Recently trying to upgrade a friend's computer, I got a first-hand lesson on the disconnect between those who engineer a product and those who support and market it. The Dell computer in question is a few years old, which in computer-speak means it is akin to the abacus, yet a diagnosis revealed that upgrading the random access memory (RAM) would be the most cost-efficient solution. I went to Dell's Web site to see which memory chips to purchase. By entering the computer's service code and the model number, a user manual and suitable upgrades were made known. Looking at the online user manual, put together by technical writers who have not necessarily been involved in the engineering of the product, I learned the maximum memory the computer could accommodate is 512 MB RAM. I purchased the recommended chips from Dell.

The parts arrived and I sat down on for what I thought would be a quick job. No dice. The computer would not start with the new chips. After various configurations, I found that with 256 MB memory the computer started fine. The problem wasn't with the chips, the computer or the installer. As I learned after a 30-minute conversation with a technician, i.e., engineer, the problem was that the Intel Celeron processor was designed to run optimally with 256 MB RAM. Despite what Dell's manual and sales said, 512 MB RAM was too much. The engineers knew this because they had practical experience with the computer system vs. marketing and sales, which only knew the supplier-provided specs.

What's the lesson for manufacturers? As this economy moves forward and you struggle to decide whether to upgrade existing equipment or purchase new equipment, be careful about what was promised with the original equipment. Technology changes rapidly, and those that originally sold you the equipment may not have the practical experience to know whether the desired upgrades will give the needed performance. Speak with an engineer before spending the time and money on an upgrade that does not deliver. Or, speak with a product manager, if he has a background in engineering. You want someone familiar with the intricacies of your equipment to tell you what upgrades will work, rather than someone who is simply going by supplier-provided specs.

I do not believe, especially in this day and age of fierce competition, that erroneous information regarding equipment capability is the result of conscious deceit. Such suppliers and manufacturers would not last long in the market. But just as with Dell, there is often a gap of knowledge between those who engineer a product, and those who support and market it. With your productivity and profitability riding on optimal performance of equipment, new or existing, you can't afford not to know exactly what to expect from the machines on your floor. My experience cost $100, which will be refunded. A mistake on your part could cost you being left behind as the economy continues its recovery.

Tell me your experiences with equipment promises and actual performance. Do they match or miss? Let me know at [email protected].