Shifting Focus

By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2006-08-24 Print this article Print

However, the appearance of several online reports of notebooks catching fire motivated Grosso to call for a greater focus on batteries by the committee, he said. Over the summer, numerous reports of notebook fires cropped up, including—Dells now-famous Osaka incident in which one of its machines caught fire at a business.
Not all of the incidents involved Dell machines, he said. More recently, a Sony notebook was reported to have caught fire.
Grosso said he told members, "I think we need to accelerate what we were going to do" with batteries. Apple, HP and Lenovo, in particular, responded with support, he said. To be sure, even though Dell recalled 4.1 million units, that figure represented only about 15 percent of Dells notebook shipments. But, given the recent issues with batteries, some analysts believe safety standards are due. "Im actually a little surprised that there isnt one already" for batteries, said Richard Shim, an analyst with IDC in San Mateo, Calif. "A safe battery standard would make a lot of sense for the industry. It would be a lot more convenient for consumers" as well. But, despite the public interest battery safety and its best efforts to create standards, the Critical Components Committee cant force battery suppliers or any other PC component maker to comply with its specifications. Instead, the Critical Components Committee aims to encourage manufacturers to band together and require components they use meet committee standards. Despite the omnipresence of PC-industry technology standards that define the way items such as network cables should connect, few standards for the way the those components are manufactured exist, Grosso said. Components makers often decline to share information, due to the competitive nature of their business. For their parts, lithium-ion cell makers are considered to be particularly insular. Although the basic principles of battery-making are well known, the actual creation of lithium-ion cells has long been considered a black art. Cell manufacturers are said to guard their secret formulations closely. Thus getting the manufacturers to adhere to a standard that would seemingly level the playing field might seem like a stretch. Next Page: Secondary stages.

John G. Spooner John G. Spooner, a senior writer for eWeek, chronicles the PC industry, in addition to covering semiconductors and, on occasion, automotive technology. Prior to joining eWeek in 2005, Mr. Spooner spent more than four years as a staff writer for CNET, where he covered computer hardware. He has also worked as a staff writer for ZDNET News.

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