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Lawsuit Alleges That Palms Damage Motherboards 437

Posted by michael
from the they-don't-call-it-hotsync-for-nothing dept.
schussat writes: "This brief AP article describes a lawsuit that alleges that syncing a Palm Pilot "damages or destroys the motherboards on certain PC brands." Does anyone know more or have experience with this? Is it even possible to cause damage? The article is not very detailed."
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Lawsuit Alleges That Palms Damage Motherboards

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  • Why sue Palm? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OpenSourced (323149) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @06:22AM (#2111435) Journal
    Why not the motherboard maker? Perhaps they are defective, perhaps they don't even conform to standards. It cannot be a very widespread problem or else we'd have heard about it before. (Well, except if it's one of the newest Palms)

    That raises an interesting question. You have a problem when two pieces of equipment interact. One of them blows up. Who to sue? The one that survives, assuming it "broke" the other one? (That seems to be the option taken) The one that breaks, assuming it was a piece of junk to start with? Both?

    And the answer is.............THE RICHEST COMPANY, STUPID!!!

    --

  • I was in Colorado last winter, using my computer in the basement of my parent's house. The static electricity was really bad. I had a big blue arc shoot from my finger into my logitech mouse and fry the serial port on my motherboard.

    It was enough electricity to give me quite a zing, as well.

    This is probably what happened with the Palms.

    In my case, I don't blame the mouse. I don't blame the motherboard. I blame myself for not grounding myself before I touched the computer. I know better.

    If this is indeed the problem, this lawsuit is bogus.
  • AP mirror (Score:2, Informative)

    by Barbarian (9467)
    Amazing, the site is /.'ed and I haven't even gotten first post yet.

    Try this AP link [ap.org]

    • this on on Yahoo! [yahoo.com] works.
    • Have at you! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by GregGaub (513798) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @01:11PM (#2113536)
      All right, people, here we go. For those who obviously only skimmed my article (not the one about the lawsuit, which I am NOT a part of), please go read it again, and pay attention to the facts, not the hyperbole. For everyone else who is making ASSumptions based on their own (non) experience, here are the facts again:

      1) The cradle was ALREADY plugged into the port, and had been for several months. In case you don't understand what that means, it means I was NOT plugging the cradle into the port when this happened, alright?

      2) serial ports, as I understand them, are NOT designed to be hot-swapped safely. This is why any device that connects to a serial port (or anything other than USB for that matter) tells you specifically to turn OFF the computer before plugging it in. Sure, serial ports can take certain amounts of current, but obviously not as much as the ESD (electro-static discharge, yes?)

      3) the Palm IS designed to be hot-swapped into and out of its cradle on a regular and ongoing basis. Again, I'm NOT talking about the cradle and the port, I'm talking about the Palm and the cradle! The Palm, and in this case a PalmV, is designed to be connected and disconnected repetitively and daily.

      4) I'm not an idiot or a moron. I would NEVER touch exposed electronics, or even plug devices into my computer while it's on. I know all about static and how it can damage computers. What I didn't know (and I do now, so you can all STFU about it!) was that the cradle and/or mobo is NOT protected against the ESD that happens when I put the palm into the cradle.

      5) As I stated in my article, I walked across the room, dropped the palm into the cradle, and my computer died with a pop and a smell of burnt electronics.

      6) I'll concede that the damaged UART might have been from something OTHER than just the ESD, but the sequence of events is so apparent that anyone in the room when it happened would almost certainly agree that the ESD is what caused, or at least was the catalys for, the damage pictured in my article. You might call me a damnass for not grounding myself, but you would agree with me about what actually happened.

      7) I was, and still am a little, pissed about the whole thing, but I am NOT looking for a lawsuit, and certainly have nothing to do with the one being filed in Cali. Will I sign on if it goes class action? Yes. But not because I want a chunk of money. I would join because I want Palm to fix a design that they KNOW facilitates damage to computers.

      8) I wrote my article to spread the word about how the PalmV (and others, possibly) connected to a serial port can damage the computer through normal usage. I didn't write it to be called a moron by all the holier-than-thou geeks on the internet, but that's sure as heck what I got, and I'm getting it all over again because of this lawsuit. Again, you can all STFU about it, ok?

      I fully expect even more repetitive flames from people, telling me I'm a moron, that it's the mobo maker that's to blame, that it's my house's wiring, or anything else other than the probability that Palm decided that the risks of their cradle killing a certain percentage of people's computers didn't outweigh the cost of redesigning the cradle with it's own optical coupler to prevent ESD to the serial port. I'll certainly also get supportive e-mail as I did before, because guess what? THIS IS NOT AN UNCOMMON OR ISOLATED INCIDENT! It's just that most people take the punches Palm throws and never complain, because they're made to believe it was their fault even though it wasn't. With every new report of this problem, all you flamers will jump on it all over again. But, sooner or later, it will be reported enough for enough people to believe it that the problem will be fixed.

      For now, PalmV users have three choices:

      1) get the USB adapter and plug the cradle into that.
      2) get a serial port surge protector (link at the end of my follow-up article)
      3) ground yourself before ever going anywhere near your Palm's cradle.

      I guess I'm a glutton for punishment, because I'll probably come back to read what drivel you people post in reply to this message. Heck, just posting this was like painting a target on my ass for you people.
      • Re:Have at you! (Score:5, Informative)

        by sigwinch (115375) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @03:49PM (#2152432) Homepage
        For those who obviously only skimmed my article (not the one about the lawsuit, which I am NOT a part of), please go read it again, and pay attention to the facts, not the hyperbole.
        Which article? As someone who designs things that hook up to a PC's serial port, I am very interested in learning how to not fry motherboards. Please post a link.
        2) serial ports, as I understand them, are NOT designed to be hot-swapped safely. This is why any device that connects to a serial port (or anything other than USB for that matter) tells you specifically to turn OFF the computer before plugging it in.
        Speaking as an electrical engineer who has designed RS-232C serial ports into several products -- with considerable familiarity with the relevant electronics and requirements -- I can say with assurance that 'hot plugging' RS-232 is perfectly safe. And on a practical basis, it is an operational necessity to be able to hot-plug serial ports. (Can you imagine having to turn off a mainframe that services thousands of dumb terminals every time a terminal has to be connected?)

