Don’t believe everything you read

Using Google to find answers to esoteric questions has built-in risks. In terms of wisdom and experience, the crowd is not always right and certainly not consistently reliable.

Today’s case in point involves a new system I placed into service last week. It’s a Dell Inspiron 530, purchased for about $500 from the Dell Outlet Center two weeks ago, with an Intel Q6600 quad-core processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 500 GB hard drive. Its role is to replace a three-year-old dual-core Pentium D830 system that I use for testing Windows Server stuff. Installing the RTM version of Windows Server 2008 Standard Edition (x64) was fast and easy. Getting the release candidate of Hyper-V working was a little trickier (more on that later) but it’s also working just fine.

However, this morning, when I went to create a new virtual machine running Windows XP, I was surprised to see an error message telling me I didn’t have enough RAM. Really? I had two other VMs running at the time, each using 1024 MB of RAM. There should have been enough left over for the 512 MB I had specified.

But when I looked at Task Manager on the server, I saw that the system was only recognizing 3.3 GB of RAM. This problem shouldn’t crop up on a 64-bit operating system, unless there’s a problem with the hardware.

So I asked The Google to help, searching for 4gb x64 inspiron 530. And in the top five search results I saw a post from Ubuntu Forums with preview text reading, “The Inspiron 530 has had its BIOS tweaked so that it is not possible to use all 4GB, including windows (Even in 64-bit mode).” A commenter on the same forum as recently as February insisted:

You can search dell community forum and get the same answer. The manual said 4 gb max with note(*) that you will not see 4 gb; so you cannot win this argument with dell. It is crippled in the bios. This is Dell line of low end desktop so people will tell you that Dell will probably not going to uncripple the bios.

And indeed, another post in the top five search results was from the Dell Community forums, with the heading “Inspiron 530 BIOS 1.0.12 does NOT correct 4GB RAM problems … If you read the actual post, you might infer that his real problem is the fact that he’s using a 32-bit version of Windows XP Pro, which will not see more than 3.25 GB of RAM. But how many people will just see that title in the search results list and file away the “fact” that this BIOS update doesn’t work? A search of other posts on the Dell Community forums didn’t turn up any more encouraging words.

Now, I had previously noted that this BIOS update was available (the system I received was using BIOS revision 1.0.10) and had downloaded but not installed it. So I ran the BIOS updater, restarted the system, and … well, see for yourself:


That number had previously been 3316 or so. The only change I had to make to unlock that extra RAM for my 64-bit OS was to update the BIOS. And the conspiracy theorists who were certain that Dell was deliberately “crippling” this system to force customers to buy more expensive hardware? They were … what’s the word I’m looking for here? Oh yeah. They were wrong.

I had a similar experience last week, when I ran across an add-in that promised to make the SnagIt screen capture program (one of my 10 favorite Windows apps of all time) work with Windows Live Writer (another one of the all-time faves on the list my ZDNet readers created). The only review at Microsoft’s Windows Live Gallery said “Doesn’t work. Unusable.” So I tried anyway. And you know what? It works. In fact, it works exactly as advertised and it’s a real timesaver.

Like I said, don’t believe everything you read.

Update: I’ve now upgraded this system to 6GB of RAM. Windows recognizes and uses the entire amount.

21 thoughts on “Don’t believe everything you read

  1. just wondering what are you going to do with that three-year-old dual-core Pentium D830 system? Is that system still working fine?

  2. That’s true, Carl. But my point is that the summary in the Google Search page tells a deceiving story, because Google rewards (and summarizes) popularity, not accuracy. And someone researching this would have to read through that whole thread and then decide who to believe. If they saw two comments near the top of the thread that basically say “Dell has done this deliberately,” they might not keep reading.

  3. Yep, I had exactly the same kinda thing happen the other day. My copy of CloneDVD Mobile suddenly stopped working on my x64 system (it was crashing on the disc selection). Googling bought up a load of voodoo answers ranging from “it doesn’t work on x64” to “you need to update.” I knew all this was voodoo because the program had been working a few days ago! Anyway, I took a look in “the book” which lists the changes made to this system and discovered tat I’d added the Wacom tablet to the system only a few days before. Disabling the related services bought the app back to life.

    One point though Ed, you said: “The only change I had to make to unlock that extra RAM for my 64-bit OS was to update the BIOS.” For a lot of owners, that’s a pretty big “only” šŸ˜‰

  4. When consulting user forums I mentally weight “works as advertised” posts 150% and weight “this is junk” posts at 75%. Because in my experience, people who have a bad experience are most likely to talk about it. People who have the expected experience are too busy enjoying the product.

