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It’s official: something went severely wrong with the Sylvania G netbook I bought in October.  The keyboard AND POWER BUTTON will completely “lock up” at random and QUICKLY, yet the computer itself still runs in the background, and the hard drive developed a couple of bad sectors (which I remedied by doing a zero fill–more on that in another post).  It’s fairly unusable now, and it’s still within the warranty period, so I called up Sylvania’s support number for help.  The company that actually makes these netbooks is called Digital Gadgets, and it is them who I have dealt with.  So, how did it go?

I haven’t been this happy about a customer service experience EVER.

I explained to the tech that I bought the netbook in October 2008, that I run a computer service shop, and detailed heavily what was wrong and the evidence that I had gathered to make my judgment call that the netbook was screwed up.  Apparently the ink used for the serial number sticker is poor, because it had smudged off to the point that it was unreadable, which I made very clear early on in the call.  This is about where you would expect me to spew off about the run-around I was given and the stupid hoops I had to jump through to prove to the person that it was indeed screwed up, because 99.9% of service and support agents have almost no authority to help customers and are usually in the business of preventing warranty returns at any cost.

But that didn’t happen, not even a tiny little bit.  No run-around?  Surely I jest, right?  WRONG!

The tech support agent, named William Lee, promptly started the process of generating an RMA and took my shipping address to send a totally free return shipping box to.  About eight hours later (and after business hours, no less) I had an RMA number in my email inbox, with instructions on what to do when the box arrived.  As of this writing, the box hasn’t yet appeared, but that’s because I only called them a couple of days ago.

It is astonishingly refreshing to be able to deal with someone like William.  He did everything exactly right, without a single flaw in his procedure.  He LISTENED TO THE CUSTOMER’S PROBLEM, taking the time to ensure he understood exactly what was going on from my perspective.  He also BELIEVED THE CUSTOMER’S STORY AND EXHIBITED BELIEF IN THE CUSTOMER’S GOOD FAITH, which is the exact opposite of what most suppot agents do: showing a lack of faith and general distrust of the customer right off the bat.  Because he LISTENED and BELIEVED, this brought about the UNDERSTANDING  that there was a clear issue covered under the warranty which needed to be resolved quickly as possible.  Within a reasonable time frame, he PROVIDED A SPEEDY RESOLUTION TO THE CUSTOMER’S PROBLEM.

Let me explain exactly why I am writing in this fashion.  William’s example should be followed by all companies, and sadly it is almost nonexistent in the corporate customer service landscape of today.  The benefits to the customer (in this case, myself) are fairly obvious: the problem was resolved quickly and the customer’s precious time was not wasted to achieve that resolution.  But what about the benefits of William’s actions to the BUSINESS?

  1. William spent as little time as possible chatting it up on the telephone.  This left William free to service other customers, reducing overall load on the customer service department at Digital Gadgets.  It also made William a much more valuable asset to the company, because William is able to service more customers than an agent who is given no authority and is required by the company to simply  toss customers through hoops.
  2. On the flip side, William did not abbreviate our conversation.  He spent the time required to understand my situation, but did not ask me to perform senseless exercises when it was quite clear that the problem was hardware-related and not fixable over the phone.
  3. I was heard but not patronized, AND a SIMPLE solution was presented QUICKLY.  This greatly increases my faith in Digital Gadgets as one of their customers, increasing the chances that I will purchase from them in the future AND RECOMMEND THEIR PRODUCTS TO OTHERS  AS WELL.  Over time and across many customers who are similarly situated, this leads to MORE SALES, which can quickly and easily exceed the cost of a warranty repair on my one individual netbook.

William is doing it right.  Other businesses could take a few lessons from how he handled my situation.  I can’t wait to get my fixed toy back in good working order, and I’m very happy to have bought a computer from a company that treats me like a customer should be treated.

UPDATE: I found a solution.

I changed my Sylvania G (original, non-Meso) netbook to Windows XP/Linux dual-boot to test some software I’m working on, and discovered that while Windows XP certainly does boot and run in general on the G, some kind of system timer or timing loop is severely out of whack!  I wanted to use my little G as a portable gaming machine from the Windows XP install, and to my horror, ZSNES couldn’t decide what speed it wanted to run!  Now, I’ve never had a single issue with ZSNES on any computer I’ve ever tried it on, even preferring the Windows port of it over the Linux native one, and not once has a problem existed with ZSNES that I couldn’t find an easy fix for, until now.

I’ve been researching the matter and gathering evidence, and I may have a potential answer to the problem.  Linux requires activation of the VIA C7 Enhanced PowerSaver module e_powersaver to clock the VIA C7 CPU properly between 400 and 1200 MHz; apparently the default speed of the CPU is only 600 MHz instead of 1200 MHz, because Linux installs without e_powersaver and Windows XP report a ~600 MHz processor where a 1.2 GHz one exists.  Here’s the extremely weird part, though: if I check the System control panel shortly after bootup and read the clock speed, sometimes it registers a clock speed of 198 MHz (about 200 MHz) which isn’t even one of the ACPI P-states for the VIA C7-M 1.2 processor.

I’ve unlocked the Windows HAL options (I’ll post how to do that at another time) and switched between ACPI Multiprocessor PC (the default for the image I used) and ACPI Uniprocessor PC and MPS Uniprocessor PC, all of which use the local APIC for IRQ routing but the MPS variant of which doesn’t theoretically touch ACPI.  Nothing seems to have helped.  I have two working theories as to what’s going on here, and how it might be fixed:

  1. A calibration loop in Windows a la BogoMIPS in Linux is being screwed up by the VIA C7, or
  2. The VIA C7’s PowerSaver feature is ignored or incorrectly used by Windows (via generic ACPI P-states) and it’s throwing off some kind of timer that ZSNES relies on for proper emulation of the 65816 CPU and SPC audio processor.

So far, I haven’t found a solution to this problem, and Sylvania’s site is extremely unhelpful, with only Windows drivers and a new version of gOS, but no BIOS updates or further information.  I’m looking into the technical stuff on the VIA c7 now, and it looks like the solution (assuming Windows isn’t doing something sinister) lies in clever manipulation of the C7 model-specific registers (MSRs) that control the processor’s power state.  If ZSNES is mis-calibrating some kind of tight internal timing loop because of some kind of CPU clocking issue, then tweaking the MSRs may be the solution to the problem.  Unfortunately, I’m no Windows developer, so I’m not certain how I should approach the problem.  I don’t think it’s isolated to ZSNES either, but I don’t recall what I saw that justifies that belief.  In any case, I’m working on it.  It’s just one of many pesky projects I’m hitting my head against at the moment.  We’re still working on that remote access software package; in fact, someone found our site and called us, and I had to sort of turn her away.  It’s all a bit behind schedule, and there’s not really much I can do to make things proceed any more quickly.  Stay tuned…

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