PC Makers Say Battery Problems Limited

Updated: Following a massive recall by Dell, PC makers HP and Lenovo maintain that their batteries are problem-free.

Dells battery recall—the largest battery recall thus far in computer history—may not get much bigger, according to the initial reactions of top PC makers, including Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo Group.

Dell on Aug. 14 issued a recall for 4.1 million notebook PC battery packs due to manufacturing defects that could lead to fires. The battery pack cells were manufactured by Sony and sold by the Round Rock, Texas, PC maker between 2004 and 2006, Dell officials said.

/zimages/2/28571.gifRead more here about Dell notebooks catching fire.

Despite the size of the action by Dell and Sonys status as the worlds second-largest supplier of lithium-based batteries, no other PC maker contacted by eWEEK said it had found a problem with its notebook batteries. Representatives from Gateway, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo all said on Aug. 15 that their companies notebooks were not affected by the conditions that lead Dell to issue its recall. Apple Computer, meanwhile, said it was investigating whether batteries it has used meet its standards.

Instead, the PC makers moved to quickly distance themselves from the massive action by Dell.

"This is not impacting us. The Dell recall is isolated to Dell," said Mike Hockey, an HP spokesperson, in Houston, Texas.


Lenovo "is not recalling any batteries at this time," said Bob Page, a spokesperson for Lenovo, in Raleigh, N.C. "Our own analysis—and information supplied to us by Sony—shows the issues experienced by our competitors systems are a combination of factors that are not present in our own systems."

Even Sony, which said it was working with Dell to both replace the battery packs and share the costs of the recall, said it wasnt immediately aware of incidents with its battery cells used by other brands of notebooks, even its own Sony VAIO-brand machines.

But that wont stop the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is working with Dell on the recall, from looking for other problems. Despite offering praise for Dells handling of the recall, Scott Wolfson, a spokesperson for the CPSC, in Washington D.C., said that its possible other products using Sony-made battery cells might eventually be recalled as well.

"We have ongoing talks with Sony, the manufacturer of the battery," Wolfson said. "We want to make sure we have all of the information about where the batteries are being used in non-Dell products to ensure that no other consumers are in harms way."

Sony said it has only seen reports of problems from Dell so far, said David Yang, a spokesperson for Sony Electronics America in San Diego, Calif.

"But we are looking into cells manufactured for other [PC] manufacturers," he said. "There are, from a technical standpoint, many, many variables that can cause these incidents. Its difficult to say formally that this is one problem."

Among the variables are the arrangement of battery cells inside a battery pack—whether or not those cells are aligned horizontally or vertically, for example—as well as the pack design and its location inside a notebook, he said.

Dell, HP and Lenovo have different specifications for their battery packs and also manage things like how they charge the packs differently. Lenovo, for one, says it uses a lower charge rate, which it says ensures the packs in its systems produce less heat and the longest possible operating life.

However, one source familiar with Sonys operations told eWEEK that the difference between problematic and problem-free battery packs could come down to which battery-making lines the cells were produced on. Given that Sony produces battery cells on more than one line, those it produced for one manufacturer may have turned out fine even as others produced for Dell—which is said to take up enough production for one whole line—turn up with problems, the source said.

Although the cells were generally manufactured in Japan, Yang said he could not confirm whether or not the issue was limited to one specific plant or assembly line.

Nevertheless, Dells recall could spark renewed interest in batteries by consumers and even government agencies, particularly if the problem turns out to be more widespread than it is thought to be at the moment, analysts said.

"Its the Sony cells that are the problem" for Dell, said Roger Kay, president of EndPoint Technologies Associates, in Wayland, Mass.

Kay said Dell told him that the cells it is recalling were manufactured using a newer process, which was later discovered to have introduced impurities—tiny metal shards—into the cells. A manufacturing step that involves crimping the ends of each cell is believed to have created the problematic shards, Kay said.

However, "There are a bunch of fairly rare circumstances that have to add up to make it happen," Kay said.

Next Page: Government agencies take a closer look.