        That said, there is a lot of poorly-designed crap out there, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to meet a motherboard that blows itself up under perfectly acceptable conditions.

        Sure, serial ports can take certain amounts of current, but obviously not as much as the ESD (electro-static discharge, yes?)
        For consumer equipment, all externally-accessible connectors should be able to take some vicious ESD zaps on every single pin. In fact, the 'CE' requirements in Europe make this a legal requirement. As an example of how much ESD protection is in engineer's minds, take a look at this datasheet [maxim-ic.com] for the Maxim MAX3232E RS-232 transciever chip, which has built in +/-15kV ESD protection. (Again, there's a lot of crap being manufactured that can't take ESD like it should.)
        6) I'll concede that the damaged UART might have been from something OTHER than just the ESD, but the sequence of events is so apparent that anyone in the room when it happened would almost certainly agree that the ESD is what caused,
        If the Palm cradle connects to a 'wall wart' transformer to recharge the battery, there is another failure mode: the output of many wall warts is capacitively coupled to the AC power line. The ones I've seen make an approx. 60 VAC sine wave on the output, as measured relative to earth ground. There isn't much current available, and a proper RS-232 design should be able to take it all day long, but I *have* seen equipment that is damaged by it. (At work we're very paranoid about explicitly grounding laptop computers in the electronic labs to keep from frying our prototypes.)
        You might call me a damnass for not grounding myself, but you would agree with me about what actually happened.
        Oh, bullshit. It's the engineer's responsibility to design things that will actually work in the real world. Walking up to a piece of office equipment and touching it should *never* cause smoke and/or explosions.
        I would join because I want Palm to fix a design that they KNOW facilitates damage to computers.
        It's almost impossible to accidentally blow up a properly designed serial port. Either Palm deliberately and maliciously designed in a destruction circuit, or your motherboard was badly designed. Knowing how crappy commodity motherboards are, I'd bet on the latter.
        I fully expect even more repetitive flames from people, telling me I'm a moron, ... or anything else other than the probability that Palm decided that the risks of their cradle killing a certain percentage of people's computers didn't outweigh the cost of redesigning the cradle with it's own optical coupler to prevent ESD to the serial port.
        Given that RS-232 is intended to hook up randomly-grounded pieces of equipment with 50meter cables -- and is required by law to include ESD protection in Europe -- there's no point in handling it with kid gloves. Adding optocouplers would cost about US $1.50 per unit. Adding them would mean that the tens of millions of Palm owners with correctly designed computers would be paying a $25,000,000 tax to protect the few people with defective computers.
        For now, PalmV users have three choices:
        You're forgetting the fourth choice: buy a computer that actually complies with the RS-232 standards, and actually has the run-of-the-mill standard level of ESD protection. Serial ports should be able to take almost anything short of being directly connected to the AC power line. It costs only pennies more to manufacture, and it provides a much better customer experience. (The only catch is that the computer manufacturers have to actually care about doing a good job, as opposed to cranking out an extra few hundred thousand motherboards per month.)
        With every new report of this problem, all you flamers will jump on it all over again. But, sooner or later, it will be reported enough for enough people to believe it that the problem will be fixed.
        I think you under-appreciate how hard it is to design good ESD protection. It's not enough to zap your circuit, and say it has good protection if it keeps working, because ESD damage often just weakens the transistors. Doing it right takes a good theoretical understanding of the circuit, great technician-type skill at performing the tests, and a well-developed sense of paranoia. Designing good ESD protection is a lot like designing cryptographic systems: it's easy to make something that *seems* to work, but very difficult to design something that will be rock solid under years of hard use.

        All motherboard manufacturers are under *tremendous* schedule pressures. The engineers are being pushed and pushed and pushed to get the design shipping as fast as possible. A two week delay (an ESD fix would probably take 3-4 weeks) costs the company more than a senior engineer's yearly salary, so the tendency is to say 'We zapped it, it works, what the hell let's ship it!' Keerist, with the Rambus and MTH fiascos earlier this year, Intel was shipping motherboards where *the engineers knew the digital functions didn't work*. Their priority for ESD protection was probably two notches higher than picking lint out of their belly buttons.

        I guess I'm a glutton for punishment, because I'll probably come back to read what drivel you people post in reply to this message. Heck, just posting this was like painting a target on my ass for you people.
        Hint: the trolls want attention, and you're giving it to them. Act as if a forum is good, and it becomes better. Act as if it sucks, and it will suck worse.
    • by Matthias Wiesmann (221411) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @06:11AM (#2153125) Homepage Journal

      You mean people on ./actually read the article first and post after?

      My god, this should be in the headlines...

  • I've had the motherboard replaced on my Dell laptop a few times, because the serial port that my Palm V gets plugged into never seems to last more than a month. After which time it only seems to work for two or so minutes at a time.

    I've always put this down to the build quality of Dell laptops, I've also had the screen, keyboard, CD writer and battery replaced over the last year and a number of other people have had the same serial port problem in my office.

    In the end I gave up and got a USB serial adapter to fix the problem, as I came to the conclusion that the port on my laptop wasn't properly earthed.

    Their may be something in this, but I think they should be sueing their motherboard supplier. I ran the Palm V on my old Gateway laptop without problem for over a year.

    Dave.

