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Dell Selling Faulty PCs 484

An anonymous reader writes "PC maker Dell has been accused of selling thousands of desktop PCs despite knowing the machines contained faulty components, according to recently unsealed court documents first reported about on Tuesday by The New York Times."
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Dell Selling Faulty PCs

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  • obQuote (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @12:59PM (#32732938)

    "A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one." -- Fight Club.

  • Re:Yep (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <> on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:07PM (#32733062) Journal

    I bought three last week, and their customer service already knew what was going on. A tech already came out next-day to replace the faulty components. No questions asked. Next?

    From the article,

    According to company memorandums and other documents recently unsealed in a civil case against Dell in Federal District Court in North Carolina, Dell appears to have suffered from the bad capacitors, made by a company called Nichicon, far more than its rivals. Internal documents show that Dell shipped at least 11.8 million computers from May 2003 to July 2005 that were at risk of failing because of the faulty components. These were Dell’s OptiPlex desktop computers — the company’s mainstream products sold to business and government customers.

    So last week you bought three computers dated between May 2003 and July 2005? The suit names Optiplexes with bad capacitors and that's what you purchased last week? Or are you telling me that this continues to this day in 2010, seven years after it started?

    You may have other problems than faulty computers -- like a faulty lie generator or even employment at Dell.

  • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:08PM (#32733092) Journal

    The article states the PCs were sold between 2003 and 2005, and they suffered from a rash of bad capacitors produced in Asia. The bad capacitors affected other computer manufacturers as well, but seemed to affect Dell worse.

    This information is nothing new, and essentially it sounds like the problem was so bad, and infiltrated the industry to such a depth, that even replacement machines would likely fail from bad capacitors as well.

    The tiny summary specifically makes it sound like Dell is selling machines with these problems now, which is totally misleading.

  • Re:Yep (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Galactic Dominator ( 944134 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:10PM (#32733136)

    Did they reimburse you for the lost productivity? No? Even after they knowingly sent you a faulty system, you're still willing to give them a free pass. You're free to bend over for whoever you like but I'll take my anger standing up, thanks.

  • Re:Yep (Score:2, Insightful)

    by WarlockD ( 623872 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:20PM (#32733302)

    The issue was that when allot of the boards started failing at once, instead of calling the tech support who could DO something about it, companies would call their service rep.

    Its all well and good when that rep is high up on the food chain and can do dispatch orders, but if he is clueless or just does the company line, you get these lawsuits. You have to tell the truth in a situation like this and the sales people didn't with AIT.

    I am sure there are a few other lawsuits like this that were settled and your right, supply problems happen all the time. This story more of a failure of customer service and communication.

  • by c0d3g33k ( 102699 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:22PM (#32733334)

    This seems clever and insightful, but the formula fails to include a number of factors.

    How about:

    D - "The likelihood we can cover this up and will never be found out"
    Diminishes over time, exponentially if the problem persists

    E - "The damage to our reputation and long-term viability as a company when we're inevitably caught covering this up"
    Asymptotically approaches infinity.

    F - "The long term goodwill we engender by telling the truth and making things right"
    If managed right, more important to the survival of the company than any other factor.

    Dell was never in my list of top hardware companies, but now they are right at the top of my worst list. I'll never buy from them again and I will advise others against doing so, citing this kind of behavior as evidence. I hope they fail and vanish from the face of the earth to be replaced by another company that's much better at their business than they are. Good riddance.

    There. That's what their strategy of lying and obfuscation got them.

    Damage to personal reputation can destroy the lives of individuals, it should do so to companies as well, and deservedly so. Toyota realizes this and is working hard to make amends. They will very likely survive and thrive again. BP seems to be somewhat clueless about this, but I predict their arrogance will bite them in the ass eventually and they will either be bought out or have to undergo an identity wipe in an attempt to erase themselves from peoples memories.

  • Re:Yep (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:25PM (#32733378)

    So... considering that bad boards were used to replace bad boards, how many of those GX270s are still around?

    Your assumption is incorrect. They replaced the bad "boards" with boards that had good capacitors. We could tell whether a motherboard had been replaced by whether its caps in the GPU area were X-topped or K-topped. That visual indication was a big help when we decided to pressure Dell into sending us tons of motherboards for mass replacement before they went bad.

  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:26PM (#32733398) Homepage

    The actual problem was bad enough, but instead of owning up to it Dell decided to mount a PR campaign aimed at emphasizing uncertainty. And told their reps to lie about it.

    The actual problem didn't bother me as much as Dell's response.

