Flaming Notebook


what you’ve seen in the blogosphere, there is no update on the now infamous “flaming
notebook” from Osaka
.  We replaced the customer’s computer and are
still investigating the cause.  We think it was a fault in a lithium ion battery

Update (8-14): Alex Gruzen just published a post that outlines the details of our battery recall program.

engineering teams are working with the Consumer Product Safety Commission and a
third-party failure analysis lab to determine the root cause of this failure
and to ensure we take all appropriate measures to help prevent a
recurrence.  By the way, lithium ion batteries are used in billions of
notebooks, mp3 players, PDAs and cell phones these days.

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49 thoughts on “Flaming Notebook

  1. We posted on this (see above) a while back and wondered when you folks were going to join the conversation.

    And now here you are, blogging about it. I almost never thought I’d see the day.

    So now that you’re out here, what do you guys think about the idea that’s been raised in the blogosphere of granting Jeff Jarvis an interview with Michael Dell?

  2. Big kudos for starting the blog. Glad to see you join the conversation(s) that have so frequently revolved around you but have not been able to include you.

    A word of advice – no need to remind us of how many batteries there are… Just saying you’re looking into it is good enough for me. Otherwise you just sound defensive.

    Adding you to my feed reader now!

  3. Why should Jarvis get an interview with anybody, let alone Michael Dell? You people jumping on Dell for "not joining the conversation" properly have zero sense of what’s really important for their business — and pleasing Jeff Jarvis and his sycophantic know-nothing followers isn’t on that list.

  4. Woah. You guys are serious about blogging. Now I know where to come to find out about Latitudes going supernova and anything else I come across in the blogosphere. We should have this posted on slashdot.

  5. Lionel,

    Great job on joining the conversation!   It’s a great start…

    Here are a few thoughts on how you can make upgrades to corporate blogging activities based on your post about the flaming laptop:

    1.  Make Your Posts Actionable.  The post on the burning laptop (flaming laptop) missed a window of opportunity in terms of creating an actionable framework to deepen dialogs with individuals that have an interest in these issues.   The longer term corporate blogging strategy is to connect this group to future Dell corporate communications efforts.  You can do this by:

    A. Encouraging individuals to sign up for your RSS feeds

    B. To include a specific date on when you’re going to provide an update.  This is incredibly important.  It’s like scheduling a message board forum with a guest speaker.  

    C. Provide people with your email address.  One-way lists don’t work for long.  The new communication model is about being of service rather than just servicing a list for corporate gain.  The “being of service” message is Web 2.0/Word of Mouth marketing industry fluffy messaging.  The bottom line is Dell is a business.  Now that Dell is blogging, you have a great opportunity to create your own viral audience platform to support message distribution or corporate communication goals.

    2.  Follow the Conversation.  Two key takeaways here:

    A. I would strongly recommend that you tags (use keywords to help with indexing posts in search results for phrases people are using) for every post in addition to category or top tags.

    B.  Dell needs to be doing outreach and commenting on blogs that are talking about the flaming laptop with links back to your site.  Even simple “thank you” posts to bloggers can go a long way in starting new relationships.

    Again, congratulations and welcome to the future.

    Todd Tweedy



  6. Excellent. One perfect example why Dell should continue utilizing a blog format. The accountability of an issue.

    Good job clarfiying that!

  7. Something tells me this is going to end up being a faulty component purchased from a vendor whose bid came in tons lower than the competition.  Sadly, Dell has experienced this before with the infamous GX270 capacitor issue, which I have to deal with at work (before I was hired there, someone purchased hundreds of them).  It’s a bad situation – the product works when it’s manufactured and continues to work for months after that, only to have some form of utter meltdown.  At least my GX270s don’t catch fire.

