A few weeks ago I wrote that my system was mysteriously rebooting itself from time to time. Little did I know that that was just the beginning of the biggest PC pain I’ve ever experienced. I’m finally back up and running tonight after three days without my primary PC. Here’s a summary of what happened–and a word of warning to anyone who buys an on-site service warranty from Dell.

A few months ago my PC–a 1-year-old Dell 4600C–started giving me problems. If I shut down the system, it would crash several times before it would finally boot up. I made a mental note to have it looked at and then temporarily averted the problem by leaving the PC running all the time. That worked for a while, but then the PC started blue-screening once or twice a day. I didn’t lose any data because I click Save in whatever app I’m running every couple of minutes out of habit, but the constant rebooting was annoying.

I spent several hours on the phone speaking to Dell tech support in India, without results. One of the more memorable conversations went like this: “Begin by turning off all the LEDs on your keyboard.“ “My keyboard doesn’t have any LEDs.“ Pause. “You must turn off the LEDs on your keyboard.“ My keyboard doesn’t have any LEDs.“ Longer pause. “I can’t help you if you don’t turn off the LEDs.“

When I returned from the Geek Cruise last week, my PC began blue-screening several times a day. By this past weekend, it was blue-screening every 10-15 minutes. I finally said enough is enough. I called Dell to exercise the 24-hour on-site service warranty I’ve purchased with every Dell PC I’ve bought in the last 20 years and request that a technician come to my house. No dice. Before they’ll send a technician to repair or replace your PC, they force you to endure hours on the phone to India. By this time, I was all but certain the problem was hardware-related because I had done everything you can do with Windows, BIOS updates, driver updates, etc. to resolve the problem. For several hours over the course of two days, I patiently answered questions and followed the advice of my friends in India. Then I insisted they cut the crap and send me a technician. They didn’t have the authority, they said. I asked to speak to a supervisor and practically screamed at him that I paid for an on-site service warranty and wanted to use it. He patiently explained that it cost him dearly to send a technician out to do warranty work and that all other avenues must be exhausted first.

I took the PC to the local CompUSA to have the problem diagnosed. They determined that I had a bad motherboard. So I called India again and told them what I had learned. Not good enough, they said. I ended up getting the CompUSA tech who serviced my PC on the phone with tech support in India, and he convinced them that yes, the motherboard was bad. After I spent another couple of hours on the phone with them, the finally agreed to schedule a service call.

The Dell service tech came by this afternoon and replaced my motherboard. I powered up the PC and almost fell over when it immediately blue-screened. The tech then replaced the Pentium CPU and the PC booted fine. It’s been running for two hours now without blue-screening, so I’m hoping against hope that the problem is fixed. First time I’ve ever had a CPU go bad.

I’ve now been unable to work for three days. (I have plenty of PCs in my house, but only one has all the tools I use in my everyday chores.) My ear is sore from sitting on the phone and if I could get my hands on someone from Dell, I’d probably kill ’em.

I have owned many Dell PCs over the years. This is the first one I’ve ever had trouble with. I still think Dell builds a better PC than almost anyone else. But I don’t know if I’ll ever buy another one. Had I bought some cheap generic PC from CompUSA, they could have fixed it on the spot. Dell’s on-site service warranty worked great once I got past the gatekeepers in India, but it’s pure hell getting past them. Two of my friends had similar experiences when their Dell PCs were dead right out of the box. One has sworn he’ll never buy another Dell.

Several years ago, when I worked for PC Magazine, I met Michael Dell. He impressed me as a heck of a nice guy. I wonder if he has any idea how difficult his company makes it to get a defective product fixed? How could a company that once set the standard for customer service sink so low?