A Dell Update Bricked My Computer

Unfortunate things happen with computers all the time. I understand that. But when a recommended Dell update bricks a Dell computer, I expect Dell to fix it. 

My first "real" computer was a Dell desktop purchased in 1998 and since then I've been a fan. For over two decades I have purchased almost exclusively Dell and Alienware computers. In the last 20 years I've purchased over 20 Dell computers as a student, professional photographer, and then the owner of Fstoppers. I have never received a free computer, advertising money, or a review unit from Dell, but I'm sure you've seen countless posts and videos recommending Dell products. I'm a legitimate fan of Dell. 

No computer lasts forever and many of my Dell computers have broken in some way or another over their life. Sometimes they break within the warranty window and Dell will pay to repair them. Sometimes they break outside of the warranty window and I have been forced to pay to repair them. That's only fair. 

But this situation is different. This time my computer is out of warranty, but Dell's own software broke the computer, at least that is my take on the situation. Let me explain. 

Patrick and I recently moved to Puerto Rico and we decided to bring our two Dell XPS 15 laptops and my older Alienware Aurora desktop. We specifically chose to bring this computer with us because it is significantly smaller and easier to pack than all of the other Alienware Area 51 desktops we own. 

When we got here the computer was working fine but I decided to do a fresh install of Windows 10. After the update, I went to Dell's website to download all of the recommended drivers. One of the recommended installs was a bios update. This bios update froze the computer during install and when I restarted the computer, it wouldn't boot. The "update" had corrupted the software that runs on the motherboard itself. 

I researched this problem and found other people with the exact same problem and to fix the issue, Dell had to replace their motherboards. I was annoyed at the inconvenience but was confident Dell would do the same for me. I knew my desktop was out of warranty but this was obviously Dell's fault and they had always treated me fairly in the past. 

After being transferred to the "out of warranty" department, I was informed that I would have to pay to fix the computer. They sent me a few options via email and the "onsite" option is "$149 + $171" and I'm not sure what that includes. Is that the cost for a replacement motherboard and a tech to install it? The email isn't clear. It's not a ton of money, but it's the principal of the situation. This feels like some sort of ransomware; Dell recommends software that breaks your computer until you agree to pay them to fix what they broke. 

At the same time, I do see things from Dell's perspective as well. Computers break for all kinds of reasons and they certainly can't afford to fix every computer they've ever made for free. Plus, some people are claiming that this is 100% my fault because "bios updates are risky" and I should have known what could happen. Others are saying that maybe the computer wasn't actually frozen when I restarted and if I had just waited a bit longer this wouldn't be an issue. Obviously, I don't agree with these arguments but I'm sure Dell feels the same way. 

What do you think I should do? Should I just pay Dell to fix the computer and forget about all of this? Should I continue to pressure Dell to fix my computer for free? Or, should I pull all of the valuable components out of this computer and put them in an OEM motherboard and case? 

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100 Comments

Wonder Woman's picture

A quick Googling tends to lean in favor of BIOS updates being risky, especially on hardware with only one available BIOS (some hardware comes with a BIOS switch and has two available BIOS's for overclocking, different settings and added safety in situations such as your own). You are obviously not computer illiterate, and by the goddess the situation does indeed suck, but if Dell has all the proper warnings in writing on their website or in manuals about the risks that come along with updating the BIOS, then seems like you might be out a few hundred buckeroo's.
Hera give you strength in these trying times. WW out!

Rob Mitchell's picture

I'd be all over them to get it fixed. At their cost of course.
Like you say, you've even used their updates, not like you've started fiddling with it and hacking BIOS.

Maybe now you've stuck it on the 'tube, they'll pull a finger out. Fingers crossed!

michaeljin's picture

If it was a fresh install, then just ditch Dell and install a new motherboard yourself.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

And sweep the problem under ther rug? It's obviously a problem that has to be fixed on their end. The easiest thing is to get a new motherboard and install it yourself. This is how free market works: users buy a product that is supposed to work, it doesn't work, and the company has to take a responsibility for that.

michaeljin's picture

Well considering that an article was written about it, I wouldn't say that the problem was swept under the rug. Beyond raising awareness, you have to react to the reality of the situation which is that Dell wants money to fix the issue and the computer is out of warranty.