  • Re:Yep (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ElectricTurtle ( 1171201 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:28PM (#32733422)
    It's not an 'assumption' at all, if you had read the article, you'd know it was a confirmed practice, exposed during the legal proceedings described therein. Congratulations on being able to pressure Dell into doing what they should have for everybody, but don't be an asshole implying people are ignorant just because their experience differs slightly from yours. Anecdotal evidence only goes so far.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:32PM (#32733476)

    PC makers made the mistake of cutting CS to the bone for consumers, outsourcing it and cutting every corner possible until there are only whittled down arcs left.

    And this has backfired on them. Individual users don't want to sit for 3 hours on hold to an offshore site to talk with a hostile "tech" who reads from a script and hangs up on the person if they get into a situation that the script doesn't help, such as a customer not running Windows diagnostics because their box isn't passing POST.

    This is why Apple is getting a bigger marketshare with Macs. Apple knows better than to cut customer support because it is the Apple representatives and their experiences which get people back in the Apple stores.

    My recommendation: Buy a business line PC with the business level support. Buy from a beige box maker who has a clue. Or buy Apple because it is easier to deal with a snooty hipster than someone who is halfway across the world, and hates you and your country.

  • by psbrogna ( 611644 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:32PM (#32733478)
    So you've resigned yourself that consumers just have to live with shockingly high premature failure rates? Good luck with that strategy. I'm going to continue only using vendors that supply products which have a decent chance of lasting a few years and when they do break don't suffer subsequent failures shortly afterward.

    If you read more closely than I suspect you have, this thread is not about debating whether hardware failure is inevitable, its about whether Dell is doing their job of assuring reasonable quality and the ethics of their order fulfillment policies.
  • Re:LOL (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Znork ( 31774 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:37PM (#32733570)

    Actually, badcaps failure modes are so often so nasty that they can certainly cause data loss. They computer won't just 'fail' at once, but will probably begin with silent corruption as power availability teeters on the edge of tolerances, then move into crashes as memory and other components gets more significantly underpowered during load, then go on to many crashes per day, into crashes during recovery and then eventually death.

    If you identify the problem during the first phase, after a few random software crashes, then you probably won't have significant data loss. But if you get to the point where you've had a dozen crashes during recovery attempts, then you may end up with partially corrupt file systems and certainly a few missing files.

  • Re:Old news (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:38PM (#32733588)

    HA! Good one! Oh man, you're fucking HILARIOUS!!!! You should take that act on the road. Seriously. You could make $5-10 a night, easy. You better leave now and get started.

    Seriously, get the fuck out of here, moron.

  • Re:Yep (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:39PM (#32733616)

    so if you dont pay them they wont fix their hardware they LET OUT OF THE DOOR knowing it was bad

    thats not support, that is extortion

  • Re:Yep (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WarlockD ( 623872 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:46PM (#32733702)

    I hate it when customers ask me to "reimburse you for the lost productivity" Its what lawsuits are for:P

    Everyone makes mistakes, systems go down, things catch fire. Its why allot of companies that care about this don't do a single vendor. Why, even though they bought a million dollar EMC array, they have it backed up nightly with another million dollar tape robot.

    Even at home, I make sure every computer I care about has a raid 1 array. There is nothing Dell, HP or even EMC can do when your drives fail. If you want to be reimbursed, you better be able to prove, in a court of law, that it was due to the incompetence of the Vendor.

    Witch AIT did:)

  • by spun ( 1352 ) <> on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:52PM (#32733834) Journal

    You give the fields of public relations and image management short shrift. They exist primarily to make the problems you outline disappear.

    D - The likelihood we can pay someone to cover this up in the short term, which is all that seems to matter to corporate officers anyhow, is pretty high.

    E - History shows that damage to a corporate reputation can be easily managed. It does not asymptotically approach infinity, as the Ford Pinto clearly demonstrates. Does anyone today refrain from buying Ford because the Pinto killed people? I think not.

    F - It is much cheaper to simply lie copiously through advertising and PR to generate that goodwill. After all, it isn't about the truth, but perception. Perceptions can be bought.

    In ten years, Dell will still be around but your memory of this incident won't be. You will most likely be buying Dell again.

    Toyota will very likely survive and thrive again?!? They are thriving right now, they are the largest in terms of sales and production. Even BP isn't going to go under without help. Hell, what would a boycott of BP do? They still own the oil, which is only going to become more valuable over time. Oil underground is money in the bank, it even collects interest. BP isn't going anywhere, this will barely be a blip on the balance sheets in twenty years.

