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Dell Inspiron 13" 7378 Logbook

Specs

  • Dell Inspiron 13-7378
  • Intel ® Core ™ i7-7500U CPU @ 2.7 GHz
  • 16 GB RAM of DDR 4.
  • Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (10.0.14393)
  • Premium Support, Complete Care, and Onsite Service package.

Current status: Waiting for a box to ship the laptop to the Depot to replace LCD panel (broken clips, brightness issues), fan (grinding noise), bottom cover (a single broken clip).

Issues

Display flickering, complete freeze when moved, gap between LCD panel and top cover, grinding fan noise.

Fixes

Laptop 1: Display flickering. MB, LCD Panel, IO Cables replaced, chassis issues, audio and sensors broke, exchanged.

Laptop 2: Display flickering, completely locks up if moved. LCD Panel replaced, MB replaced, locks up on any key pressure (when Intel drivers are running), won't return to working state on reboot until powercycled enough times. Disassembled the laptop and put electrical tape over the "bumps" under the motherboard. Fan and heatsink replaced, attempted to replace LCD panel again due to brightness gradient, the "new" panel had all bottom clips broken.

Log

2017-02-22 Wednesday

Laptop appeared at the office. Box is light. While soft-touch coating of carbon fiber of XPS13 was more pleasant, I remember how Macbook was OK to work with, so aluminum was not an issue.

Checked specs prior to configuration and they appeared to match.

Installed Bash on Ubuntu on Windows and it felt weird.

rye@DESKTOP-L8C8AF5:/mnt/c/Users/rye$ uname -a 
Linux DESKTOP-L8C8AF5 3.4.0+ #1 PREEMPT Thu Aug 1 17:06:05 CST 2013 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux 

Played with various screen configurations.

The laptop stand from Amazon turned out to be quite unstable, since the screen seems to be a bit heavier than what the designers used as a reference for the stand. It did not work well for 14" and 15" laptops, so there may not have been extensive testing performed.

2017-02-23 Thursday

Graphics artifacts started in the lower part of the screen causing around 100ms of distortion on the screen right after Edge loaded web.whatsapp.com. Could be easily reproduced by scrolling through the conversation history. Took video.

Performed full DELL test suite for all the components. Saw the device to be quite a slow one in 3D scenes, but it seems to be OK for everything else.

Fans are noticeable and you can hear change in tone if you rotate the laptop while the fan is running. On the other hand, compared to my E420, this laptop does not use its fan at all.

Late in the evening I decided to look inside to check for any loose cables for the screen. I removed all the screws, but was not able to lift the bottom cover on all 4 sides. Remembering how my E420 clips broke and how I've spent an hour gluing them back, I decided to abort the disassembly, scratched a few screws and decided to collect more data before contacting support.

2017-02-24 Friday

Received a USB to Ethernet adapter.

Figured out how to fix missing Search suggestion in Settings. Wrote details on answers.microsoft.com.

Updated PowerShell profile to have a new prompt. Learned about the beep in the console - Set-PSReadlineOption -BellStyle None.

Installed VisualStudio.

2017-02-25 Saturday

Tested USB to Ethernet adapter. Was surprised that USB3.0 plug would not completely fit into USB2.0 socket, but will fully enter USB3.0 one. Speeds were the same on both interface since the uplink is capped to 60MBit/s anyway.

Installed Visual Studio Code, Hack Typeface. Hack installer hung while restarting the FontCache3.0.0.

Connected Laptop to external display via HDMI to reproduce the screen artifact. Could not reproduce anything. Disconnected laptop from the screen after 6 hours and artifacts reappeared, now in full-screen mode (suggesting the cable suddenly moved completely out of socket?).

Connecting the laptop to the screen immediately stopped artifacts from happening. Also switching into tablet mode stopped artifacts. No amount of light tapping on the place where the cable supposedly was helped, suggesting I am dealing with an actual hardware/software issue and not just my imagination.

Registered the device for Dell Support, found that warranty status is "Currently Unavailable", "Valid until 2020", or "Out of warranty" depending on where to look.

Contacted @DellCares on Twitter, asked about the warranty status. They suggested there is a glitch on the website causing the warranty status to be incorrect, but assured me I am good till 2020.

Downloaded updated Intel Drivers (win64_154514.4590.exe) from Intel Web Site. Removed the existing Dell drivers for intel HD 620, installed the Intel ones.

Upon reboot, Windows Defender Process went crazy for about an hour. Process does not seem to write logs, cannot be controlled via service panel due to Administrator not having enough permissions.

