Toshiba, Kingston, and the Case of Useless RAM.

I’m an IT geek. IT flows through my veins – I couldn’t get rid of it if I wanted. I’m too old to be a digital native, but I’d like to think I’m pretty close.

I’m used to replacing my laptop every two years or so but I’ve been using the same laptop now since 2010. A Toshiba Tecra A11-S3540. It is a good machine boasting a powerful Intel Core i7 CPU, a dedicated 512 MB NVIDIA graphics adapter, 4 GB DDR3 RAM, gigabit ethernet, and 802.11n wireless. A while back I replaced the standard 7200 SATA hard drive with a 128 GB SSD – which made an incredible difference in system speed…but now, things are starting to drag again.

I’ve looked at purchasing a new system, but to get something just equivalent with what I currently have is fairly pricey, so I’m holding off as long as I can. There is really only one other upgrade I can make to stretch the life of this laptop – adding more RAM.

I’ve held off on buying the RAM for over a year – but finally decided that the decrease in productivity was costing me more than upgrading the RAM would cost.

I went on Toshiba’s site and looked up their memory recommendations. For this specific laptop model they recommended Kingston’s 4 GB DDR3 1333Mhz memory modules at $50 each.

Screenshot of Toshiba Direct Search Result Page

I shopped around a bit – seeing if I could find anyone else who was selling the memory for cheaper and double and triple checking whether it would work with this system. I supposed since it was the recommendation on Toshiba’s site it would, but I wanted to be sure.

I stumbled across a Kingston page which indicated what I was looking for was actually the KTT1066D3/4G but that it had been “replaced by” the KTT-S3B/4G.

Screenshot of Kingston Memory Page

To their credit, if I went through the System-Specific Memory portion of Kingston’s site andĀ attempted to find my system, it wouldn’t appear as an option.

You can probably guess where this is going. I ordered the RAM from a seller off eBay. Damage was a little less than $110.

I (im)patiently waited for the memory to arrive and when it did I eagerly pulled the old 2 GB RAM chips and replaced them with the new 4 GB RAM chips. I powered it on, BIOS post went fine, but then Windows started to load. A message about a fatal error flashed on the screen and the system shut off…a few seconds later it powered itself back on and repeated the same steps…and so on.

I did some troubleshooting to make sure it wasn’t a bad RAM chip and eventually called Kingston, who informed me that the RAM wouldn’t work with my system. I’m not sure what “replaced by” means, but apparently it doesn’t mean “can be used instead of.”

The eBay seller offers a thirty day return policy, so I could return the chips, but over $10 was for S&H, I’d have to pay $10 for S&H, and then take a 15% hit for the restocking fee. In the end I’d get back around $75 out of the almost $110 I’d shelled out.

Moral of the story? I suppose there are two: (1) don’t rely too heavily on what Toshiba suggests are replacement parts for your system and (2) “replaced by” don’t mean what you think it mean, at least when it comes to Kingston…I’m not entirely sure what it does mean.

Verizon FiOS – Incompetence?

Background:


On July 8th, 2008 I wrote a post raving about Verizon FiOS, a high-speed fiber-to-home internet solution that has clearly kicked the butt of all the competition on a performance/cost basis. I’d been using the service for around two years at that juncture. On October 20th, 2008 I wrote another post, this time chronicling the extreme distress I was experiencing with my Verizon FiOS connection. It is now November 5th, 2008 and my issue is still not resolved. The problem began on 10/16 and continues to the present. I have spent 10+ hours on the phone with Verizon over a period of days and have opened multiple tickets including PADQ01JC660 and PADQ01KD8X (which was closed for an unknown reason) and now PAFS010562.

The Problem:

Verizon’s first tier technical support is decent, they can fix 99% of mom and pop problems. This means if you have a standard problem (e.g. router died or needs to be rebooted, you need to enter a password, ip needs to be renewed, etc.) you’ll most likely have no problem getting rapid support. The issue is with escalation. After the first level of support their are “Network Technicians”, these are the people who are supposed to analyze and resolve complex issues. Unfortunately, multitudinous experiences indicates:

  • Network Technicians do not communicate concerning tickets.
  • Network Technicians do not perform necessary troubleshooting on tickets.

I should note, as a Network Engineer, I understand some of the dilemma faced by network technicians. First, one is constantly bombarded by a large number of false positives. People will insist they have a problem that is your fault when it is their own. Second, network technicians generally tend to enjoy working on problems more than communicating about problems. Okay, this is natural…but this has been ridiculous. Ignore it once, okay – not the best idea but understandable. Ignore it twice – okay, bad idea. Ignore it three (four, five) times and now we are getting to the point of inciting righteous anger on the part of the consumer.

