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What's causing Dell XPS 700 shipments to be delayed again, to October?

What's causing Dell XPS 700 shipments to be delayed again, to October?
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Round Rock (TX) - In an extraordinary turn of events, the company that rewrote the book on standards and practices in the PC industry and catalyzed the era of direct sales finds itself on the brink of a customer relations disaster. Dell Computer's top-of-the-line model, the XPS 700, has been officially available in some form since last May, and an upgraded version featuring Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme options, was unveiled last month in an invitees-only session with Michael Dell himself, that included TG Daily. But now, dozens of customers - some of whom have waited months for their orders, which have yet to arrive - are mounting a grass-roots campaign to make Dell come clean about the causes of XPS 700 delays.

"I am extremely upset by the lack of truthful information forthcoming from Dell regarding the delays," reads one e-mail TG Daily received from a customer who states she purchased two quality Dell computers in 1997 and 2005 without incident. "This total disregard for the customer has made me consider going to another company when it comes time to purchase another system."

As one of Dell's forum moderators wrote, "Dell will ship the XPS 700 when we are confident that it meets our rigorous quality and performance standards. While we cannot provide an exact date or specific details at this time, Dell anticipates orders to begin shipping by the end of the month, if not sooner." The month this moderator was referring to was June.

A series of undisclosed technical issues appear to be to blame for shipment delays to Dell's premium desktop model, the result of which has been literally thousands of posts to Dell's customer support forum, many complaining about time wasted, some complaining about money wasted, but a surprising number of which cited negative experiences with the company's customer service representatives. According to many customers, some of whom wrote TG Daily directly, representatives typically blamed lack of available parts as the reason why their shipment dates were being delayed until the middle of July, then the middle of August, and then the middle of October.

Dell's XPS 700, exposed and presumably working.

On Friday, XPS customers reported to Dell's online customer forum that the estimated shipping date for their units - which Dell's service enables them to check from day to day - now no longer reads a particular date at all, after having read "October 13" as late as Thursday. Now the line reads "Pre-production." What does that mean? Dell's online policy defines the term as follows: "Pre-Production time varies based on the system ordered and is depended largely on the availability of parts. An estimated 'lead time' reflecting the anticipated time it will take to get parts on hand and build your order should have been communicated to you at the time of order confirmation."

A few weeks ago, Dell product managers announced through the customer support forum and company blog that disgruntled customers who ordered XPS 700 systems prior to 18 July would be offered options to either accept free Dell gift cards, or upgrades from Pentium D 9xx-based systems to Core 2 Duo, such as the E6400. Customers were told to relax and wait for a phone call from Dell; many could only do the latter. Those who did receive the call and accepted the offer later discovered that, rather than the mid- to late August ship date they were then promised, their ship dates were bumped out a second time to mid October. And apparently some customer service representatives may have given some XPS customers the impression that their actual ship dates, when all the company's problems are resolved, could be late February.

Some customers reported that customer service representatives compelled them to accept the upgrade to a Core 2 Duo processor from a Pentium D 9xx class, saying there were availability problems for the Pentium Ds as Intel starts winding down their production cycle. Intel spokesperson George Alfs told TG Daily on Wednesday that no Pentium D 9xx series shipment problem currently exists for any OEM.

As customers began accepting Dell's offer for an upgrade, however, the focus of the company's shipment problems seemed to shift to the Core 2 Duos as well. An explanation offered by Dell digital media manager Lionel Menchaca on the company's blog managed only to raise more questions: "Unfortunately, upgrading to the new processors will extend your wait time - due to contractual obligations, I can't be more specific at this time," Menchaca wrote. Intel spokespersons did not comment on what "contractual obligations" he was referring to.