back to article Dell kept buyers in dark over hardware problems, say docs

Recently released court documents show that Dell resisted informing customers of widespread hardware problems that render many of the computers it sold from 2003 to 2005 inoperable. The hundreds of pages of documents were unsealed by the federal judge hearing a lawsuit filed by former Dell customer Advanced Internet …


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  1. Giles Jones Gold badge

    Not just Dell.

    Not really Dell's fault if the capacitors were dodgy. There was a big scandal around that time, an employee of a component manufacturer had lifted the formula for one of the chemicals used in capacitors and sold it on. But the formula was flawed and the capacitors bulged and popped after a while.

    I had a board which was good for about 2 years before I swapped it. Way past the warranty period.

    1. Frank Haney

      It doesn't matter whose fault it was

      What matters is who you bought the computer from. The purchaser of a Dell computer does not have a contract with the capacitor manufacturer.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        I had a friend who drove a Chevy...

        that went through alternators like s#it through a goose. It was a known issue with that make/model - most likely due, so the rumor I heard goes, to the alternator being too small/cheap. Outside of the warranty period this was just one of those things... most people other than the owners and mechanics never knew anything about it, and it was just one of those things that came with owning that particular era/make/model of car.

        By all accounts Dell screwed the pooch here and absolutely no disagreement that their clients should be pissed (I'm not trying to defend them here)... I guess I just don't understand the point or legal grounds for this lawsuit. If this were another type of product and despite their crappy product, the mfr. was fulfilling the T&C's of their contract (warranty)... would we see a lawsuit?

    2. MrCheese
      Thumb Down

      Still doesn't excuse them

      It's no excuse to bury the problem and screw your customers though, that's what law-dogs are for...any losses you incur you can reclaim from the dodgy supplier.

      Dell are reowned for swithcing suppliers every 5 minutes to keep costs down and you'd have thought they could have done in this case too.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: MrCheese

        "that's what law-dogs are for...any losses you incur you can reclaim from the dodgy supplier."

        Again, not trying to defend/excuse Dell's conduct here, but if they were abiding by the terms of their contractual obligations/warranties what is the legal argument for pursuing compensation for issues outside of the warranted period and/or contractual terms?

        The argument seems to be "you sold us flaky products so we're going to sue you". If you buy a car and it's warranted for 100k miles, for better or worse, you won't sue the mfr. if the engine seizes up when it hits 100,001... or if you had to take it back to the dealer during the warranted period to have them fix something. Maybe this is a bad analogy?

        1. foxyshadis


          In some cases they delayed repairs for up to six months at a time, resulting in numerous IT teams learning to do their own capacitor buying and fixing, or buying new machines until they were swapped, even with those next-day service contracts. Not to mention the tremendous amount of wasted time involved in doing basic troubleshooting on each one before they'd send out a tech (later thy did just start sending them right away). That's where the damages come from.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Thumb Up

            Re: Foxyshadis

            Assuming that's true then they were clearly in breach of contract (i.e. not living up to their warranty promises) - so by all means they should be sued for it. No disagreement there!

    3. Tom 13

      Still Dell's fault.

      They are supposed to have QC checks in place to detect and fix those sorts of issues. It might be Quality Engineering 604 instead of Marketing 101, but we expect our tech companies to complete their advanced degrees. And when they detect them afterward, we expect the to report them forthrightly so we can adapt to changing conditions.

  2. cbarker


    I still have a pile of these things in our development lab. At one point I bought replacement capacitors and started soldering with a co-worker. The baked capacitors are easy to spot and a pain to replace. We got through about 10 before I stopped in frustration. this was Dell's screwup and they still are not fixing this mess. We called them numerous times and they fobbed us off.

    There are a bunch more and we still have about one fail every couple of weeks.

    This makes me yearn for the days of Gateway and Packard Bell computers.

    Dell. You suck.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bad caps.

    A co worker of mine was repairing a dell under warranty. By now the bad caps were widely known. My coworker wrote in the tech notes , unite will not power on upon visual inspection I saw 4 bad capacitor (bulging and leaking) know issue needs to replace motherboard.

    Dell e-mailed back not enough testing was done. After writing a 1500 word essay hey got a new mother board and the unit turn on after the mother board swap.

    1. Tom 13

      Next time have your friend draft the first letter, then take it to legal

      and have them send it instead on their letterhead instead of just an email.

      It's amazing what the letterhead alone can accomplish.

  4. Stuart Halliday

    Not just computers...

    LCD and Plasma TVs are dropping like flies at the moment as are media players and other devices containing large electrolytic capacitors over 100uF.