This caused the laptop to sound as a tiny vacuum cleaner and feel quite hot to the touch on the back of the device.

After the service stopped pegging CPU I found that igfxext.exe process keeps respawning. No useful information online about the process. Found that it is a part of Intel Common User Interface service.

Restarted into Safe Mode, renamed the offending .exe to .exe.disabled, started in normal mode again. No respawning and apparently no errors in the error log. Parent service seems to be "Intel (R) HD Graphics Control Panel Service". Disabled the service just in case.

2017-02-26 Sunday

Driver update did not help. Screen started tearing again. Removed Intel drivers, reverted to Dell-provided ones. No issue with control panel service after reboot.

Warranty status is still "Temporarily Unavailable" in the Dell Support app.

Updated BIOS from 1.3 to 1.5.1.

SSD Update appeared to be "Urgent", but the laptop already runs the latest version.

BIOS update did not help as the flickering reappeared.

Sent the screenshot of the fault and extremely compressed video to @DellCares over Twitter, and they got my contact information, shipping address and said:

Once the onsite technician procures the part, he will contact you in the next 1-2 business days to schedule an appointment for the service. Please be informed the service is subjected to part availability.^AV

Additionally asked to test whether running on AC affects whether the screen is flickering. Based on my tests connecting the AC does not have any effect.

The support website still suggests my laptop is out of warranty.

2017-02-27 Monday

Received the bluetooth mouse and keyboard.

Flickering reappeared while laptop was idling and did not change with network or bluetooth switches.

2017-02-28 Tuesday

Received a message that Laptop now has warranty, checked and it really does.

@DellCares notified me that the replacement motherboard is expected to arrive in 27 days, but they are working on expediting the process and I should hear back from them in 48 hours.

2017-03-01 Wednesday

Suddenly March.

Device continues to flicker.

Got a call from local Dell contractor. Expected time to arrival at the office is 4PM onwards.

No idea what's going to be replaced though.

The tech did not arrive, but promised to call back tomorrow.

Purchased and installed FL Studio Mobile from App Store (Basically, Fruity Loops, but completely different). The convertible form-factor works quite well with the keyboard. MIDI stops working after some idle time, but that's not a showstopper. Also tested the headphone jack which also appears to be working fine.

2017-03-02 Thursday

Oh boy oh boy.

Brought laptop to work, tech arrived on time and suggested to look into software configuration issues. Found that there is a bulletin about brightness sensor (I have that?) can cause screen to flicker. Disabled the adaptive brightness. Thankfully display decided to flicker anyway.

Continued troubleshooting and changed the resolution on the device to a lower one, and was about to get going, but the screen STARTED TO FLICKER. I was happy it was reproducible, and he continued to claim it was a software issue.

He called Dell and asked for further instructions. He was sent a box 3 times the size of the box my laptop arrived in with parts for the laptop. Dell support instructed him to proceed with replacing EVERYTHING that they've sent.

And so he replaced:

  • Motherboard
  • LCD Panel
  • LCD Back
  • IO Cables

In the end, things did not look great - the LCD panel did not properly match the back so it was constantly popping out first when you switch to a tablet mode, and anytime I attempted to open the laptop.

Laptop Lid After Repair

Laptop Grill After Repair

Bitlocker system was happily blocking access to the hard drive, but I had the recovery key and contrary to what the UI says, you can use numerical keys :)

Now, the laptop stopped being able to resume from suspend-to-RAM. Like. Completely. Windows had nothing in the event log, only that last restart was unexpected. No interesting messages right before suspend.

Additionally, sound stopped working. The laptop would only produce 200ms of sound data over a second through the speakers, but will be able to send streams to the bluetooth device and wired headset. What's more concerning is that the clicking noises continued in UEFI setup mode after restart, so something went really wrong in the driver department to persist the issue through a restart.

The tech contacted Dell requesting a new LCD panel and told them about new issues encountered. Dell support technician (on the phone) asked me whether I am OK to ship the device to the repair depot where they are going to do all the fixing again. I just received a message from the friend encouraging me to inquire about a laptop replacement. Considering that the current "iteration" of my laptop has only power board, keyboard and hard drive from the old one, that is essentially a new laptop, yet with even more unknowns.

After 5 minutes on hold Dell support technician agreed to send a replacement laptop built to the same specs, which should… well, it should arrive.

Upon arrival, the original frankenstein-monster laptop will need to be shipped back to the Dell land.

Dell support on twitter was stellar. Too bad the hardware is flawed. Anyway, I still have warranty, and replacements, and I LOVE this laptop, so won't initiate full return.

I want to see how it works out.

