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Guru

Join Date: Feb 2006
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Finagling Finicky notebook keypad - a survey

10/02/2008 8:30 PM

Friends,

Thanking you in advance, I'm asking your help in resolving "issues" that I'm having with Dell Technical Phone Support in regard to my recent purchase of an Inspiron 1525 notebook. I'm hoping your answers will clear up a basic confusion the Num-Lock function on these kinds of computers.

Who?: Members and Guests are invited to respond who are owners or users:

  • Of a Dell Inspiron 1500-/15-inch-series (or any other Dell-branded model/screen size) laptop with integrated (not separate) numeric keypad on standard (not enhanced) keyboard that has (or does not have) a Function-n (Fn) key [or]
  • Of any other laptop brand with these same keyboard characteristics [and additionally, in either case]
  • Also has Num-Lock toggle control and indicator light on the keyboard (i.e., the laptop base or display bezel) [and]
  • In which the keyboard/keypad inputs to Windows 6 (Vista) or 5 (XP) or other contemporary operating system.

When?: Let's say, any time within the last few years up to now.

Where?: Anywhere the above described laptop/notebook computers reside...

What?: I'd like you to tell me about problems or special requirements (or not) you've encountered getting the integrated, "9-key" pad to print numerals to the screen (or perform keypad operations) when the Num-Lock switch is toggled On and Num-Lock indicator is lit.

Why?: Shortly after delivery of my notebook, I tested the Num-Lock mode and numeric keypad using both the Word Pad text editor and the Windows Calculator (both Standard and Scientific). In all instances, with Num-Lk toggled on, either letters or seemingly strange responses, or nothing at all, were printed on screen...except those top row characters (7, 8, 9) with the same, corresponding numerals in the QWERTY number row in Num-Lock-Off mode.

My phone call to Dell Tech Support asking what might be the problem or solution led to a lengthy and exasperating series of phone tag events—Dell's interoffice phone net has been severely impaired in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike—and "We know but we're not sure" sessions—that together with multiple unwarranted & unprovoked recitations of the laptop sale contract weasel clauses—which, taken as a whole, ultimately revealed a gaping void in Dell Tech Support's knowledge of the keyboard aspects of their laptop. ....

Finally, and after being told I would no longer afford time and loss performing uncompensated troubleshooting in Dell's Corp's behalf, a decision was made (in spite of all logical arguments against) to replace the keyboard. (They had asked me to remove the "old keyboard" for the purpose of "re-seating" [an unfounded and irrelevant "procedure" of no possible troubleshooting or repair value]; but upon my encountering of factory-over-torqued assembly screws that refused to turn, and upon my insistence that Dell accept liability for any consequence of attempting to remove them, a local-agency technician was dispatched with a new keyboard assembly under the [so-called] "24-Hour" [depending on when any such period might start] "On-Site Service" clause in the original notebook purchase contract.)

The result of keyboard renewal was that the laptop performed no differently than it had with the factory-installed board; a report of same to Dell is to be made by the technician.

So, at this point I need to be prepared for Dell's next move...which, if history is any indicator, could be obstinate...possibly deceitful as well. I would like to be armed with information:

  • As to other laptop owners, if any, encountering the same or similar keypad/Num-Lock problems with Dell or other laptop brands with non-enhanced keyboards.
  • As to what is reasonable, and what is not, regarding (new-unit) performance expectations, whether it be of Dell Inspiron laptops or of any other (or new or older build) laptops.
  • As to any other methods/techniques others have used/tried to make the Num-Lock and integrated keypad function as it should...as it does on wire-connected (laptop or desktop) keyboards, including enhanced (101= key) keyboards.
  • As to any proven, work-around methods that have been used to solve the problem on other laptops.

Finally, the "How?": If members and guests will be kind enough to provide the make and model, keyboard type, operating system, and a brief statement of num-lock enabled keypad problems (or not) encountered on their own, standard-keyboard laptops, it will be sincerely appreciated. For purpose of testing, it is recommended for consistency that MS Work Pad or equivalent basic text editor be used.

Thank you and I look forward to seeing your responses...and hopefully convincing Dell to accept a mutually satisfying resolution.

