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Seventeen weeks ... where has the time gone?

Dell blames cooling assembly for XPS 700 delays
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Customers with existing orders are being told it may take four to eight weeks to ship their systems, perhaps sooner, according to Nguyen. New orders, in the meantime, are being delayed until mid-October. However, just today, posters to Dell's Community Forum are reporting their revised shipment estimates - albeit coming from Dell's Web site, not from customer care personnel - are also being bumped out to mid-October, over eight weeks away.

Between the earliest known shipment dates customers were quoted - the fourth week of June - and the latest dates customers are now reporting - the third week of October - is a 17-week period. To the best of his knowledge, Nguyen told TG Daily, there were no technical issues whatsoever that would trigger shipment delays to XPS 700 between the time the original Pentium D-based systems were announced in late May, to the time the cooling assembly anomaly was discovered in late July.

"Irrespective of the fact that we're on extended lead times right now," remarked Nguyen, "even several weeks ago, we were going back to customers and saying, 'Look, we're really sorry about this, and we really want to thank you for your patience, and [to do so] we want to offer you the option of going ahead and receiving your XPS 700 with the current configuration and getting a gift card for your trouble (for the US)...or we could offer you the option to upgrade to the Core 2 processor when it becomes available.'"

Many customers who were quoted ship dates in mid-August accepted Dell's upgrade offer, and were told soon afterwards that their units would ship in September, according to reports from the Community Forum. Since then, many have seen their ship dates extended again to October. "We don't want to ship a product that may cause a customer a bad experience," said Nguyen. "That's not our business model. We have such high quality and reliability standards, probably the best in the industry, that we're not willing to compromise on that. So as soon as our engineers recognize that, even in the very rarest of circumstances, this could cause some instability in the system operation, we decided we're going to delay the shipment of the product to the customer until we get that resolved. Because that's what they expect, whether it's an XPS system or any system, any product from Dell."

Customers posting to the Dell Community Forum report having been given varying explanations from the company's support personnel, leading them to speculate that problems with the nForce 590 chipset may have been to blame, or more recently, that a special edition of Creative Labs' X-Fi sound card manufactured for Dell - which some customers characterize as not really an X-Fi card at all - may have contributed. Today, Nguyen told us there will be no changes to the XPS 700 systems that customers were most recently quoted, other than the fix to the cooling assembly. Customers will see the 590 chipset and the special edition X-Fi card, and Nguyen repeatedly denied that they contributed to any shipment delays.

That said, Nguyen did admit that Dell's partners will be involved in the customer feedback assessment process. "We're going to continue to work with our partners and suppliers to make improvements throughout the process," he said, "and introduce enhancements based on customer usage and feedback, so that the next-generation products have an even better customer experience than the previous generation." Later, he reiterated that Dell's engineering, marketing, and sales teams will work "with each other and our suppliers to constantly make improvements throughout the development process."

We asked Liem Nguyen what Dell would learn from this debacle that it could implement for its next generation of enthusiast systems. He responded first by saying he wouldn't characterize this situation as a debacle, but as part of everyday business. "I think as a company that ships millions of systems per year - we shipped 10 million systems last quarter - it's not unusual for Dell engineers to occasionally discover issues and pro-actively resolve them," he said. "Let's set the context appropriately. We ship millions of systems per quarter. So it isn't unusual for us to proactively discover issues and resolve them quickly. It's based on our commitment to deliver the highest quality and reliability to customers.

"It is part of our $100 million investment to improve the customer experience," Nguyen concluded, "that we're going to make improvements and enhancements through all of our processes, wherever we touch the customer."

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