My Lenovo E420 still works, but I am using it less and less.

Dell updater fetched data BIOS to the latest version. Resume started working, audio pretended to start working.

But at this point the replacement is already in progress.

Remaining known problems:

  • Incompatible LCD panel/back setup
  • Bent bottom cover causing the grill to have 1mm space from the top part.
  • Bent hinge mount point (aluminium, probably during reassembly).

So the laptop definitely needs a LCD screen replacement and unspecified change in bottom cover.

Something weird is happening to the LED at the front of the lower part. It keeps blinking (looks like a HDD activity). No idea how it was supposed to behave. Found the following in the documentation:

Fn+H: Toggle between power and battery status light/hard-drive activity light

Switched back to power mode.

2017-03-03 Friday

Found the reason the bottom cover has a new gap near the grille - 3 of 4 clips that were holding the cover were broken during disassembly. There is a plastic frame attached to the aluminium bottom cover and all the clips are plastic. I am glad I did not proceed with disassembly originally since I would have definitely broken these. The repair manual shows the proper sequence of unclipping and it looks like it was not followed completely.

The periodic 1s sound clicks returned, all drivers are up to date and BIOS is the newest shiny version. "Popping" sound appears right after system startup and continues until the login screen. If you plug in the headphones, audio works correctly there. How can you break only one audio output path?

Additionally, the tablet mode rotation no longer works. The system switches into tablet mode and disables the keyboard, but display will not rotate with rotation lock disabled.

A closer look at the work performed by technician revealed that not only clips were damaged near the grill, but also the wifi cable was improperly tucked into the hinge causing the case to slowly eat through the shield on every open/close/switch to tablet mode.

While trying to watch a video via my projector setup we found that HDMI audio is not available. Dell website suddenly released an updated Intel video driver (21.20.16.4574_A03) which (surprise, surprise!) made HDMI video working again.

Contacted @DellCares to check whether there was actually a replacement request put in (I had no reference number), and they have updated the support request with my email. I hope I'll be able to see the updates shortly.

I am reconsidering my words to the tech that I was pleased with the work performed. Broken clips and improperly routed cable would have most likely been fixed by the Dell Repair facility, but as a former support engineer I can't see how I would have not assumed responsibility about the stuff that I actually broke.

2017-03-05 Sunday

Found that the popping sound stops once you disable the audio device in BIOS/UEFI. Unfortunately that also disables the headphones and the built in microphone array. You can still use Bluetooth audio, but, you know, it used to work.

Attempts to use Skype for calls were interrupted by complete system lockup with no logs. Stress test passes without an issue though. Something is broken in the replacement board.

Found AppLocker (a thing that prevents applications from running if they are not added to whitelist) configuration laying around in Windows 10 Pro and assumed it is going to work. Sent a question to @SwiftOnSecurity who forwarded it to people who actually know Windows. Unfortunately, AppLocker appears to be present, but disabled in software: "appidsvc.dll: AppLocker component not available on this SKU."

Found that AppData\Local installation method that some (Chrome/Python) installers support is not really the place for applications. It's just a thing that works for people in locked-down systems.

My Dell Support website started showing my support request and there is an in-progress Call Type "EXG". The specifications of the laptop that is being built is the same.

I am going to include a note with the returned laptop detailing the issues that are present. Unless there is a really simple issue with audio and overall system stability, the motherboard may need to be re-tested extensively.

The lower cover will need to be replaced due to broken clips and the screen assembly will need to be re-paired.

I also found out the memory configuration is 16x1, with max RAM possible at 32GB.

It turns out that Windows assumed that I am on a public network thus incoming TCP connections were filtered. This is a welcome change, but as I was testing the network connectivity, I wanted to continue filtering all but ICMP connections and have the private network. Apparently "Local Group Policy Editor" has quite a few interesting settings and that's where you change the type of network connection.

Firewall configuration can then be updated via Firewall MMC snap-in. My machine does not allow any incoming traffic now but happily replices to PINGs on my WLAN.

2017-03-06 Monday

I was pleased to find out that my replacement laptop is now being built via @DellCares, so the replacement is on its way.

Additionally I started playing around the filesystem looking at files that don't belong and found two encrypted ZIP files produced by LiteOn updating thingie in the root of C: drive.

Password was "LITEONIT" which I found out through running strings on the executable and using the output as dictionary to fcrackzip (I am lazy). Found a few posts online about these files. Posted a reply to a thread that popped up on microsoft answers again.

Installed uBlock Origin for Microsoft Edge. Apparently Microsoft re-implemented Chrome extensions API, so porting extensions is simplified dramatically.

