First of all, I have to point out that I have a few friends that work for Hewlett-Packard, so I have to apologize up front for what I'm about to write in this blog. But I just had such a horrible customer support experience with HP that I won't buy from them again.
Why I Bought an HP Computer
I have nothing against HP computers; for several years I used two beefy dual-CPU HP/Compaq ProLiant servers for my web hosting machines. (I loved those computers, and I only replaced those when Windows Server 2008 was released and I thought that it was time to upgrade my servers.)
Recently I decided to replace my aging Dell desktop computer with a newer model. I'm quite partial to Dell computers, because I've always had great experiences with their computers and their company. I had a chance to buy a refurbished HP P6510F computer for a great price, so I decided to take a chance with HP since that particular computer model had a lot of great reviews.
When the computer arrived I did what I always do - I reformatted the hard drive and I installed a brand new copy of Windows from scratch. (I have to do this because all computer companies - HP, Dell, Gateway, etc. - install a bunch of useless garbage software whenever you buy one of their new computers.) The computer ran fine for several weeks, but I'm a person that likes to keep their computer up-to-date, so this past weekend I browsed to HP's website to see if there were any updates.
Upgrading the BIOS
As it turns out, there was a new version of their BIOS that was supposed to resolve issues when waking the computer from sleep mode if you have more than 4GB of memory. I only had 4GB of RAM in the computer, but I was already shopping for another 4GB, so it seemed prudent to install the BIOS update. I downloaded the update and ran their installer. After a couple of minutes a dialog box popped up saying that the update had applied successfully and I needed to reboot my computer, which I did.
That's when everything started to go wrong.
All Heck Breaks Loose
When my computer restarted it immediately hit the infamous Blue Screen of Death (BSOD); something very much like the following illustration:
A problem has been detected and Windows has been shut down to
prevent damage to your computer.
If this is the first time you've seen this Stop error screen,
restart your computer. If this screen appears again, follow
Check for viruses on your computer. Remove any newly installed
hard drives or hard drive controllers. Check your hard drive
to make sure it is properly configured and terminated.
Run CHKDSK /F to check for hard drive corruption, and then
restart your computer.
*** STOP: 0x0000007B (0xFFFFF880009A9928,0xFFFFFFFFC0000034,
It didn't matter how many times I tried to reboot, I still got the BSOD. I knew that BIOS updates changed some of the settings, so my natural suspicion was to assume that something in the new BIOS settings was causing the problem. I tweaked a few settings like disabling hardware virtualization and such - but there was still no joy in Mudville. After this I started to assume that perhaps the BIOS updated hadn't actually applied successfully, so I started trying to see if I could get my computer to boot from one of my several WinPE-based utility CD-ROMs and reapply the patch, but all of those also fell victim to the vicious BSOD.
I'll spare you the details of everything else that I tried - both hardware and software - but I finally gave up and decided to call HP's 24x7 technical support number.
The Technical Support Nightmare Begins
For geeks like me, having to call technical support is humiliating enough, but it's made so much worse by having to deal with front-line technical support people. Having spent 10 years in technical support myself, I have a great deal of patience with technical support engineers, but it can still be an aggravating experience. I spent the next half-hour answering mundane questions and following every instruction from HP's Tier 1 technical support script - all of which I had tried before. (At least the parts that actually applied to my situation.) I'm sure that the engineer with whom I was working meant well, but it was clear that she was floundering.
After a while she began to tell me that I didn't need the BIOS patch and that this was all my fault, to which I replied that she was correct - I didn't actually need the BIOS patch right now, but I would need it in the future, but that didn't really matter - the BIOS patch should not cause the BSOD. Besides - I always updated the BIOS in my Dell computers with no problems. (There's a good jab at HP to try yourself sometime.) Then she started to tell me that since I had a different version of Windows than HP had installed on my computer, the BIOS patch was not compatible. I asked her incredulously, "Do you mean to tell me that HP expects their customers to never install a new version of Windows?" She hesitated before replying "No," and then I reiterated my earlier assertion that no matter what, the BIOS patch should not cause the BSOD.
Then she began to tell me that I needed to purchase a system restore DVD from HP to rebuild my system. I was quick to point out that doing so would reformat my hard drive - thereby erasing all of my files - and that I was willing to bet that the problem wouldn't go away since the system restore DVD was probably not going to reset the BIOS back to an earlier version. So in my estimation I would be wasting my money and my time on a suggestion that would ultimately achieve nothing. This is where I lost her - she had no idea what I meant; so after more than an hour of basic troubleshooting with Tier 1 support and lots of time spent on hold, my patience was finally gone, and I asked to speak with someone in HP's Tier 2 support.
