Dell and N-Trig: I’ve Had It

By  |  49 Comments

In many ways, the Dell Latitude XT Tablet PC has become one of my favorite Tablet PCs. It is very thin, light, has ample room on the wrist pad for typing, has a scroll wheel, and is generally pleasant to use in portrait mode. It goes to sleep and resumes very quickly. It is also the only tablet pc on the market that is multi-touch capable.

However, along with a lot of users in our forums, I’ve reached the end of the road with the N-Trig digitizer issues. I’ve lost track of how many different issues there are, as one issue bleeds into another. More times than not, whenever I reboot, I’ll get N-Trig digitizer not found errors or applet loading errors, which render the auto and dual mode useless. The digitizer will only start working again after consecutive reboots. In addition, I still have problems coming out of standby with the digitizer accidentally clicking items while the pen is just hovering. In addition to the digitizer issues, I still have a recurring problem with my wireless card – it’ll just stop working and the only thing that will turn it back on is a reboot.

I’ve worked with Dell engineering support, solicited input  in our forums on their behalf,  removed registry keys, removed iTunes, fiddled with all kinds of potential USB conflicts, and more. They have reassured me that they are working on the problem. However, it has been almost seven months since I’ve had the Dell Latitude XT and most of my original problems with the XT are still there. I was certainly expecting to deal with some first generation issues for a couple of months, but this is getting out of hand. Even though the Latitude XT has the only multi-touch Tablet PC on the market, I’ve  finally realized that this digitizer  and its drivers  are not ready for prime time.

Dell and N-Trig: These problems need to be addressed ASAP and there needs to be some public dialogue between Dell, N-Trig, and your users about what is going on and when we can expect resolution. Dell customers: I encourage you to contact customer support and let your voices be heard. Until these issues  are addressed and fixed, I cannot recommend to anyone that they purchase the Latitude XT Tablet PC.

As the Founding Editor for GottaBeMobile.com, Rob oversaw the growth and overall direction for content, advertising, and management of the site. Keep up with Rob at RobBushway.com Send email to Rob

49 Comments

  1. Sumocat

    10/20/2008 at 9:57 am

    So are you going to beat it like a pinata or run it through a table saw? :P

  2. Loren Heiny

    10/20/2008 at 10:19 am

    I’ve been unable to recommend the Latitude Tablet PC because of the digitizer issues I’ve experienced too. I am holding out to see what happens with the Windows 7 build though that is to be released at PDC. Sometimes with new technology like this it takes till the next version of Windows to address all the issues.

    I do have two thoughts here: One is that if the digitizer doesn’t work well with the PDC Windows 7 build, Dell needs to seriously consider recalling the Latitude. Some people that don’t use the Tablet features very much may not mind the way the Latitude is now, but for those like me that use these features a lot, the Latitude isn’t a a good match.

    The other concern I have is for the acceptance of Windows 7′s new multi-touch feature. Think about it, the Dell Latitude is one of the few devices out there that has drivers to support multi-touch. So there will be many people like myself that’ll load Windows 7 onto the Dell. If it doesn’t work well because of the quality of the NTrig digitizer, Microsoft’s new showcase feature is going to look pretty weak and I can see the anti-Windows trolls lining up. If the NTrig digitizer does no better with Windows 7, Microsoft is going to need to provide some guidance here or at least spend some quality time with NTrig to see what can be done. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll have to see how this works out. Sometimes it takes until the next version of Windows (like Windows 7) to get these new features right. We’ll see.

  3. Rob Bushway

    10/20/2008 at 10:33 am

    Loren – you are spot on. I’m right with you, except I think Dell needs to recall these tablet pcs now. Folks can’t wait until late 2009 / 2010 for windows 7, even if that proves out to fix the problem.

  4. Raymond

    10/20/2008 at 11:49 am

    Hi Rob,

    Thank you for your final analysis. I’m glad that I didn’t buy the Dell. Six months ago I was thinking hard about buying the XT. Now I will wait even a bit longer, till the Lenovo X200T gets its final shakedown. I’ve used a few tables before, HP T1000, T1100, and the T4400 and none was perfect. Needless to say I am on the fence now, waiting for a good one to come along.

    Raymond

  5. Adrian

    10/20/2008 at 11:50 am

    I’m not sure if you’re maybe implying that the wireless radio stopping is somehow related to the digitizer problems – if so, I just want to point out that I’m seeing the same problem with my X60t. I think the issue there is between the wireless adapter and power management.

