The Dell XPS that “isn’t used for gaming”

So I get a call the other day for a Dell XPS desktop that’s freezing, he was referred to me be a close friend. So I meet him to pick-up the machine for diagnostics. A few hours later I find its running Windows “Home Premium” with 8 Gigabytes of memory and an “aftermarket” graphics card (usually purchased by “gamers”). I sent him a text asking how long ago he upgraded the machine’s graphics card and he was totally unaware the machine came with an “aftermarket” graphics card.

I started looking around because the machine maxes out at 32 Gigabytes of memory with a 460 watt power supply and this particular machine was using an AMD Radeon HD 7570 1GB GDDR5 graphics card which along with the minimal amount of memory (8 Gigabytes at the time of diagnostics), I felt the standard 460 watt “factory” installed power supply just wasn’t enough to feed the processor and on-board graphics demand when the client played his online games. The client of course mentioned he is a “casual gamer” and uses the machine mostly for “business” purposes but I know the friend who referred him, I know his love for “beast” systems and I’ve recently discovered his love for online gaming so I wasn’t entirely convinced of my client’s claim to be a “casual gamer”. The “factory” power supply had been under-powering the processor, graphics card, and entire system for so long that the graphics card had finally “given up the ghost” and needed to be replaced. The machine was also running a pair of 4 Gigabyte memory sticks for a total of 8 Gigabytes of memory on a system built to run 2 pairs of 8 Gigabyte memory sticks for a total of 32 Gigabytes of memory.

I added a couple of 1 Gigabyte sticks of memory to speed the process of backing up the data on the machine so I could upgrade the operating system from Windows 7 “Home Premium” to a slightly more robust version of Windows 7 (being either “Professional” or “Ultimate” of the 64-bit variety) so the machine would be better equipped to keep up with the need for processing and graphics power required for the client’s “casual online gaming” use. I couldn’t get the display to function from the existing graphics card so I booted up the BIOS and reverted the machine to display through its built-in “VGA” display port while I work on the system for optimization and upgrades. After a few hours trying to get the data transferred from the machine’s hard drive to an external hard drive so I could wipe the machine for the operating system upgrade but I kept getting an error stating the memory available was insufficient for the data transfer.

I sent the client an invoice for $380.54 to cover the cost of parts:

  • 1 – CORSAIR CXM series CX750M 750W which sells for $88.68
  • 1 – Sapphire Radeon R7 240 4G D3 graphics card which sells for $103.03
  • 4 – 8 Gigabyte sticks of memory (Ballistix Sport 32GB Kit (8GBx4) for matched sticks) to max-out the machine’s memory providing 4 times the speed for the client’s “casual gaming” needs online.

The parts I recommended for this machine would significantly improve the “user’s experience” whether gaming or doing business on the machine and though the first “invoice” I sent to the client was for $380, the charges were only for my cost to order the parts for the upgrade. Considering the friend who referred this client to me, I didn’t put even the smallest mark-up on the cost of the hardware so we could get the absolute best components for the least cost possible. Then I agreed to install everything and upgrade the operating system (if it still required doing so after the hardware upgrade) for about a $100 which barely covers the time I’ve spent in diagnostics, transferring the machine’s data off the internal hard drive, upgrading the operating system, transferring the data back to the machine, and of course installing the recommended hardware upgrades to provide the client with the speed and processing power being demanded by the client’s “casual online gaming”. As with any diagnostic and recommendation I make for a client’s machine, the client has the option to choose exactly which upgrades/repairs/optimizations I’ve recommended they wish to move forward with and which they do not want to move forward with. This client chose the upgraded power supply, the upgraded graphics card, and instead of maxing-out the memory at 32 Gigabytes, the client chose to simply add 2 additional sticks of memory to increase the machines memory from the existing 8 Gigabytes to 16 Gigabytes of memory. I warned this would show improved performance but only slightly improved (especially considering the other new hardware I would be installing) but the client opted for the hardware upgrade cost of $250 for less memory over the $380 cost that would provide the maximum amount of memory and increase the user experience most noticeably.

I reworked the invoice and sent it via PayPal last Thursday evening, he paid the invoice on Friday evening after which I immediately placed the order for the parts, and this afternoon and the USPS was leaving the shipment containers on my front door step, I received a text message from the client wanting a status on the upgrade. (That’s one of the things that amazes me when I do work on someone’s smart phone, laptop, desktop, or other electronic equipment.) It’s almost as if I should keep an inventory of any possible hardware that might be needed so it is immediately accessible when a client decides to release funds for a hardware order even though my computer repair work is a “side job” to supplement my “regular 8-5 income”. When I wait to order parts to accommodate a specific client’s repair/upgrade if shipment time isn’t “next day” or “same day”, people tend to get impatient. Never mind that they’re getting extremely high-quality workmanship, the best possible pricing around, and 9 times out of 8 at least 3 sessions of “remote support” – which I pay a monthly fee of $60.00 to be able to offer to my clients – for once their machines have been returned to them so mail client’s and printers can be reconfigured to work with the machine that’s been returned to them in “like new condition”. I’d like to see Geek Squad or other “big-box” tech services try to compete with my price points but nevertheless, I still often pick-up clients that still try to “low-ball” and “bargain” against pricing I provide after a free diagnostic of their device/machine.

So… back to this client… I received his text message while at a family member’s new apartment my wife and I had just moved them into from the 5 bedroom home they’d lived in since my wife’s childhood. As our family member has aged, the family home has become too much to handle so we’ve opted for an “independent living” apartment instead of the family member occupying such a large home alone in her mid 70’s. So this last couple of weeks has been a bit crazy for us as we’ve moved (and continue to move) the belongings of nearly 50 years of occupancy of the home between a new 500 square foot apartment and the home my wife and I purchased last year. I assured the client the new hardware had been delivered to my home this afternoon and I would begin installing it as soon as I’d gotten home from work yesterday (Halloween) evening.

We arrived home around 8:30pm, dinner and a shower saw me begin working on the machine around 10pm. Around midnight, I’d gotten the power supply replaced, new graphics card and extra memory installed, and began the process of backing the machine up again since the now 16 Gigabytes of memory should allow the procedure to complete without errors stating the system is too low on memory to continue. I went to bed about 1:15am once the machine had gotten started backing up and at 2:45am, I found myself back downstairs at the client’s machine to correct another error that occurred during the back-up. Now I’m getting the occasional blue screen on boot, no “click of death” from the hard drive, but this machine just doesn’t seem to want to act right. My next step will be to change the hard drive for a spare “test hard drive” I keep on-hand I pulled from a different repair where the client simply wanted more storage space and moved from a 500GB hard drive to a 3 Terabyte drive so I keep a clean copy of Windows on the drive ready to test on machines I suspect of having failing hard drives. I’d hoped to have this client’s machine completed and returned to him this afternoon so he could get back to “not gaming online with the machine” but it looks like there still might be an underlying problem here.

Blue screen again

Blue screen again



Further investigation has found the machine’s 1 Terabyte hard drive is failing so I’ve swapped the Seagate BarraCuda drive that was originally installed in the machine with a (much more reliable in my opinion and experience) WesternDigital 1 Terabyte hard drive and the machine is humming along nicely once again with adequate power to feed the processor, new graphics card, new hard drive, and any “non-gaming” needs this client may present to the machine in the future. Another example – making your technology work for you by My Tech Works for Me!

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