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Portables Hardware

Dell Laptops Have Shocking New Problem 475

dapsychous writes "A friend of one of my coworkers has noticed a problem in Dell notebook computers (also covered in this engadget article about a problem that has been popping up lately in Dell 17" notebook computers). It seems that these computers are putting out between 19 and 139 (65 according to article, 139 according to him) volts of AC power as measured from any chassis screw vs. earth ground. This has led to several problems including fried ram, blown video circuits, and a stout zap on his left hand. According to him, Dell has tried to keep him quiet about the problem and has even gone so far as to have him banned from a few websites, and threatened him with legal action if he tells people about the problem."
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Dell Laptops Have Shocking New Problem

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  • by swschrad ( 312009 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:29PM (#17921940) Homepage Journal
    if a power supply doesn't do it, pop out the drive and put in a new chassis.

    is Dell that bad at support nowadays? or is it just another "call me Bob" who has no clue who he's working for this month overseas and doesn't care?
  • by Bananenrepublik ( 49759 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:33PM (#17922016)
    My Macbook has the same problem: whenever it pulls in a lot of current, I get an electrical shock when touching the head of one of the screws. I'm not alone with this problem, there are several threads on the Mac support forums about this, e.g. this one []. Of course there's no official statement from Apple :-(
  • About 5 years ago, I was doing IT work, and had to support a bunch of Dell laptops my employed had purchased prior to my starting there. the one in question was an Inspiron, don't remember the model number, but it was probably a P3-800 or so.

    Anyway, the user was complaining about power issues with the laptop - things like it sudenly shutting down, starting up by itself and running the battery down, etc. Then out of the blue, she said, "and it's shocked me a couple of times." Like that's expected behavior.

    I was somewhat skeptical about this, and figured it was a static problem or something unrelated but found out the harsh truth while I was on the support call with Dell. They had me do the usual bonehead stuff like do a hard reset, update the BIOS, remove/replace the battery, etc. I was typing on it and got zapped on the thumb with a serious shock. That's when I noticed the little scorch mark next to the right trackpad button. Looking down through the gap between the button and the case, I could see a little bit of metal from whatever was underneath. Enough charge was building up in there to arc to my hand, which can't be good.

    The Dell support guy heard me yelp when I got shocked and asked me if everything was OK. I told him I just got a nasty shock from the laptop and he said, "can you hold for a minute please?"

    I waited for about 2 minutes, and then some other guy came on the phone and said that they were sending out a replacement overnight and that I should return the other one right away. The replacement was a top-of-the-line Inspiron for the time, quite a step up from the one that zapped me. I figured it was a pretty good response.

    So I issued the user a new Thinkpad from our closet and kept the nice Dell for myself. It worked out for everybody.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:43PM (#17922166)
    On an older Inspiron 8600 laptop. I contacted Dell Warranty Support and my laptop was replaced with a newer E1505 core duo model within a week.

    Normally I would have been happy, but the new system had inferior graphics and disk drive, and was incompatable with the upgraded RAM in the old system. Dell would not reconcile the issues, and just had their tech support deny my claims.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @12:51PM (#17922286)
    This is an old problem. I have experienced the shocking with a Dell Inspiron 8000 laptop. As for Dell's forum, those moderators are a bunch of Brady Bunch-loving nazis. Try typing the word "piss" in your post on their forum and see if they don't sick the bastards on you. I actually like Dell computers; I just don't care for their jackoff forum moderators.
  • Re:Non-repro? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @01:30PM (#17922878) Homepage
    An old roommate of mine had a laptop which would crash playing 3D games unless the CD drive was left open. If the CD drive was left open, no crash would happen. He downloaded a lot of NOCD cracks. Anyway, it basically turned out that having the CD drive open provided just enough extra airflow.
  • Re:37VAC on 15" Dell (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BennyB2k4 ( 799512 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @02:24PM (#17923664) IF [] Here is the image capture from my scope. It's at 52.95V RMS, and 152V peak-to-peak @ 60.1Hz It looks like its ~250V sine wave with the top flattened off. And it won't grill my sandwich :(
  • Re:Oh shit. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by networkBoy ( 774728 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @02:59PM (#17924126) Journal
    So the article specifically says once he bought a three pronged adapter the problem was solved. Sounds like it's a dell fault.
    If they are providing an un-grounded adapter then they should be sure that no external metal components can connect to the line neutral, because while that should ideally be at ground potential, the power spec provides for the possibility of it floating. I'd also like to see if he is shocked by the old setup if put on an isolation transformer.

  • Re:How about ... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by multisync ( 218450 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @03:06PM (#17924224) Journal

    Ernie Ball strings blow.
    I'll defer to your judgment on that, as I play guitar strictly for the enjoyment of it. It doesn't sound like that is your reason for playing guitar. In fact, it doesn't sound like you get much enjoyment out of life in general.

    You're missing the point of the GP.
    You're the second person this week to tell me that. Apparently I'm quite dense. Let's look at the comment I replied to, to see where I may have gone wrong:

    "I trust many big companies because they provide quality products and never tried to screw me, and I trust even more small companies, and if you think about it, I'm sure you do too."

    Hmmm. I trust many companies too, for the same reason. If they've given me no reason to not trust them, and have taken steps to earn my trust, I tend to ... well ... trust them.

    The point was that 99.99999% of PUBLIC CORPORATIONS are evil
    I won't ask you to provide a source for that little statistic, or to prove that the concept of "evil" actually exists and can be exhibited by inanimate entities like PUBLIC CORPORATIONS. But I'm curious: why have you narrowed the focus to PUBLIC CORPORATIONS when the GP referred to "companies"? Also, is your caps-lock stuck?