    Adrian

  6. GoodThings2Life

    10/20/2008 at 11:55 am

    I haven’t worked with the XT, so I’m not familiar with all the issues first hand, but it’s good to see you and others documenting them.

    Certainly, from what I’ve read it seems to be more of a hardware or driver issue than OS issue, especially given that every other Tablet PC using XP or Vista works fairly well… in other words, I think Windows 7 isn’t going to make a bit of difference.

  7. John

    10/20/2008 at 12:04 pm

    I’m waiting till wacom’s RRFC Touch technology is released. I heard that we should start seeing products the first half of 2009. That is a big window but I couldn’t get more info due to pc manufacture’s NDAs.

    http://www.wacom-components.com/english/technology/touch.html

    What would really be cool, if possible, is “hover” finger support, so you could have the mouse follow your slightly hovered or slightly rested on the screen finger and register a finger press. This could be possible with a passive/capacitive screen but I am hoping a capacitive screen may be able to do this alone.

  8. Rob Bushway

    10/20/2008 at 12:12 pm

    Adrian – not implying a link between the wireless and n-trig. It is definitely an issue with the adapter and power management, but it is one I’ve continued to struggle with from the very beginning.

  9. Loren Heiny

    10/20/2008 at 12:44 pm

    @GoodThings2Life, I was just meaning that sometimes we see improvements in “driver issues” with each iteration of the OS. It’s worth a try. Of course, a limited CTP release from PDC would not be supported by Dell so even if it fixed some or all of the problems it wouldn’t be a real solution as Rob pointed out. I just thought it would be worth a try. I’d really like to see the N-Trig digitizer do well.

  10. JuneBelle

    10/20/2008 at 1:11 pm

    I wonder how good the new Wacom digitizer is going to be. Sometimes I wonder if I should wait ’til PC’s come out with it installed; but I can’t wait any longer.

  11. BBusyB

    10/20/2008 at 1:42 pm

    Ouch!

    And here I was all ready to get my first Tablet, a Dell XT as I’d found a great deal for it here in the UK.

    Oh, well looks like its back to the drawing board. Will have to look around to find a comparable price.

    Still, any new news on the rumoured upgrade that was supposed to come out in November?

    Do you think they might have fixed the problems in such an upgrade if they kept the N-Trig digitiser or do you think they’ll go to the tried and true experts Wacom.

  12. Adrian

    10/20/2008 at 2:46 pm

    Have you followed Intel’s recommendation of turning off power management for wireless? I used to install the latest driver from Intel’s site, but after experiencing this problem so frequently that it got to me, I uninstalled the Intel site driver, re-installed the Lenovo provided one and set the power management off for the adapter. The problem seems to be gone for the time being.

    Cheers

  13. C-141XLer

    10/20/2008 at 3:02 pm

    So besides the issues of N-trig not working well, if it were working well, what practical uses have you found for it? I know it’s a nifty idea to enlarge or reduce a photo with two fingers, but really what else is there?

    I think Dell is using its customers as Beta testers – shame on them!

  14. tipopilota

    10/20/2008 at 3:17 pm

    Any chance they will allow for refunds, even if the systems were bought a few months ago?

  15. Rob Bushway

    10/20/2008 at 3:26 pm

    @adrian – I have messed with power management stuff – didn’t do any good
    @ c141xler – At this point, the multi-touch is a nice novelty, but not practical yet. I’m waiting for folks to develop something with the SDK and for Windows 7. The capactive touch is a much better touch experience than other touch-based tablets I’ve used, though.

    @tipopilota – good question. I’m going to inquire about it, but not holding out hope for a refund given I’m seven months out.

    @BBusy – It depends on how successful they are in getting these problems fixed and how far along Wacom is. I think Dell is interested in making this work longterm. We’ll see, though.

  16. Antimatter

    10/20/2008 at 4:02 pm

    My XT is with Dell right now because of the issue I posted on the forum. Honestly, I think the pen was the issue, but they’re going to replace the whole display as well as the pen.

    C-141XLer: multitouch allows you to interact with the computer in some ways single touch cannot, the most obvious of which is enabling simultaneity. I can think of uses for this in gaming, content creation, even a real on-screen keyboard.

    My favorite example of the uses of multitouch is resizing, rotating, and moving an image, a common task in Photoshop. With multitouch, you can do all three of these actions at once. With a mouse you can only do one at a time.

    These are just a couple examples I can think of, and I expect to see clearer ussage scenarios in the future.