    Solutions… I’m going to say that what Dell needs to do is work harder on quality control with third-party component vendors.  Make a design spec, and do checks to make sure that spec is being met by the vendor.  Right now it seems like a case of "lowest bid wins the contract."  Dell has the market muscle to ensure both low prices and high quality (although your continuing use of zip cords instead of real cable puzzles me).  Hopefully, Dell is going to use that muscle to drive quality up for a while – it’s about time!

  8. "By the way, lithium ion batteries are used in billions of notebooks, mp3 players, PDAs and cell phones these days."

    This is similar to when a Dell tech explain to me the number of years he had been working for Dell and never heard of the NIC ever failing in a computer.  Regardless of how often this happens, it doesn’t change that a customer was sold a crap that does not function correctly.  Would Dell have choosen this same language if it’s laptop had produced fire on an airplane in flight?  These types of Dell bombs may still out there.

    "Maybe instead of blaming Dell for this you should be grateful that Dell is not saying, contact the MoBo manufacturer, it’s their problem, not ours."

    As part of getting OEM pricing on parts, the OEM becomes responsible for customer service on the part.  Despite that fact, I have had Dell technical support staff before tell me if I think there is a problem with a computer they sold, then I should talk to whoever made the part (doing exactly what you say I should be grateful Dell supposily does not do).  I have had more problems getting a RMA for problems with Dell machines than when dealing with hardware faulures for IBM or HP.  In one case, the home PC was covered by one-site support so Dell provided someone from BankTech to replace the motherboard.  When the tech contacted Dell back to let them know the replacement motherboard had not resolved the issue and that there was evidence the CPU was bad, Dell argued with their own contractor on if another motherboard should be shipped to confirm it wasn’t the motherboard.  I have a journal of issues showing why getting any extended warrenty on a Dell is worthless and the time involved in getting an RMA is on average worse than just paying for the replacement parts yourself.

    This is also not the first time Dell has had a problem with "their" (or the OEM parts making up the product) equipment going up in smoke.  One  customer I assisted with had multiple PowerEdge 1650 servers catch fire in the period of three months.  Dell’s initial responce was to scape-goat on the UPS vendor used for the operations room.  Also, it turned out for problems where the PowerEdge smokes that "4 hour on-site support" just means that withen 4 hours you will be told that they need to ship a server in a 1-2 week period.

    Eventually the assigned Dell salesman for the organization made a bunch of promises of free replacement equipment to help phase out use of the model 1650.  Shortly afterward, the organization was assigned a new salesman that "could not honor" any previous promises.  The organization now uses primarily IBM bladecenters.  Any problems that can’t be fixed in 4 hours result in the blade being replaced the same day.  And as a piece of comic relief, the organization now refers to Dell as "SMell" because of the smoke smell that is left behind after using the product.

    I’m curious to know how many of these laptops have done this but where it was never caught on film.  I can easily see Dell’s support policies and procedures resulting in a claim that a customer can’t prove the fire was because of the laptop and without accidental damage coverage Dell does not owe them anything.  While in this recent case the laptop was replaced, it seems to me that getting a picture of the laptop exploding played a roll in accomplishing getting such a customer friendly responce from Dell.  How many people are left with an extra crisp "laptop" from Dell?  Actually, nevermind–don’t answer that.  I probably should ask the MoBo manufactor instead.

  9. What can you tell us about the laptop that caught fire? What have you learned so far about it?

    Was it turned on at the time?

    Is there any danger of a battery catching fire if the laptop is turned off?

  10. I don’t know if this quote is going to work so…


    "By the way, lithium ion batteries are used in billions of notebooks, mp3 players, PDAs and cell phones these days."

    BTW, Dell, you s**k for saying something like that. There are millions of cars on the road too, but if GM came out with a model that was a defective do you think they would be like, "By the way, there are millions of cars out there. It’s cool, just relazzzz."[/quote]

    Actually it’s not saying something likr that. It’s like GM saying BTW there are millions of cars with Bridgestone Tires on the road and only a very small percentage have had a problem so there is no need for concern about all the rest or about tires in general. Dell doesn’t want to start a consumer wide panic about LI batteries in general.

