Dude, where's my battery?

Dude, where's my battery?

Summary: If you're one of the millions of people who have bought Dell notebooks over the past few years, I've got some bad news for you - this battery recall is going to cost you time and/or money. And the more you bought, the more it's going to cost you.

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TOPICS: Laptops
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If you're one of the millions of people who have bought Dell notebooks over the past few years, I've got some bad news for you - this battery recall is going to cost you time and/or I don't see how any company is going to be able to leave it up to employees to check their notebooks, given the potential liability of a notebook going nuclear on someone's lap or on a planemoney.  And the more you bought, the more it's going to cost you.

By now every Dell notebook owner should know that Dell is recalling 4.1 million notebook batteries manufactured by Sony, amid fears that they could go up in flames.  This 4.1 million accounts for about 14% of the 24.9 million batteries sold between April 2004 and July 21, 2006.  No matter how you cut it, that's a lot of batteries!

Now Dell has made it clear that this recall isn't going to affect their bottom line for this period, and from that we can assume that Sony will be footing the $300 - $400 million bill for this battery exchange.  OK, so Dell's in the clear, but who's compensating the customer?  If you own one Dell notebook then it's going to take you a few minutes to pop the battery out of your system, jot down the serial number and check to see if your battery is a potential incendiary device or not.  If your battery is a dud that has to go back to Dell, then you have to live without your battery for around 20 days while you wait for a replacement.

OK, now scale this up.  What if you, your company or organization has 100 Dell notebooks?  1,000? 10,000?  100,000? 

Suddenly this becomes a huge task.  Someone needs to identify batteries that have been recalled, organize for them to be sent back to Dell[Updated: August 17, 2006 @ 11:17 am], make sure that replacements are received for each recalled battery and that the right battery is then matched up to the right notebook.  That's a lot of work.  It's also serious work.  An organization or company will need to identify every single battery that's been recalled and make sure that it is replaced, period.  There can be no shortcuts with a safety recall like this.  To be honest, I don't see how any company is going to be able to leave it up to employees to check their notebooks, given the potential liability of a notebook going nuclear on someone's lap or on a plane (six months from now, someone else could be using that notebook).  The bottom line is that someone will have to audit every single Dell notebook that a company owns. 

Also, what about down-time?  If you have one notebook that you rely on and the battery is recalled, no problems, go out and buy a replacement battery.  But buying 10,000 replacement batteries is a pretty big deal. 

It's clear that Dell has made sure that the cost of this recall is passed on, but the problem is that a significant part of that cost (certainly with respect to time) has been passed on to the owners.  The cost to companies (both in administration and downtime) could mount up to a significant sum.  And if this recall extends beyond Dell notebooks, then this could become a very serious issue indeed.

For details of which batteries are affected, see this post or go to the Dell Battery Return Program website.

Topic: Laptops

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22 comments
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  • exchange is fair compensation ?

    im sure sony believes that a new battery for a "used" one is fair cost to the consumer.

    i guess ?

    but now they can put drm technoogy in the new batteries that calls home to tell sony how many hours you use your computer each day !
    not of this world
    • I'd say that the old batteries were pretty well DRMed

      :-)

      You're right though, this isn't the first time that Sony has thought that an exchange is good enough.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • Maybe Sony will send a coupon

      good for $5 off a Sony CD. lol
      mustangj36@...
      • Yeah :-)

        But you have to live with the DRM on it!
        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • This is wrong

    ZDNet, please stop spreading misinformation. I went to the Dell website, checked my battery, and found that it needed to be replaced. So I went through the process of entering my shipping address, and was then told that the battery would be sent out. There was no request to first return the bad battery. They did mention that there will be a method to return the old battery for propper disposal once I receive the new battery. That step seemed like it was optional. People might decide to dispose of the battery themselves, or send it back to Dell.

    Now of course while you wait for your new battery, you probably should not be using your old battery, but once again this is optional and at your own risk it seems.

    As far as companies go, I though the best way would have been to each employee go to the Dell website themselves, and enter the info themselves. It is very quick. But enter the company's address as the shipping address with attention the employee's name. Then as the company's shipping department receives each battery, they can check it off a list and then give the battery to the employee.
    Qbt
    • That must have changed ...

      Initially it was an exchange ... I'll correct the article.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • Employees handling the exchange

      "As far as companies go, I though the best way would have been to each employee go to the Dell website themselves, and enter the info themselves. It is very quick."

      You know, maybe I've been reading Dilbert for too many years, but that comes across to me as a very bad idea indeed for a number of reasons.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • Self recall.

      [b]As far as companies go, I though the best way would have been to each employee go to the Dell website themselves, and enter the info themselves. It is very quick. But enter the company's address as the shipping address with attention the employee's name. Then as the company's shipping department receives each battery, they can check it off a list and then give the battery to the employee.[/b]

      Maybe you've never worked in a large organisation?
      timpin1@...
  • lies - all lies

    Dell doesent sell notebooks/laptops they sell [i]"portables".[/i]
    Suicida|
  • Passing the Buck

    Sure this is a Sony problem, but Dell has played a large role.
    When has Dell failed to offload work to their customers? The low
    margin leader primarily makes it's money off intrest accrued
    between getting the customers money, and having to pay
    suppliers. Do we think for a second that being the largest
    volume supplier obliges them to do additional testing? Dell isn't
    a technology company, they do no substantive R&D, they have
    contributed nothing to computing beyond a slick supply chain.

