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Some Micron notebooks may melt

Micron alerts all affected Gobook notebook consumers about a manufacturing problem with an external battery, which can heat up and cause "localized melting."

Some of Micron's notebook computers are sizzling hot--literally.

In addition to typical gripes about normal system glitches, some users of Micron Electronics' slim Gobook and Gobook2 notebooks are reporting a novel, yet irritating, technical difficulty: Their computers are melting.

Micron has recently alerted all affected Gobook users about a manufacturing problem with an external battery, which is sold as an option with the computers. In rare instances, this battery short-circuits and overheats, causing "localized melting of the plastic casing of the battery," according to one notice sent to users.

There have been only two reported instances of melting, according to Micron, which prefers to term the situation as "excessive heat."

"We have proactively done what we refer to as a recall in conjunction with [battery maker] Motorola," said Shane Thomas, vice president of portables engineering for Micron. Micron and Motorola have already alerted all Gobook users, he said, with instructions on how to determine if their system is affected. "Anybody affected has already been notified," he said.

Thomas stresses that the vast majority of Gobook users have encountered no problems.

"The chance of having a problem is extremely minute. We've been shipping for a year, and had two incidents out of 7,000 computers shipped," he said. "But it is better to err on the side of caution" and recall the Motorola batteries.

Micron isn't the only manufacturer to deal with computers that are too hot to handle. In 1996, amid corporate turmoil and historically low market share, Apple discovered a battery defect in its PowerBook 5300 notebooks which caused the computers to catch fire.

Although the error was detected and fixed before the notebooks were even released, the flammable computers were seen as emblematic of Apple's financial and strategic struggles.

Micron and Apple's problems also underscore the engineering challenges involved in designing and manufacturing notebooks, which house many heat-generating circuits and processors in a small case but are getting smaller by the quarter.

Introduced in April 1998, the original Gobook marked Micron's entry into the slim-notebook market, which was then being redefined by IBM, Sony, and others. Micron's first Gobook measured 1.3 inches thick, weighed 4.25 pounds and included a Pentium MMX processor. By July, the Gobook included a Pentium II.

Still, Thomas says, Micron's situation may not be that dire. Remarkably, even if the battery is short-circuiting and the case is melting, the Gobook can still function, he said.

"In both [reported] cases, the systems were still operable," he said.