    Also the GX270 caps issue is not a Dell only issue. This affected the entire electronics industry affecting microwaves, vcr’s, set top dvd players and many other consumer electronics as well as PC’s and not just Dell PC’s. Dell has just been nice enough to absorb the cost themselves when replacing these motherboards. Dell did not buy the defective capicators from that manufacturer. The motherboard manufacturer bought the capacitors and used them on motherboards they sold to Dell. Dell had no control over the vendors these MoBo makers used for their parts. Maybe instead of blaming Dell for this you should be grateful that Dell is not saying, contact the MoBo manufacturer, it’s their problem, not ours.

  11. I recently purchased the Dell Latitude D820.  This was a personal purchase and love the machine.  It does get quite warm on occasion so I thought I’d ask what the tolerances should be for this unit.  It is the D820 with the T2500 Core Duo.  I think much of the heat is coming from the Seagate Momentus 100gig 7200rpm drive.  I have a Hitachi 100gig 7200rpm drive on order so we’ll see if that drive is better.

    At what temp should I get worried?  

  12. You know by you saying that million of notebook pda etc have the same batteries doesn’t make me feel better, please do a thorough search of what actually happened so that more people are aware of any concerns…

  13. The Dell that went off was in a conference room.  Usually the temp. in these rooms are controlled to keep them at a comfortable room temp.  The PowerEdge 1650 I saw blow smoke out the front when being turned on had been powered off for a couple hours and was in an operations room that is kept below 60F.

    If you bought the laptop in the last 30 days then you should be able to return it to Dell.  This is one of the nicest features of Dell policy and one that you should take advantage of given the lack of information Dell has released about the laptop that exploded.

    Otherwise, I recommend that you periodically remove the battery and look for early warning signs.  Is the case cracked anyplace?  If you lightly apply presure to the plastic, is there someplace that the casing used to give that now something on the inside seems to be bulging into.

    I would also strongly recommend getting a wireless keyboard and mouse.  Avoid putting the laptop anywhere near your lap and whenever possible, use it at 10 or 15 feet away.

    Lastly, if you are conserned about heat being a trigger, then replace the hard drive with a 5400RPM drive instead of yet another 7200RPM.  There are also a couple companies that make cooling "pads" made up of two fans that you place your laptop on top of and plug into the USB port for power.

  14. I’m not ready to believe the laptop fire was due to a battery issue – I saw the photos of the incident. I saw a laptop plugged in and therefore running on high power sitting on top of a table cloth which would easily be sucked up against the air intake and also plenty of water nearby on the table it was sitting on.  Having taught thousands of students in conference rooms just like this, I would say the conditions I described above were more likely responsible than a battery.  The article I read said that the laptop burned and popped for over 5 minutes.  WHAT??? Something definitely sounds wrong here and I will wait for better information to make any conclusion to pass to all of my laptop users. Of course, anything is possible and I like others would be interested in the post mortem.  I would like to remark that those using the phrase "Dell Bomb" are being childishly irresponsible and needlessly inflammatory.  This is not DailyKos or some other politcal blog.  If you can’t disprove spontaneous combustion of human beings, YOU are also a potential "bomb".

  15. I own a dell laptop and I have been frightened a few times by how hot my laptop got just sitting closed in its case….I have the docking station at work and a few times I didn’t realize that by undocking the computer without turning it off, makes it get really hot. You think its not on and running but it is. It got so hot it almost would burn my skin just by touch.

  16. I hope you guys find what fully caused it and can find what to do to make sure it never happens again. I have always been a big promoter of Dell (My old high school and current employer use them) and they have always worked good. I was in the market for a notebook computer and was going to go thru you guys but this really set me back from buying a notebook ( Desktop bring on the XPS 700) if you guys can fix it you will have a new notebook customer

  17. Ben said: "Avoid putting the laptop anywhere near your lap and whenever possible, use it at 10 or 15 feet away. "

    Uh…. 10 or 15 feet away? I hope that was sarcasm…

  18. Well not many ppl take the trouble to clean the heat sink for a desktop/laptop.. could be sucking up dust and larger particles after 1 yr… Laptop on lap is ok but sometimes clothing get in the way of the intake fan.. is like a blocked radiator… something gotta give..

