Consumer Review: Hewlett Packard Pavilion 6630

‘HP Stands for Horrible Product’

By Chris Porter
February 3, 2000

Before I share my painful tale of woe, I must explain that this review is written by a computer professional, with a background in customer support divisions in large UNIX-based corporations for over 4 years. I’m not a completely clueless schmuck about this business, even though I sometimes play one on TV. To begin the tale, I had just recently landed a new job with a company that primarily uses WindowsNT as it’s platform. Since I had been exclusively working with UNIX platforms, I knew that I would need to ramp myself back up to the ins and outs of this pentium-based WinOs. So, I figured, why not get a bare bones system, and sort of “learn by building” this system much like I had previously done with the UNIX workstations I own. I bought a Hewlett Packard Pavilion 6630. Boy, did I learn…

This reviewer was duped by a sharp-tongued devil of a sales person into purchasing an HPavilion 6630 for: 1. The inexpensive cost (around $600) and 2. The “upgradability”. Now, as I said, I would have been more knowledgable had the system been a UNIX box, and with PCs, I felt a little out of my element. Well, I was happy enough with the box when I first purchased it. The system came with these really pathetic “multimedia” speakers (seen those walkman speakers you can purchase at a drugstore for under $10? well, those speakers would have been FAR superior to the ones included with this machine). I was tickled that the system even came with speakers, even though they were the first thing I trashed. The machine ran fine out-of-the-box, running a seemingly proprietory version of the Win98 os (complete with an AOL cd, to my distain). I came to the conclusion that the machine seemed pretty stable (if you don’t TOUCH it). Anyway, to get to the point, I was very excited about the “upgradability” of this machine (and was swayed by the load of baloney the salesperson gave me regarding “easy-upgrades”). The first things I purchased to “upgrade” this system was a Recordable CD-Rom, another hard drive, and a network card. I assumed it would be easy enough (in this world of PNP) to install these new devices in no time. Hah.

After a few days of trying to get my recordable CD-Rom drive to work correctly, the machine DIED. No booting issues, no funny lights, smells, or noises, just DEAD. I called the tech support hotline, spoke with an engineer, and he did what he could using a form of english that could best be described as a perversion of phonetics in order to diagnose my problem over the phone. Ar first, he was convinced it was the power supply. After several futile attempts to explain that I had volt-meter tested said supply (tested fine, by the way), and that I alternately tested same supply on a roommate’s machine, he still seemed to decline from hearing of my unenlightened shenangans. After going through Sanjiev the Tech Guy’s painful rigamarole of scripted theatrics basically parroting things I had already done six or seven times by now, only THEN was he convinced of a backplane failure – a bleedingly obvious conclusion that I foolishly attempted to point out at the beginning of the call. Hell, I’ve seen things like this happen to newly shipped systems every day IN MY OWN COMPANY, so I knew that these things, ya know, happen. Go figure. Originally, Sanjiev did not seem too convinced by my antics. Looking back, he likely thought I was some filthy American pigdog hellbent on toppling the HP empire one broken peice of hardware at a time. Whatever. So, he promptly gave me an RMA #, and asked that I ship my dearly departed machine to them (which I had Fed-ex’d overnight), and that I would have a replacement machine sent to me within 7 TO 10 WORKING DAYS. So far so good, I thought. Heres a log of the aftermath:

* 14 “Working” Days Later: No machine arrived yet. I hadn’t scheduled my DSL installation yet, I wasn’t super-rushed, but I called tech support to get a status anyway. The person I talked to said the the machine was released, and was on its way. At least I think that’s what was said to me. My Indiaglish isn’t so good. Hooray, I thought.

* 5 “Working” days later: Still nothing. Just scheduled to have my DSL line installed for work. Im a consultant, so my job requires that I work from home on some days. I call the support line, and am told that still no one had shipped the system. They are unable to tell me why. I was in a patient mood, so I asked that they please ship it.

