It's back to basics for Dell as it ditches its online tech support service in favour of more traditional email and telephone.

Recently bumped into second place for box-shifting by Compaq, Dell plans to dump Resolution Assistant, a technical support system loaded on customers' PCs that connects them to support technicians over the internet.

The system was designed to provide remote troubleshooting by Dell technicians and downloadable PC fixes as well as save Dell money, something very high on the firm's list of priorities.

Though Dell says the scheme hasn't cut calls to tech support, both the company that runs the system and some other PC makers using similar setups remain adamant it does work.

Analysts, however, claim the real reason Dell is axing online tech support is to cut costs further, which doesn’t make sense. If the current system is already saving money, why change it?

But although people used the Resolution Assistant, too often they also picked up the phone and called tech support because, somewhat ironically, they didn't understand it.

"Bottom line is, it didn't reduce call volumes," said Dell spokesperson Bryant Hilton. "Our top priority is providing the best customer service experience as possible. We know what works and what doesn't. And Resolution Assistant isn't working," he added.

Computer companies hate calls to technical support as much as customers hate waiting on hold. A call to tech support may be free to customers, but it costs a vendor between £25 to £35, according to research firm Gartner Dataquest. If a customer spends an hour on the phone with a senior support technician, the cost can shoot as high as £285.

Dell will continue to work with the company that provided the behind-the-scenes system for Resolution Assistant, Motive.

Motive, the company that ran the system, says it is nonplussed by Dell's move. "We have seen great results with our customers," says spokesperson David Gibbs. He says some of its 80 customers, which include Gateway, have experienced 30 to 50 percent drops in calls to tech support.