  • An Ex-Dell Tech Post (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 09, 2001 @06:48AM (#2115741)
    I can say that I personally saw this occur several times in tech support and those of us who cared to research it saw it as a problem of static electricity and the Palm V cradle through the serial port. The real problem though was ever figuring out if the Palm V's cradle (one of the ones that plugs into the wall to charge the PDA while cradled) was truly at fault or if the motherboards were not grounded properly. Either way, it's gonna be expensive for someone because one of the units isn't quite right. We always replaced the motherboard once but warned that if the cradle was bad, it'd likely zap the replacement motherboard and we wouldn't be keen on constatly replacing a $100+ motherboard because of a $15 cradle. Eventually new revs came out for both units and it seemed to take care of itself like a lot of tech issues do. The proper people get notified and replacements are issued. I don't see why lawsuits need be filed. There are plenty of worse things happening out there to people's systems.

    -A Quiet Reader
    "No matter where you go... There you are..." --Buckaroo Bonzai
    • Most manuals tell you not to plug/unplug devices on serial ports while the computer is switched on. Of course everyone does it (such as plug/unplug a modem while you're computer is on) but in theory every time you do it there is a chance for damage.

      For palmpilots you plug/unplug them all the time by design, which actually is kind of strange and not compatible with the design of the serial port. From this POV it is not so strange to hold Palm liable for bringing such a product on the market (at least without clearly warning for the risk or telling people to only plug/unplug while the computer is shut off).

      Of course with the newer USB palms, this is no longer an issue.

    • And people who have laptops in a company, are more likely to have a PDA as well (where I work, anyway).

      I've had my share of Dell Latitude's with broken serial ports because of the Palm V Cradle, and these MB's were replaced by Dell Technicians multiple times without any problems. But it's a pain, especially if you are trying to emergency-flash a cisco router over the serial console, with some very impatient client watching your every move. Bad timing to figure out that your laptop's serial port has been blown to smithereens just hours before :).

      Palm's Cradle has zapped many-a-MB, but filing a class-action suit is probably a bit overreacted. That's what you get for living in the land of the free.

    • To get an ungrounded motherboard these days takes lots of work! First the power supply has to be ungrounded, the ports (ATX jack cluster) must not touch the case, Screws missing mounting the motherboard, and the video card etc. must not be touching the case. Roughly translated, to get an ungrounded motherboard, the entire PC must be ungrounded. Be sure the outlet is properly grounded and everything should be fine.
    • by Rendus (2430) <rendus@co x . net> on Thursday August 09, 2001 @06:58AM (#2152494)
      A not so quiet reader and former Dell Dimension Product Specialist posting to say that what the Anonymous Coward I'm replying to says is true. We replaced motherboards killed by Palm Vs constantly. The fact Dell replaced these things leads me to believe it's the MB's fault, not the Palms.
      • I can't help but wonder, though, whether it's the cradles themselves zapping MOBO's, or whether it's customer misuse: customers pulling out serial connecters while the units still on, unplugging and plugging in the power connector with the serial adapter still connected, stuff like that.

        Keep in mind, people will tell a tech person anything to get their computer fixed under warranty. I've been there, on both sides. I've had people look me in the eye with a straight face and tell me their modem line was NOT hooked up during the lightning storm, as I point out the nasty black burn mark near the input jack. I've had them swear that there's no way they would ever go mucking around in /Windows (as I pull DLL after DLL out of the Recycle Bin), that it must be a hardware problem. I'm sure they'd have no problem fibbing a little on when and where they plugged in/unplugged their cradle connector.
        • by EisPick (29965)

          I can't help but wonder, though, whether it's the cradles themselves zapping MOBO's, or whether it's customer misuse

          Misuse is probably too strong a word.

          I remember buying a cheap mechanical keyboard/monitor switch for some ALR 386 server boxes (this was some time ago, obviously). I found out the hard way that the switchbox was able to generate a sufficient static charge to blow out the keyboard port.

          This didn't cost me a motherboard; the ALR motherboards incorporated a fusible link in the keyboard circuit, which absorbed the static charge and blew. It took a soldering iron to fix it, but once this fuse was replaced, the mobo worked fine once again.

          As I recall, ALR fixed it under warranty.

          Was I at fault for using the cheapo switchbox? Probably (I bought a better one thereafter). Was it "abuse"? Probably not. Had ALR denied me warranty coverage on these grounds, I would have been pretty pissed.

          Should other mobo manufacturers be blamed for not similarly insulating their serial ports? Probably. Should the switchbox manufacturer have been expected to fix their design? At the price I paid, probably not. Should I have sued either ALR or the switch manufacturer. Good God, no.

        • I can't help but wonder, though, whether it's the cradles themselves zapping MOBO's, or whether it's customer misuse: customers pulling out serial connecters while the units still on, unplugging and plugging in the power connector with the serial adapter still connected, stuff like that.

          I thought RS-232 connectors were meant to be hot-pluggable? In which case this isn't misuse.

  • One question... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JoeShmoe (90109) <askjoeshmoe@hotmail.com> on Thursday August 09, 2001 @06:20AM (#2116060)
    Did she plug it in while the computer was running? Assuming of course it isn't a USB cradle which is supposed to be hot-swappable.

    Personally, I don't know if the voltages in the serial port are enough to do damage (I think the parallel and video ports are the hot ones) but still, if she's tooling around with a metal-ringed connector with her fat greasy fingers in the back of her computer who knows what she could short out?

    Honestly, I look at this claim with as much skepticism as the people who find live maggots in a McDonalds hamburger that just went through frying in a microwave for three minutes.

    Besides, even if one Palm cradle was faulty and shorted out something on the motherboard at best Palm is liable to have that single motherboard repaired. Class action status means a bunch of people need to have problems with this and this is the first I've heard of it. Devices have been using the serial/parallel ports since time began, what's so special about Palms?

