Dive, Dive, Dive - The Red Submarine Experience

Introduction

Looking back through some old articles, I came upon this page which I had put together in 2001 to provide for the people at Red Submarine a run-down of the incredible mess they had made of supplying me with a custom-built, top-of-the-range (at that time!) PC with dual boot facility for both day-to-day use and for recording music.
In light of my more recent experience with the Zinky company (see the blog) it is... interesting to reflect that different companies can behave in equally infuriating ways over a period of several years.

Summary

  • Having ordered and paid for the PC in April 2001, I was given four different delivery dates before the PC initially arrived.
  • The first two dates were agreed on with staff at Red Submarine but put off due to delays in testing. However both times I was not aware of the delay until after the delivery was supposed to have occurred.
  • The third attempt was due to incorrect postcode labelling, resulting in the PC being on the wrong van in the wrong part of the country.
  • When the PC finally arrived I was not supplied with most of the expected software CDs or manuals. The wrong SCSI adapter and CD re-writer had also been installed, so the PC had to go back to Red Submarine.
  • It took two attempts to get it collected. The failure of the first attempt was blamed on Business Post.
  • On its return the boot manager began reporting errors related to a non-existent hard drive. The SCSI adapter also developed an undiagnosed and intermittent problem on booting up.
  • I was sent a replacement boot manager program in the hope that I could install it myself, but none of the documentation was included.
  • Even when I obtained the full set of files from the Internet, the task of de-installing the old boot manager as well as installing a new one was too complex and risky for someone of my limited experience so the PC had to go back to Red Submarine again.
  • It took two attempts to get it collected again. The failure of the first attempt was blamed on Amtrak. When the PC did get collected, it took Amtrak three days to complete an overnight delivery (collected Friday, delivered Wednesday!)
  • On its second return the PC was found to have been damaged internally. The drive bay mountings were bent leaving the drives not properly in alignment with the front of the case. Also the SCSI adapter was still unreliable, although since moving the adapter to a different PCI slot it has shown an error only once.
  • It took six weeks for a replacement drive bay to be delivered (because it was a "special order") and when it came it was the wrong one.
  • Another replacement was promised within 24 hours. It was delivered promptly but it was also the wrong one.
  • Another different part was subsequently also delivered. Apart from not being what was required or requested, this part would not have fitted the case anyway.

Main Complaints

  • Most of the above aggravation could easily have been avoided by better communication, proper checking and attention to detail.
  • As three out of six deliveries and two out of four collections never happened as I was led to expect, I have wasted a great deal of time: five mornings, afternoons or evenings, ensuring I was at home and suitably alert to a knock at the door.
  • Over 8 weeks passed between the date when I first expected to receive and start using this PC and the time when I felt sufficiently confident to do so. During that time I spent instead many hours on the telephone with Red Submarine discussing failed deliveries and collections, items and components not supplied and problem diagnosis.
  • I have also spent over a dozen hours conducting extended testing: booting and re-booting the PC simply to try and discover why it was not working correctly.
  • For many weeks I had no productive use of the PC because there was always the possibility that it might have to be sent away again and anything could happen to the work on it when it was.
  • It was not cheap. I paid over three thousand three hundred pounds in the belief that the system and the service would be appropriately professional.
  • Despite writing directly to the Managing Director Andrew Wass twice, I have had no communication from him to suggest that he is even aware of this catalogue of problems.

