F for Dell Tech Support

Has anyone called Dell Gold Technical Support recently? Well, I have and let me tell you I am very disappointed in their technical support. Last week I called about a laptop not powering on and I was asked if I “rebooted it”. Hello, it’s not getting power! Just today my co-worker and I diagnosed bad memory in one of our new Dell machines. Here’s the Dell tech support excerpt:

09/29/2006 08:21:04AM PC Tech: “We were having problems while booting the PC so we ran Dell Diagnostics and we received the following system memory error codes: 2F00:0B1C & 2F2F:0119.”

Agent (GTSR Dell Rep): “has any additional troubleshooting been performed on the system?”

Now I ask: what additional testing would you do? What if I was Joe Customer calling about this problem? Joe Customer will not likely even run the diagnostics CD. However, Dell usually will not talk to you without you first running the diagnostic CD. We did that. When we moved the hard drive to another PC it worked fine and suspected memory even before running the test (random BSODs are usually memory related)

09/29/2006 08:27:57AM PC Tech: “Yes. The error code first told us that there was a system memory failure on DIMM_3 so we removed that stick of memory and ran the diagnostics again. We again received the same error code on the data bus stress and a very similar error code on the MATS test”

09/29/2006 08:31:27AM Agent (GTSR Dell Rep): “do you have any memory from a know good system that we could try out”

Again, I have to wonder if Joe Consumer has memory just lying around his house for Dell to test with, but OK, we do this to make the call center person happy.

09/29/2006 08:47:48AM PC Tech: “I am running the test right now with the new memory and have not encountered any errors. We put the bad memory into a known good system and the operating system blue screened and crashed.”

09/29/2006 08:48:45AM Agent (GTSR Dell Rep): “how long did it take before it errored out in the diags?

You have to wonder if this guy is for real or not. If your Dell diagnostics CD is throwing memory errors and the OS on the machine keeps BSODing from a fresh Ghost image, what difference does it make when it crashes?

09/29/2006 08:50:35AM PC Tech: “I was receiving the error in the Data Bus Stress test, which is the first memory test.”

09/29/2006 08:51:27AM Agent (GTSR Dell Rep): “how is it running now?”

Amazing, just amazing!

09/29/2006 08:55:02AM Agent (GTSR Dell Rep): “ok what i will do is replace the memory on the system”

35 minutes after initial contact, he finally decides we are worthy of a memory replacement.

09/29/2006 09:05:14AM Agent (GTSR Dell Rep): “still here thank you for your patience”

09/29/2006 09:09:31AM Agent (GTSR Dell Rep): “I have setup a parts-only dispatch. You may find a return airbill in the box if the part needs to be returned. If that is the case, replace all of the parts and affix the airbill to the box. Then you will need to call 1-800-CALL-DHL to have the box pic”

It takes him another 15 minutes to enter the order the part in the system. Overall, it took us 50 minutes to get a replacement of two faulty DIMMs.

Which leads me to this: if Dell wants to play this game, we can play it right along with them. We’ll say we did so and so and got so and so result just to make them happy, but we won’t do it. Dell: give technicians credit for having above average intelligence when it comes to computers! When we say the memory is bad and we ran your diagnostics
to prove it, please just replace the memory.

Speaking of help desks, checkout The Chronicles of George. Sort of mirrors what I have had to deal with in the past. 🙂

– Soli Deo Gloria

Spyware: The Never Ending Story

Those spyware boys are getting smarter! Recently had a remote laptop user that kept having his home page hijacked by www.securitynetpage.net even though the home page in Internet Explorer was set to our company web site. Autoruns showed no suspicious BHOs. After poking around in the registry and finding nothing, I took a look at the Internet Explorer Addins and lo and behold: isaddon.dll. Sounds important, doesn’t it? Appears to be related to some SmitFraud spyware.

Here’s one of the prompts from the web site. The user in question thought he was infected:

Note the spelling mistakes. A lookup of the domain name on www.whois.sc shows that the web site is blacklisted by many other sites.

I found another useful site for slamming down spyware: Jotti. You know those little pests like to randomize the filenames so you cannot find them via Google? Well, you can submit a suspicious file to Jotti and it will tell you what it is!

Just for the record: I again recommend you use Ewido for cleaning off spyware. You can install and run it within Windows PE: it does work.

– Soli Deo Gloria

More Spyware Fun

Countless articles could be written on spyware. Recently, I ran into Troj/LdPinc-LZ on a PC. The really bad part is that Spysweeper didn’t detect this piece of malware even with the latest definitions! I am therefore recommending that you use Ewido as the software can be used passed 30 days (the real-time protection will get disabled if you don’t register it, but you can still use the on demand scanner). The trial version of Spysweeper won’t even clean the malware off your PC anymore and will shortly be removed from my web site.

The sypthoms were actually quite interesting. When the user went to CNN, Internet Explorer would just crash. When the user went to a specific realator site, the whole computer rebooted! Very little information exists on mssync20.sys, but by booting into safe mode and deleting all the mssync files from C:windowssystem32, I cleaned the little bugger off. It appears from the event logs it was also trying to load as a service and failed, so if you happen to get infected with this pest, make sure to check your services for a mssync20 service. After trying to load Spyware Blaster, it complained it couldn’t find MSINET.OCX. The spyware must have kicked this file out of C:windowssystem32, so I connected to my machine and copied it back over and life was good again.

Upon my searches on Google about spyware, I found some interesting articles. This one by Michael Horowitz goes through a nice series of steps when dealing with malware. He mentions the fact that the new version of Bagle actually has a trick to disable Safe Mode on PCs by deleting the SafeBoot key in the registry! This is explained in more detail at Didier Steven’s WordPress blog, with yet another link to Chris Quirke’s web blog on how to boot with BartPE to restore the Safeboot tree.

– Soli Deo Gloria

Outlook 2003: Preparing to Install

Wow, talk about an annoying problem. I used System Restore on one laptop to restore its state back 2 months to fix a wireless issue. We had upgraded everyone to Office 2003 and this System Restore put Office 2000 back on. No worries, just upgrade it to Office 2003 again. However, after doing so the user would get a “Preparing to Install” prompt on each message they clicked on. I proceeded to rip Office 2003 off and do a complete install. No go. I deleted the Outlook profile under the Mail setup icon in the Control Panel and the Outlook branch in HKCU\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Office\11.0. Clean and pristine as it could be and the blasted “Preparing to install” prompt kept coming back like the plauge.

The solution was the Windows Installer Cleanup Utility. It seems that some part of Office 2000 was still installed and had attached itself to Outlook 2003. Everytime I launched Office 2003, Office 2000 stepped in and tried to heal itself. Of course the prompt doesn’t say what is trying to install which makes troubleshooting this clear as mud.

– Soli Deo Gloria