Version: $Id: swt-review,v 1.12 1994/09/26 16:22:19 jik Exp $
This article details my dealings with a company doing business on the
net as SW Technology (although their checks say "SW Trading Company"),
referred to as "SWT" from here on. Their E-mail address is
s...@netcom.com; their phone number is 214-907-0871; and their address
is 251 West Renner Parkway, Suite 229, Richardson, TX 75080. All
dealings I had with SWT were through an employee named Marvin Wu (I
don't even know if there *are* any other employees in the company,
although Wu seemed to imply that there were).
Avoid this company.
My experience with SWT is that although they don't seem to be
malevolent or intentionally dishonest, they are incompetent
technically and in their business dealings. They presented a
good-looking facade when I was negotiating with them to purchase
hardware, but my problems with them started on the day I sent them a
check and didn't end even when I returned the hardware and asked for a
refund. Although it seems to me that they tried to address my
complaints and make me happy with the system they sold me, there was
simply too much wrong with it from the start.
The net result of my dealings with SWT is that I've lost about $150
and learned a valuable lesson about not taking PC hardware vendors at
I strongly discourage anyone from doing business with this company.
THE WHOLE STORY
I set out in January 1994 to learn how to buy a PC-compatible computer
and then to go ahead and buy one. I planned to run Linux on it I sent
the specs of the system I was looking for to a number of different
hardware vendors, and got back a number of quotes and brochures. On
February 2, I posted an article to comp.os.linux.help, asking specific
questions about how the Pentium CPU, the PCI bus, and SCSI hard drives
and CD-ROMs would interact with Linux. One of the people who
responded to that posting was Marvin Wu, with the return address
On February 7, I sent an E-mail message to all of the people who had
responded to my posting in comp.os.linux.help, including
s...@netcom.com, with an outline of all the issues I was considering
and what conclusions I had (tentatively) reached.
Marvin Wu responded on the same day, suggesting that I consider
purchasing one of SWT's systems, which would meet my specifications
and come pre-installed with Linux as well. We corresponded about his
bid for about a week, and I sent him a check (after FAXing him a copy
of it as proof of acceptance, so that SWT could begin assembling my
system immediately) on February 16. I paid $4949 (a good price for
what I was getting, compared to the bids I'd gotten from other
vendors), plus $95 for shipping and insurance, for the system. The
entire purchase agreement, including all the specifications, is given
in Appendix A at the end of this article.
This is where the problems started. I will first list the problems I
had with SWT's business dealings (the problems that I consider most
significant are marked with three asterisks instead of one):
* Every mail message I sent to SWT before placing my order was
answered within one business day. Since placing my order, I have on
numerous occasions waited over a week for responses to my messages.
Other messages haven't been answered at all. When pressed on this,
Wu claimed that problems with SWT's service provider were making
mail unreliable, and that since multiple people read the
s...@netcom.com E-mail account, some messages might have been lost.
Frankly, I have a hard time believing either of these claims, and
besides, they don't justify the delays.
*** Wu told me on February 15, before I placed my order, "... it'll
take 5 five [sic] working days after a firm order to ship the
system." I placed my order on February 16, but my system did not
arrive until March 16. Even assuming a full week for ground
shipping from Texas to Massachusetts, I should have had the system
by March 2; instead, it arrived two weeks later than that. At no
time did Wu send me E-mail informing me that shipment had been
delayed; I found out about delays only through repeated E-mail
messages asking why the system hadn't arrived yet.
The causes of the delay in shipping my system were known to SWT
before I agreed to purchase from them, but they still told me that
it would be shipped five days after an order was placed.
* When SWT finally shipped my system, Wu gave me a UPS tracking number
over the telephone (I called him because I'd received no response to
a week of E-mail asking whether the system had been shipped), after
flipping through papers for several minutes, with me waiting (and
paying long-distance charges), looking for it. I called UPS to
check on the status of the system, and they said the tracking number
I had was invalid. Wu subsequently gave me the correct tracking
number in E-mail.
