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How Gateway's tech support tortured an editor

Gateway PC has editor pining for old IBM Windows Me system

By , Network World
September 17, 2007 12:52 AM ET

Network World - I’ve been at the Gateway to Hell.

At the risk of exposing my naiveté, I confess that I’ve been completely blindsided by the ineptness of Gateway's technical support over the past year.

After conducting a modest amount of research last fall, which included reading trade pubs, checking vendor Web sites and talking to colleagues, I pulled the trigger and purchased a Gateway GT 5220 desktop through Circuit City. The Windows XP system -- boasting a dual-core AMD processor, 1GB of memory, 250GB of storage and a 17-inch, flat-screen monitor -- set me back $750. It wasn’t the top-of-the-line model, but I didn’t think I’d completely cheaped out either on this Vista-upgradeable desktop.

It had been ages since I’d bought a home computer. The one that conked out and forced me to pry open my wallet for the new machine was running Windows Me at the time of its demise -- a reliable, old IBM box purchased via PeoplePC, which offered computers and Internet access. (I will say this: Those mean ol’ virus writers pretty much left us Windows Me users alone while they were abusing other Windows customers.)

Anyway, I foolishly expected our new Gateway system would show up and work right out of the box. You know, like an iPod. It did, sort of. But Internet access was another matter.

Naturally, I figured the problem had to be on the ISP's end (cable-service provider RCN) and so I called their support. They claimed they were getting an IP address for us and that the problem must be with the new computer. This sounded odd to me, but I thought maybe we were having some sort of issues with device drivers. So I called up Gateway technical support for what would turn out to be the start of a tortured relationship. Maybe I should have been clued in when the interactive voice response system pled ignorance when I spoke the model number of the machine into my phone when prompted (and it has failed to recognize the model number every time since then as well).

Once I got ahold of a person at Gateway, I got ping-ponged between Gateway support and my ISP’s support during seemingly endless hours on the phone over the course of several late nights. Predictably, Gateway concluded the problem must be with the ISP, and vice versa. Finally, one of the half-dozen or so unfailingly nice support people I spoke with suggested I try a new cable modem. That did the trick.

Fast forward to May. The computer stopped recognizing anything inserted into the CD/DVD drive. Figured maybe the drive went bad, so tried a spare one. No dice. Worked through the online tutorials to try to fix the problem, including setting the computer software back to a previous date. Uh-oh. That caused the whole system to go dark. I couldn’t get it to turn back on, so wound up back on the line with Gateway support. I ran through three or four more support people, who had me rummaging through the BIOS and monkeying around with DOS commands over a couple of days, and none could figure out what was wrong. Their conclusion was that it must be a hard drive problem.

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