    - JoeShmoe
  • by nels_tomlinson (106413) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @02:02PM (#2116087) Homepage
    I used to do component level repair of computers and peripherals back when you could still afford to do that. I took a look at a web page [seapug.com] which purports to detail the actual damage which is being sued over. They show a picture of a chip with a melted case. Pretty obviously, it was not a static discharge which melted it. The sort of lightning bolt which could do that would most likely have cooked the computer owner's finger too. That does not mean that static didn't cause the problem.


    A static discharge could fry a sensitive control chip, which might fail short, and cause another chip, "downstream" of it, to overheat and bubble its plastic casing. I have seem similar problems on the old Epson dot-matrix printers, where a $45 control chip would periodically fail, causing the printhead to fail, and usually taking some of the power transistors which drove it along. Fortunately, the $60 (?it's been a long time) printhead and the $3 transistors would fail so quickly that they would save the $0.25 fuses.


    The point? Yes, static could have caused the failure. How to prevent that? Ground things properly. Make sure that the case of each machine is grounded ("earthed" if you are in Britain), but that the cables connecting peripherals to computer have the ground wire connected at one end only (that's case ground, not signal ground). This prevents ground loops, which can also melt chips in houses with wiring problems.


    Reading further down that page, we can see how Palm turned an upset customer into an extremely upset customer. He tells us that he got the run-around, that the story kept changing, and that Palm made it quite clear that they didn't care about keeping a customer happy; it wasn't their fault, and he couldn't prove it. On this [seapug.com] page, he concludes his story. He's bitter but resigned. I have to wonder, now, whether I want to spend hundreds of dollars to buy something from a company whose service and products leave one bitter and resigned, and hundreds of dollars poorer. HP, on the other hand, has promised him a check for $100, to help defray the cost of a new motherboard. I wonder which company will get better word-of-mouth out of this epsiode?

  • Did you know.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    You can trigger the Palm into the HotSync sequence by licking the connections? I'm serious. It just shorts out two of the pins or something. We used to think this was neat in high school. Relevance? If I could barely feel the current on my tounge, chances are the voltage output was pretty low. I'd say not even up with licking a 9V battery.
    • The voltage on serial ports (RS-232C) is +-12v. The amperage on the other hand is very low. note: not all devices do +-12v, many accept 12v but only fluctuate their output enough to meet the minimum. (Which, I think is about +-5v.) Everything between -3 and 3 is undetermined.

      Since the Palm V is charged on the stand there is a slight possibility that putting the Palm V into the cradle wrong, or misaligned could cause larger current (from the wall adapter) onto a pin it shouldn't be. Personally I subscribe to the idea that it is mostly caused by static.

      COurse, if someone was to send me a Palm Vx I'd be glad to test it for a couple of years.

  • PalmPilot:
    *13 million units sold
    *2 people with problems
    *Class-action lawsuit

    Windows:
    *1 unit sold per home PC (on average)
    *approx. 1 crash per week on average purely caused by Windows
    *No comeback

    WTF is going on here? It really is about time someone saw sense on these kind of issues, software companies can release whatever they like and we have no call on them - if only a tiny percentage of users have problems with hardware, they start a class-action lawsuit!

    • *approx. 1 crash per week on average purely caused by Windows
      Please let me know where you got your version of Windows that only crashes once a week on average. The amount of time that would save...
  • by rde (17364) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @08:10AM (#2117979)
    A while ago, when death by mobile phone was newsworthy, a woman was on television every fifteen minutes telling the world that her husband used a mobile phone for hours every day, then he go brain cancer. Result? Lawsuit.

    Earlier this year, thousand of foolish parents refused to give their children MMR vaccines because shortly after it was given to a tiny percentage of children, they developed autism. Never mind that autism is detected at around teh same age as vaccinatin' time. Result? Lots of unvaccinated kids. Probably a few lawsuits.

    What've got here? A couple of people whose motherboards blew while their pilots were plugged in. Result? Lawsuit. I bet Genius are delighted; they'd probably have been blamed if the first thing our litigious chums saw after the crash was a mouse.
    • Well, I'm not one for frivolous lawsuits, but
      having hardware fry due to NORMAL EXPECTED USE of a product is NOT ACCEPTABLE.

      P.S. MMR vaccine does indeed appear to cause autism. Children should get individual doses for measles, mumps, and rubella, not at the same time. This may reduce the risk.

  • by Myco (473173) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @06:11AM (#2121110) Homepage
    I heard there's an operating system out there which can damage users' wetware, making them stupider and more complacent the more they use it.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I heard there is another operating system that lots of people work on, and see the source code. Unfortunately, it turns them into arrogant jerks!
  • FUD (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by Perdo (151843)
    Looks like the win CE marketeers are alive again. First bluetooth now this.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 09, 2001 @07:43AM (#2123092)
    I used my Palm to surf the net and get my mails, and i noticed that hotmail crashed!
    Can i have the names of the lawyers? I smell money!!!
  • That's no different from hot-plugging any other devices, be it a mouse, a printer or a modem. Hot-plugging always contains the risk of damaging the chip that sits behind the port. That's nothing special to the Palm.
  • by Mike1024 (184871) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @06:26AM (#2127533)
    Hey,

    The article implies that this is somehow software-based, and most people probably thought 'Bullshit', and rightly so.

    A google [google.com] search for Palm damage motherboard [google.com] turns up some better articles: This one [palmblvd.com], and a follow-up here [palmblvd.com] are both pretty good.

    The guy making the claim has a page here [seapug.com]. The guy (called Greg Gaub) details his story in which his Hewlett packard desktop computer's motherboard was ruined; Greg's claim is that the motherboard was damaged because of a faulty or badly designed Palm V cradle which doesn't dissapate static charges.

