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Dell said to have 'dozens' of burned laptop incidents on file

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Dell's December 2005 battery recall followed the recording of dozens of incidents over a two-year period of overheating notebooks, many resulting in melted or burned computers, it has been alleged this week as the company continues to investigate the case of a laptop that burst into flames in Japan.

The incidents are detailed in a series of documents leaked to US trade paper CRN by a source said to be close to the computer vendor. According to the paper, the records list examples of machines with melted or charred casings. Signs of overheating were not always visible near the battery. However, many appear in places associated with high temperatures during the operation of any laptop.

CRN's latest report comes shortly after another which highlighted a second case of computer combustion, this time concerning a Dell notebook which caught fire inside a building in Novell's Provo, Utah facility. The building was evacuated. Novell later said the offending laptop had been fitted with a battery supplied not by Dell but purchased from a third party.

In December 2005, Dell formally asked the owners of 35,000 Inspiron, Precision and Latitude laptops bought or serviced between 5 October 2004 and 13 October 2005. The company said at the time the recall was based on three reports of batteries overheating.

Even if the number was much higher, it has to be put into the context of the millions of machines Dell ships each year. And it's by no means alone. HP recalled 15,700 notebook batteries in April this year - only six months after asking for 135,000 laptop batteries to be returned to it.

Fujitsu told the world it was recalling 250,000 notebook batteries in June 2005, a month after Apple said 128,000 PowerBook and iBook batteries should be sent back. The Mac maker also issued a similar recall in August 2004. Recalls like these tend to be disproportionate: a small number of problems lead to a very large volume of returns.

If it's not laptop batteries, it's phone power cells - as Kyocera discovered, though Nokia claimed cases of exploding handsets were the result of third-party batteries or chargers - or it's power supply units for notebooks - bad luck, IBM - games consoles - Sony and Microsoft - and USB drives (step forward, Lexar). ®

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