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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 15, 2006

4.1 million Dell notebook computer batteries recalled

By Mike Hughlett
Chicago Tribune

The suspect batteries are in some models of Dell's Latitude, Inspiron, XPS and Precision mobile workstation notebook computers.

DIANE BONDAREFF | Associated Press

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CHICAGO Citing fire hazards, Dell Computer Co. yesterday said it would recall 4.1 million notebook computer batteries, the largest electronics recall ever undertaken by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Dell's announcement is the latest in a wave of fire-related recalls involving the standard power source for portable electronic devices: lithium-ion batteries.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has tallied 339 overheating incidents since 2003, the Chicago Tribune reported last month. No one has been killed. But there have been several reports of injuries including burns and incidents of property damage.

Lithium-ion batteries pack a tremendous amount of energy in a small space, making them ideal for laptops, cell phones and myriad other gadgets. But if they short-circuit, they can overheat and unleash their energy by exploding or burning.

Dell said it would recall lithium-ion batteries manufactured by Sony Corp. and installed in computers sold from April 2004 to last month, said Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Those batteries could have a manufacturing defect, Wolfson said. "It's a quality-control issue."

Lithium-ion battery fires and explosions are very rare, considering the hundreds of millions of cell phones and computers sold.

Still, battery recalls have been rising, particularly involving notebook computers. In the past year, Hewlett-Packard has recalled 150,700 batteries, while Apple Computer has called back 156,000 in the past two years.

Dell recalled 284,000 batteries in 2001 and another 22,000 last December. The latest Dell recall, which affects the Latitude, Inspiron and Precision laptop models, is an extension of one announced in December, Wolfson said.

Dell's latest recall far exceeds the largest previous lithium-ion recall: 1 million batteries called back by cell-phone maker Kyocera in October 2004.

Companies usually do recalls in tandem with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. A recall normally occurs after regulators or the company itself has fielded multiple product complaints.

Dell told the Consumer Safety Product Safety Commission that since December, it learned of six cases of its notebook computers exploding or bursting into flames. None of the fires caused any injuries.

Dell didn't detail the incidents. But a Dell laptop reportedly caught fire last month at a business in Vernon Hills, Ill. A picture of the burnt laptop was posted recently on the Web site Engadget.

This summer, a picture of a Dell laptop in flames this one at a conference in Japan was widely circulated on the Internet.

"That (incident) is related to the worldwide recall," Wolfson said.

Dell's recall affects 2.7 million computers in the United States and 1.4 million sold abroad.

Dell told Bloomberg News the recall won't have a material impact on the company's finances. News of the recall came out after the stock market closed yesterday.

WHICH DELL MODELS TO CHECK

Dell Inc. is recalling battery packs made for the following models of notebook computers that were shipped from April 2004 to last month:

  • Dell Latitude D410, D500, D505, D510, D520, D600, D610, D620, D800, D810.

  • Dell Inspiron 6000, 8500, 8600, 9100, 9200, 9300, 500m, 510m, 600m, 6400, E1505, 700m, 710m, 9400, E1705.

  • Dell Precision M20, M60, M70, M90.

  • XPS, XPS Gen2, XPS M170 and XPS M1710.

    The batteries also were sold separately for $60 to $180, including to customers on service calls.

    Each battery bears an identification number on a white sticker. Customers should have the number handy when they call Dell to learn if the battery is covered by the recall.

    The company planned to launch a Web site, www.dellbatteryprogram.com, at 1 a.m. CDT today (8 p.m. yesterday, Hawai'i time). Customers also can call a toll-free Dell number, (866) 342-0011, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CDT (3 a.m. to noon Hawai'i time).

    Dell said the notebooks can be used safely with power cord and wall plug if the battery is removed first.