Problems with Dell Studio XPS Windows PC

Client Name: Catherine Z.
Service Details: Home client, in-shop support, on-site support
Problem and Request: Client needed help with freezing/boot/crashing issues on her Dell Studio XPS 435t.

Solution and Result: Replaced HDD, re-installed OS, replaced RAM, restored user data. PC restored to full functionality.

First Impression

Catherine reported freezing/boot/crashing issues on her Dell Studio XPS 435t

Crashes, blue screens, and freezing can have many different causes and can therefore be difficult to diagnose correctly. One of the most common causes, however, is a failing hard drive. Suspecting that this might be the case with Catherine’s Dell, I did a few tests.

Testing

To confirm that the hard drive is bad, the first step is to remove it from the computer.
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To remove the hard drive, I unplug the computer, take off the case cover, disconnect the SATA and drive power connectors, and un-bolt the drive.

Test Results and Diagnosis

After removing the hard drive and mounting it on a test system, I ran a diagnostic tool to check the hard drive’s condition:
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Hard drives have built-in sensors that can report various errors, and with the proper tools, it’s possible to read and interpret these errors and determine the overall “health” of a hard drive. In this case, Catherine’s drive had a serious error, and needed replacement.

Data backup, HDD replacement, OS re-install

Unfortunately, Catherine had not made a backup copy of the data on this computer, so when the hard drive began failing, all of her important data was at risk. I was able recover most of the data for her, but some files were still missing. The next step was to install a new drive, and re-install the operating system. (This is a common procedure, so I won’t go into the nitty gritty details here!)
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With a fresh, fully-updated operating system installed on a new hard drive, the computer was like new! Or at least it seemed so.

Return of the Blue Screen

Catherine picked up her completed system, and was pleased to know that most of her data was intact. However, a few days later, she called to report that the freezing/crashing issues had returned!
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This was very surprising to hear. With a new hard drive, the computer had not froze or crashed at all during the 2+ hours I spent installing/upgrading the OS, so I had determined that the old (failing) hard drive was the cause. It seemed now that I was wrong!

Follow up

I wanted to resolve the problem quickly and to the client’s complete satisfaction, so I offered to do a free on-site follow up. The next day at Catherine’s home, the diagnostic tests I did yielded no useful results, so on a long shot I decided to do a RAM test.
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When I saw the above results, I showed them to Catherine, and explained that basically the red parts were bad. The test revealed that the computer’s RAM (random access memory) was failing to read/write bits correctly. A RAM failure is pretty rare, but explained the random and intermittent freezing/crashing problem. The fix was easy enough, though: just look up the computer’s RAM specifications on the Dell website, order replacement RAM that matched those specifications, and plug in the replacement RAM.

I thanked Catherine for her patience, ordered the RAM, and we scheduled an install time later that week.

Follow up – Part 2

I received the replacement RAM in the mail, and returned to Catherine’s home to do the installation. Installing RAM takes about 1 minute: simply open the computer, remove the old RAM, and plug in the new RAM.
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After the RAM install, I turned on the computer – and it BEEPed at me. This was a sign that the motherboard did NOT recognize the RAM, which was VERY surprising, because the replacement RAM matched the computer’s specs on the official Dell page! Even after trying different RAM/slot combinations, the problem persisted, and both Catherine and myself were running out of patience.

I was certain I had the correct RAM, but I re-checked just in case I had made a mistake. Sure enough, the specs were correct. Investigating further, I found something strange: the RAM specs on the Dell site did NOT match the specs for the “Dell Recommended” RAM (which is x2 more expensive). The information on the Dell site appeared to be wrong!

I told Catherine as much, and once again ordered another set of replacement RAM for her, and we re-scheduled.

Follow up – Part 3, and Conclusion

A few days later, with the re-replacement RAM in hand, I once again headed over to Catherine’s home. I installed the RAM, turned on the computer, and it BEEPed. Uggh.

Taking a deep breath, I switched the RAM to different slots, and turned on the computer… and it booted. All 8 gigabytes of high-speed RAM were recognized correctly!

Finally, the project was complete: Catherine was happy to have a fully-functional Dell, and I was happy that she was happy. It was a long and challenging road, and I could have easily given up or charged Catherine for the extra time spent. But I was determined to complete the work, and to do whatever it took to make sure that the client was completely happy.

To be quite honest, this project was unusually difficult: it’s extremely rare for a computer to have both bad RAM, AND a failing hard drive!

But I think that this project made for a great first Silverleaf Client Spotlight post, because anyone who reads this will hopefully agree that 1) client satisfaction is ALWAYS my top priority, 2) I’m VERY persistent when it comes to problem solving, and 3) one should NEVER trust Dell product specifications.

Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Catherine for providing me with a great story, and for her patience!

Author: Kevin S.

Kevin is a Los Angeles native who has worked in tech support and customer service since 2000. He specializes in professional IT consulting, web technology, cyber security, networking and Wi-Fi, and business computer systems integration.