  17. bsmithers

    10/20/2008 at 7:59 pm

    Wow! I haven’t had any of the digitizer problems, or wireless problems here. Am running XP. The only real issue I had was XP SP3 knocked out screen rotation. I’m not a power user by any means so maybe I’m just lucky. Started with a NEC Versa Litepad, went to the Lenovo X41T and now this one. I just can’t justify the high price of the new Lenovo model. It was the great refurb price and bright (outdoor viewable screen) combined with touch that that got me into the Dell. Consider me a pretty happy camper.

  18. lilgreml1n

    10/20/2008 at 8:19 pm

    All, I have to say that I’ve not had a problem with the digitizer. My setup is with Windows Xp, but in the time that I’ve had it, it’s been wonderful and I would not have a problem recommending this to other people.

    My machine is giving me love… maybe you guys/girls need to treat it right ;)

    take care all.

  19. Tam

    10/20/2008 at 9:07 pm

    Me and my wife both have XT tablets, and both give us occasional issues. The pen at the edges jitter, and sometimes when waking up from sleep it will click fast/write/jitter until you recalibrate or restart. I’ve had my LCD replaced in hopes that it would clear up the issues, but it has not. I love the XT, and I think that its one of the best and most useful computers ever, but the digitizer might be its downfall.

  20. Loren Heiny

    10/20/2008 at 9:52 pm

    @bsmithers, @lilgreml1n, sounds like using XP may be the trick to avoid some of these problems. I’m using Vista so maybe I’ll think about moving back to XP although that’s not what I’d prefer to do.

  21. Timmy

    10/20/2008 at 10:11 pm

    Ya I have one and:

    1 it’s slow – powerpoint redraws take forever
    2 the hard drive clicks (scary)
    3 The hardrive is non-standard size so you can’t put say a SSD to make it faster/more energy efficient
    4 The tablet functions are very flakey
    5 The video drivers are beta at best
    6 The battery life is very short as the fan seems like it’s always on (and I live in canada)

    Other than that it’s ok…

    PS yes I have all the latest bios/drivers…

  22. P-dub

    10/21/2008 at 12:43 am

    I have two XTs ordered and both have XP installed. Is there a trend that the XTs with Vista are the only ones having problems or are there XP users that are getting the digitizer problems too?
    I have an older motion m1400, a Gateway E-295(C-140), and an X-61t right beside at the moment and I am now worried about the XT coming later this week (Yes, I am a tablet junky). Oh well. Time will tell. I will try to get one XT with Vista and then one with XP and see if there is a trend unless someone else can enlighten me first.

  23. Timmy

    10/21/2008 at 7:47 am

    I’m running XP.

  24. Aaron

    10/21/2008 at 8:22 am

    I bought one from Dell and yes I have had a great deal of issues with this product. I’m already on the 3rd one because I returned the last 2 and the issues are not resolved. The issue with the N-Trig digitizer seems to be a conflict between the wave embassy suites (finger print reading software) and the n-trig drivers. Wave somehow, sometimes, blocks n-trig from starting correctly. Apparently there is still no fix for it either. I’ve chosen not to install the fingerprint reading software and the laptop works fine other than having a useless fingerprint reader.

    In addition when the fingerprint reader software is installed it always gave me issues. I document manager(software that encrypts files for you) would eventually corrupt anything I put into it. Also the fingerprint scanner only worked half the time when reading my prints. Dell referred me to Wave support which admitted to me that the drivers dell has on their website are unstable. Wave suggested I use their new version and e-mailed me the link. Installing this version on the XT caused more issues with the n-trig drivers though.

    I also agree with the previous user. Dell should allow you to use touch as soon as the tablet resumes. Instead you have to tap the pen on the screen a few times before the touch software kicks in. Dell support says this is how it is designed to work. Multitouch features are also not very responsive and I’ve noticed different levels of unresponsiveness depending on the software you’re trying to use them on.

    The thing that infuriates me is that many of these issues Dell will not admit to the existence of. The forums state otherwise though. I only hope Dell is going to replace my system when the XT 2 comes out or fix the issues with this one via future drivers/software.

  25. Corey Gilmore

    10/21/2008 at 9:01 am

    @Aaron I dumped the Wave Embassy Suite software after discovering that you can’t perform a clean install on Vista SP1. For $15 you can buy UPEK Protector Suite QL which works much better than anything from Wave and is much, much faster – no more 45 second delay at the login screen waiting for the fingerprint reader to initialize. The XT’s fingerprint reader is made by UPEK.

