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Desktops

Dell fixes flat-panels on the fritz

Software updates should put right a driver problem that has left some desktop PC owners with blank monitors.

Dell says it has a fix for a driver problem that has some of its customers' flat-panel screens drawing a blank.

Some people who purchased a Dell Optiplex or Dimension desktop PC with a Dell UltraSharp digital video interface or DVI-capable flat-panel displays have reported that the monitors refuse to work after a while, when used with the DVI interface.

Dell spokeswoman Mary Fad said on Friday that the company believes that the software drivers for certain graphics cards may cause the problem. Drivers are software that allow hardware such as a monitor to communicate with an operating system such as Microsoft Windows.

Dell prides itself on customer service. However, from time to time, the company has problems with its systems. Often it fixes them using software updates or replacement parts. Last year, for example, Dell launched a service campaign to replace motherboards in nearly 20,000 Inspiron notebooks.

The fix involves updating the affected PC's drivers and resetting the monitor's EDID, or extended display identification data, which contains the settings for the monitor. When the EDID is corrupted by the driver mismatch, it can cause a display not to work, according to Dell.

PC owners can implement the fix themselves or get the help of Dell's technical support, Fad said.

Because Dell offers numerous different PC models and allows each customer to custom-configure the one they buy, several different kinds of cards could be causing the problem. However, the majority of complaints posted to Dell's online tech support forums appear to be from people who use an Nvidia graphics card with a Dell UltraSharp display.

Customers who update their PC's drivers only may continue to experience the problem until they also reset the EDID.

The problem can be tackled in a few ways, according to Fad. First, to get the display to work, people can switch their desktop to an analog interface using the analog video cable supplied with the monitor. Then they must update their drivers and reset the EDID.

The quickest way to update a Dell PC's drivers is to visit Dell's technical support Web site, Fad said. Once there, customers must say whether they are a home or corporate user. After they click through to the download section, they must supply their service tag number or their system information. People with service tag numbers can choose to automatically update their software, or can skip that step if they know exactly what update they're looking for.

Updating the EDID is trickier. Customers can contact Dell's tech support--which Fad said is aware of the problem--and be walked through the process.

More savvy PC users can find information at Dell's online tech support forum, including its Dimension monitor forum, on how to try making the EDID fix on their own.