The Resolution:

I can’t remark on the specifics of resolving this issue, since I am not within the Verizon NT group, but I will comment generally on ways to resolve this sort of consumer abuse:

  • Ensure network techs. are not overtasked. A network tech. will let “questionable” problems fall through the cracks when he is over-engaged by “real” problems.
  • Enable a linking method for tickets and an analysis system that will detect repeat callers and allow for appropriate escalation to resolve the issue.
  • Offer a web-based ticketing system with tickets automatically visible via phone call. Allow consumers to view and respond to ticket modifications.1This way if a ticket is closed, the consumer knows it…rather than waiting a day or two to call back in about the issue to find out that the NT never did anything with the issue.
  • Its all about communication. If a network tech. doesn’t believe its a real issue he needs to communicate this back to the first tier tech., and the first tier tech. needs to talk to the consumer more…But in no case should a ticket simply be dropped.

UPDATE 11/07/08:

Well, life is back to normal…after around two weeks. I called in and told them I would remain on the line until the NT was available. They told me he would call back within 48 hours. I insisted on knowing what the tech. thought was the problem. The NT said he would call back in four hours. I still insisted on knowing what the tech. thought was the problem, this didn’t get very far…I concluded by asking the first tier helpdesk to inform the NT that I was placing all Verizon related tickets online and that if this news made it into mainstream press the NT could be assured Verizon higher-ups would be looking for someone to sacrifice. I received a call-back within an hour or two. The problem had been resolved. It had been an issue with the configuration of their Juniper switches…I am happy now but think that my suggestions above still carry significant weight. It shouldn’t have taken two weeks to make a configuration change.

Image thanks to striatic’s generous creative commons license.

Verizon Fios – The Ugly Side.

I’ve talked about how great Verizon Fios is previously. And at that time I noted a few downsides that hurt the service quality but still noted the ISP was the best I’d used. Today I’m going to rant a little longer about the ugly side of FiOS, mainly because I have just gone through/am still going through an excruciating experience1I rant in part about these types of situations because the bureaucracy in these large companies makes it almost impossible to get help. Oftentimes a blog posting is the most effective way to get real help.. That said, I still recommend FiOS2I recommend more the technology than the service. At this juncture there is no alternative provider with the same technology available in this geographic region. On a similar note, the use of traditional DSL through alternative providers does not actually circumvent utilizing Verizon as these providers operate over Verizon’s lines. Satellite/Cable are true alternatives and WiMax (Sprint’s Xohm) when it becomes available will be another real alternative.

On Thursday, 10/16/08 I tried to log onto the internet. No connection. Between 10/16-10/17 I would make seven major phone calls to Verizon in an attempt to resolve this issuing totaling approximately 250 minutes (over 4 hours). Verizon for an unknown reason3Not only unknown to me but also unknown to them. They did not know why I was disconnected, just that they had done it. disconnected my FiOS service4Second time this has happened since establishing service with them.. Okay, no big deal – reestablish the service5Unfortunately it takes hours for this to occur. As a Network Engineer I am still unable to comprehend what could possibly take so long in the assignment of an IP address when all the physical wiring actually exists and has for some time.. They create an entirely new account and inform me at the same time that I can no longer have my less-expensive 5 Mbps/2 Mbps subscription but must upgrade to a 10 Mbps/2 Mbps. Again, not a huge deal – $10/mo. – but doesn’t make an unhappy customer happy when you screw up and then demand he pay a higher price for the service.

The installation was supposed to be completed by the end of that day. At the end of the day I called back, ohh – somebody screwed up the order. I would talk to approximately three people between that call and calls the following day attempting to get the order straightened out. They placed at least two new orders and finally one of them kicked through. In all, it was around 48 hours without internet access.

