Dell vs Compaq: A Technician's View

Apr 14, 2000 (Updated Oct 31, 2003)

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The Bottom Line Most technicians will agree, Dell is far superior to Compaq!

I am a technician for a company that provides warranty service for Dell in all public school districts in my state. My company also provides Compaq support for local business and individuals. I have repaired a great number of machines from both manufactures and these are my experiences.

-Business Practice:

First thing to understand is that these two companies have very different business practices. I have learned that Compaq is more of a, “Wait and see if it goes bad…” type of company and Dell is more of a, “We have a problem, lets solve it…” company. Let me give you an example. Compaq maintains a large list of “Service Advisories” that are regularly distributed to the support vendors. These service advisories are, for the most part, problems that should be fixed if and when a PC affected by the advisory is brought in for service. In other words, these are issues that Compaq knows cause problems, yet will not fix until the problem surfaces. One particular example that comes to mind involved a certain model of the Presario line. They were shipped with a hard drive that was later determined to fail often. Compaq issued a Service Advisory for that hard drive that they should all be replaced if ever repaired (regardless of whether their current problem is the hard drive). Of course, they didn’t alert Presario owners of this situation, for that would cost Compaq too much to replaced all the drives. So if you had any problem with your Presario, the hard drive was replaced. But if your Presario worked fine for the life of the warranty, you had a machine that was destined to fail.

I can safely say one in four Compaq models has a service advisory issued for it. That means that you could have a Compaq that has a ‘ticking bomb’ inside. And guess what happens if you are out of warranty when a part with known issues fails…you are out of luck, for Compaq will not replace it for free.

Dell, on the other hand, handles those types of situations a bit differently. Instead of waiting for something to fail before fixing other problems, Dell will alert you to the problem and make necessary replacements. On a recent issue, Dell demonstrated this process. Some laptops on their Latitude line where shipped with a defective memory module. Dell sent a letter explaining the situation to every Latitude owner that could have been affected by this faulty memory. In addition, they sent a diagnostic diskette that tested the machine to see if it had the faulty memory. If you did have the memory, they would replace it for free. In my opinion, that is the proper way to handle a problem. Dell did get some criticism over this issue because they did not announce the problem as soon as they found out that some of the memory was defective. There were several reasons for this, and each is very valid. First off, they needed to research the problem to find out just who was affected. Secondly, they need time to develop the diagnostic software to identify the problem. And third, they needed to ensure they had a large supply of replacement memory modules.


Compaq and Dell hardware is quite different. In fact, Compaq hardware is quite different from most pc manufactures. A lot of the Compaq hardware is proprietary, meaning you can only obtain it from Compaq. This is very common with their floppy drives. Usually, their floppy drives have an open face, and the slot is actually molded into the front of the case. If you need a floppy drive, you must obtain one from Compaq. Even on standard interface devices, Compaq makes things difficult. Some video cards use the APG interface, yet have a proprietary slot cover. Once again, if you want to upgrade your graphics card, you have to obtain a Compaq card. Out of warranty hardware from Compaq is very expensive. Dell is a different story. If your floppy drive goes bad and your PC is out of warranty, you can get one from CompUSA, or anywhere for that matter, for Dell sticks to standards.


From time to time, you find yourself in a situation where you need to reload Windows. Not a problem if you have a Dell. Just run the Disk Maker utility and make diskettes for all your drivers. Then, pop in the Windows CD and go to work.

If you have a Compaq however, you may have your work cut out for you. Several different models of Compaq ship with no Windows CD, only a Quick Restore CD. That means that you can’t just reinstall Windows. Instead, it will wipe the drive—all applications, data, etc—and then install Windows and all applications that originally shipped with your PC. When it’s finished, your PC is just like it was when it was shipped. And guess what; if you get your PC serviced and the technician needs to reload Windows, he will use the Quick Restore. Bye-bye data, bye-bye applications, bye-bye games. “You should have had a backup.”

If you are one of the lucky ones that actually got a Windows CD, you still have to get your drivers from Compaq’s website. Only you won’t be looking for drivers, you’ll be looking for Softpaqs. That’s what Compaq calls any download and they are all named SP#####, where # represents a 5 digit number. When you find the softpaqs you need, you will want to download them to your hard drive. When you execute your softpaq, it will do one of three things. A: it will ask for a diskette and copy an image to that diskette. B: it will extract to the hard drive in the same directory as the exe. This means 25 files dumped to the desktop if that was where you downloaded the file. Or C: it will copy files to the hard drive, then require that you run a batch file to create diskettes. There is no real way to see what your softpaq is going to do until it is executed.


If you haven’t figured it out by now, I definitely prefer Dell to Compaq. From my experiences, Dell is genuinely dedicated to customer satisfaction, and Compaq is only worried about its bottom line.

================Update 10-31-03==================

Now that the Compaq brand is flying under the HP flag, I've seen a number of improvements, particularly in customer service. However, it seems there are still many proprietary hardware components being used, so my preference remains Dell.

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