  19. Oh, come on. Apple had two L-ion batteries cause overheating and fire in 1995. They stopped production, pulled the batteries, and gave two free replacements to every affected customer.

    Dell can’t even keep up with 1995’s customer service standards.

  20. I appreciate the ‘early warning.’  We are aware of the incident described on the Tom’s Hardware forum. I wanted you to know that my colleagues have been in contact with the customer.  We are confirming the details of the event and have been taking the appropriate actions.  I assure you that Dell takes any incident like this very seriously.

  21. "I would like to remark that those using the phrase "Dell Bomb" are being childishly irresponsible and needlessly inflammatory.  This is not DailyKos or some other politcal blog.  If you can’t disprove spontaneous combustion of human beings, YOU are also a potential "bomb"."

    Riiiiight. Listen, using big words doesn’t change the fact that people can say whatever they want. Dell Bomb is a perfectly hilarious phrase to use when describing this incident.

    I wouldn’t argue against calling me a ‘potential bomb’ except that no one in my family or even extended family has ever had the tendency to do so… the same can’t be said for Dell laptop family, some googling will show that this has happened a few times…

    I say go with the ‘Dell Bomb’ phrase, since it’s quite appropriate.

  22. Lithium Polymer batteries will "vent with flame" if they are damaged physically or overcharged.  I use them in model airplanes and most of my collegues use a crock pot, or pyrex dish, or a fire safe to store and charge batteries.  Dell batteries are protected by a plastic shell – model airplane batteries have no such protection as we need them light.  And by overcharging, I do not mean leaving the Dell charger on 24 X 7.  We typically put a 24 hour charge into these batteries in 10 minutes or so, which is considered abuse by the manufacturers.

    Having said that, look at this video of a deliberately overcharged lithium polymer batter.


    For more, google LiPo Fire

  23. Darthvader: to answer your question re: whether Dell checks on the quality of aftermarket batteries, the answer is no.  Dell recommends using  Dell batteries for our notebooks. See this link for more details, and go to http://www.dell.com/battery which has this information and more.

  24. Lionel,

    I would suggest that Dell put in more details so that an average consumer can perhaps understand when their battries need replacement eg. Batt LED 1-3-5 flashing, amber light flashing on the "batt charging" LED etc.

    Googled Dell diag does not mention 1 3 5 error


    Forum on 1 3 5 error


    Also perhaps some information to users on the self diagnostic tools F12 function.. I do run them from time to time

  25. Well, it seems that a lot of these things keep happening- there’s been more sightings and photo shoots of the Li-Ion/Li-Poly batteries in a Dell laptop going "poof" and burning hideous holes in things.  This translates into issues with QA on the batteries, combined with charger problems, combined with lifespan issues (A marginal battery will be more susceptible to this and it may be fine for a year or two, but then…  If the supply’s over charging even slightly, over time the battery will be more and more likely to have a thermal runaway event; Li-Ion batteries are relatively safe as long as you operate them to _precise_ design specs, but use them outside of those and it’s like playing Russian Roulette…).  While I’m not going to jump on the bash-Dell bandwagon, it’s of some great concern that they’re even **DOING** this sort of thing in the first place- there’s been much, much higher levels of thermal runaway incidents with apparently stock power packs, stock batteries, etc. worldwide.

  26. I think the public needs to be educated about the potential danger of Li-Ion batteries. Most people know the danger of pyrotechnics and do follow safety guidelines. While Li-Ion batteries are much safer, the public is caught off-guard because it does not know about the inherent danger of this technology.