– 9 “Working” Days Later: Still nothing. I call again. After 45 minutes holding, and multiple transfers to people supposedly “in the know”, I was told the system was STILL not sent out. Once again, they were “unable” to give me a straight answer as to why. I was very perturbed, but kept my cool. I asked a floor manager (the only anglo-sounding person so far) to please send it, and get it out to me A.S.A.P. He accepted, and ASSURED me that it would be shipped out on Friday (this was on a Thursday). *Holding breath*

* 10 “Working” Days Later: DSL installation coming in a week, and No Machine YET – this is getting to be regoddamdickulous. I’m rather pissed. I call the tech support line AGAIN, and NOW they tell me that the previous release was CANCELLED due to the order being 45-days old? WHAT.THE?? Having a background in support, this did NOT bode well for me. I didn’t appreciate being LIED to about the status of my release, as well as being made to wait OVER 20 DAYS LATER than I was told to receive my new system. You guys probably make hundreds of these damn things everyday, I just want ONE! I finally ask to speak to a supervisor and was transferred to one. This person in turn, gave me ANOTHER RMA # and release to have the machine shipped out. I demanded that they Fed-Ex overnight the box to me (I figure, I paid to have it overnighted, and they should show me the same courtesy), but Akhmed The Supervisor “could not guarantee” that they would ship it that way. When I asked why not, he simply stated that it “wasn’t his decision”, and that receiving makes that call. “Is that a fact? Well then, let me speak to someone in receiving”, I quickly retorted. “Certainly sir”, he shot back. Conveniently, I was DISCONNECTED. Bloody hell.

* 11 “Working” Days later: Miracles do happen: The machine finally arrives. It took over 50 (working and non-working) days from the date originally sent. I’m weary and frustrated from the entire experience, but happy the machine is back.

Pretty unbeleivable, huh? Wait, IT GETS BETTER. So, now I have the system I started with. The day it arrived, the first thing I did was install the following:

* New 18bg hard disk: It seemed to install ok with the bootable cd (formatted ok – saw the correct drive size)
* Writeble cdrom: also installed ok
* NetGear Ethernet card: also installed ok

This reviewer’s biggest concern, and rightly so, was running windows NT 4.0 on it, because as a developer, there are certain applications I need to run that aren’t stable on a win98/2000 platform. The initial installation was surprisingly painless, but I came to find out that NT doesn’t play well with the BUILT-IN graphics card (upgrade necessary) or the modem. The physical archetecture of the system (once you’ve pulled the cover) is, in a word, “weird”. I would ONLY recommend an HP to customers that:

* are new to computers and wish to have a simple, open-box solution.
* need a machine to perform a few tasks, surf the net with (with no upgrading)
* can’t afford a Compaq, Dell, or Gateway (I say this only AFTER you’ve checked out the above 3 companies in detail FIRST)
* enjoy putting out lit cigarettes on their forehead

As far as HP’s customer service? I don’t think the actual customer support lackeys are to blame, but rather, the company’s substandard and unclear policies seemingly formulated by Beelzebob himself. The fact that it took this company almost 2 MONTHS to get a system from Oregon (where their shipping house is) sent to Northern California is ridiculous, bordering on repugnant. Let’s face reality: the machine more than likely got sent overseas (read: Bangalore, India) where it sat in Rajesh’s lonely, light-resticted cubicle until he got around to it. That, to me, is NOT FRICKEN CUSTOMER SERVICE. aargh. *sigh*

These machines are basically VERY happy staying on windows98 (Factory shipped OS), but if you want to change the OS? Better buy new hardware, like I did. Under NT, my internal 56k v.90 modem is useless. Why? because NT doesn’t seem to understand the driver. My ethernet card is working fine (because its after-market), so I don’t need it anyway. The built-in graphics card bites too, so its my opinion that you upgrade the board if you want to run any resolution-saavy apps or games. This pretty much means that the only stock “HP” hardware still in use on my “New” Pavilion are the skins. I learned, all right.. the HARD way. To me, HP is the new Packard-Bell. I don’t know who this “Packard” chap is, or if his dirty little digits are involved in both entities, but there is a special circle of hell built just for you. These systems are cheap, the hardware proves that case, and the stickers that say “Upgradable” on the box seem to be patently false in more ways than one. This is my public service to you: Take it from someone whos lived the 3 month PC “nightmare”, and wishes you to avoid it! These machines are more trouble than they’re worth. You would be better off paying the extra $$ and going with a Dell or Gateway. At least with those systems, you sort of have an idea of what you’re buying, inside and out.

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