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Dell OptiPlex 760

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Dell makes excellent computers, and this is clearly one of them. Fast, expertly configured and custom-built to afford it exactly the hardware required of it, it’s about as flawless as anything with a power cord is ever likely to get.

Purchasing our OptiPlex 760, however, was a retail experience from the ninth circle of hell, and something we hope never to repeat. In our darkest hours of hopelessness as we attempted to complete the transaction, we vowed that the ninth circle of hell would enjoy temperatures approaching that of liquid helium before we’d consider another Dell product.

Well it might be suggested that having experienced relatively trouble-free ordering of Dell’s computers for over a decade, our karma got snapped back all at once this time.

We ordered our OptiPlex 760 on line, through Dell’s web page, to be shipped to our address in New York. It was paid for with a confirmed, verified PayPal account. Having bought innumerable Dell devices this way in the past, we anticipated the box arriving on or before its anticipated delivery date, and we promptly forgot about it.

This turned out to be a bit presumptuous. Upon logging into Dell’s order status page a week later to print a receipt for it, we learned that the order had been mysteriously canceled by Dell. The web page offered no explanation for this – nor did our PayPal account, which showed a charge for the system. Dell doesn’t appear to have considered the cancellation worthy of e-mail to notify us of their change of heart.

Calling Dell’s “customer care” number began a dank and fevered descent into the netherworld of music on hold, unreturned voice mail and apparent fibs. We sensed the shade of Franz Kafka in our all-too-brief conversations with Dell’s staff. There must have been a valid reason for your order being canceled, as it’s been canceled.

It took anywhere from fifteen minutes to half an hour on hold to reach someone with a heartbeat at Dell’s customer service number. No matter what time we called, they were always experiencing higher than normal call volumes. The first two cited a “problem with our payment source” and suggested that we contact Dell’s finance department. Half an hour on hold was as nothing for the finance department, and each of our early attempts to speak to someone there was ultimately terminated by the call being disconnected after a protracted wait.

It took three business days to reach a live human being in the finance department at Dell. He claimed he couldn’t pull up our file immediately, but that he’d call back in fifteen minutes. Yes, we were fools to believe this. It took another four business days to get through to him again.

We tried several other menu options in the interval. Dell’s sales staff were perhaps the most bizarre. They suggested we order a second computer. One of them maintained that we were “wasting his time.” The only positive aspect of the sales staff was that they didn’t sound like a call center on the other side of the planet.

The disembodied voice from the Dell finance department eventually agreed that there seemed to be no obvious reason for the order to have been canceled, and he’d reinstate it under the condition that we complete a form he e-mailed to us. It wanted to know things like who’d be signing for the package. In point of fact, it was impossible to know the answers for much of the form, but by the time Dell found out we’d lied, the machine would have been delivered.

Several days later, the computer we ordered went into production, and it eventually arrived… almost a month later than it would have had the order been processed when it was submitted. The schedule for first group of tasks for which the OptiPlex 760 had been purchased went quietly off the rails as result of the delay.

It would be hard to dislike the OptiPlex 760 itself, and if someone else could have been made to suffer through the protracted head-bashing involved in acquiring it, I’d have little but positive thoughts about it. It’s very quick, and it has eight… count ‘em… USB ports, two of which are conveniently mounted up front for easy access. It has a spare CD-ROM drive bay, a spare hard drive bay and three peripheral card slots, which, with the advent of USB devices to do everything from play music to keep you cool on a warm afternoon, is probably three more than it needs. Its case is easy to get into, and its interior is punctiliously neat.

One notable oversight in the OptiPlex 760’s internal appointments is a complete dearth of conventional peripheral power connectors. We needed to install a Vantec EZ-Swap removable hard drive bay. There are spare SATA-style power connectors in there – finding an adapter to allow them to power previous-generation devices was an Homerian epic.

We bought our OptiPlex 760 with Windows 7 downgradeable to Windows XP. It came with install CD-ROMs for both operating systems, plus CDs to install its various drivers, should one ever have cause to re-install the whole works in some remote future. In our case, the future was now, as we needed to reformat and repartition its hard drive for our application of the machine.

Reinstalling Windows XP was pretty effortless. The drivers and ancillary applications were somewhat more involved. The generic driver CD-ROM turned out to lack the drivers for several of the installed devices in the system, necessitating that they be downloaded from Dell’s web page. Dell’s driver download system required that Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5 or better be installed, although it wasn’t particularly forthcoming about this. Neither the install CD nor the download function could nail down which of the various drivers the system might require were in fact the one needed to support its hardware, entailing a protracted foray into experimentation and profanity.

It took a while to resolve all the issues and dancing bears.

In use, the OptiPlex has been predictably stable and quick. Everything’s worked exactly as we expected it would, and an hour after it came on line, it was largely ignored. It exhibited a complete lack of funkiness. A computer you can forget about is close to perfect.

A purchase experience that didn’t continue to engender grimaces, recourse to strong drink and volleys of darts hurled at an already well-perforated picture of the smiling visage of Michael Dell would have gotten it a good deal closer.