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back to article Dell's faulty PC legal woes worsen (again)

The ongoing legal imbroglio over Dell's allegedly defective Optiplex computers took another turn this week when a proposed class-action lawsuit broadened its scope. The consumer-rights law firm of Hagens Berman LLP filed suit in August of last year on behalf of New York chiropractor Richard Statler, alleging that five Optiplex …

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Anonymous Coward

It's about time

I have been waiting years to have companies prosecuted for knowingly selling defective computer software and hardware to consumers so consumers can be unpaid beta testers. I hope this is just the beginning of a landslide of class action suits against all companies suck as Dell, Microsucks, Intel, Asus and many, many more who knowingly pump defective crap out the door for windfall profits.

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Boffin

On the other hand...

...if they did the true testing-and-assurance song and dance a lot of the stuff wouldn't be there in the first place and overlay programming on a 256K machine might well be latest feature to hit the stores.

Mass consumption electronics is what it is. Deal with the risk.

And for anything serious, you have "maintenance contracts".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: on the other hand

Of course the stuff would be there, it'd cost an appreciable amount more, but it would be reliable, and would last a damm sight longer, so actual value for money (the important measure) would likely increase.

So it might have taken another 10, or 20, or even 50 years, to get to the same level of technology, so what.

The race to the bottom, engendered, by the 'Must be cheaper (a horrible word) than anyone else' idea, has benefitted no-one long term other than a few shareholders, CEOs, and a few **nkers

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Unhappy

Too bad...

We threw them all out and bought replacements. Yay.

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Paris Hilton

Rhymes with hell

The title says it all, really. Did contract work for lots of shops with Dell gear. Few of them had many happy users, and even fewer had many happy IT people. Regularly saw 'identical' models with totally different hardware inside, because Dell love to solder together whatever remaining stock they can buy cheaply at the time they build your computer. Makes image and driver management a real joy.

Paris, just because.

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Rhymes with some crap

"Regularly saw 'identical' models with totally different hardware inside, because Dell love to solder together whatever remaining stock they can buy cheaply at the time they build your computer. Makes image and driver management a real joy."

They all do it. When I was a PC tech same Compaq model desktop PC had 6 different motherboards. Thinkpads same deal. I used to build & troubleshoot PCs for fun, still do. Never again for a living, it's pure suck. You're basically a white collar assembly line worker.

Before that I did phone support for a large electronics firm's printer division. There were known defects on some lasers printers (cold solder joint). The printer would stop working and a specific error code would be displayed, had to be sent in for service. If the error ocurred during warranty period it was repaired for free. After 90 days customer had to fork over ~$200 USD. We had a lot of screaming customers because eventually it was leaked that it was a known defect. It was trivial to repair and a few technically inclined individuals did their own repair once I and a few collegues described the exact part of the motherboard that had to be re-soldered. Their warranty was over so they didn't mind if it saved them some money. Naturally management frowned upon this and we were discouraged from encouraging self repair anymore.

Phone support is another job from hell I would never do again. I'm there to apologise for something I had nothing to do with and blatantly lie to customers.

But those two experiences changed the point of view of a once wide-eyed college grad. That's the way business is done. It's more important to get a product out the door regardless of defect, maybe fix or patch it later than it is to produce something that works as advertised. Once you have a customer's money, fuck 'em. Ok, provide them with some toll-free support line so they have someone to bitch at, just so we can pretend to care.

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Pint

Talking about craputers...

You win by mentioning Compaq. Have one on me.

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Alert

Shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders

"Shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders" starts to sound like it's more appropriate to Dell these days.

Michael Dell's "pile 'em high and watch mindless corporate IS departments buy them" strategy comes back to haunt those customers.

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Stop

"Hagens Berman isn't backing down... In fact, they'd love to hear from you..."

I bet they would...

Yes, sir, I'm sure they'd love to have my help in getting them a multi-million-dollar "cost of representation" (legal fees) award, while I get a, what, coupon for a twenty-five or fifty dollar widget of some kind.