Detailed Timeline

  • 4 April: I sent an enquiry by e-mail with my proposed specification.
  • 5 April: I received confirmation from Phil Elliott by e-mail.
  • 6 April: I checked the specification of the suggested SCSI adapter on the Adaptec web site and noticed that it would not support internal Ultra SCSI device connections.
    I telephoned Phil Elliott and pointed this out to him. He said he would follow it up and later that day I received an e-mail from him to the effect that I was correct and Red Submarine would fit a 29160 adapter, which was suitable, at no extra cost.
  • 24 April: I confirmed by telephone that I would like to order a PC to the specification discussed and duly received an order confirmation by post.
  • 25 April: I sent payment by return.
  • 9 May: I waited until the day before the projected delivery date (10 May), at which point I telephoned to confirm delivery. I was told that a certain amount of testing still needed to be done so the delivery would more likely be 11 May.
  • 10 May: I telephoned to confirm the 11 May delivery date and was told that the PC was not quite ready so delivery would be on the morning of Saturday 12 May.
  • 12 May (This is where it starts going awry): I waited in all morning on 12 May. No delivery was made.
  • 14 May: I telephoned Red Submarine to find out why the PC had not been delivered and spoke to Andy Ingle. I was told that the Delta 1010 audio interface had not been working correctly and that a new one was on order. I arranged a new delivery date of the evening of 16 May and requested that I be told if any problem would prevent that happening.
  • 16 May: Having heard nothing untoward, I waited in all evening on 16 May. No delivery was made.
  • 17 May: I telephoned Red Submarine to find out why the PC had not been delivered and spoke to Andy Ingle. I was told that the PC was still being tested because the SCSI hard drive had been getting too hot as a result of being mounted in a SilentDrive cover. I was also told that a voice message had been left for me but I could find no trace of one either on my home machine or work system. I agreed for the SCSI hard drive to be fitted without the SilentDrive cover and again pointed out that it was useless to discuss dates until the testing had been completed satisfactorily. Andy Ingle said he would call me when that was the case.
  • 22 May: After hearing nothing for several days, I telephoned Red Submarine to find out the status. I was told that the PC could now be delivered on the evening of 24 May.
  • 24 May: I waited in all evening on 24 May. No delivery was made.
  • 25 May: I telephoned Red Submarine to find out why the PC had not been delivered and was told that the packaging had been marked with the wrong postcode and had hence been put on the wrong van, but would be delivered that evening.
    The PC was subsequently delivered that evening by an unmarked grey Escort van - classy.
    On opening the packaging, it was immediately obvious that it did not contain many of the expected CDs and manuals, e.g. for Windows 98. Nor did it contain a power cable!
  • 26 May: I found a spare power cable and connected the PC up. I quickly observed that the CD re-writer was not showing up as a SCSI device. On opening the PC case, I found that it was an IDE CD re-writer and that the SCSI adaptor had only one internal connector, to which the Ultra-160 hard drive was attached. On re-booting the PC I saw that the SCSI adapter was reported as a 29160N which is a different specification from the 29160.
    I telephone Red Submarine and spoke to Andy Ingle, explaining that the wrong SCSI adaptor and CD re-writer had been installed and I thought I should have received more CDs and manuals. I agreed to e-mail him a complete list, which I did that afternoon.
  • 29 May: Following the Bank holiday, I telephoned Red Submarine and spoke to Andy Ingle, to confirm that he had received my e-mail. He expressed great concern anout the items and components that had not been correctly supplied and it was agreed that the PC would be collected on the afternoon of 30 May and returned to Red Submarine for the correct components to be put in. I was also told that the missing CDs and manuals had been "sent in a separate box" and should arrive any time.
  • 30 May: I re-packaged the PC and, being on leave from work, waited in all afternoon for the PC to be collected. No collection was made.
  • 31 May: I telephoned Red Submarine to find out why the PC had not been collected and was told the company had been experiencing problems such as this with Business Post. Another collection was arranged with Amtrak for that afternoon.
    The PC was duly collected by Amtrak.
  • Approx 5 June: After hearing nothing for several days, I telephoned Red Submarine to find out the status. I also pointed out that the box of missing CDs and manuals had still not arrived and was told by "Mark" that he had definitely sent it but it might be taking some time because "small stuff usually goes by normal post".
  • 7 June: I telephoned Red Submarine and arranged delivery for the morning of 9 June. I was told at that point that the error in supplying the wrong SCSI adapter and CD re-writer was due to the supplier not differentiating correctly between the 29160 and 29160N models.
    I reported again that the box of missing CDs and manuals still had not arrived and was told that another set would be sent.
  • 9 June: I waited in during the morning and the PC was duly delivered.
    The packaging included a quantity of CDs and manuals. To date there is no evidence that any were ever sent separately after 29 May as claimed on at least two occasions by Mark.