2017-03-08 Wednesday

Received a message from Dell saying that my system is confirmed. Additionally I started receiving lots of ads (>2 per day :) ) for deals and XPS laptops.

2016-03-13 Monday

Had another look at the display failing to keep attached to the top cover. It looks like the cover is slightly bent at the bottom on the left side causing the plastic and metal not to align properly. Still not sure why the bottom and left clips don't match. Given that the original estimate for MB replacement was at the end of the march, I wonder whether those replacement parts were the ones that were not tested properly.

2017-03-14 Tuesday

Got a notification that my system has shipped and should arrive tomorrow.

Checklist:

  • Display must not pop out when opening the device/switching to tablet mode
  • Autorotate must work
  • System must play sound through built-in speakers
  • Suspend/resume must work
  • Display must not flicker (not sure how to test it other than continuous monitoring)
  • Skype call must not hang the system

2017-03-15 Wednesday

And so the waiting begins...

ARRIVED

No return shipping label though.

So far - keyboard has a different feeling to it, nothing pops out and checklist items appear to work.

Asked @DellCares about the shipping label and they have sent me the UPS label by email

But

The

Screen

Started

To

Flicker

AGAIN

2017-03-16 Thursday

So, working theory is that there is indeed a software issue, unfortunately it is as intermittent as on the original device. Now, the "repaired" laptop does not exhibit these issues, but it has faulty rotation sensor and audio output, which leads me to believe some of these sensors are actually influencing something.

I am going to reimage the device and prevent installation of any drivers by cutting the network communication to the outside world for this device.

Then will selectively proceed with updates.

This is going to be fun.

Stripped down installation, removing all the applications in windows. This also removed the Intel Video driver. Of course, flickering does not happen then. Installing ONLY the Video driver back resumes the flickering.

Running Fedora Live on the same laptop does not cause any visual artifacts. The only issue found so far with Ubuntu is that the multimedia keys (volume up/down) don't produce any events.

2017-03-18 Saturday

Typing from Fedora installation on a Bluetooth keyboard that works. No artifacts. Cool operation. HORRIBLE FONT HANDLING. Fonts specified in pixels are killing my eyesight.

2017-03-26 Sunday

Today during demo of the laptop capabilities to friends of mine I found that I was able to lock the device just by picking it up.

Additionally after a few screen rotations in Fedora I was able to lock up the system as well.

Current working theory is that the accelerometer sensor introduces some noise which locks up the machine and/or causes the screen artifacts. Disabled all the entries under "Sensors".

Can still lock up the machine when USB-C charger (bought separately) gets disconnected or connected. Probably because I have to slightly push the laptop.

At some point after a lockup the system booted into diagnostics mode but it completed successfully.

Will attempt to use Windows for the rest of the weekend to check whether the flickering continues. This does not explain the lockups caused by USB-C adapter usage, but one thing at a time.

List of actions performed for Dell: Troubleshooting.md.

Arranged for a call from Dell to troubleshoot the issue.

2017-03-27 Monday

Picking up the device, while holding it near the left hinge makes it very easy to freeze. Bent motherboard? But why it is hard to freeze without intel drivers? Fedora freezes as well when you transform it into a tablet, but... well, not really conclusive. Also it started on Sat morning, and it was ok on Friday, and laptop was sitting on the table for the most part.

Got a call from Dell an hour into 2 hour window, where we went through all the steps I've taken so far. After about an hour the tech suggested shipping the device to the repair facility.

I am still not giving up on this model, but since an on-site repair and full replacement did not work, it may take a human to troubleshoot the issue with access to the spare parts. If this fails, well, then I will have to ask for a different model. Or a complete refund.

2017-03-28 Tuesday

Shipped the laptop. It should reach the repair center this Friday.

2017-03-30 Thursday

Posted a link to this document to Reddit to increase the visibility about the issues within Inspiron family (the thread is dominated by XPS owners)

2017-03-31 Friday

The laptop was delivered to Dell according to FedEx tracking.

Fixed some glaring spelling issues in the blog post.

2017-04-04 Tuesday

Received an automated call from Dell repair facility telling me that repair is complete and providing the tracking number. Nothing changed on Dell support website.

2017-04-05 Wednesday

Received the laptop (YAY!). The work performed description states "LCD Panel Replaced" and "Driver Installed". While the second item does not make much sense, the first one is interesting. My original repaired laptop had the panel replaced as well.

Does it flicker? Not yet.

Does it hang when moved? Yes.