  26. Aaron

    10/21/2008 at 9:51 am

    I actually bought that for vista 64 bit. Long story about trying to get the tablet working with vista 64bit. No dell support for that OS. Now I have Vista 32 bit on my XT. I believe when I was working with it on 64 bit vista I was still having the same issues with it only recognizing my prints half the time and it did not support preboot authentication either.

  27. Ian

    10/21/2008 at 10:35 am

    Do not boot up Vista using the base station, Ntrig will always fail, rather boot up on battery and then click into the station. Video drivers are awful I agree and the Verizon card requires 3 x access one after the other before it recognizes the login.

    Centrino is about a gig short as the system is very slow and BSD happens once a week, 3rd unit so its not a hardware issue.

    As much as I hate to admit it was a wasted 4k+ and we bought 3!!!!!!!!

    Other then that how did you like the play Mrs Lincoln

  28. ITRAY

    10/21/2008 at 11:45 am

    Hey Rob,

    Our company has 3 XTs. 2 Of them have faulty NTRIG screens. FYI, I recently received a display replacement from Dell with hardware build of A01. Works now! The other unit I noticed worked when I “over rotated” the screen counter clockwise. Then it recognized the digitizer as seen in device manager. Something tells me it’s a loose/wire/circuit board issue???

  29. hchen

    10/21/2008 at 2:11 pm

    @bsmithers: XP SP3 also knocked out my screen rotation. It can be readily fixed by installing the Radeon Xpress 1250 driver from Windows Update.

    While THAT issue is fixed for me, I also have some beef with the N-Trig digitizer. It seems that one particular area of the screen is very insensitive to the pen but works fine by touch. In that part of the screen I cannot for the life of me write a word using Windows Journal without the ink disconnecting randomly. It feels a little like writing using a pen that is drying out and does not matter how much pressure I apply. Interestingly, writing on other parts of the screen seem to work just fine…

  30. Loren Heiny

    10/21/2008 at 3:37 pm

    @hchen, I also have a strip on the screen where touch works intermittently yet the pen works fine. I have to be careful dragging anything across this area using touch.

    Reading through many of the comments here and Engadget, it seems like there are quite a few people experiencing various problems with Vista AND XP. I wonder if the differentiator is how often people actually use touch or use the pen. If you don’t use them much, I can see where people might be able to configure there system so things look just fine. I’m a heavy Tablet-feature user, so I don’t fall into this group. I wonder if that’s the difference going on here.

    OS – Vista
    multi-touch drivers installed
    heavy pen and touch user

    problems: N-Trig not detect problem, intermittent dead strip where touch doesn’t work, false triggers of pen, ink sometimes “breaks” while using pen, intermittent multi-touch gestures working

    I still hold out hope that Windows 7 will get around some of these issues :-)

  31. Ako

    10/21/2008 at 5:57 pm

    I have an XT running vista and I haven’t had any of the problems mentioned…I wonder if it’s because I started with a clean copy of vista and then installed only the stuff I needed (ie. I don’t have the finger print reader and some other stuff installed).

  32. Rob Bushway

    10/21/2008 at 6:45 pm

    clean installs seem to be a recurring theme here….hmm….might be worth trying, but it will certainly be painful if it doesn’t work. All of these comments clearly show something is definitely amiss with the drivers and the other software, though.

  33. ITRAY

    10/21/2008 at 10:14 pm

    Recommendation for those of you experiencing lost “digitizer” or “can’t find device” or similar errors:

    Try exerting some twisting force just enough to flex the screen a bit. Do this as you rotate the screen counterclockwise. You might be surprised to see the digitizer reappear.

  34. Kevin

    10/21/2008 at 11:24 pm

    I’ve had similar issues with Vista. I’ve installed XP and haven’t experienced those issues in about 2 months….knock on wood!

  35. Steven Gill

    10/26/2008 at 5:29 am

    I’ve been using the fingerprint reader, the multi-touch driver (with Dell Vista build) and mainly using in tablet mode (in and out of standby) for the last few months without a hitch hopefully these are teething issues to be fixed with the XT2 due soon.

  36. gtada

    10/26/2008 at 5:30 pm

    I have intermittent digitizer issues as well. I bought the XT with the hope that I could sketch on it, but the ink seems to skip even with a lot of pressure. When I attempt to use the writing recognition and it skips, the resulting marks look like periods (and ends up inserting periods). My drawings always have little dots from the ink skipping.