    Quoth I: As you may be aware, The PalmV and Vx devices have an aluminum casing. They also have a cradle with, in my opinion, a design flaw that does not dissipate static electric charges that travel from a person (holding or reaching for their PalmV) into the cradle, and on into the desktop computer's motherboard via the serial connector.

    It does seem a somewhat unlikely problem, but I suppose it could be possible, in theory at least.

    Michael
    • A colleague's wife once nuked a computer when a static charge jumped from her to the keyboard lock

      We managed to save the data on the hard-drive using Linux fdisk. Though why the partition table was nuked by a static discharge, I don't know.

      Rich

      • Though why the partition table was nuked by a static discharge, I don't know.

        If the head happened to be over the partition sector and/or the static charge caused what looked like a spurious write request to the heads, you could scramble all or part of a sector. I wouldn't expect it to be common, but anything could happen in the death throes of a shocked machine.

        Hmm... More likely, actually, that the static mangled a couple of bits on an access request to the hard disk. That would seem a MUCH more likely cause of a bad write (offhand... I'm not an EE).

    • I don't think any of the serial lines tie directly into the motherboard.... if they were gonna blow anything, I'd think it was the UART that sits on the serial port. I also find it hard to believe you build up THAT much static that you send it through the serial port and fry UART and motherboard... maybe if the Palm's power supply somehow got shorted across a serial line, but not static.
      • No, you really can blow the entire motherboard through the serial or parallel port from static alone. I blew three of the same model 486 mobo back in the day. It is probably the result of a poor design by the manufacturer that can't handle variation on the input pins.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 09, 2001 @07:14AM (#2152414)
      Greg Gaub seems like an ok guy, but his site has a some problems. He has this listed under his "flames" seciton:
      "I have viewed the damage shown on the above websight. It is my opinion that a static charge from your body is not going to do that much damage to a IC (Integrated Circuit). You have something else wrong, probably the wiring in your house."
      -JCZ
      Mr. Gob, you moron, JCZ is not flaming you, just commenting. And, JCZ is exactly right: static discharge would not cause bubbling like that on a chip. Here's a test you can do at home:
      1. Take a soldering iron and heat it up.
      2. touch soldering iron to tip of index finger and hold
      3. does the skin bubble up? yes.
      4. take soldering iron and touch to chip and hold.
      5. does the chip bubble up? no. chips can take a lot more energy than your finger.
      6. repeat experiment with static electricity and your remaining good finger.
      7. does your skin bubble up? no. neither will the chip.
      8. conclusion: JCZ is right, and you are wrong.
      Now, it is quite possible that your palm and/or the static did hurt your machine, but that chip has nothing to do with it. How did it happen? if some small percentage of all people have bubbled chips in their boxes anyway, but the only people who look are the ones who've just zapped them, that same percentage of the people who've just zapped them are probably going to attribute the bubbling to the static zapping... but that doesn't make it so.

      furthermore, even if your motherboard was properly designed to ... oh nevermind, this is a waste of my time.

      Try to be more smart and less stupid, please.

  • by k-flex$ (315275) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @06:08AM (#2128765)
    condensation and all ;0
  • by gladiatr (513715) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @08:30AM (#2129071)
    The motherboard: Tyan dual PII/PIII series motherboard. The palm culprit: Palm Pilot V from 3Com. The damage: fried (literally: burned, cracked and crispy) 65550A UART chipies (you know, the ones that sit right next to the 9-pin serials on an ATX form factor)

    Now, for all of those who believe that this sort of thing couldn't _possibly_ happen, this happened 5 times to my dad. He's a good guy, but not terribly adventerous when it comes to computers. The only device he has ever plugged into a serial port since obtaining that system was (gasp) the Palm V cradle. After having the same problem with a replacement cradle (suggested by 3Com) and after 3 motherboards, another call to 3Com put him in touch with a 3Com/Palm engineer who was kind enough to inform my father that there is a design flaw in the electrical interface to the cradle.

    For those that haven't seen the design, it involves a wall wart connected directly to the 9-pin RS232 connector--used for recharging the Palm V's battery.

    At any rate, the problem is very real. I'm forwarding the URL for the article to my father. Who knows? Perhaps motherboard manufacturers that have replaced large numbers of units should join the class...
    • Happened to me too (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tony Shepps (333)
      I figure I might as well put my "me too" under someone else's post, but all these "it couldn't possibly happen!" posts are damn irritating when it happened to me. Put the Palm in its cradle, hear a tiny pop from the speakers, system freeze, no boot, mobo dead.
  • by jungwirr (249169) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @09:38AM (#2129132) Homepage
    My ex was a level 2 support agent for Palm. The V and M500 series palms (the ones with integrated rechargable batteries) have an undocumented voltage leak in their charging system that feeds a stray voltage to certain pins in the serial port. If your motherboard does not have shielded serial ports (read: your motherboard was manfactured by cheap bastards - like Dell) your serial port will eventually be fried from said voltage. If you want to prevent this from happening, do not keep your cradle plugged into the wall and to the serial port at the same time. Palm may fix this in newer models - hell, they may have fixed it in the M500 series cradles already - but they sure as hell won't admit to the problem, as it would entail a massive recall of cradles that would further upset their delicate financial position.
    • Seems to me they use Intel Motherboards. Not saying they the best way to go as I prefer to build my PC from ground up, but they do NOT manufacture their own motherboards.
  • by kdgarris (91435) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @08:46AM (#2129206) Journal
    I blew out both serial ports from my old motherboard once, so I'm tempted to believe this story is true.

    When the first serial port stopped working, I thought it was coincidence, but then I switched the cradle to the other one, and it eventally went out, too.

