Across a couple of weeks, I could see that I would probably be calling Dell Support soon about my Inspiron 8600. The LCD, on startup or when returning from a blank-screen screensaver, would have a very red-ish tint to all the colors. Within 8-10 seconds after starting, the LCD would lose the red tint and brighten until it was back to normal colors.
However, I wasn’t ready for my experience one Monday night. I came home, turned on my notebook computer and checked my emails. After dinner, I returned to the notebook to find that the screen was black. "No problem, that’s the black screen screensaver," I thought. I moved the mouse. Nothing happened. I pressed a key, nothing happened. I tried again. Finally I held down the power button to trigger a power-off.
Older AT-style computers actually had power switches that interrupted the supply of power to the computer. The current ATX-style computers have the motherboard powered all the time. The power switch is actually a momentary contact switch that is used to tell the computer to wake up.
You can also use it to force a computer immediate shutdown. By holding in the power switch for about 10 seconds, you can trigger the computer to shut down the power supply, even if the operating system (e.g., Windows) has crashed. This is not a normal Windows shutdown and you do risk data loss if you have to do this.
After some more experimentation, I found that my notebook would now light up the LCD for periods ranging from 6 seconds to about 22 seconds before the screen went black.
I tried suspending Windows (Alt-Esc on my notebook triggered hibernation). Restarting with a quick press to the power button, I got the same short operation of the LCD and then a black screen. I even tried booting a Windows 98 boot floppy, only to find the same result.
At this point, it was time to call Dell Support to get the hardware problem fixed.
At this point, I had definitely confirmed that it was not possibly a Windows configuration problem, since the same thing happened at any stage of the boot process. It even happened if I didn’t boot Windows.
I had gone through several independent checks to verify that the problem was hardware and not software or configuration. This process makes the Tech-Support-to-Repair transition much easier.
Since the problem was the built-in display, if I needed to, I could hook up an external LCD monitor (or a CRT monitor) and a USB-based keyboard to the notebook.
Meanwhile, I’m glad I bought the Dell extended warranty with in-home service. It just saved me a bundle.
UPDATE: I’ve retired that Dell Inspiron 8600 from being my main computer — it’s now an unused spare. My main computer is now a homebuilt model and I have an Acer AS3820T-5246 Timelinex Core i3 ultralight notebook for travel and portable use.