The Technical Support Nightmare Continues
I was transferred to a guy in Tier 2 support who discussed my predicament with me, and he seemed to have a much better handle on things. One of the first things that he did was verify that there was no reason that the BIOS update shouldn't work with my version of Windows, to which I replied that I had been trying to tell the earlier engineer the same thing. We looked at several settings, but the problem persisted, and then he suggested that I needed to purchase a system restore DVD from HP to rebuild my system. I restated my earlier claim that I would be wasting my money and my time since I was 99.9% sure that the system restore DVD would not roll back the BIOS version, so he put me on hold while he checked on that.
When he came back he informed me that the system restore DVD would not roll back the BIOS version, so I needed to return the computer to HP in order for them to reset the computer's BIOS to the original factory version. He pointed out that this would be free since the computer was under warranty, and he took my address so HP could send me a box in order to send the computer back to HP for repairs. Once all that was taken care of, we hung up.
My total time on the phone was about two hours. Ugh.
The next day I went out to lunch with my good friend, Wade Hilmo, and I related my experience to him. Once I described the symptoms he said, "I'll bet the BIOS update changed the mode for your SATA controller. Switch it from IDE to AHCI or vice-versa and the problem should go away."
Darn. I should have thought of that. ;-]
Sure enough, when I got home that night and I pulled up my BIOS settings, the SATA mode was set to RAID; I switched it to IDE and the BSOD went away. Once I knew what the problem was I found the following Microsoft Knowledge Base article that allowed me to enable AHCI:
Error message when you start a Windows 7 or Windows Vista-based computer after you change the SATA mode of the boot drive: "STOP 0x0000007B INACCESSABLE_BOOT_DEVICE"
My thanks to Wade for pointing that out, but Wade's follow-up comment was apropos, "I'm still a bit surprised that neither of the HP folks suggested it." So I decided that I should call HP and let them know what it took to fix the problem.
Back to Technical Support
The next day I called HP Customer Care to have them cancel my open work ticket, which was the polite thing to do since the problem was resolved. Having taken care of that, I thought that I'd give their technical support people the details of what caused the issue and how to fix it. Having worked in technical support, I always liked to know what it took to resolve an issue.
This seemed like such a good idea at the time, but it didn't turn out that way. When I called HP's Customer Care folks transferred the call to their technical support people, one of their idiots support engineers put me on hold for 20-30 minutes while he read the case notes.
Are you kidding me? It doesn't take 20-30 minutes to read the case notes, even if you're in your first year of Hooked on Phonics.
Once he took me off hold, I was pleading with him to listen to my explanation that the problem was already resolved and it was not caused by whatever stupid idea kept popping out of his wild imagination - I just wanted to share the details of how to resolve the issue if another customer calls in with the same problem, which is undoubtedly going to happen. I pointed out that I was trying to help HIM, for Pete's sake, and he just wouldn't listen. (I started hoping that HP was recording the call.)
After all that, I made it abundantly pretty clear that what he did was very unprofessional, and I asked to speak to a manager. He informed me that he'd see if a manager was available - then he put me back on hold. Fortunately I was calling from work where I have a headset for my telephone, this way I could keep working while I was on hold. (Otherwise this would have really aggravated me.)
After another 20-30 minutes I realized that this idiot engineer was not going to find a manager, he was waiting for me to hang up and go away. So I decided to put that call on hold and try to call back into technical support, but my @#$% LG-Nortel phone won't let me call a phone number if I already have that number on hold. Argh. While I was browsing HP's website to see if I could locate a different phone number for technical support I accidently hung up the original call.
Crap, crap, crap.
So I called HP again and I got another engineer - and I asked to speak to a manager right off the bat. I profusely apologized to the new engineer, and I stated emphatically that it was nothing that he did. He asked for my name and such, but I told him that I had a support ticket number and I gave him that instead. Then I started to explain what happened with the other idiot and how I resolved the issue, but this new engineer attempted to defend the earlier idiot engineer and started to change the subject. I politely cut him off and simply pointed out that the first guy took 30 minutes to read the case notes, whereas he took less than 30 seconds - even this guy had to admit that the first guy's behavior was uncalled for.
Cutting the rest of the story short, I did finally tell the new engineer what it took to fix the problem, which was simply resetting the SATA configuration back to the pre-update BIOS value. I also gave him the information about how to enable AHCI using Microsoft's KB 922976. He thanked me for the information, and after he tried unsuccessfully to upsell me on a new warranty for my computer we ended the call.
So there you have it - a thoroughly bad HP customer support experience. If either Hewlett or Packard somehow manage to read this blog, they should be ashamed on behalf of their employees. I'd give you the names of those employees, but no one that I talked to had a name that I could pronounce.
Of course, I never did get to speak to a manager at HP.