I placed my order on Saturday, November 1st online and immediately phoned in to Sales to confirm my credit card information. The process of confirmation was quick and painless and made me feel very good about the level of security that Alienware has in place in this fraudulent time we live in.
The sales Rep that I spoke with was very cordial and made me feel very good about my decision to go with Alienware. I was explained the entire ordering and phase process and felt comfortable that this company was out to build me one heck of a laptop as fast as they could, while at the same time not being hasty and always focusing on perfection.
I called up Monday morning and upgraded my LCD from the 15.4" to the 16.1". Again, a very quick and painless process. I made this switch when I found out the 15.4" is no wider than the 16.1", just shorter space vertically.
I called in again on Wednesday to upgrade to 1GB of RAM from my previous order of 512megs. Once again, painless.
I called in again on Friday for two reasons. One was to upgrade (ya, I'm indecisive) my warranty to the full 3 years of coverage so I could feel safe with that beautiful LCD if I had any dead pixels down the road.
The next reason I called was that just around this time we found out that the RAM in the Area51m was in fact not Dual Channel capable as they had been touting in magazines and on the website. I spoke with a sales manager (Nelson) whom was probably the most customer service capable person I've ever dealt with in my life. Nelson assured me that he would call me first thing Monday morning and let me know what Alienware would do for me in this situation as I had purchased the laptop very much hoping to have Dual Channel RAM and the benefits of such a setup.
I'd like to point out that it was Sis (the motherboard company) that supplied Alienware with the false information about the Dual Channel RAM. That is in no way a defense as I would think any company would research information a parts vendor would supply them with, but Sis should also have some vague idea of what they're making/suppling people with.
Well Nelson called me back, exactly when he said he would, and informed me they would be giving me my memory upgrade for free. I felt very good about saving a few hundred dollars and went on my way.
I went through the various Phases quite quickly and ended up on #11 by that Friday...where I sat for over two weeks. But keep in mind, I was quoted 3-4 weeks before shipment. In this time the "Free Shipping" promotion came up. So I called customer service and politely asked them to "honor all Promotions and Rebates up until the day my machine shipped" (as I read on their website somewhere if I'm not mistaken) and they said sure. Bonus $70 back on my AMEX Card the very next day...yay for AW!
Well I received my laptop on Wednesday the 3rd of December. And the journey begins...
Beginning - My Initial Reactions...and Actions:
So we turn on the machine, XP walks me through the setup process (my first time with that...kind of neat actually), my wireless network pops right up and I'm off to the races! Kind off...
The first thing I noticed when I turned on the laptop was that the screen was quite bright. Well not worries, I have been using Powerstrip (AlienAdrenaline) for years now and know my trusty Color Configs would correct much of it if not all. And that it did. I had a beautiful looking desktop in 5 minutes.
Suddently my cursor started leaping all over the screen?? It began to engage the right and left mouse buttons on its own and generally freak me and my friend out as we watched the Ghost in the Machine enjoy my new toy.
I called AW support immediately as I've never worked with either XP (I'm an oldschool Win2k guy) or this touchpad/driver base. I waited on hold for all of 5 seconds until the tech support rep came on and walked me through the procedure of uninstalling the pointer drivers and reinstalling them once again. This worked like a charm and to this day, not a single click by Casper
So we decided, now that we had exorcised the demons, to try out some games!
The first game I loaded up was Counter-Strike 1.6 via the CS Steam insaller and the online updater. Now as you know (or may not know) this game is actually built on the Quake 1 engine (that is nearing 10 years of age if my computations are correct) and is very much an Nvidia Friendly application. I immediately noticed that the screen was very, very dark. Well, no worries. I've got Powerstrip and the In-game settings to tweak with and will surely get the right color/gamma setting happening...or will I .
To this day I still cannot get CS to look both bright enough in the hallways/indoor areas and dark enough in the outside areas. I've either got good dark area settings and washed out daylight settings or vice versa. I spent hours and hours trying to get the game to look good to no avail. If anyone here has any kind of settings that they feel good about with regards to Counter-Strike, please send them to me in a PM or in a post on this thread. I absolutely love this game and although it runs very fast on this laptop, the visuals are just...well...yuk .
[Update 8-22-04] - I shut down Powerstrip and ya know what? Beautiful looking Counter-Strike! Just a heads up.
So as I stated, CS is built on a much older platform (heck, was ATi even around then??) so it was not a fair place to start out with this monster of a laptop. So I had a few hours to kill (insert sarcasm face)...and decided to install UT2k. This game usually takes me in the neighborhood of 15-25 minutes to install on my home machines. WOW was I wrong! The game installed in under 5 minutes and was ready for patches and add-ons before I could even consider a kitchen run for milk and cookies! Sweet!
So once again I fired up a very dark game that generally looked like poo poo. BUT...Powerstrip to the rescue! This time the settings of Powerstrip in conjunction with the in-game video settings left me in awe...at 1600x12000 Resolution! I seriously never thought I'd ever see a video game that looked that way in my life. My goodness have I been missing out I thought to myself. This is what UT2k looks like?!?!
Needless to say, we played UT2k for quite sometime that day
Well at this point my friend had to go (home to convince his wife he needed a new laptop for work ) and my wife had just come home from a long day of middle school math teaching. I had to cook up some dinner as it was my turn to play chef...we went out to dinner that night and my Alienware binder and manual went with us
Middle - My Quest for the Ultimate Gaming Configurations
So it was sometime that weekend I decided I was going to actually read the Alienware forums (I just didn't have any time yet but badly wanted to lurk) to see if there were any posts about some games not turning out right with the ATi Card.
