So I finally spent enough time on the phone with various branches of tech support at Dell, to learn that my laptop is a lost cause, at least from this angle. I bought it from an individual. I didn't pry at the time, I just assumed that he was a contractor who got stuck with some surplus after a contract was pulled. This was November, kind of the peak of the economic fall, after all.
I find out that this guy (or maybe someone before him, that he had dealt with) had financed these two machines (mine and another just like it) from Dell Finance, sold them, then skipped out on the loan. Their collections department is currently looking for him. And the can't (or won't, in the end it's the same) honor the warranty for a machine that hasn't been paid for. They're not after me to return it, mind you. They know that their business is with him, not me. But even if I get the paperwork regarding ownership taken care of, there would still be no warranty coverage.
So, my dilemma: Do I pay a local shop $850 or so to fix this machine, which has the HD with data and the O/S and setup that I am already happy with? OR, do I go looking for something new at Fry's or Circuit City or whatever, something that will at least have a valid warranty on it, and start over? OR, since I happen to like the Dell platform, it's not their fault in the first place, and Red Hat Linux runs really well on their Inspiron series, do I try to buy a new Inspiron through their online store?
If I fix this one, it'll still not have a warranty, probably never will. But it's the cheaper of the three choices. If I do the new Dell option, I'll probably have to apply for financing (which I might not be able to get, due to pretty lukewarm credit).
I'm very annoyed at this. I had other plans for my paycheck, but I really need a mobile platform while working on this book.