Sent a message to @DellCares. The device now lives in my peripheral vision, so if it does not start flickering, then the LCD panel is the likely reason for the flickering. We are getting somewhere.

After being on for about 6 hours the laptop started to flicker. We are back to square 1. Screen has nothing to do with the flickering. Since screen comes with its own cable, this also rules out the connector issue.

Motherboard replacement is scheduled for Friday. Also asked for a backup bottom cover should repair damage the clips.

2017-04-07 Friday

Dell Certified Technician arrived with a new motherboard and bottom cover and quickly swapped the motherboard. Device did not start until powercycled several times. Upon startup and going to Windows it locked up as the tech was entering the password.

Powercycled the device, but it did not boot. After a few dozen tries, the tech removed the cover and reseated all the cables. The device booted but hanged again.

Dell Support was engaged on the phone and after a set of troubleshooting steps (laptop does not start without display cable connected or memory, signaling about erro conditions via its LED, diagnostics passes when it is able to boot) suggested to send it to the repair depot.

I contacted @DellCares asking for either a refund or replacement with a different model.

As I was packing the laptop I decided to try disconnecting all the aux components and boot it. I saw the proper way of opening the back, so I opened the laptop, disconnected the speaker, wifi, sensor board, but nothing changed. Wrote to Dell that I don't want to do another Support Depot shipment as the laptop has already been there.

Closed the cover.

An hour later I enumerated all the items that were common among the four laptops and the only thing I haven't checked was the chassis itself.

I opened the laptop again, took the motherboard out and found that:

  1. One of the contact pads on the motherboard was slightly bent (still maintained the ground, I believe, based on the imprint on the case)

  2. There were suspicious bumps that may have at some point got in the contact with the motherboard.

Bumps

Those bumps are covered by a plastic shield, but for some reason it has holes (to relieve stress?).

Bumps

It does not look like there is a matching pad on the MB for these bumps to touch.

I taped over these bumps with electrical tape and straightened the ground pad. Reassembled the laptop and it did NOT lock up on boot, I could get through windows configuration. To test the theory I removed the tape and attempted to lock the device via all the ways I knew about but it continued to work fine.

I have yet to see the flickering, but for the past 2 hours the laptop was just wonderful. Notified @DellCares to stop advancing the refund/replacement request for now.

2017-04-08 Saturday

Laptop still works. Added a discussion thread to Dell Community forum.

2017-04-10 Monday

Asked @DellCares to close the support case.

2017-04-29 Friday

During a conference session I noticed a buzzing noise from the laptop fan. It starts silent with only the airflow audible and then gets to the buzz as if there is not enough lubrication.

I also started using laptop in tablet mode with portrait orientation more, and found the top 50 pixels to be darker than the rest of the screen. Originally I really thought to be an effect of Windows 10 (Gnome Shell has a dark bar on top, so it was not visible at all), but now it is obviously an issue with the backlight as if it does not have a reflective border on the top or it is located just a few mm lower than it should.

Since the depot visit the laptop had a small gap between the LCD/frame which I decided to also mention to @DellCares, since it is too easy to pry it open.

2017-05-01 Monday

Read about HiDPI @ Elementary OS blog, suggesting that 1920x1080 @ 13" is a broken configuration:

Oftentimes people ask if elementary OS will support non-integer scaling to cater to users of products with these poor size/resolution combinations. But since half pixels are a lie, its not something were going to do. The manufacturer made a poor decision and sold a bad product. Theres not much we can do to fix that. -- What is HiDPI - Elementary OS - Medium

Oh well, having font sizes specified in pixels and then scaling the number to get fonts into a readable realm is also a broken configuration, IMHO. But the idea is clear. And I may have made a bad choice. Oh well.

2017-05-02 Tuesday

Scheduled a technician visit on Friday, number of people recommending to buy MacBook instead is now 7.

2017-05-17 Friday

Technician arrived (same as the last time, Walter, a very sensible and dedicated person, by the way) with a box of:

  • Motherboard (OH NOES)
  • LCD Panel
  • Top LCD cover
  • Fan
  • Heatsink

We decided to forego motherboard replacement (see everything above). He replaced fan and started working on LCD panel when he noticed the cover and new panel does not stick together. He noticed there were clips broken on the bottom and I was able to confirm 2 bottom clips were broken on the panel received from the repair Depot.

The fan started grinding during diagnostics. Originally I thought the backplate is to blame, but we removed the cover and it was still grinding on low RPMs.

I agreed to another Depot trip for the laptop, mentioning that motherboard should not be replaced unless absolutely necessary

I can no longer recommend Dell Inspiron 7378 :)

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