I have bought around 20 of Dell’s "new" Latitude E-series notebooks, ranging from the 12" E4200 to the 14" E6400 (ATG as well), as hardware upgrades to the machine park where I work. They are good looking machines, and potentially excellent companions as well, but we have experienced a range of errors from the horrifying Windows BSODs/STOP errors to software bugs decreasing performance that made me very uneasy about keeping my job. Luckily, there are solutions! If you have run into the same problems listed below, you may also have found that Dell’s support technicians have been rather reluctant to admit there’s something wrong with their products. The trouble I’ve experienced so far, running Windows XP Professional SP3;
- 0xFE USB_BUGCODE_DRIVER STOP ERROR (BSOD)
- Machines refusing to boot when power adapter is plugged in
- Network connections taking 5-20 minutes to resolve (Wifi & LAN)
- Worthless SIM cards installed in WWAN connector
- .. and more, less serious bugs!
Truth of the matter is, regardless of what support tells you, there was an ENGINEER HALT of the production of the 13.1" E4300 model early January this year. This is according to an internal send-to-all e-mail disclosing hardware failure in the motherboards of this particular model. If you bought a Latitude E4300 prior to 15-20th of January 2009 you are probably entitled to a free motherboard exchange. According to support, this is the cause of the power-boot failure. They also recommended disabling Boot on AC in the BIOS, but it was disabled by default.
This whole process made me a bit shaky about the stability of the other models (E4200 and E6400) in terms of hardware, ’cause we were seeing several BSODs a week, and I didn’t order anything else from Dell for a while. I found it a bit weird that they didn’t write anything on their homepage about this, or sent out e-mails to their business partners. In the meantime I was troubleshooting it as a bug with Dell’s advanced E-port port replicator, which was ultimately proven false.
This went on until one of our researchers had a serious HDD crash in the field, loosing two weeks’ valuable data from her E6400. The BIOS reported ‘No bootable device’ and didn’t detect the HDD at all. Usually such a sudden death of a disk is due to a power surge or simply a wipe of the partition table, the latter a very easy problem to fix. But this drive was completely inaccessible to my forensic tools, and since the E6400s were identical in hardware, I feared a wave of data loss; "as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced."
I was and still am positive that the hard disk drive was worn down by a series of BSOD’s, until the hapless user one day put it in stand by, moved it from the breakfast table, never to see her data again.. Remember that I still thought the BSOD’s were caused by a faulty motherboard Dell didn’t know about. So when they sent technicians a few days later, they had brought new mobos and hard disk drives for all the E6400s. Being that we didn’t find any errors with the motherboard, they replaced the faulty drive and two others, and left me tearing my hair out. ‘Cause like I said, the failing of the disk was not the problem but a terrible symptom caused by the as of yet unknown problem.
Turns out the 0X000000FE Bugcode_usb_driver STOP error was caused by d553bus.sys which is a part of the driver for the DW5530 WWAN (mobile broadband) adapter. The fix, they say, is to head into Safemode on the machines affected and uninstall this driver in Device Manager, restart the machine and install the new driver found here: DELL Wireless 5530 HSPA MINI A06 (R220877)
In addition to this problem, that affected machines of all three models, I had some serious connectivity issues that I traced back to the Dell ControlPoint Connection Manager utility. This is a third-party management app that I would usually avoid at all cost (be it from Dell, Lenovo, HP etc), but that I felt obliged to install to allow our machines to connect to the WWAN using the mobile broadband. Even with the latest drivers of today, having installed them correctly (must be installed in the right order, and existing installations must be uninstalled manually first), it took 5 minutes to connect to our LAN with a cable. I haven’t seen such performance since the nineties!
Dell actually admitted these problems and more, though in a "please don’t tell anyone" kind of manner. Instead they told me to fetch Ericsson’s utility that would allow me to remove the Dell ControlPoint applications completely! Why they don’t include information like this anywhere else but in a private user’s post at the Dell forums is a mystery to me. People often buy through recommendations, and those recommendations ultimately come from geeks like myself. Due to their handling of this case I have not recommended Dell’s new machines these past six months at all.. A real shame if these machines are as good as advertised. So, remove the DCP bull, and install Ericsson’s driver: DELL WIRELESS 5530 HSPA MINI A00 (R198215)
In addition to this, our machines were supplied with SIM cards that are outside European telco’s jurisdiction.. I phoned our associate about this and he was surprised we’d got the SIM cards at all, because we evidently shouldn’t. (Does not apply to the UK & USA as far as I know.) The trouble was that Dell’s automatic "Activate your SIM card today" and Netcom’s corresponding online activation form (Netcom is a Norwegian telco who made a deal with Dell) actually accepted the bogus SIM cards leaving the user puzzled and offline for two weeks after the so-called activation.
I have yet to implement all the quick and dirty fixes, not to mention the removal of about a gigabyte of Dell ControlPoint software, so you’ll have to check by this post for updates to see if it has worked. In all, I’ve read just about only good reviews regarding these machines, so I guess that if the problems are sorted out or you don’t experience them at all, you’re already cruising. But if you do, it’s hard to find a place where the answers are, justifying this blog post, when they should be effectively advertised on Dell’s own webpages in my humble opinion.
Edit 6th of July 2009: HOWTO
I’ve begun implementing the suggested fix and so far it has proved to at least make the machines faster (and connect faster too). I just hope the BSODs are a thing of the past now.. Here’s what you should do if you suffer the same:
- From Add/Remove programs in control panel, remove the following:
- Dell ControlPoint Connection Manager
- Dell ControlPoint Security Manager
- Dell ControlPoint System Manager
- Dell button service (optional)
But make sure that you keep (or install) the Dell Security Device Driver Pack.
- Reboot into safemode
- Right-Click My Computer and select Manage, then Device Manager.
- Under Network adapters right click Dell Wireless 5530 HSPA Mobile Broadband Minicard Network Adapter and select uninstall.
- Boot back to normal mode. You will see Windows recognizing new hardware, but just ignore the Found New Hardware Wizard. Instead, you extract and install R220877.
- Reebot, then install the WWAN application from Ericsson (R198215)
- Configure Windows Zero Config wireless manager (or install Intel’s Pro/SET tool).
You are now ready to enjoy a faster, more responsive desktop!