    Dell is largely responsible for lowering margins and causing
    skimping on everything industry wide. It feeds back to
    manufacturing and suppliers. The endemic drive to lower price
    makes this kind of backlash inevitable. The business community
    has lauded Dell's "innovations" and admired their business
    acumen. Like every PC OEM, they have been responsible for
    fobbing off low grade hobby kits as computers. A few
    explosions per thousand chemistry sets will have to be
    acceptable.

    The guilless acquisition department with 3rd degree burns to
    contend with, might have to finally come in view of the seminal
    issue. You didn't pay enough for your computer and your
    expectation of what a computer's price should be has been
    molded to a huge extent by Michael "Fireball" Dell.

    Well that's heretical talk! Computers should be like toasters and
    TV's right?

    Add this additional cost is added to a growing TCO. Along with
    the IT department itself, the cost of fixing is the larger expense.
    The cost will be carried by business because it never endorsed
    the computer to begin with. Instead, it chose to endorse
    abundant, cheap, piles of parts that were squeezed into
    computer-like shapes by a company better suited to making
    toasters.

    At least the have the "dark" setting taken care of.
    Harry Bardal
    • Good points ...

      ... and how is Dell responding to the 51% drop in quarterly profits? This from the BBC:

      "It pledged to cut costs, improve prices and invest in technical support."http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/5261780.stm

      Yep, there you have it - cut costs ...
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • No R&D? - False!

      I know people who work in Dell's Product Group. They do extensive R&D on new products and do extensive testing as well, mechanical testing, electrical testing, stress testing, etc. Your Dell-bashing is unwarranted. How would you suggest Dell handle this? How could Dell forsee a 9-out-of-4.1-million failure rate?

      Also note that Apple is facing the same issue.
      bmeacham98@...
  • Dell Battery Recall

    Why all this complaining? Try to be practical. Dell didn't intentionally inflict an injury on laptop owners. It is not an evil empire with mal intent. It simply identified a problem and had the guts to engage in a recall effort. Compare that to tobacco companies or many other companies who choose for business reasons to allow a certain percentage of deaths as a less costly event than a recall.

    So you got a bad battery on your inexpensive, but still relatively decent computer. Pop the battery out and read the sticker. If Dilbert can work a computer, he can read a sticker.

    You bet it will be an administrative burden for companies with many laptops to check and replace batteries. No question. But let's not blame Dell. What do you want them to do? Drive out to every PC and take a peek? Ridiculous.
    mark@...
    • Many would argue ...

      "Why all this complaining? Try to be practical. Dell didn't intentionally inflict an injury on laptop owners."

      Many would argue that Dell has cut too many corners and forced the supply chain to do the same, something which resulted in in this problem.

      It'll be interesting to se if other manufacturers are affected.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • Apple is affected too.

        Yup. Apple just announced a recall.
        bmeacham98@...
        • Yup ...

          An even bigger headache for Sony ...
          Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • and why shouldn't they?

      "....let's not blame Dell. What do you want them to do? Drive out to every PC and take a peek?"

      Why shouldn't we expect this to be done? I had a conversation with our Dell rep the other day and in no uncertain terms I told him that my organization would no longer be purchasing ANY Dell equipment. 50% failure on harddrives? 65% failure on motherboards!? It would have taken 2 hours for Dell to send out a technician to check those motherboards and harddrives to see if they were indeed bad, but they refused. Reactive support is no longer cutting it. Its time for customer support to become proactive.

      You think Dell didn't know that those "Portables" got so hot that they were dangerous? Companies figured that out a long time ago, thats why we no longer purchase laptops, we purchase notebooks (or portables), because companies didnt' want to get sued when someone got severe burns on their thighs. Dell knew how hot those machines got. Sony gives them temperature specs on the batteries. Dell figures "... eh, close enough, ship 'em!"

      IMO Dell will be filing chapter 13 in the next 4-5 years, because organizations will no longer be willing to save money at the cost of service and quality, I think my organization is just ahead of the curve.
      raymondftz
      • Now that's a prediction!

        "IMO Dell will be filing chapter 13 in the next 4-5 years, because organizations will no longer be willing to save money at the cost of service and quality, I think my organization is just ahead of the curve."

        You're not alone in thinking that way.
        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • computer or tobacco

      [b]Why all this complaining? Try to be practical. Dell didn't intentionally inflict an injury on laptop owners. It is not an evil empire with mal intent. It simply identified a problem and had the guts to engage in a recall effort. Compare that to tobacco companies or many other companies who choose for business reasons to allow a certain percentage of deaths as a less costly event than a recall.[/b]

      There's a major difference between a computer manufacturer that sells a dangerous product and a tobacco company: the tobacco company can't recall their 'faulty' product and replace it with a safe one.
      timpin1@...
  • Some helpful information for a change...

    For those who use Microsoft's Systems Management Server, someone has come up with a modification to do an inventory on your systems and pull the dell battery serial numbers. here's the link:
    http://www.myitforum.com/forums/MOF_for_Dell_Battery_Model/m_139241/tm.htm

    Positive note: our Dell rep called us and told us how many of our laptops were affected and what the service tag numbers were. We simply used our asset management system to identify who used those laptops and notified them of the issue. Our Desktop support group then processed the battery replacements on the Dell website and we'll be getting them in the next couple of weeks and distribute them to those affected. Not a bad process. Thankfully Dell has a direct sales model and could service us with this information - not sure but I don't think other manufacturers could have done such a neat job through resellers.
    WDE