my XPS M1710 seems to have been fixed, thanks Dell
Well, after more than a months of working with Dell technicians - two seperate onsite calls and one workshop incident later and my laptop actually seems to have been fixed.
I haven't run any diagnostics...yet, but as a benchmark i installed Gears of War sunday evening and gave it a run. Seemed to run very smoothly - however, the fans are going crazy. that is to say, i actually think they are working this time as i can definitely hear them take off. Plus they're not shutting down.
So, thanks to Dell for finally fixing it and to "M" from Dell Customer Services (you know who you are) for assisting me with the outcome.
After having a look at the processes, by talking to "M" and by applying a bit of simple logic, it seems that most of the problems i had was simply communications problems between Dell and the company that does their service here in Perth.
It did take a total of 9 days (well, 8 if you dont count the day i exploded and told them to stuff the laptop etc) for the 3-4 day workshop to complete and for me to have my laptop again. It also took me driving out to the DHL depot where the laptop was stored after it was fixed to get it back, otherwise i wouldn't have gotten it till yesterday (got it Friday afternoon, last week).
Dell has graciously extended my laptop warranty with another full year - so that should really see me well and truely past it's "lifetime" so to speak.
I'm happy again, but the episode still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I'm sure that if the laptop doesn't crash on me in the near future that i'd be happy to get another Dell...well, maybe not - not entirely sure on that point yet (naturally). The hardest part will probably be to get over the fact that i'd received a terribly service for what is considered a high end product from Dell.
Lesson learned are:
1) do NOT trust Dell Technical Support - double check everything AND always call back to confirm appointments and discussions because they tend to "forget" to return phone calls they promise.
2) write down every piece of information you get, either from telephone conversations or emails, and ensure that you get the name of the technician you're talking to.
3) do NOT let the technician diagnose your problems over the phone without doing any tests (eg. if the technician states the problem is X without testing that, disregard it).
4) escalate each incident you raise with Dell Technical Support with the Customer Service department - simply call Customer Services and get hold of a service agent and state your problem - Technical Support at Dell knows absolutely nothing and will promise you the world IF it gets you off the phone quicker.
5) if they start to get snippy with you, remind them again and again who the customer is - it seems sometimes to be forgotten.
It's five simple processes to follow when dealing with Dell Technical Support and i'm going to be 100% sure that i follow them in the future. "P" from technical support was the only person that i spoke to that seemed to a) know what he was talking about and b) didn't BS you to get you off the phone. I'd spoken to 9-10 different engineers/technicians, even had one diagnosed the OS without any information other than "i get pixelation and crashes" or doing any tests.
I might be the customer from hell but it seems that it got the job done - my laptops appears to be fixed.
Another thing to take note of is this - do NOT use the Dell drivers for the 7 series GO NVidia cards - they seriously underperform and can cause more problems than what you already have. Get the latest driver from NVidia as they've just released a 32-bit forceware (still not a 64-bit version available) for the entire Dell XPS range.
Lastly, I'd been told that this was a single incident and not the norm from Dell - from what i've read on their own forums, other forums and the replies i've had here, then it does seem to be quite common.