Well as we all know (and I won't go too deep into it here) there are many posts in many boards in many places about washout issues and DVDs/Games not looking right and the Official Alienware forums were no different. Many people posted about many different fixes but I decided to call Alienware's Tech support (which was great the last time I called) and see what they could recommend.
I sat on hold for approx 10 minutes (not too bad for a weekend in my opinion) and was greeted by a friendly guy, that came off very knowledgeable, seemed to believe going back to the 7.89 drivers (my machine came with the 7.95's installed) would help me out with my video issues. So we began the process...We unforutunately got cut off as my phone battery died somewhere in the middle of the process. Let me back up and say I know exactly how to install drivers and a whole lot more but was not familiar with XP and therefore felt going through the paces would only do me good.
So I got on a land line and called Tech Support back. Again waited about 10 minutes (on speakerphone so no worries) and was once again greeted by a friendly gentleman that seemed very confident in his ways around the Area51m. Though his feelings about backtracking to the 7.89 drivers were not very good and he insisted we try the 7.95's again. No problem. So we installed them and I got back to gaming.
I saw no improvements (as I expected none) in color or gamma and have since not played Counter-Strike on this machine. I did however chalk this up to a learning experience about AW Tech Support. I have surmised this:
Alienware Tech support is doing the best job they can with the tools they've been given by vendors (drivers) and with budgets for qualified technicians (outsourcing) and above all, even with hardware/software related issues, is committed to our total satisfaction 24 hours a day.
Now before you get out your flamethrowers...In my opinion, yes, they have some training to do from a technical aspect, but the jist of my experiences with different Support Reps has been good. They are not just reading off of cue cards (in my experiences) and seem to know their way around an OS and hardware.
I think the biggest thing going on with Alienware is exactly what is going on in mine, yours and every other large company. There is a degree of disconnect from one level of the company to the next and that is amplified when you throw in an everchanging industry and a company that deals with many different suppliers for parts and services as well as the general public in a consumer environment. Dealing with the vendors is hard enough...throwing in you and I (and our ever demanding personalities) is enough to drive most businesses right down the drain and most customer service reps to go postal.
So with all of that said, I'm still in the process of trying different drivers (I have the Omegas on my desktop but have not yet had time to install them...but will soon!) just to get a feel for how much effect a driver may have on the video issues I'm experiencing in certain older games. My feeling, for what it is worth, is that there is an issue between the LCD and the Video cards...both the Nvidia (from what I've read) and the ATi (from what I've experienced). I'm not sure if drivers can fix something like this or if mayhap a sparkly new ATi9700 Video Module may do the trick , but I'll let you know if/when I figure anything out for Counter-Strike...and please do the same.
The End - Conclusions...In My Words
Please keep in mind that this post was not intended as "What I think you should believe" but my own opinions gathered from my own personal experiences with the "Alienware Experience".
What I do for a living is, plainly stated, called Sales and Marketing. More to the point, what I really do is build Brands. This is called "Branding" and is the biggest industry you've never heard. Branding is imbedded within any product from day one and morphs (or transmogrifies as Calvin and Hobbes would say ) and reacts to fit the needs of both the bean counters (CPA's and Lawyers) and the creative folks (engineers, product managers, designers, ect) to deliver a product that works, sells, and "Builds the Brand".
For instance, if I say Soda...you think? Probably Coke or Pepsi jumped in your head. If you said RC...get a life . That is because those companies have been selling us not only a product, but a way of life our entire lives. Look at the commercials on TV. When you see a Pepsi commercial you see dancing, Britney, music, smiling, laughing, ect. You see the "Experience" of Pepsi...not some boring concoction of sugar, water, acids, flavors, ect, that is actually in the can.
So what does all of this mean? What it means is this: When you go into a store and buy Levis or Brooks Brothers, you are buying clothes that Fit a Need and Provide you with and Identity. We all seek to be part of something OR so removed from something that, in turn, we ARE part of something...and that something is...Nothing. This is exactly why we buy Alienwares or Voodoos or Sagers or... Think about that for a minute before you read on.
These high end laptops provide us with an identity (We know our hardware!) and fit a need (games, work, internet, ect) and are ingeniously packaged as a total experience with excellent follow up customer service, extensive forums that are well monitored (a bit too monitored for my tastes) and an easy to reach 800 number that lets us sleep well at night knowing we are one phone call away from a solution to any problem. Well, at least to making it known that there are issues and that a solution better happen soon .
In effect we're buying more than just a laptop. We are buying a way of life, an experience, a Brand. And here is where I'll leave it:
and how they compensate for such shortcomings. I could not have been happier with another purchase...from anyone. I feel that this computer is nowhere near full potential (even though its amazing as is!!) in its current state and that between all of us on this forum (and those on the AW forums for that matter) and Alienware Customer Service and Tech Support, we can turn these things into meteors that will chew up and spit out anything Id or Valve can throw at us. Keep in mind that we are ALL learning here...me, you, Alienware, ect., and that by communicating effectively through respectable phone calls and forum posts, we will continue to nurture the "Alienware Experience" and improve the "Product". ~Peace
I feel good about this company, its products and services and their ability to admit when they've made a mistake