Pretty much any BIOS update has a disclaimer that waives responsibility, especially if you reset the computer before the update was completed which the instructions explicitly state not to do. So you can either cry on the phone to customer service. Take legal action which will probably not succeed, or move on with your life. What is your time worth to you?

I say writing a public article to blast the company and then moving on is best.

Rob Davis's picture

That would invalidate his Windows license on top of being a major pain.

michaeljin's picture

I'm not really sure what other realistic option he has unless he wants to sit around with a bricked computer while he prays that Dell caves to social pressure.

Mutley Dastardly's picture

The only thing that needs to be done is - unsolder the bios chip - put it into a programmer, reprogram the chip install a socket on board - and put the bios chip into that socket. I'm thinking about Louis Rossmann to help you out. (you can find him on youtube) with his mac-repair-video's (but he does more than only iphones and mac). It's sad Dell didn't put 2 bioses on the alienware series - they're more than expensive enough!

michaeljin's picture

LOL! Louis Rossmann would probably make a video complaining about how you sodomized the motherboard or something...

Rk K's picture

Pretty much every OEM is too incompetent to be allowed to write software. Best sticking to building your own machines. Also, you should only download drivers from their website as a last resort. Windows Update will sort you out with everything you need, with more safety and less bloatware.

I am a photographer, not a computer technician. When I install an update, I expect it to work properly without me needing to know how to rebuild ANYTHING in the software or hardware. If their update is risky, they should rework their update until it can be installed safely.
I would make a great deal of noise about Dell and their inadequacies.

I would have to disagree with the statement "Unfortunate things happen with computers all the time." I've been on Macs since 1992 and only had to take one in for repair. In fact, ALL of my older Macs from the 1990s and 2000s still work! They just don't have the ability to run today's latest software. I'm using all of my Macs bought from 2011 to today. Also, not a single virus throughout the years...even WITHOUT ever using anti-virus software.

Some people like PCs and that is totally fine. However, I don't mind paying more for a Mac and being able to get my work done, day after day, year after year. I'm sure there are people who have had Mac problems, but just want to share my experience.

All of my friends use macs and they also break all the time. I’m glad you’ve had a great experience but I’ve heard horror stories with them as well. Check out pye Jirsa’s MacBook Pro experience

I'm typing this on a 7-8 years old PC I built myself and it never broke. Ever. Never buy a PC by a OEM in my book. Laptops are another thing as you said in the video.

Thomas H's picture

Good point. I also have several Mac-fans with issues, hardware and software alike. Do not always believe the hype! Especially in terms of hardware repairs, Macs are often not viable to any repairs at all. Too many components are not serviceable.

I totally get it. I'm sure I have been fortunate. Good luck solving your problem!

jacob kerns's picture

Please I had more hardware problems with Macs since 2016 I switched. They have been going down hill in quality.

Rob Davis's picture

Apple's not had a very good track record of late. Their last two iPhone updates have killed both cellular and Wifi for thousands of people. The Macbook Pro keyboards break if a single piece of dust gets under them.

The one advantage over the likes of Dell and HP that Apple had is full control over hardware. A good Windows alternative are the Surface products. My Surface Pro 3 from 5 years ago is still running as strong ahd fast as day 1.

Jonathan Brady's picture

I've been using Windows based PC's since '95 and never had a single issue. Not one. Since you've had 1 issue with your Mac's, that must mean that Windows PC's are superior.
So says the n=1 theory, anyway.

michaeljin's picture

Yes, Macs never break, which is why they sell Apple Care and have repair services at their stores... -_- Anything device is susceptible to failure. Having a logo of a half eaten apple on it doesn't exclude it.

David Penner's picture

The problem with mac is you can't do any repairs on them yourself. With dell if they really wanted to they could pull the motherboard and replace it quickly.

Matt Barr's picture

I've found Macs to be much more stable and less buggy than their PC equivalents. I don't think it's a Dell vs Apple thing, more of a Nix vs Windows thing.

I guess there is always an inherent risk with any firmware update regardless of what type of hardware it is (computer, router, drone). At the firmware level, its not really a mac or pc thing so much I don't think. You're down to components that may or may not have been manufactured by the stated OEM.

Did you try BIOS Recovery? Dell has instructions on their site here: https://www.dell.com/support/article/us/en/19/sln300716/bios-recovery-op...

Yes. Didn’t work

Rob Davis's picture

Dell should fix it. We shouldn't have to second guess manufacturer-recommended updates. Sadly that does seem increasingly to be the case though.

Here is Dell's dilemma; as you've found out, the bios update is the most touchy thing to do on any PC. You are rewriting code to the BIOS chip on the motherboard, the slightest thing goes wrong and it's toast. This can include a power surge or voltage variance and you are not on the most reliable electric grid.

The reason for no pay though, for any user, Dell has no idea if you did the upgrade properly or not and they can't take your word for it, otherwise there would 100% payout because 100% would claim it was done properly. So that's why all the pre-install warnings and the refusal to pay. BTW, a BIOS update is optional, the thing will generally run fine with even the oldest version.

You said you waited, but it was sitting there doing nothing so you rebooted... cue up needle scratching on record. You may have not waited long enough. That what it does during a BIOS update, it does nothing (some versions will have an install progress bar on the screen). When it's done, most Dells will reboot on their own.

The motherboard is not that hard to replace and you may want to try a used one off of Ebay, although the price they quoted you would seem reasonable if the 149 was the MB only. I would think "onsite" means the $171 is for labor to have it installed it at a Dell authorized repair facility in PR.

Unfortunately Richard, since the advent of Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities the BIOS upgrade is necessary in order to patch the CPU and BIOS code to mitigate these vulnerabilities. That means Dell, HP, Lenovo and every other PC manufacturer assumes a certain amount of responsibility in making sure that their BIOS upgrade does not brick a machine.

I have patched the BIOS and firmware of computers from a PC to a Sun/Oracle SPARC machine. It isn't that hard to do and in many cases the application walks you through the process including the reboot. If it hangs, there definitely is a problem.

If this has happened once I would say "my bad", when it happens to multiple users there is a problem. And Dell should be all over this!!! That's the reason why I use HP over Dell. While Dell servers work, my one experience with Dell Federal gave me every reason never to use or recommend their gear again.

You're preaching to the choir. All manufacturers test their updates prior to release. Again, it's the procedure that goes south, not the update software itself. Where's the documentation that Dells are all of a sudden bricking on BIOS update? He says he found other instances... well, yeah, there is a percentage of updates that brick the BIOS chip DUE TO OPERATOR ERROR. Notice he didn't say how many; if it was out of the normal because of Dell, it would be all over the internet.

I have bought hundreds of Dell boxes and servers, all used local government surplus. The upgrade cycle replacement was more Dells. If your Dell story was correct, they would be out of business.

I have doing IT work for 20 years Richard and I have seen more than my share of vendor screw-ups from lousy code to poor service and repairs. Did Dell test their BIOS code against every stepping of Intel CPU? Probably not. There is testing and there is testing and my money is on the update being broke.

Yes, they would have tested against every possible CPU. You're conflating software on a hard drive with a highly specific firmware. The stuff on the disc can explode via whatever screw up. The BIOS update has to be absolutely, positively, perfect. The difference is the latter will brick the hardware.

Your money is on a bad update? Then where are the tens of thousands of angry users with bricked hardware? Where are the lawyers with the class action suit? Where is The Register, PC Mag , PC World, etc, etc, etc, with the news story?

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