    -Karl
  • by Dr_Cheeks (110261) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @06:17AM (#2129381) Homepage Journal
    I never heard this exact problem when I was doing tech support, but I got dozens of similar problems; "Since you unlocked my account my email's disappeared!", "Office 97 has broken my printer!" etc. Until I hear further details, I'm going to assume that this is down to users screwing up somewhere and trying to get compensated for it.

    I mean, really; "damages or destroys the motherboards on certain PC brands" - just a little too vague there for me to take it seriously. Especially with a company that's shifted as many units ("more than 13 million") as Palm.

    • by noelbush (226224) <noel@x-31.com> on Thursday August 09, 2001 @07:02AM (#2151743)

      This is an example of the kind of attitude that keeps corporate users unhappy with their technical support. It's not right to assume that just because you can't imagine the causal connection between (your example) Office 97 and a printing problem that there isn't one. Haven't you personally had many experiences in which changing one variable (say, plugging a printer into a different USB port) immediately precedes something else, seemingly unrelated, "breaking"? No matter how fastidious you are, no matter what operating system you're using, an OS + thousands of programs + all the variability in hardware configurations in the world is far too complex a system for you to intuitively know whether the report of a problem's apparent cause is right.

      If you're in a service profession, your job is to serve -- to assume that your customers are reporting, to the best of their ability, what they understand about the situation, and to use the information they give you, however flawed, to find the source of the problem. Up with "stupid users", I say.

      The argument that this company shipped more than 13 million units is hardly support for the premise that they can't screw up. And it's a cop-out to lay the blame at the feet of pejoratively-labaled "users". Both the computer hardware and software industries get away with far too little responsibility to ensure quality in their products.

      • Hey, hey; easy there : )

        I'm no longer in tech support, but when I was I experienced people attributing a fault to something that experience told me wasn't the culprit. Each time I checked (yes, I provided the best support I could regardless of my opinion of the user), my initial suspicion that it was actually user error turned out to be correct.

        My original point was not that this is definitely down to the users. It was simply that at the moment experience tells me that the fault probably lies with the user, not the hardware.

        And, for the record, my corporate users all seemed perfectly happy with my performance : )

      • by fmaxwell (249001) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @11:57AM (#2116035) Homepage Journal
        This is an example of the kind of attitude that keeps corporate users unhappy with their technical support.

        No, it is the kind of attitude that keeps Palm handhelds from costing $900. A firm that sells a $200 handheld cannot afford to do a failure analysis each time some customer claims that they want a free computer because the handheld 'blowed up the motherboard.' The manufacturers need to use statistics and engineering expertise to recognize if a given problem could conceivably be caused by their product. If not, they can't afford to spend time and money on it.

        The argument that this company shipped more than 13 million units is hardly support for the premise that they can't screw up.

        It is statistical evidence that Palm does not have a design flaw. It's hardly surprising that, with 13,000,000+ units sold, that two people may have experienced a motherboard failure coincident with Hotsyncing their Palms. Probably two others experienced motherboard failures when inserting CD-ROMs, two others had failures while opening Word, and so forth. Things fail and often that failure is coincident with some action, but it does not prove that the action caused the failure.

        Both the computer hardware and software industries get away with far too little responsibility to ensure quality in their products.

        Software, yes. They hide behind the argument that they are selling a license to use a product rather than a product, thus circumventing consumer protection laws. Hardware manufacturers are a different story. I have gotten notices of class action suits against Iomega, HP, and other firms whose products I have purchased. Intel has recalled CPUs, support chips, motherboards, etc. Hardware manufacturers receive lots of scrutiny.

        Okay, let's hypothesize that you are running Palm. What would you do in this situation? Replace the motherboards as a goodwill gesture? That could lead to a loss of confidence in your product and might make others think "free motherboards", after which you would be awash in fraudulent claims. Do you send a team of engineers to investigate the claims? How much will that cost? Do you do it each and every time someone claims that your product caused some failure? Or do you look at statistics (number sold vs. number of reported failures) and your product's engineering and decide to stand by your product? Tell us how you think Palm should handle this.

        • You make it known that you will 'happily send some engineers to look at the problem' and if there are any validity to the claims they'll replace their systems.
          of course you also let there lawyer know that if they don't find any problems then palm will expect to be reimbursed for the money thay spent for the engineers.
          or you get an arbitrator to chose the engineers and whom ever "looses" foots the bill.
          • You make it known that you will 'happily send some engineers to look at the problem' and if there are any validity to the claims they'll replace their systems. of course you also let there lawyer know that if they don't find any problems then palm will expect to be reimbursed for the money thay spent for the engineers. or you get an arbitrator to chose the engineers and whom ever "looses" foots the bill.

            So, if the poor end-user who thought that the Palm blew up his motherboard is proven wrong, he's not only out the cost of the motherboard, but also thousands of dollars for engineers, plane fares, hotel bills, rental cars, per-diem expenses, etc. That will make for a great Slashdot story: "Palm user billed $17,500 for tech support."

            Do yourself a favor: Don't ever get involved in public relations.

            • perhaps people filing law suits should find out if what they think has any bases in reality.
              besides If Palm is found out not to be the cause, they just say 'you know what, we'll wave that fee if we can use the evidence found as proof agains other lawsuits'.
              I thought that spin was obvious, sorry
              • perhaps people filing law suits should find out if what they think has any bases in reality.

                I agree with this, but how? Do they hire a team of engineers to do a failure analysis? All that they know is that they did a Hotsync and their motherboard failed.

                besides If Palm is found out not to be the cause, they just say 'you know what, we'll wave that fee if we can use the evidence found as proof agains other lawsuits'.

                Palm does not need the permission of some third party to allow its engineers to testify in future court cases.