    So perhaps another takeaway (along with caveat emptor) is that user forums are more helpful when more people contribute. Which leads me to the observation that nobody has left comments at Microsoft Windows Live Gallery to say that the add-in for SnagIt does work. šŸ™‚

  5. I’m still struggling with the concept. Are you saying that the internets can be wrong? No, say it isn’t so! My whole belief system is collapsing before my eyes… …


  6. @Ed
    You’re right. It’s easy for someone to read the first few posts, assume Dell is doing something underhanded and have it turn into a huge , wrong story that bounces around the Internet forever. In fact, I figure that’s pretty much how the whole ‘Vista sucks’ thing started and took hold and well, here we are.

  7. I’m interested to here about your getting Hyper-V set up on this system. I’ve seen posted elsehwere that the BIOS does not allow you to turn on the virtualization extensions of the chip.


  8. Yes, this happens to me all the time. Just last week, forum after forum said you could not install the R2 transition pack for SBS 2003 on a NON-R2 2003 sbs server. I tried it and it worked!!!

  9. After updating your bios, can your system recognize more than 4 gigs? Dell states the limit is 4 but I also read that after you update the bios with MS 2008 server it should recognnize up to 8 gigs. Will your recognize more than 8 gigs of ram. Thaanks

  10. This particular motherboard and updated BIOS will recognize up to 8 GB, but not more. I have 6GB successfully installed. The 8 GB limitation is caused by the RAM slots on the mobo, not the BIOS.

  11. I recently bought a Dell Inspiron 530 and could not see the 4 GB. I tried the update today, but the Inspiron already came with the updated BIOS 1.0.12.
    And I still CAN’T see the 4 GB.
    So, the fix doesn’t always work in all hardwares.

  12. Dave, are you using a 64-bit operating system? If you’re using Windows XP or Vista x86 editions, you will not be able to access more than about 3.25GB of RAM.

  13. What about virtualization support? I can see my memory, but it looks like hardware virt is locked off in the bios.

  14. Wow, thank you for taking the time to write this blog.

    I have had the hardest times getting definitive answers about the Inspiron 530 (Quad-core edition). Mine came with a 350W power supply that everyone is assuming up and down is “junk”, yet I have never read of it failing on anybody. I get that it is likely not as good as a Corsair 700W power supply. The only power supply that has ever gone bad on me was an Antec that everyone was swearing by. But so far, so good, using a Radeon HD 3870, Blu-ray, DVDRW, and two hard drives.

    I am running 1GB and Vista 64-bit, waiting for my 4GB (2 x 2GB) to come in tomorrow. I’m ultimately only going to use 4GB (hopefully at 800Mhz) but if the 800Mhz doesn’t work, I’ll use all 5GB (hopefully).

    Things that I’ve found out:

    A) Inspiron 530 uses a standard ATX power supply, replace it with whatever good power supply you’d like. (I haven’t tested it myself, as I rather like Dell’s. But I have found very credible information that supports that claim.)
    B) Vista Ultimate 64-bit “Just works” drivers wise. The chipset drivers in Dell’s website are 64-bit compatible. The Realtek audio drivers need to be optained from Realtek, though the sound “just works”.

    I rather like the Dell Inspiron 530, I think the case is “just right”, it’s quite small but not spacious and well ventilated and good looking.

    I don’t know what peopel are talking about with Dell’s “bad customer service”. I’ve had very good support, and all I’ve ever bought from them was refurbished to boot.

    Since the power supply is standard ATX, that should mean that a standard micro-ATX motherboard should work in this case.

    Overall the case design gets a 9/10.
    Hardware quality gets an 8/10 with 10/10 for value. The heatsink and fan are solid looking, as is the little 350W power supply with the PCI-E connector.

    One more thing about “my research”. Definitely get the Quad-core Inspiron 530 if you have a choice. The motherboard is a little bit better electrically, as is the power supply, and of course the Q6600 is a fantastic processor as well. I’ve bought two of these reburshibed and they’ve both been 100% new looking and feeling.

    Finally, if you get a choice between the regular Dell mouse, and the “premium” Dell mouse… I recommend getting the regular two button mouse. The “premium” mouse is terrible (too light, too cheap feeling… they both are, but for a basic mouse, the regular is better).

  15. OMG, Dell deliberately released a BIOS update that worked! It’s a conspiracy!

    Welcome to the NHK!

    Seriously, I’ve never had much trouble with Dell. I’ve got a 15 year old 386SX-16 with 4 MB of RAM, 80 MB HD , and a 15″ CRT that boots fine.
    Sure is ugly, though. I’ve also got two Dimension 2800s, a 4800, an Inspiron 531, 2 600m laptops, an I9300 laptop, and my personal fave, an old I8600 laptop that just won’t die.

    I always pay more and get the “Drag and Drop” warranty (Complete Care) for my laptops, and I get good service. Kid dropped a cell phone on the I9300, cracked the LCD, and Dell had it fixed and back to me in 1 week. The only trouble I’ve run into was recently when I installed XP Pro on the 531. Getting everything to work was a real PITA, and Dell wouldn’t support the downgrade from Vista.

    If I want few hassles, I buy a Dell with a warranty.
    If I want high performance, I build my own, and take my chances!

Comments are closed.