick hardware test. Since it would look like a test, staff would probably be less nervous about what you’re doing. It would be a lot quicker and would cover everything,

  7. Heh… I remember when you told me you were going to do that 🙂 glad it worked! Just a thought: that toshiba probably had a santa-rosa chipset, which is so new as to not be supported very well by fiesty.You might have wanted to try gutsy instead.
    Joseph, your idea rocks!

  8. I recived my Inspiron 1420 from Dell 2 days ago.
    It was delayed for 1 week from the original estimated ship date. I did recive phone message notifying me about backorder, but I decided to wait anyways. =)
    Overall it took more than 3 weeks from order to delivery.

  9. chep: Yeah, and that’s just far too long. System76 says they expect to ship my order within the next 48 hours, and I ordered it on Thursday last week. With the shipping I selected, I should have the order no later than Thursday by my math. That makes it exactly a week turnaround for System76, a MUCH smaller company who has much less resource to work with than Dell.
    Dell really should be ashamed by their performance right now.

  10. I will betcha Dell wasn’t ready for the huge demand for Ubuntu GNU/Linux. 64 bit GNU/Linux fully functions.
    Dell probably had no clue as to the popularity of offering a virus proof, malware free, OS on their products that is immune to all the Microsoft faults, doesn’t subscribe to the Microsoft protection racket, and is not part of the Microsoft bloatware plan.
    Lenovo, Asus, others, have been shipping greater numbers of Linux computers to all of Asia for at least the past year, and had their share of supply problems, too.
    The sales of new GNU/Linux computers worldwide is phenominal. I am using refurbished Dell machines, that I load Linux distros on ( http://livecdlist.com ), with Dell warranty, from one of the 500+ US outlets.
    One such outlet is http://cheaptronicsdepot.com only a mile from here. There are lots of GNU/Linux Computer vendors listed at http://linux.org
    Go for it!

  11. I appear weekly at major stores that offer computers, I started years ago by offering all sales staff free LiveCDroms after showing them a demo.
    They learn, in a fast overview of the booted Mepis, or even Damn Small Linux, that:
    1. their systems comply with the ISO standards
    2. Free Alternative solutions to slow Vista exist in their hands
    3. Faster, clean, free of Microsoft Malware, OS is already here, for all 32 and 64 bit processors!
    4. I will leave no crumbs on their demo systems drives
    5. I bring in folks who want to buy
    6. LiveCDroms are a pocket toolbox and troubleshooting answer
    7. There are true 64 bit processing OSes available for the latest hardware technology
    The only warehouse club that actually has suggested to us that everyone should go to the competition to buy computers, and to demo to 4 to 6 clients for a purchase of 60 new systems, has been Sam’s Clubs.
    So, you see the 40 members of the local Linux Users Groups bringing our clients to Costco and the Dell Outlets ( http://cheaptronicsdepot.com is my local Dell refurbisher).

  12. malignedtruth: Actually, Dell has conceded to me on the telephone and in email that the problem wasn’t the demand for their GNU/Linux models, it was for all of their laptops in general. Evidently they’re having some production problems now that they’ve changed their painting process to accommodate the colored lids, and that’s causing them some quality control issues that is leading to long waits.
    Dell has told me on both the telephone and via email that there are thousands of other orders (both Ubuntu and Win32) that suffered the same fate as mine. Some folks had their orders mysteriously canceled, too. I think this is just a serious scalability issue, not really one of underestimating demand or not understanding GNU/Linux’s benefit.
    Just remember, while we’ve got a better OS right now, let’s make sure that we’re consistently keeping our eyes open for new and better stuff at all times.

  13. Dude… build your own! You get a ton of knowledge from doing it, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how to put it together. You save a bundle too!

  14. @ Wetjet- We are talking about notebooks here, not desktops. Next time read the article.
    I just saved an older Inspiron with the Ubuntu CD- i formatted the HDD (was somehow completely wiped???) and installed Ubuntu. Everthing (i mean it) works, including even the media buttons on the front, the wireless, the FN keys, etc. Good idea!

  15. I’ve been thinking if I need another laptop, I’ll probably get a System76 one too, but all their laptops have that weird wedge shape.
    If I see that fucking wedge shape on one more laptop.

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