Toshiba is taking back bad memory

PC maker is offering to replace memory modules in 27 notebook models sold worldwide. Lockups, blue screens among problems' effects.

John G. Spooner
John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
3 min read
Toshiba wants to prevent memory problems among its customers.

The PC maker will offer to replace as many as 600,000 memory modules--tiny circuit boards that hold DRAM chips--used in 27 notebook models worldwide between April 2002 and April 2004. Those memory cards could potentially cause problems, such as lockups, a company representative said.

In the second major notebook memory replacement campaign in recent months by a brand name notebook maker, Toshiba will offer free replacement memory to customers whose notebooks are determined to contain the bad modules.

Toshiba says none of its current notebooks contain the potentially problematic memory. It did not make public the exact nature of the problem or which manufacturer(s) created the cards in question. The company did, however, launch a Web page on its site that contains information about the replacement program and the range of symptoms the modules might trigger.

"Under certain conditions, the subject component, provided to Toshiba by third parties...in combination with certain other components might cause notebook PCs to experience blue screens, intermittent lockups or undetected memory data corruption," Toshiba said in a statement on its Web site.

Like Hewlett-Packard, which launched a similar campaign to replace memory modules in as many as 900,000 notebooks last June, Toshiba will ask people with the 27 notebook models to download and run a utility from its Web site.

The utility will run a test and deliver instructions on how to obtain replacement memory cards, if needed, the company said. The affected models sold in the United States include Toshiba's Tecra S1, 9100, M1 and M2, as well as its Satellite 1110, 1115, 2400, 2405, M30 and M35. Its Satellite Pro M10, M15, M30 and Portege R100, M200 and M205 are also included on the list.

Toshiba said it will mail replacement memory cards to customers and provide instructions on how to install the new memory cards and mail their old cards back. It will cover shipping costs and give customers a free 32MB USB storage device.

Most memory cards in Toshiba notebooks can be replaced relatively easily; they're often located behind a door on the underside of the machine. The company, however, will offer to make the memory replacement for customers whose memory is not as accessible.

Toshiba, which shipped 4.9 million notebooks worldwide in 2003, according to IDC, declined to say whether the memory problems it discovered are related to those seen by HP.

HP in June said that under certain conditions, a circuit design flaw in memory modules from a number of manufacturers could cause Windows operating system "blue screens," intermittent lockups or memory corruption. The HP problem required a specific combination of components, including a memory module with the flawed circuit design and one of several Intel chipsets and Pentium processors that supported a certain low-power state dubbed C3.

Indeed, it's difficult to say whether the problems could be related, said Richard Gordon, an analyst at Gartner.

"There's no story going around in the DRAM industry that suggests it's a DRAM issue," he said. "We haven't heard anything on the DRAM (chip) side, so it could be anything from the module to the system."

The Toshiba replacement program will run through April 2005, the company said.

Toshiba isn't the only manufacturer to replace notebook memory. In 2000, Dell launched a program to replace defective memory chips used in up to 400,000 of its Latitude notebooks.