Dell is recalling more than 4 million notebook PC batteries—an action it says is the largest battery recall thus far in computer history—following several incidents involving its machines.
The Round Rock, Texas, PC maker on Aug. 14 announced that it was working with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and other agencies worldwide to recall 4.1 million lithium-ion laptop batteries, manufactured by Sony and sold by Dell between April 2004 and July 2006.
Dell representatives said the company issued the voluntary recall following its investigation into at least two fires involving its laptops. That investigation—including a post-mortem on the now-famous machine that caught fire at an Osaka, Japan, business conference—led to the discovery of a manufacturing defect inside the cells, which were used in the battery packs involved in the recall. The defect—which one analyst said was the result of metallic shards being introduced into the packs during their manufacturing—could cause a short circuit, leading to a cell overheating and thus potentially catching fire.
"When we looked at our data, we decided to err on the side of conservatism … and capture every cell that Sony made [for Dell] between April 2004 and June [and July] of this year," said Anne Camden, a spokesperson for Dell.
For Dell, the recall represents about 15 percent of the companys "battery population," Camden said.
But for those customers who have the cells, it could represent an inconvenience. Dell is suggesting customers whose laptops contain the batteries discontinue their use. They should eject the packs from their laptops and operate the machines using AC power until a replacement is received, Dell said in a statement.
It could also turn into a customer relations nightmare for Dell, analysts said.
At best, "I think its make a lemonade out of a lemon situation" for Dell, said Roger Kay, president of EndPoint Technologies Associates, in Wayland, Mass. "It depends on whether Dell is able to handle this cleanly. If it gets out there, swaps them all out, then it might actually win points for customer service."
Despite the size of the Dell recall, its not uncommon for notebook batteries and charging systems to have problems. Improperly manufactured battery packs have led to numerous recalls involving of hundreds of thousands of battery packs by manufacturers including Apple Computer, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM in recent years.
Dell thus far has received only six reports of "incidents" with its Sony-cell-based battery packs in the United States and a handful more outside of the country, including the Osaka machine, Camden said.
The recalled battery packs were sold by Dell between April 1, 2004, and July 18, 2006, and were installed in a broad range of Dell notebook models. They were also marketed as spares and used as replacements by Dell service technicians, the company said in a statement.
Those Dell models the batteries were included with include Dell Latitude corporate notebooks with model numbers D410, D500, D505, D510, D520, D600, D610, D620, D800 and D810; Dell Inspiron models 6000, 8500, 8600, 9100, 9200, 9300, 500m, 510m, 600m, 6400, E1505, 700m, 710m, 9400 and E1705; and Dell Precision mobile workstation models M20, M60, M70 and M90 mobile and Dell XPS, XPS Gen2, XPS M170 and XPS M1710 models, Dell said.
The battery packs are stamped with "Dell," "Made in Japan," "Made in China," or "Battery Cell Made in Japan Assembled in China."
The packs are also affixed with an identification number, which appears inside a white sticker, located on the side of the battery pack.
Customers can use those numbers to check whether the battery packs they have are involved in the recall, according to Dell.
Customers can check the numbers and receive other information via Dells battery recall Web site or call the company at (866) 342-0011, Dell said.
Dell said that the recall would not have a material impact on its financials.
Previously, Dell recalled about 35,000 notebook battery packs sold to corporations and consumers worldwide between October 2004 and October 2005.