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Dell laptops in electric shock shocker

We've discovered a worrying new feature in some Dell laptops: if you touch them, you may get an electric shock!

2 min read

We've discovered a worrying new feature in some Dell laptops: if you touch them, you may get an electric shock. This discharge can vary in strength from a gentle tingle to a sudden jolt. Disturbingly, you could also be shocked when connecting printers, PDAs and other peripherals to the offending laptops.

We know this because several CNET staff were hit with an electrical charge while using Dell's new XPS M1530 -- and we're not the only ones. Dell's forums are littered with user complaints about the shocking experiences they've had with some systems.

The problem only seems to occur in Dell laptops that have a brushed-aluminium finish. These include the XPS M1330 and XPS  M1530. It's caused by the two-pronged connection between the mains lead and the power adaptor, which isn't earthed properly because of its lack of a third pin.

The laptop therefore exhibits an electrical potential (voltage) between its exposed metal parts (the brushed aluminium wrist pad) and earth ground. Since there is no earth, the human body basically acts as a wire that can conduct electric current, hence the tingling, jolting sensation.

This can be exacerbated depending on the conditions of a person's skin -- whether it's oily or dry -- and the surrounding environment. Humidity levels, flooring types or desk material all play a role here.

Dell had not responded to a request for comment at time of publication -- we'll update if they ever get back to us. When our colleagues rang Dell to complain, they were told Dell is willing to replace all affected two-pin power supplies with a three-pin connection. But the company doesn't seem to publicly acknowledge there's a serious problem. According to a Dell Knowledge Base article:

"The electric current on all Dell products have been measured and proven to be well within the safety limits per safety standards -- IEC950, EN60950, UL1950, etc, even with an input voltage of 240 Volts. The voltage (tingling sensation) does NOT present any risk of injury to the user. It is recommended to unplug the AC adaptor from the parent device before attaching any cables or accessories, as this reduces the possibility of experiencing the tingling sensation."

While this may reassure some users, we're still slightly concerned. Back in 2004, the company recalled 4.4 million laptop power adaptors because of a fear they could overheat, creating a risk of fire or electric shock. The problem affected some Latitude, Precision and Inspirons between 1998 and 2002.

Have you been affected by laptops that give out an electric shock? Has your laptop exploded and caused horrible facial injuries? Let us know by posting in our forums. -Rory Reid