Dell and HP balk at replacing bad Nvidia chip
By Michael Lasky
An old urban myth claims that the microprocessors used in PCs and other consumer electronics are designed to fail within days or weeks of their warranty expiration.
For tens of thousands of people who bought Dell and HP notebooks whose motherboards fried — often a few weeks after their warranty expired — there’s nothing mythical about it.
The cause of the machines’ fried motherboards is an overheating Nvidia graphics chip. The failure rate is so huge that Nvidia had to take a $196 million charge against earnings in the second quarter of its 2008 fiscal year in anticipation of the reimbursements that would result from the faulty GPU.
What’s particularly scandalous, though, is how HP and Dell first handled the deluge of complaints from customers with notebooks that failed after their warranties expired. The companies either charged the customers (victims?) for repairs or refused service because the systems were past the warranty period.
Even worse, HP and Dell continued to sell notebooks with the same Nvidia chip long after the companies were aware of the problem. (Ultimately, Nvidia released a new version of the GPU that didn’t cause overheating.)
Unwary consumers who purchased the affected notebooks — no doubt based in part on the heady reputations of the vendors — were left in the lurch when their PCs failed, which usually occurred after 18 months or so. The purchasers had no recourse except to yell and scream at clueless tech-support reps.
When the heat from consumer complaints became as hot as the faulty Nvidia chip, HP and Dell relented and published a list of defective model numbers on their Web sites. Dell extended the standard one-year warranty to two years for the systems they identified as having the problem. HP offered a 24-month warranty extension for the specific issue.
However, instead of issuing a recall — as you would expect in such a clear case of a defective part — the vendors instead merely offered a BIOS upgrade. The “patch” for the affected notebooks made their fans run continuously in an attempt to lower the GPU-induced heat, which was cooking the motherboards onto which the chips were soldered.
This “fix” merely extended the time before the motherboards finally burned out while simultaneously devouring the machines’ battery life — sort of like putting a Band-Aid on a coronary. Of course, notebook purchasers became further inflamed by the power drain on their systems due to the constantly running fan.
To see if your Dell laptop could have this issue and is eligible for the extended warranty, click here
To see if your HP laptop could have this issue and is eligible for the extended warranty, click here