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Dell Customers Angry With Fix For Faulty Notebooks

Jul 29, 2008 (11:07 AM EDT)

Read the Original Article at http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=209800513


Dell is under fire by customers unhappy with its fix for notebooks with video display problems related to a faulty Nvidia graphics processor.

Rather than replace the faulty part, which Nvidia has acknowledged has a problem related to excessive heat, Dell is asking customers of certain models of its Inspiron, Latitude, Precision, Vostro, and XPS notebooks to install a Dell-provided update of their system BIOS. The computer maker is hoping the update will prevent related problems, such as multiple images, random characters on the screen, lines on the screen, and no video.

Customers already experiencing any of those problems are out of luck. The BIOS update will not work, and those customers will have to call Dell support. For those customers, Dell will provide help "according to the terms of the system warranty," the company said in its Direct2Dell customer blog.

For many customers, Dell's fix wasn't enough. "Nice to see that a hardware issue is fixed by a software update," one customer responded on Dell's blog. "How is a physical defect supposed to be fixed by software? Time to step up to the plate Dell and start offering a replacement device."

The problem stems from a "weak die/packaging material" within Nvidia's graphics processing unit (GPU). Nvidia early this month acknowledged the problem in lowering its revenue forecast and notifying investors that it would have to take a one-time charge of $150 million to $200 million for the troubled GPU.

Nvidia, however, placed some of the blame for the problem on computer makers, saying that the excessive heat that caused the GPU to fail appeared to be caused by the notebook design. To correct the problem, the company switched production to a better die/package material and was working with computer makers to develop system management software that would provide better heat management to the GPU.

The BIOS update from Dell attempts to reduce the risk of a heat-induced failure by running the notebook's fan more often, but at half or quarter speed to ease the demand on battery power. Nevertheless, customers said they were entitled to have the problem parts replaced with reliable technology.

"So rather than replacing the faulty parts you are going to just turn up the fans, at the expense of battery life and noise," a customer said. "I would rather just leave the BIOS as it is and get a proper fix if the problem occurs. Even if the problem occurs out of warranty, I think there is a strong case for Dell fixing it for free since there is an admitted manufacturing defect."

Dell has been working hard to improve customer service. The company's failure to keep customers happy contributed to its losing market share to Hewlett-Packard, which replaced Dell as the world's largest computer maker in terms of shipments. Over the last several quarters, Dell has shown progress and has increased market share.

Dell is not the only computer maker to suffer problems from the Nvidia product. HP has also released a BIOS update for models of its Pavilion and Compaq Presario notebooks to prevent similar video problems. Customers whose notebooks are having problems are asked to contact HP "to determine whether you are eligible for a free repair."