Dell Knew Of Dozen Burned Laptops Before Recall, Records Show

The source allowed CRN to review documentation of investigations into the notebook problems, and the source said that documentation was supplied to Dell executives.

The evidence, which included photographs of damaged notebooks, came to light in the wake of reports of one Dell notebook exploding in front of cameras during a conference in Japan.

The documentation included detailed evidence, on a notebook-by-notebook basis, of which component areas suffered the brunt of the overheating. The documentation showed the following:

&#149 One notebook was charred black for several inches on the bottom corner of the unit, about one-half inch from the system fan;

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&#149 Another notebook with a two-inch hole showing where a section of case had melted away, charred black and brown on the bottom of the unit, on the side, about half-way between the fan and the battery;

&#149 More than a dozen notebooks where an inch or two of casing had melted away in the right-hand corner above the keyboard and just below the LCD;

&#149 One system that was melted, mangled and charred black on the bottom corner of a notebook;

&#149 More than one notebook with black charring around the Ethernet port;

&#149 Several units that had melted and warped in the area immediately surrounding the cooling fan;

&#149 Several units that had melted or burned away in the area covering and surrounding the laptop battery unit.

The safety recall focused on notebook batteries. In that recall announcement, on Dec. 16, 2005, the CPSC said "Dell has received three reports of batteries overheating. The incidents involved damage to a tabletop, a desktop, and minor damage to personal effects. No injuries have been reported."

The overheating laptop issue involving Dell has grabbed headlines at a time when the company has been working to rebuild its reputation after some well-publicized earnings disappointments, as well as knocks against declines in its customer service and support.

Dell is currently working with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in an effort to find out what caused the laptops to burst into flames in front of a customer attending a conference in Japan earlier this year.

A Dell spokesman, Jess Blackburn, said the company would not comment on the number of notebooks that have been returned to the Round Rock, Texas-based company with burning or overheating issues. "Any notebook that's returned to us that would have some kind of potential safety issue associated with it, gets not only our own engineering review but also that of a third party review," Blackburn said.

"We have, as you know, issued battery recalls. We did one last fall. And then, separate from notebooks, we had a capacitor issue on the OptiPlex desktops that we also issued a recall on," he said. "So when the circumstances warrant it, we absolutely take any necessary actions. Beyond that I would say Dell places a very high priority on evaluating any potential safety concerns to ensure the safety of our customers."

Blackburn also suggested that if a dozen notebooks, in fact, suffered burning issues between 2003 and 2004, it should be put into perspective: Dell sells millions of laptops per quarter, he said.

Some of Dell's resellers said they had not experienced any burning or exploding laptop issues from customers.

"In the hundreds and hundreds of notebooks we've resold, we haven't had that problem," said Gerald Swerdlick, CEO of EVAS, a Westerly, Rhode Island-based solution provider and Dell reseller. "Any kind of publicity that's negative can have an affect. But the cure to that is the analysis of it, put out what happened and caused it, and then you've done your best.

"If it was a battery, let people know it was a battery," Swerdlick said. "You can't ignore things."

A spokesman for the CPSC declined to comment on any matters involving Dell, except to refer to a statement the commission issued last year when Dell and the CPCS announced the 22,000-unit recall.

As part of the recall announcement, Dell set up a web site, to assist customers with suspect units in replacing suspect notebook batteries.