    How does said corporation handle it's workers, the environment, and the law? All things considered, they all fail the morality test, it's even in their charter to do so.
    How does any business handle these things?

    How is the little restaurant down the street disposing of it's waste? Are they recycling, re-using and reducing to the fullest extent? Do they pay their employees shit wages and leave it to the customer to make up the difference with tips?

    How about that newspaper vendor you stop at on your way to work?

    Does he beat his wife? Cheat on his taxes? Where does the owner stand on abortion?

    Do you look in to his character before plunking down that fifty cents down on a newspaper?

    If not, why not?

    I guess you've also never heard of a farmer's market, or a pair of scissors and a trusted friend? The world got along fine for thousands of years without multinational corporations
    I guess you didn't catch the part in my comment about the hair cut, or the pub or restaurant. Or do you go to Wallmart for a haircut? (I don't know. Maybe you do.)

    I could have named local establishments that I do business with, but the parent poster has likely never heard of them. Instead, I named companies he might have heard of and provided links to articles describing why I think they deserve my business.

    Does your local farmer's market pay their employees good living wages, offer health care and other benefits and only sell products produced in accordance with your high moral standards? Can you really vouch for every jar of jam, every piece of fruit?

    what makes you think that just because you're too stupid to shop someplace else that the rest of us are too ?
    What makes you have to resort to name calling?

    More importantly, should the fact that I think you're an asshole have a bearing on whether or not I buy a pack of gum from you?

  • Re:Oh shit. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by evilbessie ( 873633 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @03:22PM (#17924474)
    We like bashing corperate America as we in Europe have the EU (bad as they may be) but at least they occasionally have some balls, like basically forcing Steve Jobs to come out against DRM, having an anti-monopoly commission that, you know, is anti-monopolies. And generally tries to do good for consumers and not protect damn big corperations from f***ing us up the a*** (or a** for those who speak American).
  • Re:Verified (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Andrew Sterian ( 182 ) <> on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @04:04PM (#17925046) Homepage
    Most modern laptop power supplies are isolated switching converters, which means there really should be NO electrical path for current to flow from the AC outlet to the laptop since a transformer isolates the two sides. If you can indeed draw current from the chassis ground of the laptop itself to the earth ground, then I'd say the laptop power supply has a serious flaw.

    Switching to a grounded adapter supply may have just fixed the problem by switching to an adapter that is properly constructed.

  • Re:Oh shit. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Muad'Dave ( 255648 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @04:37PM (#17925378) Homepage

    Here's one: Dillon Precision [], home of the "Blue Press" - a reloading catalog liberally sprinkled with beautiful women holding firearms. What makes them great is that they have a Lifetime "No-B.S." Warranty on their gear - a part breaks, you lose a spring, no problem, no charge!

    Excellent customer service, IMHO, and pretty good reloading presses.

  • Re:Ever? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ThePowerGorilla ( 930379 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @05:11PM (#17925838)
    Y-caps don't fail. Ever.

    That's why they carry their own UL listing. The UL listing is UL's means of saying that if that part ever fails, it won't fail in a way that can cause personal injury. These are not like normal caps. They have a very thick dielectric, and are epoxy encapsulated. Every cap is tested at mfg, it's automated. Then the final assembly is tested.

    And a loose solder joint? They kinda go open, not shorted.

    It's the other parts you should be concerned about, and those I never touched on. Blown FET's shorting to frame ground? check. Overheated transformers breaching the primary to secondary boundary? check. Pinched wires? check.

  • by gingrich ( 469968 ) on Wednesday February 07, 2007 @10:38PM (#17929606)
    In a former life, I was a site hardware support engineer for a petroleum company. They had laptops that were used on Oil Drilling Platforms. (Steel, everything in sight earthed really well.)
    I was handed a complaint that someone was shocked on one of these PCs. And, on testing, there was a potential of 75-150 volts between some of the exposed screws and earth. BUT, and this is the important point, the current was in the milli- to micro- ampere range. So, it meant that the electricity was perceptible, but not dangerous since the current involved was below the accepted threshold for danger to humans.
    On the other hand, a spark, any spark, on an oil rig is not a good thing. The final result was that the PCs continued to be used in the office, but were banned from the oil rigs.
    The above comments with respect to the current may not be the same as the situation reported in the original article, but I'd be curious to know what the measured current actually is.
    When I measured current on the machines I tested, I started with the meter in it's highest possible current setting and gradually worked downwards to more sensitive scales to make sure I didn't let the "smoke" out of the meter. But if you're not sure about the method, don't try this at home kids. ;-)
  • by BillX ( 307153 ) on Thursday February 08, 2007 @01:49AM (#17931104) Homepage
    It's true that floating a cheap DMM's leads in the air (or even a very good DMM's) will show all sorts of spurious voltages, and that the "AC" voltage is not true RMS unless the meter says true RMS on the package... but users feeling a definite tingle through their skin indicates to me a problem, as does the demonstration (assuming it's true!) of pulling a milliamp over 1k off the "floating" case.

    (Yes, IAAEE, and yes, one of my current [no pun intended] projects involves developing a device to zap humans - we EEs are our own most handy test subjects. Somewhat off the topic, the Big Boyz of the human-zapping industry set their 'danger zone' at around 10mA, give or take a little depending on pulsewidth, etc. Once you pierce the skin, human body resistance drops to only a couple Kohms...)

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun