Editor’s Note: Mr. Fahey writes about his personal experience. It may not be your personal experience and nothing in this article should be considered legal advice. It is the story of one man, a smart, persistent man, solving the problem of a dead computer. You may or may not have a defective card. However, in light of the recent settlement for the class action suit involving HP, Dell and Apple models alternatives are being considered by owners. That settlement is something that you, if you’re an affected user, may opt out of and pursue legal action on your own or as part of a different class action, there are more coming, if your parts are not one of the listed parts. If you do choose to opt out of that settlement the story below is what one of your remaining options are. Mileage may vary.
Really, it all began 27 December 2009. I had been using my HP Pavillion dv9640us laptop as I normally did: play games and watch movies while doing it. During my World of Warcraft session, the computer froze up. I didn’t think much of it since the computer was prone to freezing when it would overheat, and many times the adapter would be “saved” by Windows Vista. However, after two minutes the computer hadn’t recovered nor had it shut down/bluescreened. Looking closer, I noticed pixillated green lines along the portion of the screen taken up by the game, but nowhere else. So, I shut it down and attempted a reboot. It came up in “VGA” mode: 800×600 screen resolution with 4-bit color. I was able to get it to boot correctly after thirty minutes of letting it remain off, but attempting to play the game again resulted in the exact same issue coming along. I was able to get it to boot up properly about two hours later and instantly got in touch with HP’s on-line support. I explained the issue and what I Was doing when it occurred and told it sounded like a graphics card issue. However, the woman on the other end named Sandy linked a Singaporean site that claimed that WoW and Vista are “incompatible”, and when I mentioned that the third-party site was not true because Blizzard has insisted the software is compatible, she made it clear that that site was what she was going by, and furthermore hinted that because of this, I would have voided the warranty, assuming the unit was still protected. I shut it down for the night and went to bed.
As I said, the computer freezing wasn’t a new thing; in fact, I was used to it happening at least once a day, though up to four times a day if it didn’t have the under-the-unit fan going. It was impossible to keep it on my lap while running anything graphics intensive because of the heat it generated. The case was thin plastic, after all. I had bought the computer nine months prior (in April of 2009).
The next two days found me on the phone, contacting HP’s customer support. I was met with resistance: there was no problem, my computer was not covered under the warranty, and it would be $400.00 to have a new motherboard installed (no inspection needed, I just needed a new motherboard!). I passed. After all, I had spent $1,600.00 on a notebook computer that I expected would last me longer than nine months, and I planned to take it with me to college; I was to begin my work towards a criminal justice degree so I could work on becoming a lawyer.
Able to boot the computer up, I was able to do some Google searches. Interestingly, typing in “Pavillion dv9500 motherboard problems” brought up HP’s own forums where there were people complaining of my specific issue . Interestingly, the issue began manifesting a year before I had experienced it. Reading through, a gentleman tried to give information out to people so they could get in contact with someone “higher up” who could help them. He had to create new accounts to tell everyone that his posts had been edited by the HP forums moderators, and been banned for trying to help. Looking back on his posts, I was able to use very rudimentary English composition skills to see that his claims were valid.
There has been an “extension” to the limited warranty for some model lines of notebook computers that house the graphics processing units (GPUs) made by the company NVIDIA. To date on http://www.HPLies.com, there are over 1,400 unique PC serial numbers, many of them falling outside the extended warranty offered by Hewlett-Packard. In many instances, these models were never included and Hewlett-Packard’s response has been “Sorry, it’s out of warranty. We don’t care about you anymore unless you want to give us a credit card number.”
That Tuesday saw me on the phone all day. Several of the customer support representatives were unhelpful, and one even put me on hold for five minutes, then disconnected me. I called back immediately. No help on that end, either. The second rep said he’d have one of his supervisors call me back “in two hours”. In that two hours, I received one call from my mother to update me of my grandmother’s condition in the hospital. So, I called back and demanded to speak to someone higher.
I called a separate line and spoke to Sherri, who was with customer relations. She claimed that because my call had not been escalated from technical support it was not typical, and made it seem like she was doing me a favor by taking on the issue. She said that so long as she had the case open (she gave me a new case number) she would be in charge of attempting to resolve the issue. I then went on to explain the issue at length. Her response was very much the same, however she explained also how the extended warranties on those models worked.
The extended warranties, she claimed, only lasted for two years after the end of the initial warranty. In essence we have three years where if the computer fails because of a hardware issue, the computer can be sent back and repaired for free. My computer was not on the list of models currently under warranty, and as such could not be repaired for free under any circumstances. I brought to her attention the fact that the only reason my computer was not receiving the same repair options as many other computer models they had produced was because my model number was not listed, despite the issues I was facing were the exact reasons these computers were being “recalled”. I requested escalation once again and while she attempted to deflect the request, I was adamant that I wanted to be escalated. She escalated my call to a representative named Cory who is with Executive Customer Relations.
Cory was very snide and sounded as if he was annoyed with me wanting to have my computer taken care of in a manner that was consistent with fair business practices. I explained the situation, but what struck me as odd was his translation of the extended warranties. According to him, the warranty would only extend for 365 days past the termination of my original warranty. For a manufacturer’s defect in my computer that was “acknowledged” past that time, I would be unable to fall under the extended warranty. I was told that as of 02 January 2010 the extended warranty would not apply to my notebook computer, even if it was decided that I was not at fault and the company was to blame for the problem. I would be forced to pay $400 at a minimum to have the problem resolved. He offered no deal, and after the “explanation” from him I expressed my unhappiness with the company and it’s business practices, and would be filing a complaint with the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Attorney General of the State of North Carolina, where the computer was purchased, the Attorney General of the State of California, where their company is based, as well as the Better Business Bureau. I also informed them that since this problem is on their end and they refuse to fix it, I would be filing in small claims court to reclaim the full value of what I paid for the laptop.
Eventually, I did just that. I filed a small-claims lawsuit against the company. The original day it was supposed to be heard, the representative failed to show. Rather, he was late. He had called prior to being late, but the fact that he was caught in traffic because of a widely-reported water main break was, in my honest opinion, inexcusable. I was awarded a summary judgment because of his incompetence. However, calling back later that day, I was told he’d shown and filed a motion to vacate the judgment because he’d been late. When I returned to court 04 March 2010 to fight the motion, I was told that the motion was to be granted without arguments. Essentially, they’d give a continuance because he was not very professional.
That day I argued my case. I showed my technician’s report and the pictures we took that showed a cheap form of thermal paste that was dried out, as well as a piece of aluminum foil between the GPU die and the thermal paste. According to my technician, that would have certainly helped to kill the laptop as the aluminum would have kept heat trapped on the die. I presented my evidence, most of which was from non-HP/non-NVIDIA sources since neither has made any real attempts to get to the root cause of the issue and rectify it. I even presented evidence that these issues were known about since 2007 when HP released the BIOS updates, and that NVIDIA was paying to have the motherboards replaced so the consumers wouldn’t be forced to pay. All of this, according to their representative, was inadmissible on the basis that HP and NVIDIA had not put the information out, and thus was biased. An amount of this evidence was Charlie Demerjian’s original reporting and printouts of his articles. A lot of Charlie’s pieces were said to be “lacking true fact” without the representative reading it.
At the end of it, I recouped $400.00 out of the $1,600.00 I paid. The reasoning was that the computer was made November 2007, and while HP didn’t deny that I bought it April of 2009, it was still outside the warranty that ended 02 January 2009 (which then changed in court to November 2008). While it was less than what I was offered in an out-of-court settlement (HP offered $800.00), I was happy. The judgment meant that the courts had found HP at fault.
Since then, I have maintained a thread on evidentiary proceedings  at the forums www.hplies.com, where we work to bring evidence to people and show the multi-million dollar cover-up that NVIDIA and HP have embarked on.