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Power-User

Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: San Francisco Bay Area
Posts: 266
Good Answers: 21
#1

Re: Finagling Finicky notebook keypad - a survey

10/02/2008 11:09 PM

At least now I know I'm not the only one that this drives crazy! I have raved at Dell for way longer than their tech support has been in India about this stupidity.

I'm typing this on my 4 yr old Inspiron "workhorse". This has the typical Dell NumLk / ScrollLk layout. The 10-key (blue) layout only works when I am directly pushing the Fn key. I cannot (or maybe never figured out how to) lock the Fn key on. This almost renders the 10-key useless. I have a couple of new Latitude machines that behave the same way, although i don't recall seeing "strange" responses. Push and hold Fn and get 10key. I use these machines primarily for PLC programming and this is a real distraction. But for my industrial environment I have yet to find another machine as die-hard as the Dell. And the Latitude is about the only machine you can find these days that still comes this a db-9 and rs232 connector standard.

You will find that the NumLk function only works on an external keyboard when attached. Don't ask me why...since the external keyboard's NumLk works just fine. This has been a Dell issue from way way back.

So...if you truely need 10key you are better off simply attaching a regular keyboard.

Good luck.

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Guru

Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 757
Good Answers: 12
#2
In reply to #1

Re: Fn-agling Fn-icky notebook keypad - a survey hit!

10/03/2008 6:24 AM

"... better off simply attaching a regular [... enhanced] keyboard."

Switchman. Okay! That might work for me; and the owner's manual says that the connected keyboard and the built-in would work at the same time. But, I don't think I could go along with toting around both the laptop and an extra, enhanced keyboard, even if they both would fit into my pack...and I could zip it closed.

However, I might consider it if ... if everything but the numeric keypad was left off, ... a keypad only keyboard, with just the 16 (or, with NumLock, 17) basic number and operation keys. (Or maybe even a "calculator" keypad [standard-size keys mandatory for at least the number & additive-operation keys] would do the trick. The neat part about that...it would be able to address all inputs on the Windows calculator, either the Basic or even the Scientific...no hopping between keyboards; no reaching for mouse/touchpad; no memorizing button-keyboard equivalents...if the price is right.)

Can you or anyone say if, and where, such a keypad-only keyboard can be found? One for USB hookup? And if it came with 2 - 3 ft cord, that'd be just about right.

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Power-User

Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: San Francisco Bay Area
Posts: 266
Good Answers: 21
#3
In reply to #2

Re: Fn-agling Fn-icky notebook keypad - a survey hit!

10/03/2008 10:32 AM

Sorry CowAnon,

Last night when I was typing my 2 yr olld twins decided it was time to attack Daddy and I cut my post short and was going to mention going that direction.

There are good usb 10key units out there cheap. I paid about 20bucks for the Targus unit I have.

http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/category/category_slc.asp?CatId=536&name=Keypads

http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=2119099&CatId=536

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Guru

Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 757
Good Answers: 12
#4
In reply to #3

Re: Fn-agling Fn-icky notebook keypad - a survey hit!

10/03/2008 3:57 PM

Thanks Switchman, and no problem with the interruption. Looking at your links (they both seem to go the same page) this product...

http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=3119158&CatId=536 ...

seems to be highly rated, has some nice features (like cord retraction), and includes some calculator functionality...though not quite scientific level. It also is set up like an adding machine (decimal setting with 0 and double-zero) that would come in very handy...much better than calculator for things like bookkeeping/accounting.... (I wonder...with computer & printer set to "print-thru" print mode...perhaps it could actually emulate an adding machine!) Other than dual utility for connected or standalone operation, I haven't figured out yet what benefit might be gained from having two displays, one on the unit and one on the laptop...well, maybe one: it could come in handy for error checking during data entry...by two-persons! (Any other ideas?)

I believe you have put me on a good track...and am accordingly much obliged!

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Associate

Join Date: Feb 2008
Location: Made in USA
Posts: 47
Good Answers: 3
#5
In reply to #2

Re: Fn-agling Fn-icky notebook keypad - a survey hit!