                I thought that spin was obvious, sorry

                I misunderstood you to say that Palm should offer every user that complains that option, not just those that had filed suit.

                Besides, what you just offered up as a solution is how the legal system works now. Users A&B file suit against Palm. Palm has their engineers examine the evidence. If Palm finds out that their device is not at fault, they present their findings in court. Judge finds for Palm (in the absence of Plaintiffs' evidence showing that Palm's engineers are wrong). Palm, if they want to look like a corporate bully, sues Users A&B for the engineering and legal costs incurred by Palm in defending themselves.

      • This is one of the best posts I've read on here in a long time. Not the usual "users are stupid!!!!" messages.

        You are absolutely right. I'm the only network admin for a company with about 200 users. We do have a couple of desktop support guys that work with the end-users. My job is mostly servers, and only end-user support when needed. We've had a HARD time finding good desktop people..people that HELP the user and don't call them "lusers" as soon as they walk away. We've finally gotten good people in but we're still dealing with all the damage the last group did.

        A lot of computer admins and support people forget that their customer is the end-user...not the company they work for. If it weren't for them we wouldn't have jobs. So the top priority is to make them happy. My servers could be barely getting by, but if the users are happy I'd still have a job. Flip that around, if my servers were flying along with full backup and great performance but the users weren't happy and had problems I'd be fired.
      • by phaze3000 (204500) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @01:32PM (#2152624) Homepage
        You've obviously never had to deal with the sort of idiots that call tech support. If you did, you wouldn't be so supercilious.
        Rather than saying 'up with stupid users', how about we continue to call them stupid until they can prove themselves otherwise?
        More than once before I have suggested to those calling me for tech support that they might like to read 'The Demon Haunted World' by Carl Sagan as an excellent primer for how to apply basic logic and scientific thinking ftoeveryday life. One of them actually took this advice, and since they've not called for tech support again I can only assume this worked.

        Warning: I only do tech support as a summer job whilst at University; if your life depends on your tech support job (and $deity help you if this is the case) then recommending books on basic logic skills to those requesting tech support may not be an advisable course of action. You do so at your own risk, and I will accept no responsibility.

  • I had a Palm Vx, and synced it frequently on my Dell Dimension XPS-R400. Everything was fine until one day, for no apparent reason, the hotsync operation simply stopped working. Following a lot of calling back and forth between Palm and Dell, it was determined that this was a known problem. Over time, syncing had caused the serial port controller chip on the motherboard to fry. To remedy this, I had Palm send me a free USB connection kit, and Dell graciously agreed to replace the motherboard (the computer was still under warranty). It was all a bit of a hassle, but I got it taken care of eventually. I tend to be good at getting what I want from customer service reps, but I'm guessing that we all are, considering how much contact we have with them.
  • Going out on a limb (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jyoull (512280)
    OK I'm gonna take a stab at this without knowing the facts of the suit. First some facts then the surprise ending.


    1 - RS232 ports can handle a lot more than 5 volts, and ordinarily have circuitry just behind the connector to make things all nice-like.
    2 - USB ports are made for hot-swaps, and the connector is unlike any other, so they're probably also not the cause of this complaint.
    3 - Some Palm docks (like the one for my V) have to be connected inline between the keyboard and the computer.
    4 - Some keyboards lock up when the keyboard is plugged and unplugged, and I've seen some CPUs conk out when this happens under power.
    Unfounded conclusion: This is related to someone not knowing what can be plugged/unplugged when the box is powered up, that being the keyboard.
    Unfounded conclusion 2: or just some idiot attorney who will believe anything he's told if there's a fee attached to it.

  • by Wansu (846) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @10:01AM (#2136653)
    I saw an NT machine reboot after putting a Palm in the cradle. After seeing that, I would touch on of the screws in the back of the PC first and raise up the sliding cover on the palms connector, touching it to discharge any static build up before I put it in the cradle.

    So, I wonder whether they really mean that the cradle causes the PC to be vulnerable to electrostatic discharge.
  • To everyone wondering about the power sources on the HotSync cradles, one thing to keep in mind is that serial ports are built to take much higher AND lower voltages than the palm cradle. Those run off 5V IIRC...

    Serial ports are built to the EIA-RS232 spec, which requires it to handle at least -10V to 10V to barely come within spec. Recommended tolerance for EIA-RS232 is an even larger swing.

    About the only thing I can see is that there was a short, and it toasted the UART. Since many systems are integrating the UART onto the southbridge, this could be a possibility. However, I doubt this will ever make it to class action status. Palm will pay for the mobos and fix the cradle's design, and that will be that.
  • by heytal (173090) <hetal.rach@NoSpAm.gmail.com> on Thursday August 09, 2001 @07:14AM (#2151132) Homepage
    A lawsuit asserts that VALinux Inc's Slashdot "News for Nerds" has damaged desktop monitors when users visit the website through their computers. CmdrTaco has refused to comment on this issue.
  • I don't buy it. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fat Casper (260409) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @06:50AM (#2151213) Homepage
    When my palm went bad (1/2 the screen stopped accepting input), Palm just wanted to know the serial #. I've never registered it or anything, so all it told them was that I was actually holding a Palm. They mailed me a new one, and I mailed the dead one back.

    I called them with a stupid problem and they mailed me a new one. I'm guessing that the first Palm heard of this mess was when the reporter asked them about the suit. If they got an off the wall complaint like that, they would probably have gievn the customer a new box so they could tear apart the old one and see if it had actually happened. From a curiosity standpoint, it'd be worth the money. "I wonder if our product can do that?" Trying to duplicate the results wouldn't work. Getting your hands on a box that (allegedly) it's already happened to is much better.

    Sounds like a couple of morons and a law firm willing to spend a couple of associates' time on a crap shoot. Business as usual.