    If anybody has any tips on how to fix this, let me know please!!! I’ve turned off all of XP’s eye candy for maximum performance, but it didn’t seem to make much of a difference.

  37. mahdi

    11/04/2008 at 2:24 am

    Hello everyone, im having the latitude xt but the fingerprint is not working ,, its strong possible that the driver is abscent, and i couldnt find it on net ,, so please can someone help me finding it or just give me the link so that i can download it ,, thx in advance

  38. mahdi

    11/04/2008 at 2:26 am

    Hello everyone, im having the latitude xt but the fingerprint is not working ,, its strong possible that the driver is abscent, and i couldnt find it on net ,, so please can someone help me finding it or just give me the link so that i can download it ,, thx in advance …

  39. Rob Bushway

    11/04/2008 at 7:59 am

    mahdi – go to support.dell.com

  40. colin willis

    11/07/2008 at 2:18 pm

    Have no problem with N-Trig seems to be working fine with my Vista machine. Would be a positive user apart from two issues 1.battery life seem to get about 1.5 hrs with the normal battery and 3 hrs with the slice 2. ATI graphics driver seems to make the system crash and am unable to get the driver from dell support to install. C

  41. Jason G

    11/10/2008 at 2:14 pm

    I’ve had mine for about 3 months now, and the n-trig crapout/crash on boot is very frequent. There is also an annoying behavior when the digitizer occasionally freaks out, issuing random clicks in the upper right of the screen (which usually result in me being asked if I want to delete my Recycle Bin) Hard drive often makes these awful clicking sounds, like the heads are slamming into the case (not the disks) repeatedly. Video drivers are crap, and the system can never seem to figure out when it is connected to an external display and when it isn’t.

  42. CompuTable

    11/15/2008 at 11:00 am

    I've had mine for 4 months clean install of vista. It worked but slow and multi-touch was weak with frequent errors. I use the fingerprint reader app built into bios and no password on windows login make it a somewhat fast log-on. Now I install did a clean install of windows7. Works great with win7 drivers from ntrig. Full multi-touch in windows paint with ten finger+ recognition. Everything in windows 7 is touch ready. I had to do some hacks to get the aero shake and superbar feature to work.

  43. Julie

    11/25/2008 at 12:57 pm

    I have a XT and it has been giving me a lot of problems: blue screen, sudden restart, black screen with no display, etc. These are just the issues in addition to the digitizer one other people are talking about. Dell replaced my hard drive but it is still giving me problems. BTW, I have a clean install of Vista.

  44. msh

    11/28/2008 at 4:00 am

    try removing java access bridge

  45. anu

    11/28/2008 at 7:11 am

    hmmm, this is an interesting post. i have had mine for more than a few weeks now and i love it. i had a toshiba r400 before this, and an hp 2710p before that and a fujitsu p1610, x60 and a fujitsu T series before that … the dell xt is by far the best tablet pc amongst all the ones i have ever used.
    i did have problems with the drivers, but i moved to the WDDM microsoft's drivers on my second day and the thing has never crashed ever since. you may want to try that.

  46. Jimmy

    12/03/2008 at 5:24 pm

    I got me a xt running vista 32bit sp1. Digitizer hasn’t given me any problems but the pen buttons don’t work and then there is…blue screens, the fingerprint reader doesn’t work and I have a verizon usb card that conflicts with something in there. No wireless right now for me. Battery life is a real disapointment. Does the base work well?

  47. Marc Notenboom

    12/18/2008 at 6:21 am

    I bought two XT tablets for me and my brother. It is horror! Do not buy it. Dell will not solve your problems. And the problems are numerous. You can read my story on: http://www.marcnotenboom.com/?p=31

  48. Chris

    01/12/2009 at 1:29 am

    Hi Rob,

    I received an XT as part of a trial for a hospital system. We were inclined to go with it for a grant funded project employing tablets in the medical setting for patient and trainee physician education. However the problems you mentioned, and we have experienced, caused us to decide against it.

    I recently did a clean install. Only the Dell drivers and the notebook system software, then a cisco VPN. However when I added Itunes, I got the Ntrig error (yes I have the base). I will say that it does work much more quickly now.

    Unfortunately I am wedded to itunes as I have an iphone.

    I travel to a number of hosptials around the world and carry my Dell Tablet. I get a lot of questions about it and recommend against Dell’s iteration.

Leave a Reply