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Journal Journal: Just how hard is it to get a driver fix from Dell?

I have a Dell Inspiron 9400 laptop, one of the few with an nVidia 7800GO graphics card. This is important because nVidia do not publicly provide drivers for this card - you either have to use Dell's driver (which has literally not been updated ever) or try to find another driver that will work with your card (eg, from and mod the inf file so that it installs. Obviously modded drivers aren't exactly officially supported, and it's hard to find drivers that support the laptop features such as power-saving.

Last week I installed Stranglehold on the laptop, and found that starting a game would consistently cause a BSOD, with both the modded driver I was using and Dell's official driver. Now you might be thinking "oh, the game's buggy", but but BSOD shouldn't be able to be caused by userland code so that's a driver bug in my book. I thought this might be my chance to get an updated official driver - the Dell driver has rendering bugs in other games (eg, the road does not appear in some recent Need For Speed games). So I sent a support request:

Computer Skills: Advance

System Information

System Product Family=Inspiron

System Label =Inspiron 9400/E1705

System Ship Date=2/10/2006 12:00:00 AM

Request Information

Request Type: Update - Software/BIOS

Operating System: Windows XP

Problem Description:

Blue screen of Death: STOP in nv4_disp.dll

When loading the first level of the game "Stranglehold", the computer locks up and displays the Blue Screen of Death with a STOP message in nv4_disp.dll.

I have tried uninstalling the nVidia drivers and re-installing the driver from the Dell support website.

After getting past the autoreply of common errors that didn't apply to my situation, I got this reply:

Thank you for contacting Dell Online Technical Support. If you have contacted or tried contacting Dell recently regarding this issue, please let me know.

From your email, I understand that your system detected Blue screen error when load to the "Stranglehold" game.

I understand about your concerns and please do not worry as I am here to help. As a Dell hardware specialist, I will try my best to assist you on this third party issue. Kindly carry out the following steps and reply me the results so that I can assist you further.

1. Please install the video driver by following the below link:

2. Please run the Dell Diagnostic to check on the hardware. This test will generate an error if a hardware fault is found.

a. Insert Dell Resource CD (Dell Drivers and Utilities CD)

b. Restart system. Press F12 immediately when Dell splash screen appears to enter into the Boot Menu.

c. Choose to boot with CD/DVD

d. Run the 32 Bit Diagnostics/ Diagnostic test.

e. Choose to run the Extended Test

f. If there is any error reported, please provide me with the complete error message and the category the error falls into.

NOTE: If your system did not detected any error after you have run the diagnostic test, it means that the system hardware is working fine. I would suggest you to contact your gaming vendor in order to rectify the exact problem that your system faced.

Do not hesitate to contact me if you have further enquiries.

For your reference, your case number is: 2132525

Take care and have a good day!

Despite the fact that the driver he linked is the same on that was on the CD that the laptop shipped with, I reinstalled it and ran the diagnostic (which of course turned up nothing).

That is that same driver that I downloaded and re-installed before emailing you, but just to be sure I have re-downloaded it, uninstalled it and re-installed it. Upon opening Stranglehold and starting a new game, the same BSOD appears. This time I took note of the exact message:

STOP: 0x0000008E (0xC0000005, 0xBFA6A922, 0xBA4C2B9C, 0x00000000)

Nv4_disp.dll - Address 0xBFA6A922 base at BF9D5000, Datestamp 00000000

I can send you the memory dump(s) if that would help, though I'm sure if you had an Inspiron 9400 with a 7800GO, this driver and Stranglehold you would be able to reproduce the issue.

I have run the Extended Test from the Dell Resource CD and it reports no errors. This is not surprising, seeing as it does not test any 3d functionality.

What's next? Do you have a more recent driver that I could try?

Their answer? Replace the graphics card!

Thank you for your updates.

I understand that you have run the diagnostic test and no error messages detected. It means the hardware is working fine. However, to isolate the problem that your system faced, I have arranged for an engineer to replace the video card for you. If after the replacement the issue still persists, it means the hardware is working fine and I will encourage you to consult your gaming vendors to rectify the issue that your system detected.

You will be receiving a call from our technician within the next working day to schedule for an appointment and to have the system fixed. However, this is subject to part(s) availability. Please let me know if you do not receive a call from the engineer by Thursday. I will help to expedite the case for you.

Have a pleasant day!

I am rather amused by this point, and when the technician arrived he agreed with me that it was a waste of time but replaced the card anyway and then got Dell support on the phone. Dell support reported that other people had the same problem with other games and it turned out to be spyware so I'd have to re-install windows. Luckily, I had a spare 2.5" hard drive lying around so I was able to do a clean install of just XP, drivers and the game and yet (surprise, surprise!) the problem didn't go away.


The engineer came today and replaced the graphics card. The same error still occurs.

While he was here, he called Dell technical support to see what the next step would be. I was advised that the problem could be spyware, so I should re-install windows XP. I re-installed windows XP from the CD that came with the laptop, then installed the drivers from the Dell resource CD. The graphics driver on the CD is the same one that you linked me to earlier (R114697.EXE). I then installed the game, and the same error still occurs when I try to start the game.

At this point, I cannot see how the problem could be anywhere but the graphics driver. Perhaps you could contact nVidia and see if they have a fix, or at least a more recent driver to try, especially considered that the driver has not been updated since the laptop was first sold nearly two years ago.

Their reply:

Thank you for your updates.

I understand that our engineer has replaced all the parts for you but the issue still remains when you attempt to load the games.

From the symptoms that you have provided, I believe that the game that you tried to play having some issue with the laptop. As a hardware specialist, I will try my best to assist you on this third party gaming issue. I have helped you to do a research in the Internet and I found out the following link might be useful to rectify the issue that your system faced.

If the issue still persists after updated the file that I enclosed in my reply, I would appreciate you to contact your local gaming vendor to check whether there is a latest patch to be downloaded to your system in order to play the games.

Please accept my apology if this issue causes any inconvenient for you as this third party gaming product is not fully tested with our system and it might have some problem when you load the game.

So they link me to a dodgy site with an even more ancient version of the nVidia DLL, and tell me to look for a patch to the game (I couldn't find one, and in any case a game shouldn't be able to cause a BSOD). I've pretty much run out of things to say, as it seems like they're not actually reading what I write anyway. Just how hard is it to get a driver fix from Dell?

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