  • Reboots (Score:3, Informative)

    by antis0c (133550) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @11:47AM (#2151223)
    I've had my Handspring Visor suddenly up and reboot my machine the instant the metal contacts touch the hotsync cradle. I've called Handspring about it only to get a "We'll have to return your call" answer, with no return call of course.
  • The Palm V is actually destroying serial ports. It's outputting far more voltage than specs. It's possible with many systems to just plug it in and watch all other serial devices stop working on that system.
    Some motherboards don't have a problem with it because the UARTs are designed better. Standard UARTs like those in Intel reference design motherboards will have a problem with the ESD output by the Palm V.
    Computer OEMs like Compaq, Dell, and HP no doubt know about this problem but haven't sued 3com because at this point it would likely put them out of business with all the follow-on suits by just about everybody else.
  • damages or destroys the motherboards on certain PC brands

    Heh. So they're suing Palm? Why aren't they suing the motherboard makers for making such crappy motherboards? It seems to be a much higher likelihood, since it only happens to *some* motherboards. My guess would be that palm has deeper pockets.

    Either that, or the users in question here don't know jack about what really went wrong... like if they put a cup of coffee in their "cup holder" and when they hit the hot-sync button, it closed.

  • here's the downlow (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 09, 2001 @06:29AM (#2151611)
    this only seems to happen with palm V's, it also doesn't seem to be restricted to specific motherboards. when the palm is in its craddle and you connect it to the pc, it will fry the port. in my experience its more of 'when' than 'if'. in fact, the [nameless major PC brand] that I was previously employed at has a policy of NOT REPLACING MOTHERBOARDS THAT HAVE PROBLEMS RELATED TO THE SERIAL PORT IN CASES WHERE A PALM V HAS BEEN INVOLVED.
  • by Tribbles (218927) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @06:11AM (#2152200) Homepage

    I plugged in a speaker into the computer while it was on, and the processor blew. It was probably to do with the voltage differences, causing a spike in the PSU.

    I can imagine that the Palm may do the same thing, but I'd hope that there would be warnings to tell people to ensure that if they're plugging different things in which are connected to the mains that they'd better make sure everything's off.

    Of course, with connectors that earth levels properly, and with spike protection, this shouldn't be an issue.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 09, 2001 @08:06AM (#2120893)
      I fried the motherboard (at least the serial port, but there seemed to be other damage as well) while synching my palm to my old PC. There's not much doubt in my mind how it happened... I picked up a static charge walking across the carpet with the palm, which then transferred said charge to the serial cable and ... well, boom. Since then, I always touch a grounded surface with the palm in my hand before setting it into its cradle. No problems since on any other machine.

      P.S. I wouldn't necessarily blame Palm for this, but it seems like better design on the serial port, or on the cradle, could reduce this problem...

    • Tribbles, something must have happened between the time you plugged in the speaker, and the time the processor went bad, because there is no direct connection between the audio line output and the processor.

      Probably a surge destroyed the power supply, and that destroyed the processor.
    • Was it a powered speaker (i.e. containing an amplifier), and if so, did the power supply for it have an earth pin on the wall plug?

      I have an unearthed, regulated switch-mode power pack: 240V AC input, switchable 3 to 12V DC output in 1.5V increments (except 10.5V) output. After feeling a tingle when touching a device powered by the plug pack, I checked the output with a digital multimeter. Since there is no earth connection, the negative output is floating at around 114V AC; the current is around 120uA. This is probably not an issue if the device is earthed, but would probably kill sensitive electronics. A floating voltage like this may explain why the Palm V powered cradle allegedly fries motherboards.
  • by Grab (126025) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @06:54AM (#2153170) Homepage
    It's surely possible, although unlikely.

    The problem occurs if there's any static charge on you. You pick up the serial cable and touch one of the pins, the cable may also end up with a charge on it. Plug it into the PC, and the serial port gets a static shock. This could (although you'd need quite some charge!) damage the serial port. Or you could do a similar thing by touching the serial port pins during the process of plugging the cable in. A really severe static charge could break through the serial port chip to the power supply and cause a spike on that which would damage other devices, although that's highly unlikely - you'd really have to be trying to build up that kind of a charge on yourself.

    Of course, if the serial port connector is mounted on the mobo, then the force of plugging and unplugging it could bend the mobo slightly, which in the case of a badly-made and badly-mounted board could be enough to break a track. Or the connector could simply have failed through overuse.

    More details on this are required. To win this, the plaintiffs are going to have to prove (a) that their mobos are damaged, (b) that the damage could have been caused by the Hotsync, and (c) that it was Palm's fault rather than the mobo manufacturers releasing a dodgy product. Frankly, (c) sounds a much more logical option.

    Grab.
  • by DreamMaster (175517) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @06:12AM (#2153392) Homepage
    The lawsuit is filed on behalf of *2* people, and they want class action status? ROTFL. Call me cynical, but this sounds too much like the people who try to get warranty replacements of their computers when their cats piddle on it. ;-)

    Their computers probably just broke down and they're hoping Palm will settle out of court and give them new ones just to get them to shut up.

    • by UberOogie (464002)
      ... is trying to get class-action status, with the assumption that by going to the press, they are going to get other people to come on board.

      If you assume they're not hucksters, they are doing this to get people who may not have known about the problem to come out and join their effort to right the wrong.

      If you're a realist, they are doing this because they are trying to get greedy and/or stupid people like themselves to jump on the bandwagon and get enough mass to force a settlement. Unintended Acceleration Syndrome, anyone?

  • Seen it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rikkards (98006) on Thursday August 09, 2001 @06:50AM (#2153503) Journal
    I saw this happen with 2 motherboards and 3 serial ports. This happened with 2 Palm Vx with the serial Hotsync interface. I have heard rumors about them blowing the serial ports on older motherboards.

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