    First it was putting poison in dog and cat food, then it was putting poison in baby milk and even putting toxic levels of Lead into American plastic Dolls, pencils and dentures.

    Dodgy companies in China has a lot to answer for.

    But we still import stuff from them...

  5. Tom 35

    Not just caps

    Two months ago I had a laptop with the known faulty nvidia chip. It took 3 days of running different (often totally unrelated to the problem) tests, emailing them photos of the screen, doing more tests, refusing to run the full hard drive test for the 3rd time, refusing to reinstall windows for the 2nd time... before they replaced the motherboard.

    1. Wim Ton

      Dell Video

      My Dell had a faulty video chip too (apparently they are not cooled well enough) and it was replaced the next day. The telephone support asked me for only one video test.

  6. asdf

    about the time probably

    when manufacturing of the capacitor was moved from Taiwan to even cheaper mainland China. God help us if these things wound up in any of our space probes or much worse hospital diagnostic machines.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Most things going in to space are built by the lowest bidder. As for other vital systems... we buy from Allied and Digikey like everyone else. Where they get them who knows.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Not everyone

        I work for one of the multi-nationals mentioned in the article.

        For all mil-aero equipment we make, we know the exact source for all of the components - it's called traceability!

  7. Lance 3

    If they cared

    If they cared, they wouldn't sell anything. Their products give garbage a bad name.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    HP Too!

    I was a senior HP field engineer within London at the time.

    It took a long time for them to acknowledge what was being said in the field by their own engineers.

    Car Phone Warehouse head office and call centre in Acton had recently refreshed all their desktops only to have them fall over one by one. I would go to one call and replace 10 mother boards at a time.

    The give-away was always the burst caps and crap on the floor of the chaises.

    It took CPW to shout loudly at HP before we set up a factory bench in their office space and replaced all the boards in 700+ with known good.

  9. JHH

    No big news

    About half of our optiplexes failed. While Dell did not openly admit the fault if you called them on it they would fix it. Usually I called support "won't post. Caps near the motherboard are bulged." Had a replacement motherboard by 10AM the next day regardless of the hardware warranty

  10. KrisMac

    We must have been on the 'Going to Jump Ship' list...

    All through the 'capacitor crisis' Dell kept in good contact with us - and replaced motherboards on a global basis without question once we had established that the issue was theirs.

    What surprises me about that is that our overall numbers of PC's purchased per year, (@ 800 -900 per annum globally), is probably below the threshold of visibility for Dell in the normal course of events.

  11. Tim Bates

    Could be worse...

    ... The companies complaining could have bought Acer and had high failure rates combined with refusal to repair under warranty.

  12. Franklin

    A title is required

    A number of other manufacturers were hit with this same problem. I had installed an IBM e-series server system for a client in mid-2003, which failed about eighteen months later with bulging caps that leaked brown crud all over the motherboard. Called tech support about the issue, they copped to a bad batch of caps immediately and FedEx-ed out a replacement motherboard that same day.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ex employee

    It so happens that I used to work for Banctec (company that fixes dell computers) during this time. Every day we would get 50+ computers with blown capacitors. It was such a known problem but obviously we were unable to advice customers about the issue as we were told to keep it quite.

  14. Equitas

    I don't quite see

    why, when virtually every other component has increased in reliability over the past eighty years, capacitors should remain such unreliable components.

    It's not simply a question of "Made in China" -- it's surely a question of being inadequately specified and inadequate quality control. It's not the cheapest computers that were worst hit with these problems, either, so there's even less excuse.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Still going on....

    I work for a Large Multinational Bank and we've had boxes of replacement motherboards for the Lenovo Kit we replaced the Dell's with. Lenovo would only let us swap the motherboards if we went through A+ and their own training program.

    We've also had loads of GX620s with burst / Bulging Caps. I think its probably still the No.1 Box killer.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Netgear access points too

    The main smoothing cap in Netgear routers always swells and blows. I had 3 and they all had this problem. Each one was bought as new over a period of 3 years in 2002-5. Netgear did not want to know even though I told them they were shipping bad caps. When I replaced the bulging cap it worked again (symptom was ADSL not working/dropping out constantly).

    It is one thing to ship bad components unknowingly, it is another to knowingly ship them!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Tom 13

    We were doing Dell warranty repair work onsite for Intel. I was under the delusion that Dell would not want to piss on Intel. I was wrong.

    Dear Intel, Dell refuses to replace the crappy MB that they gave you. I suggest you recover your lost time and productivity by charging Dell more for you chips or just give the shitty north and south bridge chips.

    Signed, the people that fix you computers.

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