Dell recalls notebook batteries suspected of fire hazard

The giant PC maker recalls as many as 27,000 notebook batteries suspected of causing fires--the second major problem the company has had with portables this year.

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Dell Computer on Friday recalled as many as 27,000 notebook batteries suspected of causing fires.

The problem occurs because the batteries included in the notebooks are potentially defective. The batteries short circuit and can cause fires.

Dell downplayed the significance of the recall, which is the second major problem the PC maker has had with portables this year.

In March, Dell warned that as many as 400,000 notebooks shipped in 1999 contained defective memory chips.

In a statement, Dell emphasized that the recall is voluntary and affects only batteries used in the notebooks and not the notebooks themselves. Affected models were sold in the Americas from June 22 through Sept. 15 and in Europe, the Middle East and Africa between June 22 and Oct. 4.

While the recall is not expected to hurt Dell financially, it still presents the company with a public relations headache while the defective batteries are replaced.

Sanyo Electric made the potentially defective batteries for Dell, which were shipped with consumer Inspiron and commercial Latitude notebooks. One incident of fire had been reported, prompting Dell to issue the recall.

"This is certainly no Firestone,"

Meta Group says Dell's prompt announcement about problems reflects a more proactive and upfront PR strategy now being employed in the increasingly competitive PC market.

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said Technology Business Research analyst Brooks Gray, referring to the recent tire recall. "There have been a number of component problems as of late. Dell is being proactive addressing the issue by contacting the customers that could potentially be impacted by the component problem."

Affected models containing the potentially defective batteries are the Latitude CPiA, CPiR, CPtC, CPtS, CPtV, CPxH and CPxJ, and the Inspiron 3700 and 3800. Batteries containing the following identification numbers are subject to the recall, according to a Dell press release: DP/N followed by 01691P, 001691P or 0001691P and 42011, 42012, 42013 or 42014 as a separate code.

Dell has set up a special Web site so customers can get more information about the recall.

Component troubles on the desktop have been an ongoing problem for PC makers. Intel last month delayed the launch of its Pentium 4 processor because of a chipset problem. In August, the company pulled 1.13-GHz Pentium III processors and earlier replaced as many as a million motherboards because of defective chips.

But notebook problems have been less frequent. IBM in May recalled as many as 220,000 faulty AC adapters for ThinkPad portables. In March, Toshiba replaced notebooks containing flawed processor components.

Dell won't be affected financially

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by the problem, as "it looks like Sanyo is taking ownership," Gray said. "The customers are going to end up with two batteries at the end of the transaction as well."

Dell initially will replace one battery and then provide a second after Sanyo exchanges the potentially defective part.

Competitors like IBM and Toshiba face a tougher time during recalls because so many of their systems are sold through dealers. Because Dell sells direct to customers, it knows exactly where each affected notebook is.