* Wu told me that the machine was shipping on a Monday, and that the
shipping company used by SWT introduced a one-day delay before UPS
actually got the shipment (so that UPS would get the shipment on
Tuesday). However, when I called UPS, they said that they didn't
get anything until Thursday.
* After I received the system and discovered that some manuals were
missing (see below), Wu told me that he'd send one of them to me on
March 17, but I didn't get it until a month after that.
*** When I finally gave up and decided to return the machine, both
because of the technical problems with it and because of poor
responsiveness from SWT, SWT agreed to reimburse me for only the
cost of the machine and half the cost of my shipping it back to
them. Legally, they were entitled to do that; however, given that
the machine never worked properly since the day I got it, I believe
they should have reimbursed me for all shipping costs, both what I
paid for the machine to be shipped to me originally and what I paid
for shipping it back to them.
*** The refund check that SWT issued bounced, i.e., their bank
returned it because there were insufficient funds in their account
to cover it, and my bank charged me $4 for depositing a bad check.
I called Wu on the phone and asked for an explanation. He told me
that he was out of town and therefore wasn't around to make sure
there was enough money in SWT's checking account (why someone in a
stable business would need to be present in order to ensure that an
already-written check would clear is beyond me). He told me to
redeposit the check when my bank returned it, and then send him
E-mail letting him know it had been deposited, so that he could make
sure there was enough money in the account to cover it.
I got the check back on July 16, and I redeposited it on July 18.
It appears to have cleared the second time. I've sent E-mail to SWT
(three times) asking if they're going to reimburse me for the $4
bad-check charge, but I haven't yet received a response (it has been
more than a week since I first asked them about it).
The machine I purchased had the following significant technical
problems (I'm omitting some of the trivial ones):
* The Linux LILO message configured into the system was incorrect --
it mentioned booting DOS even though DOS wasn't installed on the
* Although the purchase agreement promised complete documentation,
there was no documentation at all about unpacking and setting up the
system. There was also no documentation about the various plugs in
the back of the machine, nor was there a list of Linux device names
corresponding to installed hardware (e.g., I had no idea what device
my tape drive was installed on). Furthermore, the manual for one of
the cards in the system (the Seagate SCSI card) and for the tape
drive were missing.
* The CD-ROM drive included with my system had some minor problems
interacting with Linux (e.g., "workman" wouldn't start up unless a
CD was already in the drive). These problems were not mentioned to
me before I purchased the system; I was assured that the drive was
fully compatible with Linux.
* The video board included with my system had problems interacting
with Xfree86; in particular, font restoration bugs in the Xfree86
support made it impossible to use virtual consoles while using X,
and made font restoration when shutting down X fail occasionally.
These problems were not mentioned to me before I purchased the
system, although SWT was aware of them.
* There were a number of minor errors in the installation of software
on the system. For example, a number of X programs were installed
without app-defaults files, and there were several errors in the
default user dotfiles.
* The mouse I was sold came with drivers on a 5.25" floppy, despite
the fact that I purchased only a 3.5" floppy drive with the system.
The documentation that came with the mouse claimed that it was
possible to purchase it with a 3.5" floppy too, so I obviously
should have received the 3.5" floppy rather than the 5.25" one.
*** The CPU fan installed with the system could not adequately cool a
66MHz Pentium processor. As a result, the system regularly
overheated and behaved erratically or hung. For example, the first
attempt to compile a source file with gcc would fail with a weird
assembler error, but the second attempt to compile the same file
with the same command would succeed.
Wu told me before I agreed to purchase from SWT that my system would
undergo "a thorough test for at least 72 hours" before being shipped
to me. However, I find it impossible to believe that any sort of
"thorough test" was done and did not detect this problem; until I
installed early in April a new fan sent to me by SWT (more
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