I’ve owned quite a bit of Dell computer hardware over the years. My main home server is a now-discontinued Dell PowerEdge 2900 box, with plenty of RAM and disk. It has been completely solid, and I expect will do the job fine for another few years. There was only one upgrade still worth doing: the processors.

The CPUs in the machine are a pair of Intel Xeon 5150s. They’re dual core, which is a bit passe, and I was interested in an upgrade to the Xeon E5400 series for some hot quad-core action. So last year, with a wee bit of original warranty still left, I consulted Dell tech support folks about this particular machine:

Frank Eigler: “Hello, my question is pretty simple. I’d like to find out whether any quad-core xeons work on this PowerEdge 2900 system, without something more dramatic/expensive like a motherboard swap.”
Agent (….): “Thank you, one moment please”
Agent (….): “Still checking, one moment longer please”
Frank Eigler: “thanks”
Agent (….): “Yes, it will support quad core. Ensure your BIOS and BMC is updated.”
Frank Eigler: “Specifically, E5400 series?”
Agent (….): “Yes”
Agent (….): “Is there anything else that I can help you with today?”
Frank Eigler: “That’s all, thank you!”
Agent (….): “You are welcome, have a good day”

So a few months later, I purchased a pair from some random electronic retailer. They fit mechanically, and the machine BIOS started them up, recognizing the models and all. Then it stopped: “unsupported CPU combination / system halted”. The BIOS/BMC software were up-to-date. Some googling suggested it may or may not work, depending on the generation of the server motherboard. Apparently one needed a 2900-III, and further analysis showed that mine was not. So the Dell agent must have made a mistake all those months ago.

These chips are not cheap, by the way. As server-oriented devices, they are long-lived, and their retail price tends to be flat over the years instead of falling like consumer products. Opened hardware like that can’t usually be returned to the retailer for a refund either. My piggy bank was out nearly nine hundred canadian pesos, with the blame far removed in time and space.

Hoping that Dell would take some responsibility for the error, I contacted them back in April 2010. I went through probably fifteen different calls, from technical support through customer service, consumer vs. business, canada vs. usa. A day or two later, the phone tag paid off, and I was in email contact with some Dell folks who acknowledged their part of the mistake, and promised to find a way of making things right.

Time elapsed. They pinged me periodically to be patient, asked for my invoice for the replacement processors, asked for some more time. They noted how this is an extremely unusual situation. After a while, they indicated that something good would happen really soon.

And it did. They proposed a scheme involving a partial credit, and a corresponding discount on a new dell widget. We went for it. In the end, our family ended up with a lovely little Dell Vostro 320, some cash, and even those pesky Xeons to try and sell on the used market. Dell ended up with another small bit of revenue for a moved unit of hardware, and this happy customer. Thank you, Dell folks (Alexis Tillada, Tara Stubinski, Lucille Bombeo, Natalie Sarah Cantre, and probably dozens of others), for making things right.