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Archive for January, 2011

Never Use Email Tech Support. Ever.

by on Jan.14, 2011, under Hardware, Whining

Today I’d like to thank Panasonic for reminding me why I should never use an “email tech support” form, even if the question I have is simple and clear. In the future I’ll look back on this post to remind myself to either call tech support or simply shoot myself in the face.
A bit of background on this exchange (so that you know what the techs know):
I bought a few Panasonic C1 Toughbook convertible tablets (to replace old Lenovo ThinkPad X60 tablets). All of our Lenovo tablets had built-in Verizon radios (Sierra mini PCIe cards) even though we only activated about 10 of them at any given time. They were a cheap option so we figured “why not” when we bought the tablets. Tablets would change hands and I’d simply move the activation from one radio to another and the user would never know the difference. I’ve also been known to physically remove these radios from Lenovo tablets and move them to Dell laptops when the need came up. Worked just fine.
When I was shopping for the Toughbooks I noticed that they only come with a Gobi option for a WWAN radio and the option is rather expensive. I figured “why pay a few hundred $$ for a Gobi radio when I already have a bunch of Verizon radios laying around for free?” I examined the first few Toughbooks and found what I suspected would be there: a mini PCIe slot with antenna wires ready to be connected to a radio…just like the Dells…just like the Lenovos. I tried installing 2 different models of Sierra Wireless radios and neither of them worked. It was as if they were not there at all. I suspect there is a hardware switch somewhere that enables the mini PCIe slot or some alternate BIOS that adds in the ENABLE/DISABLE option for WWAN (which is documented as being in the BIOS in the Gobi-equipped machines)…or maybe they did something completely different and goofy that I’m not thinking of.
I didn’t want to spend 4 hours on the phone searching for an answer to this question, so I figured I’d use their “contact tech support” form and wait for an email response. Here is what I sent:

Subject: Hardware
Inquiry: Toughbook CF-C1 tablets… I have 7 of them so far.
I got them without WWAN cards but now I would like to add them. I see the mini PCIe slot and the antenna wires seem all ready to go, but when I put in a Sierra Wireless MC5725 (Verizon) card, it is as if it isn’t there. The system doesn’t see it at all. The option in the bios to enable or disable a WWAN card seems to be missing completely. These Sierra cards work fine in my Dells and my Lenovos.
Is it possible to get this to work? Is there a hardware switch somewhere that I need to turn on to enable the mini-PCIe slot?

It only took about 8 hours to get a response I should have expected:

Thank you for your continued support of Panasonic Toughbook computers.

The CF-C1 does not have a Sierra Wireless MC5725 (Verizon) card it has a Qualcomm / Gobi module.

Yes, yes… that is what I was confused about: which card the system ships with. Thanks so much for taking the time to skim my question with the attention of a coke-sniffing gnat.

If anybody out there knows the definitive answer to my question, I’d love to hear it, but really just for the sake of curiosity. I’ve decided to just have the users get MiFi units instead of messing with built-in Verizon cards from now on.

For what it’s worth, these Toughbooks are really really nice. They are REALLY expensive, but really nice, too. They are shockingly light…the first time people pick them up they think it is an empty shell and not a real computer. They are very fast, too, and the semi-ruggedness is very handy for us because our users aren’t the most gentle people with their hardware. Battery life is excellent, especially if you get the optional second battery (get it).

Thanks, Panasonic tech support!

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