The Dell from Hell

By | August 19, 2006

The Dell from Hell 1Amid concerns about the security risks posed by travellers who bring their laptops into aircrafts, Dell has struck a further blow to the product’s safety credentials by issuing a recall of 4.1 million Lithium-ion laptop batteries after a series of public reports of its laptops catching fire. According to The Economist, such batteries have been responsible for several recent safety incidents, bursting into flames on at least five aircrafts.

Notwithstanding lame puns about the lack of firewall in Dell laptops and what a hot situation the company is in right now, the burning question (oops… sorry) is whether battery manufacturers – be it Sony or Sanyo – are to blame. The battery problem, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, is not limited to Dell laptops. As many as 43 laptop fires (caused by various laptop brands, including Apple and HP) have been reported in the US alone since 2001.

I suppose some of these boiled down to how the computer industry works. For years, hardware companies raced against each other to ship products as fast as they possibly can, and in the process they may have compromised quality. Computer manufacturers used to mock the telecoms industry’s ethos of “five nines” (i.e. 99.999% reliability) because it meant longer product cycles. Now, this is increasingly being accepted as a benchmark by hardware makers.

To its credit, Dell reacted quickly to the crisis by launching a battery return program offering free replacement batteries to affected consumers. The website immediately caught fire (oops!… I did it again) with over a million users accessing it since its launch. According to statistics revealed by web monitoring firm ComScore, the website attracted 1.26 million unique US visitors alone on August 15. That’s almost as many as the 1.39 million visits a day that averaged in July.

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