    Pyrotechnics tells us the danger of mixing a fuel and an oxidizer. For example, the fuel in the Shuttle’s SRB is a metal, aluminum, and the oxidizer is ammonium perchlorate. Similarly, in a Li-Ion battery, the fuel is also a metal, lithium, and the oxide, cobalt oxide. This particular mix ignites at about 140 F. This is one reason why you should not leave a cell phone or a laptop in a hot car. For the same reason, you should not leave a laptop running unattended on a bed as the soft bedding can block the cooling vents and cause the machine to overheat.

    By the way, phospate-based Li-Ion batteries (used in the Segway transporter) are safer than the oxide-based ones in used cell phones and laptops. But even with the phosphate-based technology there is latent danger such that Segway doesn’t want you to ship their batteries by air (as they don’t want to be responsible for bringing down a Boeing freighter or even worse a passenger jet :). Also, recently, Tesla engineers have come up with a safe version of Li-Ion batteries for electric vehicles where each battery in a pack is encased in a protective gel.

    Until a foolproof battery is developed, the industry ought to educate the public about the potential danger inside their cell phones and laptops.

  27. DELL had a notebook battery recall on December 16, 2005, which appears to be the same as today’s recall (August 15, 2006). Why has this become a major issue eight months after the original recall?

  28. Ben: To respond to your comments about "multiple PowerEdge 1650 servers catch fire in the period of three months," I talked to the product teams for more background. The issue being referred to is from nearly three years ago and was proactively addressed with customers affected.

    Dell determined that PowerEdge 1650 servers shipped between January 1, 2003 and May 6, 2003 may have contained a defective inductor, which is a component on the motherboard that converts voltages. The inductor failure was confined to the motherboard within the server enclosure and did not present a safety issue. In the unlikely event of a failure, a release of smoke occured prior to the system automatically shutting off. There were no reported incidents of servers catching on fire. Dell proactively contacted customers with potentially affected systems and offered a mother board repalcement or complete system replacement depending on the customer’s warranty/need.

  29. Dell have had problems with over heating batteries and laptops just setting on fire but with recalls of these such laptops things seem to be under control, but it must make people wonder about buying products from dell but my answer to that is any manufacture and big names always have a flaw now and again. Dell are still one of the best suplliers on the market.

  30. As has been mentioned, Dell’s laptops or other systems are not exclusive (Apple) to power problems as a catalyst to combustion or overheating. At least they are doing something about it and it doesn’t appear any deaths have been reported, not so with the Ford cruise control issue where many people died due to the defective item that did not even require the vehicle to be on. And Ford was even ordered by the U.S. government to stop using this component. Did they? No. So Dell is doing, I think, a great job of dealing with an issue that probably was not of their own design.

  31. I'd been using Dell C400 for sometime now, and the heat really makes me worry. When I use the laptop with batteries everything is fine, but, when I start using the Laptop with the main power, it gets really hot. So hot, that it may burn my hand if I put my palm directly on the bottom surface. Of cause, not the mention when it is attached to the dock, the fan never stop and the dock heats up too.

    Just wanted to know why is this happening and is there anywhere for me to prevent this?

  32. I have a Dell Vostro 1700, it has developed 2 very bright spots on the screen, is this going to get worse

  33. This is an interesting thread although it is pretty old.  A couple months ago I experienced a heating problem with my Inspiron laptop that was rather frightening, and fortunately it only happened once.  When I left my shop to head home I closed the computer, put it in its carrying bag and left.  When I got home and pulled the computer out to do some work with it, it was red-hot!  Seriously.  I could hardly touch it.  What I did was opened it and put it in front of a fan, and eventually it cooled off.  This was a really surprising thing to have happen as usually the notebook just goes into sleep mode when it's closed.

  34. i have dell optiplex gx270 model.every every evening i shut it down my system.when i come office in morning i saw system is already power on.how its possible without push power on switch on cpu system get on. pls tell me any suggetion

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