    You see, all corporations suck to some extent. And people have busy lives. They don't remember the fact that some big faceless corporation screwed them over, that is a non event because it happens all the time. You live with it. You forget. When Exxon and Mobile merged, did they drop the Exxon part of the name because of the Exxon Valdez spill? Of course not, and ExxonMobile is doing just peachy.

    I'd love to live in a world like the one you imagine, where fairness and justice just happen, because everyone does their part to stand up to evil. It would be a better world than this one.

  • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:54PM (#32733862)
    No, but it does serve to remind us just how tight tolerances and manufacturing procedures can be.

    If you know anything at all about Dell, you know they're an assembler. The burden of quality should be on the motherboard manufacturer. Meanwhile, the ethics of replacing a bad motherboard (for a known component quality issue) with one with the same potential issue falls squarely on Dell.
  • Re:Yep (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WarlockD ( 623872 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:56PM (#32733888)

    Anecdotal evidence only goes so far.

    This is slashdot. If my system worked fine for 5 years, the vendor is golden and cannot be touched by mere mortal hands!

  • by Tridus ( 79566 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @01:57PM (#32733926) Homepage

    "E - "The damage to our reputation and long-term viability as a company when we're inevitably caught covering this up"
    Asymptotically approaches infinity."

    You haven't been paying attention to Corporate America in the last decade, have you? Long term thinking doesn't exist. It's all about meeting short term revenue projections.

  • Re:Yep (Score:4, Insightful)

    by skuzzlebutt ( 177224 ) <{jdb} {at} {}> on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @02:03PM (#32734024) Homepage

    <karma burn>
    Is "loving too much" one of their problems? Caring about people to the point of losing self-efficacy? Working too hard and not spending enough "me" time getting to learn who the real Dell is, deep inside?
    </karma burn>

    My experience with them is just the opposite; I bought two Dimension 3000s and both had overheating problems (also well-documented on the internet including pictures of melted components and mobos, both acknowledged by Dell "off-the-record" by a phone rep). They tried everything possible to not fix the their own admission, their fanless CPU heatsink and externally-vented shroud scheme ("design" is too kind a word) was a failure, but they refused to do anything about it, and offered to send me new shrouds--parts that worked as designed and were not defective, per se. We played that game for months until the warranties expired and they refused to ackknowledge my existence anymore unless I bought an additional support package, even though the original overheating problem had not been resolved.

    And that terminated, until the end of time, my dealings with Dell.

  • by fishtorte ( 1117491 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @02:11PM (#32734134)

    You don't, you give it the death penalty. Carve it up and [...]

    Well, maybe forty years ago... corporations have way too much power & influence now. AT&T, ExxonMobil, GE--they'd never let a precedent like that be set these days.

  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @02:14PM (#32734188) Journal

    Amen. Of course, it would be a lot easier if such a large fraction of our GDP weren't run by the mob. We've got hit-men (Military-Industrial complex), drug dealers (Big Pharma), torches (oil and chemical) and numbers-runners (finance).

  • by WarlockD ( 623872 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @02:25PM (#32734324)

    I fully agree.

    If the US wants to view corporation as a living entity, they should have corporal punishment.

    Baring that, I think fines should be levied agents a corporation in percentages instead of flat numbers. Fining BP 75 million is nothing. Fining them 20% of gross profit each year till the spill clears up? It will be done in a week.

  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @02:54PM (#32734754) Homepage Journal

    Macs work by moving good karma around

    - yeah, around and out of them. Macs work by rearranging the dark forces within them, that's closer to the truth.

  • Re:Yep, old news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Galactic Dominator ( 944134 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @03:03PM (#32734888)

    As countSudoku() posts, Dell's probably going to be extra careful with hardware for the next short while and the quality will improve for at least a while. If it's possible to take advantage of that extra caution and if you were going to purchase soon anyway, it might be possible to score better than usual machines.

    I wonder if BP's board of directors had similar thoughts about their CEO, Tony Hayward.

    He won't act like an idiot again.
    Okay this time we really mean it.
    We directed him to not speak in public.
    We've restricted him from public appearances.

    Counting on corporate shame as a method for fixing behavior is ridiculous. There is no such thing as corporate shame.

  • Re:This is news? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Leviathant ( 558659 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @03:20PM (#32735108) Homepage
    Of the five Dell laptops between my wife and I since 2003, only one of them had any kind of fault (the fan/heat sink on the 5150 laptop had a nasty habit of storing compressed dust in a way that would make the processor overheat after 5-10 minutes of use) and they sent out a recall for that. We've had that many laptops only because we got greedy for speed. We gutted the 5150 and sold it for parts, and have a pair of older, perfectly capable laptops sitting around collecting dust.