  • 9/10 June: I connected up the PC and began familiarising myself with it. I began to notice that when re-booting, the system device list sometimes reported the SCSI adapter was not working correctly, in which case the CD re-writer was not shown at all and the Ultra-160 hard drive was described as being under DOS compatability mode.
    I re-installed the SCSI adapter drivers several times (from a hand-labeled floppy disk included with the other software CDs) but this did not achieve a cure. I even downloaded the drivers again from the Adaptec web site in case newer ones were available, but the downloaded ones were the same version.
    At around this time, the boot manager also began displaying an error message when re-booting from using the "audio" system drive (but not when re-booting from using the "home" system drive). The error message referred to being unable to unhide a partition on hd4.
  • 12 June: I telephoned the Red Submarine support number and spoke to Daniel Drogie. He suggested running a complete scandisk check on both system drives. I did so and no errors were reported. I informed Daniel of this and agreed that, as I could not run diagnostics on the PC during the week because it was located at home, I would wait until the weekend to investigate further.
  • 16 June: I telephoned Red Submarine and spoke to Daniel Drogie again. He took me through using the setup dialogues in the boot manager to hide and unhide partitions manually. We eventually concluded that the error message was due to the boot manager thinking there was a fourth hard drive, with the same partition name as the second hard drive (the "home" system drive) when in reality there was not.
    Daniel started talking through re-installing the boot manager but this was found not to be feasible. Daniel then e-mailed me a utility to check the partitions, which I copied onto the PC and ran. There were no problems evident.
    As I was reluctant to send the PC back to Red Submarine a second time, I agreed to try installing a different boot manager if Daniel e-mailed the files. A Zip file was duly sent.
  • 18 June: On examining the contents of the Zip file I was concerned to find that there was no documentation included on how to install the program, nor any on what needed to be done to de-install the previous one.
    Having been told by Daniel that the new boot manager was freeware, I obtained a full distribution of it from the authors web site. The genuine Zip file contained considerable amounts of documentation on the program itself but I was still left unsure as to how to de-install the old one.
  • 19 June: I telephoned Red Submarine and spoke to Daniel Drogie again. I pointed out that he had not sent me any documentation (about which he made no comment) and reminded him that I was still having problems with the SCSI adapter intermittently failing to work.
    We agreed at that point that the PC would have to be returned to Red Submarine again which would allow Daniel to install the new boot manager and get the SCSI adapter working.
    Daniel confidently assured me that the PC could be collected on the afternoon of 20 June, delivered to Red Submarine and fixed on 21 June and returned to me by the weekend. A provisional arrangement was made to this effect.
  • 20 June: I telephoned Red Submarine at 9:45am, spoke to Daniel Drogie and confirmed that the PC would be collected by Amtrak that afternoon.
    I waited in all afternoon. No collection was made. I telephoned the local Amtrak depot and was told that they did not have a collection on their list for my address.
  • 21 June: I telephoned Red Submarine at approximately 9:40am and asked Daniel Drogie why the collection had not been arranged. I was told he "didn't know, Mark was responsible" and that Mark was not in the office, but he would find out and call me back.
    I telephoned Red Submarine again in the afternoon because I had not heard anything and arranged for the PC to be collected on the afternoon of 22 June. To date no explanation has been offered for the failed collection.
  • 22 June: The PC was collected at approximately 4:45pm
  • 26 June: I received a telephone message from Daniel at approximately 9:15am and when I called back he asked me whether the PC had been collected! When I confirmed that it had, I was told that it had not yet been delivered to the Red Submarine address.
    I located the consignment number on returning home and telephoned Amtrak who verified that the package had reached their York depot on the 23 June but did not know why it had not been sent on to its destination then. I sent an e-mail to Daniel with the consignment number.
  • 27 June: I telephoned Red Submarine and spoke to Daniel Drogie, who confirmed that the PC had been delivered to them that morning, but did not offer a reason for the two-day delay.
    Daniel confirmed that he had replaced the boot manager and it was working correctly. He also claimed that the SCSI adaptor was now working fully after every re-boot, as a result of him deleting the driver files and re- installing them. I pointed out I had already done virtually the same on several previous occasions, but he was adamant that the adaptor was now working reliably.
    I arranged for the PC to be returned on the morning of 30 June.
  • 30 June: The PC was delivered as arranged. I immediately noticed that it was not packed in the additional plain outer box that it had been collected in.
    I unpacked the PC and connected it up. I then noticed that there was a gap between the edges of the floppy and CD drives and the front panel of the case which had not been there before.
    I removed the top of the case and observed that the the drive bay assembly's retaining brackets were bent as if by a heavy impact. A bracket that protruded from the right side of the front fan enclosure (extending across the back of the floppy drive at a distance of about an inch) was also bent.
