Back when I was in college, I bought myself a laptop. My criteria for buying one was that it have a true Pentium processor, and have an active matrix display.

I've never liked Compaq very much, but I found an attractive deal for a Compaq Armada 4131T through PC Connection. It was a P133, 16MB RAM, 1.3GB Hard drive, and 20X CDROM via a multimedia dock. For the first few months, it worked great. It did what I needed, but it had a few lame quirks: No Windows install CD, and the CAB files were on the hard drive itself. Plus, it had a 4MB partition for the BIOS utility. If you wipe the hard drive, your BIOS is history. Smack the engineer who came up with THAT idea. This makes LILO almost impossible, and a Linux/Windows dual-boot system is out of the question. Believe me, I tried.

Anyway, after a few months, the computer started having some problems. The TV output port never worked, and didn't work from day one. The power button became temperamental, as did the floppy drive. Also, I was using it one day, and suddenly, crackling noises started creeping out from inside the computer. The display flickered, the laptop shut down, and I smelled something burning inside it. That was not cool.

I contacted Compaq's warranty department, and I had it sent in for repair. I gave them a list of issues it had, including the display problem. The laptop was sent away, and returned within a week.

The problems didn't go away, and in fact grew worse. The TV output port wasn't fixed, the power button was still moody, and something was now rattling around inside the computer itself. I called Compaq back, and they took it in for repair once again.

When I got it back, it had more problems than it left with. The serial port stopped working, and the TV output port still didn't work.

I became angry very quickly, so I started reading over my warranty paperwork. I came across an interesting clause that is still in Compaq's warranty to this day:

If, after repeated efforts, Compaq is unable to restore the product to good working order, you are entitled to a refund of the purchase price.

I didn't consider this laptop to be in "good working order", and I still had two years left on my warranty. I decided that's what I wanted. Give me my money back, and I'll get myself a real laptop. I called their customer service line, and the service representative told me they were unable to comply with my request. I asked my call to be escalated, and they did so after much hesitation. The next rep told me the same thing the first one did. Basically, they told me they'd be happy to bring it into the repair center and fix the problems, but I was not entitled to a refund. I argued with them, explaining that it had already been in to the repair center twice with no end in sight, but they didn't care, nor did they believe that a warranty is a legally binding document.

So instead of dealing with Compaq's useless "Customer Service" bullshit, I wrote a letter to Eckhard Pfeiffer, the then CEO of the company. I sent it certified, so he had to sign for it. He did. I got the little piece of paper back that said that delivery was confirmed, and he had signed it with his initials.

Later that week, I received a call from Mr. Pfeiffer's secretary. She told me exactly the same thing that the rest of the representatives told me. Compaq didn't feel that the number of trips my laptop made to the repair center constituted "repeated efforts", and I was not entitled to a refund.

By this time, I was pretty pissed off. Not only was I stuck with a piece of shit computer, the manufacturer also refused to uphold part of their warranty! To try to get something done, I wrote a letter to the Better Business Bureau of Florida and Texas (Compaq is based out of Dallas), and I also wrote a letter to the Department of Agriculture: Consumer Protection Division. Both organizations replied with notices that Compaq ignored their requests, and no further action could be taken because Compaq refused to cooperate. At the same time, I had also written a letter to PC Connection. To sum up the letter, I pretty much told them that "I'm not looking for anything from you guys, I just want you to know what kind of company you're doing business with." I then detailed the entire situation from start to finish.

About two weeks later, I received a phone call from the product manager at PC Connection. He was pretty upset at what Compaq was doing, and decided he wanted to help me out by replacing my crappy laptop with one of equal or better value, and a different brand. I told him that would be great, and that all I requested was a true Intel processor, and an active matrix screen - my original requirements for getting a laptop to begin with. He agreed, and we communicated back and forth for about three weeks before he found an Acer Extensa 501T. It was a Pentium 266 MMX with 64MB RAM, 20x CDROM, 4.3GB Hard drive, and an active matrix screen. He replaced my Compaq with the Acer at no charge to me, and I'm happily using that Acer to this day. (Linux runs wonderfully.)

One funny side note: About 5 months after I've been using my Acer, I got a letter from Compaq. The letter stated that they didn't have enough information to follow up on my service complaint. Gee, 20 calls to customer service, a letter to the CEO, and a call from executive management.....and they don't have enough information for a follow-up. I threw the letter away.

Lucky me, I worked at CompUSA. I talked hundreds of people out of buying a Compaq because of this story. COMPAQ: I have cost you a lot more money than if you had just refunded my laptop. Have a happy day!