Once upon a time, I was a huge Gateway fan. I got a Gateway tower in 1991 and aside from one Dell computer in 1997, I’ve purchased well over 25 Gateway desktops and laptops. I convinced many people to buy Gateway – family, friends, businessmen, Hollywood stars – all listened to me and bought with equal enthusiasm. My most recent purchase broke my 13 year winning streak. The guilty system is a Gateway 450 laptop (450ROG, 1.5GHz Centrino, 60GB drive, 512MB RAM, Accidental Damage Protection, 3 year full warranty; the works). It was fine for a few months, then all hell broke loose.

Within one year, the following major repairs were done to my laptop:

1. Bad LCD screen replaced four times

2. Faulty mousepad replaced

3. Hard drive replaced

4. Cooling fans replaced

5. PCMCIA slots replaced

6. Four entire replacement computers during October, November and December 2004.

The worst of all was 1 and 6 above. The LCD screens were replaced with used/refurbished parts each time. Gateway service centers do not thoroughly check refurb goods before sending them back into the field. As a result, unwitting customers think they’re getting new parts, when in fact they’re getting broken or weak parts that eventually puke and die on their own, or take other parts down with them like a kamikaze bomber.

When the first replacement chassis arrived in October, it had horrible ghosting on the LCD and there were about 10 dead pixels. This was noticed 5 mins after I got the new system. It was promptly replaced, and a week later I was holding another new defective laptop.15 dead pixels and a schizophrenic screen – flashing, jumping, scrolling, etc.! Replacement chassis #3 arrived about 4 days later. No dead pixels this time! About 10 hours of laptop use later, I noticed that whites on the screen weren’t quite white – sort of dull-buttery colored. I placed the laptop LCD next to my Samsung 172x LCD screen and the white-to-white comparison was astonishing. The “new” Gateway couldn’t produce white. RGB 255,255,255 was like the color of day-old oatmeal. A very heated call to Gateway resulted in two things: 1) a replacement chassis being rushed to me and 2) a promise that if the new chassis was defective in any way, that I would be sent a new computer – not a refurbished chassis, but a new system off the production lines. Dan, the Gateway tech who set the new-system promise, gave me his phone and extension number, saying I should call him directly if I had any problems whatsoever. He was very nice.

Three days later, the critical moment arrived – a tech guy showed up on my doorstep with another replacement laptop. We plugged it in. Windows booted. 16 dead-brown pixels! The tech looked at it and as he touched the mousepad, the computer turned off. He booted it up again and it got to the Windows screen, then it turned off. He booted it again and it got to the Login screen, then it turned off. He booted it again, and I was able to login. Upon login, I switched to a black background. 12 dead pixels showing white, blue and/or red. This made a total of 28 dead pixels and the laptop wasn’t in my possession for more than 8 minutes. The power/battery light was showing red, which means something wrong with the power supply. The tech said he’d never seen anything so odd. He gave me his cell # in case Gateway wanted to talk to him, and he left.

It took me nearly 30 voicemails and ten days to contact someone at Gateway who was willing to help me. I found out that Dan (the tech support guy I spoke with the week before) was ordered off the case – that he was not allowed to answer my calls or deal with my service request issues. Three supervisors later, I got an older gentleman on the line. I guess that this final service rep and his supervisor decided it was easier to give in and replace my laptop than subject themselves to listening to me any more. I am glad they made that choice.

My new (new, not refurbished) laptop was ordered that day. It was supposed to be shipped from Texas and arrive to me by December 24th. Remaining consistent, Gateway messed up the order and it did not get sent out till December 23rd – from Shanghai, China! Not only did they get the laptop out to me a week late, they replaced only part of the original order, contrary to what was promised.

When I sent an email to Gateway customer service to complain about the insanity and incompetence, I received a reply thanking me for my “interest in expressing gratitude for excellent Gateway service.” That’s a quote!!! My complaint was seen as a letter of praise. When I replied, asking if they had even bothered to read my complaint, I got two more letters thanking me for my praise.

The laptop arrived today – only because I had to chase down the FedEx driver on foot as the truck was leaving the apartment complex. It seems that Gateway misspelled my name, included only part of my address on the shipping label and put a gibberish 6 digit phone number on the airbill (only 3rd world countries still have 6 digit phone numbers). With all this screwed up info, FedEx was going to send the box back to Gateway for correction! Had I not been outside at that particular moment, I would have had to wait another week or more while the admin error was corrected.

Three things come to mind. First, this is my last Gateway laptop. No modern company should be so arrogant about their penny-pinching that they send out garbage to their highest-warranty-paying customers. Gateway isn’t some used-auto dealership in Kazbogustan. They shouldn’t hawk garbage and call it quality merchandise. Second, their technical and administrative incompetence amazes me. At every turn, they tripped over themselves like drunken monkeys. I’m surprised they can stay in business with such sloppiness. Third, it really pays to get full warranties on computer products no matter who you’re buying from. Had I skipped the extra $200 warranty, my laptop would have long since been scrapped or donated to Goodwill and I’d be out another $2,400.

P.S. The new laptop works just fine. It’s new, of course, so it’s fast, clean and problem free. I hope it stays that way.

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