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Compaq to recall notebook batteries that can catch fire

The computer maker says it will recall and replace about 55,000 battery packs sold with two of its notebook models, a few weeks after a similar recall by Dell Computer.

Compaq Computer said Friday it will recall and replace about 55,000 battery packs sold with two of its notebook models because of an overheating problem.

The Houston-based company revealed that batteries contained inside its Armada E500 and V300 notebooks can short-circuit, causing the notebooks to overheat, smoke and even catch fire. The defective battery packs were sold worldwide with the two notebooks but also as separate items. So far, only one problem has occurred, the company said.

On Oct. 13, Dell recalled 27,000 notebook batteries after it discovered that the batteries could short-circuit and ignite notebooks. Sanyo Electronic manufactured the batteries contained in the Dell notebooks.

A Compaq spokesman said the two incidents were unrelated. Sony, not Sanyo, manufactured Compaq's battery. Nonetheless, analysts and others no doubt will begin to question whether notebook manufacturers are pushing the design envelope.

In recent years, manufacturers have increased the power requirements of notebooks with features such as larger screens and DVD drives. At the same time, they have pushed to reduce the size and weight of laptops.

Engineering work has also been focused on getting more life out of batteries. All this nipping and tucking has effectively led to more power surging through smaller computers, which are selling in record numbers.

"It is a little bit of the growing pains of notebooks becoming more popular," explained Matt Sargent, an analyst with ARS. Once a niche product, notebooks have become a mass market commodity and invariably are picking up some of the negative characteristics associated with mass-produced goods.

These sort of problems, Sargent added, will likely continue to crop up as manufacturers plan to increase the number, as well as the performance, of laptops.

"The power requirements have gone up and notebooks are becoming more performance oriented," he said. "Any time you get something more complex, the opportunity for problems to come up increases."

Compaq said the the defective batteries were manufactured between June 2 and July 10. The company warned that customers should stop using these notebooks immediately and consult a Web page concerning the recall for more information.

The company said the problem came to light in late August when a customer reported a problem. Compaq contacted Sony, which then confirmed a problem existed, a Compaq spokesman said. The Compaq spokesman added that Sony is paying for the recall.

Customers affected by the defect will be eligible to receive two free battery packs for each recalled battery. There will be no cost to Compaq customers for the recall and replacement program.