A Mea Culpa For The Precision 7720

I realize I owe my venerable Dell Precision 7720 a big, big apology. 

It was the laptop that finally freed me from being oh so limited. Before I got it back in 2019, I was stuck with a 2015 MacBook Pro that–while a great machine–it overheated if I threw anything demanding at it, or bothered to boot it into Windows. It was all around a bad time. Couldn’t even play games that released close to it or alongside it, even with the discrete GPU.

Hell, right as the pandemic kicked off it shrugged off my cat deciding to relieve herself on it. The only indication that something was wrong was that it refused to go to sleep. I picked it up, opened the bottom pan, and that stench of dried up cat urine was unmistakable. Yet, one alcohol bath later, damn if that tank of a machine just didn’t care and came right back up to working order.

Alas, there was one nagging issue: USB-C never really worked right. The 7720 has a combo port, it’s a Thunderbolt 3 port that can switch modes to USB-C. Prior to Windows 10 20H1, all that happened is that the system would stumble hard if it had to switch modes. On 20H1 and above? It’d mode switch, and within 5 seconds just kick whatever was on the USB-C port off the system entirely, requiring a reboot to fix.

I had assumed all this was because something associated with the TB3 circuitry got fried during the cat incident. So I ended up thinking my machine was compromised and started hating it more and more. Eventually I decided to try and actually do something, so I pulled it back apart, gave it a good once over, and found that the TB3 controller was actually on its own board alongside the rest of the left side I/O, and it looked like it had also been hit by some liquid damage.

Figuring this to be an easy win, I hopped on eBay, found the very board I needed for dirt cheap (that’s what I love about these Dell machines. They’re easy to service, modular, and parts are cheap for the most part) and dropped it in.

My heart sank when the problem was still rearing its ugly head, even with a working pull from a known good system.

I put the machine aside and never really used it past that. 

Late last year (2021), however, a good friend of mine had fallen on hard times and needed a decent machine to get him by, so I offered up the 7720 and said to just pay me for it whenever. That was supposed to be that.


In tussling with trying to run some legacy software on my M1 MacBook, I’m starting to realize I really miss the 7720 for what it was. That coupled with the MacBook being on its worst behavior as of late (constant, CONSTANT Wi-Fi drops meaning I have to be hardwired to do sustained file copies to my NAS) makes me long for the consistency of a Windows machine. I know, weird thing for me to be saying, right? But it’s true. I actually trust Windows updates these days more than Apple’s OS updates.

The thing that ultimately did it was when I went to Phoenix, AZ for a yearly meetup with friends. 

Two of said friends had machines of a similar vintage to the 7720: A Dell Latitude of some description (8th gen Intel, though) and an HP Zbook Studio G4, which had a 7th gen Core i7 in it. I decided on a lark to just…try plugging my phone into the USB-C ports on both machines to see what would happen, as they were both dual mode ports just like on the 7720.

Lo and behold, both machines did the very same thing. Both machines chugged hard whilst trying to do the mode switch, and the audio went all screwy and it almost felt like the machine’s heart stopped for those few seconds it was trying to realize what the heck was plugged into its USB-C/TB3 ports.

This was a Windows problem. Or an Intel driver problem. Either/or.

Now I really wanted my 7720 back. Now that I realized I got rid of it under false pretenses.

Thankfully, I had just the thing: I had a bunch of PC components that I’m supposed to be getting, so I offered them to the friend that had the 7720 in trade. He didn’t accept them, but we worked out something else instead and now I’m pleased to report that soon I should have the good ‘ol tank of a Precision back in my possession once again.