    I checked the exterior of the case and the packaging again but found no evidence of unusual impact or abrasion. I then called Daniel to inform him of this and was told that the PC left Red Submarine undamaged and I could try "bending back" the affected parts.
    I agreed to take some photographs with a digital camera and e-mail them to him so he could see the extent of the problem.
    I also observed that the software I had installed on the "home" system prior to sending the PC back the second time was no longer present. I had not been warned that the hard drive(s) might be re-formatted but it appeared as if that had been done. Fortunately I had not put any irreplaceable data on the drive.
  • 1 July: I e-mailed four pictures to Daniel with a commentary. Having examined the drive bay closely I concluded that it was out of alignment with the hole in the front panel in all three dimensions: it was too far back, too far down and too far to the right, by a distance of about 3mm.
    I therefore felt that it would be very difficult to straighten the brackets back to the point where everything lined up correctly, and requested that I be sent a replacement assembly.
    I also reported that I had again experienced errors on the SCSI adapter after a few re-boots.
  • 1 July: I telephoned Red Submarine and spoke to Daniel Drogie, who confirmed that he had seen the pictures. He agreed to arrange for a replacement drive bay to be sent, although it might take some time because a whole case would have to be ordered.
    I mentioned the continuing problems with the SCSI card, to which he suggested pressing in the card and all the connectors in case they had worked loose in transit.
  • 4 July: At the first opportunity I removed the top of the case, lifted the SCSI adapter out of the PCI slot number 6 and checked the connectors. Both were so firmly fixed to the card that I could not easily unplug them and the connections at the Ultra-160 hard drive and CD re-writer were similarly firm.
    I relocated the SCSI adapter in PCI slot number 5 and booted the PC to both the "audio" and "home" environments in turn. In each case I was prompted by Windows for the drivers so I used the same floppy disk copies as before.
    The SCSI card performed correctly for the remainder of the evening, during which the PC was repeatedly booted both from a warm and cold start, into both environments.
  • 5 July: Having assembled this chronology of hassle, I wrote to the Managing Director of Red Submarine, Andrew Wass, enclosing a copy as it stood at that point. I suggested in my covering letter that there might be a case for offering some tangible compensation for all that I have had to put up with, rather than the half-hearted apologies that had become the norm.
  • 16 July: In the intervening two weeks I did not received a reply to my letter to Andrew Wass and I did not hear from Daniel Drogie. I telephoned Daniel to find out the status of the replacement drive bay. I was told that he had not been able to place an order until Andrew Wass had returned from a holiday and signed it, but this had now happened and he expected it to arrive with them that week.
    Over the same period of time the SCSI sub-system had not been causing problems, so I installed some software and copied on several hundred megabytes of files, mostly to the "home" drive. However that evening I did experience an unusual event: On booting to the "home" environment the PC got as far as confirming the DOS code page settings, then the screen went blank and the PC re-booted itself. On selecting the "home" boot again Windows reported that an error had occurred, ran a scan of the disk and booted into safe mode. When I checked the system settings, the PC reported three identical SCSI adapters and four CD re-writers (two with a slightly different model number to the one installed).
    When I shut down Windows and re-booted into normal mode again everything looked all right though, so I put this down to the wonder of Windows rather than a hardware problem.
  • 2 August: Another two weeks went by with no sign of the replacement drive bay. I again contacted Daniel Drogie and received an e-mail in reply stating that it would be delivered on Monday 6 August.
  • 6 August: The drive bay was not delivered on 6 August, and at this point there was still no reply of any sort to my letter to Andrew Wass. I wrote to him again, asking why this was so.
  • 8 August: After the drive bay was not delivered on 7 August either, I e-mailed Daniel Drogie again pointing this out.
  • 13 August: The drive cage was finally delivered between 9 and 11 August, during which time I was away. At the first opportunity I opened the packaging and found a covering letter dated 8 August from Andy Ingle, Customer Service Manager in response to two my letters to Andrew Wass. There was no indication that Mr Wass had even received the letters himself, despite the envelopes having been clearly marked "Private and Confidential".
    Mr Ingle's letter was interesting on two counts: he re-iterated Daniel Drogies explanation that the drive bay was a special order, which is why it had taken the six weeks to arrive; he also apologised for the "initial problems" with my system and reassured me that "we have... where necessary reviewed our systems to make sure events of this kind do not happen in the future". Keep that phrase in mind...
    Imagine my reaction then, when I found on unpacking the replacement drive bay and comparing it to the damaged one that it was not the right design! There was no vertical space on the left hand side where the floppy drive was mounted on my PC, so it had space for only five devices whereas my PC had been built from the outset with six: one floppy, three hard drives, two CD drives.