    I'm on my second Dell desktop, bought my first one in 2002, and it ran like a tank, and I only ended up replacing it in 2008 because I wanted something faster. My wife's Dell desktop has likewise been great to work with. We just bought a Dell Zino HD to run Hulu and Netflix on the TV. What's even better is that every single one of these machines (except for my 2002 desktop) was a refurb or scratch and dent from the Outlet, so I paid maybe 70% of the normal price.

    One time a client I worked with ordered eight Dell desktops in an effort to update his office. One of the monitors was a little wonky - I called up Dell, and they overnighted a new monitor.

    Just because I have had a really good experience with Dell doesn't mean I think everyone else is full of it - a friend of mine did laptop repair for a living and swears Dell are crap. However, given my experience, I still recommend Dell to my friends.
  • by spun ( 1352 ) <> on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @03:22PM (#32735144) Journal

    Corporations can only run things because citizens are indifferent. We are ultimately in charge, this system we are part of is not something controlling us from the outside. We control the system, although we abdicate control much of the time.

  • Re:Yep (Score:4, Insightful)

    by chriso11 ( 254041 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @04:37PM (#32736264) Journal

    Actually, I doubt that they were using tantalum capacitors; they were aluminum electrolytic caps. Tantalum caps usually do not have a liquid inside and therefore do not leak, rather they explode.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @05:50PM (#32737482)

    For me, I've repaired a lot of Dell and other brand computers and computer equipment with bad capacitors. The total cost of new capacitors is usually about $2.00 - $5.00 (depending on what you buy, where you buy, if you order in bulk, etc). And if you have skill with a soldering iron, within about 20 minutes you can solder on new capacitors, and you'll have a working machine.

    Especially when this is the problem it saves a lot of hassle of having to call warranty, argue for warranty, etc.

  • Re:GM does/did it. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by barzok ( 26681 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @08:31PM (#32739008)

    They were replaced twice under warranty, and now that the warranty is up, they're clunking again

    Check your paperwork. If the part failed within 12K/12 months of the repair, it should be covered by a separate warranty on that work.

    "Living with the clunk" is a bad idea - if the bushings are broken/worn, depending on which bushings they are, you could be setting yourself up for a failure of the suspension, which at best will leave you stranded on the side of the road, and at worst in a major accident due to loss of control.

  • Boycot BP? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @08:50PM (#32739120)

    Hell, what would a boycott of BP do?

    I can answer this one.

    Jack Shit.

    The BP that sells petrol is a different entity to the BP that pulls oil out of the ground which is a different entity to the BP that turns oil into Petrol.

    The BP that pulls oil out of the ground sells that oil on the open market, it doesn't expressly go to BP refineries to be sold in BP petrol stations. The oil that goes to BP refineries comes from BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Saudi Aramco, Chevron Texaco and anyone else in the oil extraction game. This petroleum is also sold on the open market so a Esso petrol station will be selling BP as well as Shell and Chevron petrol.

    Besides, if you want to know who is really to blame for the gulf disaster you need only look for the nearest mirror. Unquenchable thirst for oil combined with unreasonable demand for low prices caused this. If you want to help, suspend the Jones act as there are companies in Europe and the Middle East who are experts at dealing with these kinds of problems who at the moment cannot do a damn thing because of politics.

  • Re:This is news? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Tuesday June 29, 2010 @09:31PM (#32739410) Homepage Journal

    Has Dell ever sold anything but faulty machines?

    Dell used to sell more reliable machines. But they had the power leads on the AT connector reversed, so if you plugged in a 3rd-party power supply you'd blow your mobo. DAMHINT.

    The strategy that works for Dell shops is this:

    • Buy the XPS/Business lines
    • Understand that your failure rate will be 10-20% per year
    • Have an imaging system
    • Have a build system
    • Have a license management system
    • Buy the Gold support contract - this gets you fast turn around and intelligent local-country support. Also they believe you when you tell them the hard drive toasted, is throwing SMART errors, and they send you a new one instead of suggesting you re-install Windows.
    • Have on-site spares, one for each build
    • Store all the data on the server.
    • Have redundant servers

    Now, then, in volume, you can save some money by doing it this way. The support contract even outsources some of IT. But you need a big shop to make this feasible, and you need to be good at coordinating staff. But if you do it right, no user loses more than an couple hours a year to faulty equipment.

    If you're a small shop, just build decent systems with parts from Newegg.

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