10/04/2008 12:05 AM

http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=675893

http://sgboleh.blogspot.com/2007/05/weird-way-to-use-numlock-on-dell.html

http://www.velocityreviews.com/forums/t224955-laptop-numlock.html

http://www.devhardware.com/forums/peripherals-72/dell-laptop-keyboard-21550.html

http://www.sheffieldforum.co.uk/archive/index.php/t-188893.html

Just google 'num-lock for dell laptop' for more.

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Guru

Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 757
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#8
In reply to #5

Re: Fn-agling Fn-icky notebook keypad - a survey hit!

10/04/2008 11:23 AM

What the real problem here is, is the inability or unwillingness of Dell (just like probably most other mfrs) to find and/or afford and hire product documentation specialists (read: designers and tech pub's folks) with sufficient English-rhetoric skill to avoid Snafu's like this Dell laptop design flaw...yes, I consider these things to be design flaws even if they work as per design...somehow.

The thing is, the 15-inch Dell notebook computer has no (actual) Num-Lock (Num Lk) key in the true sense of the words; and its Num-Lk (On) indicator does not indicate Num-Lock-On. It is for this reason that, even though the owner's manual mentions in passing (but with no index reference) how to make the numeric keypad work (one keystroke at a time), and even though the control key marked Num Lk is used in that effort, still no one, including Dell's technical support personnel in India (or, evidently, in USA and elsewhere) knows why the key marked Num Lk never functions like a key marked Num Lk. Also, nowhere in the documentation or on the keyboard is it mentioned that alternate-use keys (keys marked in blue) always work in tandem (i.e., work when pushed down simultaneously) with the "Function n" (the Fn) key, also marked (only) in blue! Now, all of this, and its relation to the key marked Num Lk, can be explained by what the key (and indicator) marked Num Lk (hereinafter, the ? key or ? indicator) actually is.

What the ? key actually is, is the Fn Key Enable key; and likewise...the Fn Key Enable indicator. More exactingly, it is the "Function n key = Numeric-Keypad-Mode-On-key enable key. Similarly, a lit Fn-Key-Enabled indicator (after Fn-key-Enable key is tapped) indicates when the pressing (and not releasing) of the Fn key (in the keyboard bottom row containing all hold-down keys) will enable any key on the integrated numeric keypad to print a number, or perform and print the result of a keypad operation, whenever a (blue marked) numeric keypad key is pressed while the Fn key is held down; or, if the indicator light is off, that the Fn key Enable key must first be tapped to enable the Fn key for use in enabling (the blue marked function of) keys in the numeric keypad. Simple enough? Okay, maybe not; but is does provide, in addition to exposing what the ? key really is, a clear insight into how all the keypad confusion arose, even within Dell Technical Support; and into how its origination and perpetuation can be traced directly back to initial product documentation (i.e., technical writing); and from there back to laptop product design.

Ideally, the ? key, when installed on a Dell laptop fitted with standard (non-enhanced) keyboard, would have been re-labelled, eliminating the Num-Lk nomenclature in favor of a nomenclature suggested as above...such as Fn = Num-On; or FNUMOn (from user's perspective On and Enabled amount to the same thing). In addition, the Fn (hold-down-row) key would receive a secondary/subordinate label, Num-On, or just, Num, indicating the key's key-hold-down association with the keypad—the nomenclature, Keypad, would not be appropriate since (1) many would be unfamiliar with the usage and (2) many (who are familiar...) might look for a discrete keypad (such as on enhanced keyboards) and, finding none, might not make the mental leap to the integrated keypad. Given this kind of hardware change (and, ideally, given a mention of blue-coding of keys and the tying of all such keys to the Fn key), many Dell purchaser would quickly intuit how the numeric keypad can be enabled; and for those who can't...the non-anti-intuitive key labelling would make the owner's manual writers' job of describing keypad enabling much easier—in technical writing it is a truism that the more easily written stuff gets published, whereas it is the difficult difficult stuff that gets fudged, or is simply omitted.