    I e-mailed Andy Ingle and Daniel Drogie to advise them of this situation.
  • 14 August: I received a telephone call from Andy Ingle, who explained that they had "had to take the drive bay out of a case they had and were not aware that the manufacturer had changed the design". He assured me that he had contacted the manufacturer who would send me the correct bay directly by the following day.
    On re-reading Mr Ingle's letter of 8 August, I could not reconcile this explanation (of taking the incorrect bay from an available case) with the assertions in the letter that the drive bay had been a "special order", hence the time delay. How could another replacement bay then be sourced from the manufacturer within 24 hours when I had waited six weeks for the first one?
    I e-mailed Andy Ingle again asking him to confirm whether the drive bay came from a case they already had and received a reply to the effect that the case concerned *had* been specially ordered to obtain a replacement bay.
  • 15 August: Bright and early the following morning another delivery was made, with another drive bay... which was just the same as the first incorrect replacement. I sent an e-mail to Andy Ingle notifying him of this fact.
    I received a prompt reply informing me that the part was "as specified by the manufacturer" for a 5U case and that he would "check further".
  • 17 August: Two days later I received another e-mail from Andy Ingle to the effect that the manufacturer was checking the case specification and I would be informed of progress as soon as they replied. The e-mail concluded "If they cannot source this cage I will have to replace the whole rack under warranty" which in practice would entail sending the PC back a third time!
  • 24 August: Approximately a week went by with no further news and then, a package was delivered from TMC Technology, postmasked Stevenage and containing what looked like a different component of the PC case, namely the right hand piece of the front fan enclosure, onto which the left hand side of the drive bay would fix.
  • 29 August: After waiting to see whether anyone from Red Submarine would contact me about this delivery, (they did not) I sent another e-mail to Andy Ingle pointing out that I had no idea why I had been sent this different component, especially as on checking I found it would not fit in my case anyway.
  • 17 September: Eventually I received a letter from Andy Ingle, ascribing the delay to problems with their e-mail service. The latter stated that if the replacement parts were wrong, and they had come straight from the manufacturer, it must therefore not be possible to source a replacement part and the whole case would have to be replaced, as suggested on 17 August.
  • 26 September: I pondered the pros and cons for several days but eventually decided that it was not worth the risk of sending the PC off again just to cure a bent drive bay mounting, in view of the fact that the PC could sustain further damage in transit and there was no guarantee that the collection and delivery would be any less problematical than in the past.
    I wrote back to Red Submarine to this effect, concluding: "On balance, if I am denied the option of replacing the drive bay myself, I prefer to live with the damage to the inside of the case rather than sending it on another round trip to York."
  • 17 October: So that should have been the end of it, unless serious problems developed with the PC that could not be solved without the expertise of the Red Submarine support staff. But no, there was more to come...
    Because exactly three weeks later, having had no response from Andy Ingle to my letter, I received a telephone call from Daniel Drogie, with the proposal that they get the PC collected and replace the case! I pointed out that I had declined that option in writing, which obviously was news to Mr Drogie.
    Having convinced him that I was not letting the PC go back to Red Submarine, he moved on to the issue of collecting back the unsuitable case components that had been sent to me all those weeks ago. As they were considerably smaller and lighter than the whole PC, we agreed that I would take them to my workplace from where they could be collected, so that I would not have to waste more hours waiting in at home.
    To my considerable surprise, when it was not my time that would be wasted by their incompetence, the boxes were collected by Business Post as arranged.
  • 20 October: I realised again that althought the PC case came with a sizable fan in the front left corner, I had never been aware of it coming on, and was suspicious that it may not have been connected properly. To this end I installed the ASUS Probe software that was supplied on CD, which allows the temperature and voltage settings to be monitored. Although it was aware of a CPU fan, it did not show any information about the fans which were supposedly on the power supply and chassis.
    This suggested that some more reading of the motherboard manual and checking of the internal connections would be worthwhile.

Epilogue

I never did do anything about my suspicions that the main fan was not connected properly. The glitches with the SCSI card went away and I have been using the PC regularly ever since, although not for recording music as much as I originally intended. C'est la vie!

The non-music Win98 SE system became flaky after a few years - main symptom was a refusal to shut down cleanly. I upgraded that hard drive to 160GB and installed XP while I was at it, with the predictable result that although it is now a lot more stable, it is also a lot slower. But what do you expect with a 1GHz processor and maximum motherboard memory capacity of 512Mb?

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