Then the internet access finally returned. Great! I’m a happy man…Till its slower than DSL. I run some speedtests. Yup, certainly slower than DSL – and ping tests against Google/Yahoo’s servers revealed that occasional timeouts where occurring and response times were slow (over 100 ms typical). More phone calls to Verizon6Unfortunately my cell records have not updated to show me the length of those calls, so I cannot report their exact duration – but it was several and the time was significant.. Yes, my service is now working. No, the service is very slow. How do I know? Well, I used a bandwidth test. Run through the normal diagnostics – resetting wireless router, plugging directly into FiOS connection, resetting the FiOS box outside my house – sending the issue over to a tech. to look at. The pings drop down – Google/Yahoo now in the 10 ms range, but the speed is still horrific. Maybe its the bandwidth tester – well, I trust Speakeasy’s test but, sure, let’s try Verizon’s. Verizon shows even more dismal speeds. Ahh, forget Verizon’s speed test let’s try speedtest.net. Now if I go to the server in Newark I get 10 Mbps, but almost everywhere else its slow as anything. Will I run the FiOS settings optimizer7Glorified IE/TCP optimizer.? Sure. Still nothing. I’m tired, I’m going in circles. I talk to a supervisor. Same thing. They want to send me a new router. Sure, you can do that, but since I’m plugging directly into the connection and bypassing the router it’s not the router. Okay, we’ll have a technician look at it. Great – never hear from them again.

The connection has slowly improved. Dropped packets have decreased, but overall the network is slow. Streaming video doesn’t work well – unless you happen to hit 1% of the servers that seem to be operating on Verizon’s network at high speeds.

So, that is my situation as of today. Two days without internet – now extremely slow internet. Calling into technical support is an exercise in frustration. I can’t speak to someone who understands the problem is a technical issue on Verizon’s side. My guess? Either my circuit settings where entered wrong or they have a bad router somewhere along the line. 99% of my traffic is going through the bad router – if I happen to hit a server that takes another route (doesn’t use that router) then I get good speeds.

Anyone else having this problem? The phone support from Verizon has improved in that I don’t spend 15 minutes dialing through automated voice support – but the help desk support doesn’t have a clear escalation path beyond themselves and so I am at an ends. Vague promises of a “network tech.” looking into it and no followup leaves me with little hope of a long-term solution.

UPDATE:

Spoke to a technician at Verizon who knew what I was talking about and again submitted a ticket to the network tech. guys. His name was Dan…If any Verizon people do read this, he needs a promotion – his networking knowledge is far beyond most of his peers. In any case, he agrees the issue is one with the route being taken to reach the final website. To give everyone an idea here is a tracert to google.com (note the length of the route, its extremely, ridiculously long):

1 1 ms <1 ms <1 ms Wireless_Broadband_Router.home [192.168.1.1]
2 4 ms 4 ms 4 ms L100.FTTP-02.PHLAPA.verizon-gni.net [68.238.240.1]
3 7 ms 6 ms 7 ms G1-0-881.LCR-08.PHLAPA.verizon-gni.net [130.81.110.108]
4 7 ms 6 ms 7 ms P14-2.LCR-02.STTLWA.verizon-gni.net [130.81.29.6]
5 7 ms * 7 ms 0.so-6-0-0.XL2.PHL6.ALTER.NET [152.63.3.81]
6 13 ms 12 ms 11 ms 0.so-6-0-0.XL4.IAD8.ALTER.NET [152.63.0.130]
7 13 ms 11 ms 12 ms 0.ge-3-3-0.BR2.IAD8.ALTER.NET [152.63.40.229]
8 22 ms 49 ms 99 ms 204.255.169.2
9 88 ms 86 ms 87 ms tbr1.wswdc.ip.att.net [12.123.8.106]
10 580 ms 576 ms 724 ms cr1.wswdc.ip.att.net [12.122.16.89]
11 580 ms 484 ms 96 ms cr2.phlpa.ip.att.net [12.122.4.53]
12 115 ms 97 ms 96 ms cr2.cl2oh.ip.att.net [12.122.2.209]
13 87 ms 87 ms 86 ms cr1.cl2oh.ip.att.net [12.122.2.125]
14 88 ms 87 ms 86 ms cr1.cgcil.ip.att.net [12.122.2.205]
15 99 ms 99 ms 99 ms cr1.st6wa.ip.att.net [12.122.31.162]
16 88 ms 86 ms 87 ms tbr1.st6wa.ip.att.net [12.122.23.130]
17 87 ms 86 ms 87 ms gar8.st6wa.ip.att.net [12.122.111.17]
18 98 ms 96 ms 117 ms 12.89.209.14
19 111 ms 96 ms 97 ms 209.85.249.32
20 103 ms 98 ms 89 ms 66.249.95.208
21 91 ms 92 ms 91 ms 72.14.233.37
22 92 ms 92 ms 104 ms 216.239.48.143
23 93 ms 106 ms 117 ms 209.85.251.125
24 102 ms 94 ms 104 ms 74.125.31.2
25 105 ms 104 ms 104 ms cg-in-f99.google.com [209.85.171.99]

Unfortunately 99% of the sites I visit appear to be routing in this same, obtuse method. 1% take a different router and operate at blazing fast speeds.