But, some might say, quite rightly, "Why bother to invent and pay to produce a new key when so many Num Lk keys are produced and available right off the shelf? Why mess with a key nomenclature whose longstanding use has established it as a standard...practically de rigueur, if not de facto?" That would be a case which exemplifies how the Dell Num Lk key confusion came into being; and the reason, as is so often the case in manufacturing, that it has has been allowed to persist. Because the Num Lk key's nomenclature and function were at odds since the beginning on 15-inch Dell laptops, users attempting to use their keypads had nothing to rely on to discover its proper use other then their owner's manuals. Because retention, without alteration, of the Num Lk key was a Dell design decision, and because the applicable manual's writers were obliged to rely on descriptive and procedural source materials provided by Dell (or Dell supplier) design engineers, then it became incumbent upon those engineers (not the writers, not Dell's eventual customers) to, first, recognize the "Num Lk" function disparity between 15-inch laptops and desktops and, then, provide clear guidance to writers concerning the Num-Lock description changes needed in order for the Dell desktop manuals (the laptop manual boilerplates) to be accurately modified to become published, laptop owner's manuals. (It is a rare technical writer who, even if (s)he discerns such disparities in provided source matter, is willing or able to challenge the source or negotiate the needed changes. And even those who are or can, as likely as not, are apt to have learned the hazards of doing so.) Not so strangely, such scenarios have been made more likely because of the Internet...because the Internet has provided the ready means as well as the corporate culture and ethic in which it is easier and cheaper—in fact good business—to shift the burden and liability for design and design support error from product producers to product consumers.

That in a nutshell is the story behind Dell's peculiar num-lock keys.

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Power-User

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Location: South Florida
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#6

Re: Finagling Finicky notebook keypad - a survey

10/04/2008 4:07 AM

There is a relatively new product on the market that might help you. I don't know who manufactures them but there are full size keyboards made out of soft, rubber that rolls up into the size of the cardboard tube inside a roll of toilet paper.

The keyboard is very popular and should be available on-line or at Ciruit City, Best Buy, Walmart's, etc.

Good luck

/Ari (orpheuse)

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Guru

Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 757
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#7
In reply to #6

Re: Finagling Finicky notebook keypad - a survey

10/04/2008 7:00 AM

This??

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Commentator

Join Date: May 2008
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#9

Re: Finagling Finicky notebook keypad - a survey

10/06/2008 6:58 AM

Unfortunatly i to have had to deal with Dell tech support. Only my issue was that the Keyboard on the laptop would not function at all. I contacted tech support via phone and they continuously told me to press a certain key, what part of keyboard not working did they not understand. To make matters worse, i was not able to do anything physically with the computer because it was 8 hours away with my daughter in college. Anyway, after several go rounds with the phone people i finally sent a nasty email, and got a response that actually worked.

The tech support people on the email said that the keyboard is known to build up a static charge. Once a static charge is there the keyboard will no longer function. The solution is to unplug the laptop from the wall, remove the battery, and press the power button for 30 seconds to discharge the static build up. dont know if this will help your particular problem, but it might help someone else who has had this kind of problem.

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Guru

Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 757
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#10
In reply to #9

Re: Finagling Finicky notebook keypad - a survey

10/07/2008 7:53 AM

Thanks for the tip. Did they mention why the static charge builds up? Was it winter or stormy when you had the problem? Could it have been from leaving the AC adapter connected and plugged in using the two-prong wall plug?

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Anonymous Poster
#11

Re: Finagling Finicky notebook keypad - a survey

12/11/2008 9:47 AM

I have a inspiron 1525 and was having the same problem you mentioned. The setting can be changed in the BIOS setup menu (press F12 when booting to get to it).

In the BIOS version I have (A11) go to 'POST Behavior -> Keypad (Embedded)' menu. The menu has two options:

Fn Key Only = The keypad is only enabled when you hold down the Fn key.

By Num Lk = The keypad is enabled when 1) the Numlock LED is on. and 2) no external keyboard is attached....

For some reason the default if 'Fn Key Only'. I guess some people may have had problems when their system starts with numlk on (i.e. people that don't know how to use a keyboard).

If this option is not in your BIOS version, I think you can get an updated version from dell's website.

I'm also baffled that no one at dell was able to tell you this. It is actually really simple.

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