Our PC at home has been on the blink for a while, so I finally broke down and purchased a complete Gateway system from BestBuy. And then the adventure began.
I’ve dreaded doing this for several reasons, the big chunk of change aside: because (until now, for the most part) building a home-grown, custom system has been more cost-efficient and better catered to my personal needs; I didn’t want to buy a system that I couldn’t modify myself; and I greatly dislike discussing product specifications and problems with “experts” that know less than I do. But we needed a PC badly, and this was a good deal, so I gave it a go.
Excited by the scent of newly-opened silicon packaging, I tore open the Gateway computer box, wired it up, and turned it on, expecting in full to be greeted by a screaming-fast machine, which would soon be bogged down considerably by the copy of Windows Vista Home Premium that was about to launch. However, I never reached that apex: instead of booting from the pre-installed operating system on the hard drive, the BIOS tried to boot from the CD-ROM that wasn’t there,
and then proceeded to PXE boot from my network, which was certainly not configured for booting, and then it just gave up and died.
I went into the BIOS and saw that everything seemed fine, except for one small problem: no hard drive. At least, it wasn’t visible to the BIOS, which explained why it wouldn’t boot the machine. So, still in good faith, I popped in the accompanying Vista CD-ROM and rebooted. The good news was that the CD was indeed bootable, and Vista’s various confirmation screens assured me that it was about to install itself: that is, until it reached the point at which it needed a hard drive on which to install itself and found none. I had read a few accounts of Vista’s installation application not being able to load device drivers for several hard drive types (which sounds kind of like a major bug to me), and the drive on this system is a 320GB SATA drive, so I spent the next hour clicking “Browse” and trying different directories for compatible drivers. I didn’t find any. But, interestingly enough, I did find in my travels a “drive” called “X:\Boot”, which I assume was the Gateway “recovery and utility” partition on the hard drive that is normally hidden from view.
So, why was Vista able to see this partition on the same disk for which it couldn’t load or find proper drivers?
At that point, I’d already wasted an hour trying to fix a problem I couldn’t fix, so I decided to call Gateway’s technical support, without realizing that by doing so, I’d only be augmenting and prolonging my own agony. First, I called the “generic” help line, and after 10 minutes of wading through how-to instructional menus (“Press 1 if you’d like help turning on your computer”), I hung up and found a “live” support number. Again, I was greeted by automated “help,” one facet of which being a voice recognition system that insisted that I speak the model number of my machine, and then would spit back a mangled version of the number I had cited and ask me to confirm it; I would say “no”, and the process would begin again, five or six times, until I decided to say “I don’t know”, and then, finally, I was put on hold to wait for a representative.
After 15 minutes of waiting, I spoke to someone who gave me another number to call, because my computer was bought through a reseller and not directly through Gateway. My wife and I waited about 25 minutes on that line (after another round of “mangle my model number,” of course), after which my wife heard a noise on the line and was disconnected. She called back, played “mangle my model number” again, and waited on hold for another 10 minutes. It was then that I had the privilege of speaking with “Dale.”
Dale was a nice man with a strong, Southern accent, who sounded like he was working from home: I could hear a television in the background and a child talking, and once in a while he would take his attention away from the phone in order to speak to someone there. By the time I’d finished explaining that my brand-new computer wouldn’t boot into an operating system, Dale remarked that I sounded “like a very intelligent man” and told me to reboot my machine and see what happened. As it rebooted and I explained what I saw and that I thought the problem was related to the SATA device drivers, Dale asked me whether I saw a “cute Gateway logo” or a Vista window on the screen. I politely explained that I didn’t see any of that, because the BIOS wasn’t recognizing a hard drive or active drive partition, and I asked whether he were familiar with any similar Vista booting issues with Gateway machines that contained SATA drives. Dale pulled up the specs for my system and seemed befuddled that the machine shipped with a “three-twenty gee-bee say-tah seven-two-hundred ar-pee-ems… I have no idea what this stuff means.” After a few more fruitful minutes on the phone with Dale, I took my leave and moved on to some more fun with Best Buy.