I'm not against class action suits, per se; I believe that companies should be held to account for shoddy and/or negligently dangerous product design... But I also believe that it makes no sense to bring a class-action suit when the aggrieved parties know in advance that the bulk of any damages awarded (if any) will go to the trial lawyers, and not the individuals impacted by the defective product(s).

Class-action suits also tend to take much longer than first-party suits to adjudicate, resulting in an over-burdened civil court system and costly delays.

(Possible exceptions to this axiom are those actions brought against corporations in the Chancery Court of the US State of Delaware, which is noted for having a highly business-oriented legal system, and is one of the reasons a multitude of large US companies choose to incorporate there, even if their practical headquarters are located elsewhere. Too bad the suit was [had to be?] filed at the Federal level in New York; I expect the legal wrangling in this case could take at least a couple/three years to put to bed...)

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Class-action suits

"But I also believe that it makes no sense to bring a class-action suit when the aggrieved parties know in advance that the bulk of any damages awarded (if any) will go to the trial lawyers"

I hope they get sh*tloads of cash from Dell. It's not like I'm a huge fan of lawyers, but to the beancounters at Dell the pain level is the same whether their money ends up in their customers' pockets or at some lawyer's Porsche dealer. If nothing else it might at least serve as a deterrent to other companies that think about saving money by selling dodgy kit.

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Paris Hilton

AC. So you chucked them out.

It is not reasonable to expect a defective computer to be kept. Proof of purchase and then proof of purchase of a different computer of comparable performance shortly afterwards should be enough. So why not join the class action you might get something? Paris because this was her idea.

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Experienced this at a previous job

I was doing an internship in the IT dept for a UK software company a good few years ago now - we had a large batch of GX270s and I think we had a Dell engineer out on average once or twice a week to replace a motherboard - we even had a couple of 'loan' machines we'd swap out with users desktops when they failed.

The really tedious thing was we couldn't get Dell to agree to just replace all of them in one go, or leave us with a stock of motherboards and instructions on how to replace them oureslves, so every time one failed we had to call up the support team (in India on a very bad quality line of course), and explain to them that yes it's the same issue we've reported on n other boxes. It was amusing what they sent the engineer out with sometimes - he'd turn up with a new PSU despite the fact we had made perfectly clear it was faulty capacitors on the motherboard!

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Mushroom

not just 270's and 280's

The 260's were bad too, put many a soldering iron to those over the years.

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Pint

Not initially Dell's fault

Nichicon is a thoroughly reputable capacitor manufacturer, which is often overlooked, but this time round, they screwed up.

Dell was NOT deliberately sourcing cheap, shitting components as is often thought.

However, it WAS Dell's fault for not owning up and recalling immediately, so frankly, fuck them. They should be sued over this.

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Headmaster

@Piro "Not initially Dell's fault". Well yes up to a point.

Yes, I agree that Nichicon *are* a reputable (far more so than Dell IMHO) and one can say about their fuckup that shit happens sometimes. I would also agree that it would have been insane of Dell to *knowingly* at the outset ship defective goods. However, having said that it is impossible to believe that they succeeded in shipping nearly 12 million units before they noticed something was wrong. At some point they must have known and continued to ship. At that point they became just as guilty as if they *had* knowingly and deliberately shipped defective crap from the beginning. They should IMO be sued in the normal way for *all* defective units shipped and (if the law permitted it) prosecuted over every single one of those shipped after they *did* know. Until this kind of crap actually risks jail time (whatever the judicial position, this kind of thing is, morally speaking, a form of fraud) for the directors as well as damages nothing much is going to change.

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Anonymous Coward

So many witty comments....

He who buys Dell, buys twice.

The road to Dell is paved with duff hardware.

A Dell a day keeps the techs in pay.

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Bronze badge

maybe your not doing it right then.....

Dell are just as good/bad/indifferent as the next Tier one supplier...

Yes they fail, but certainly no more than any other supplier... over the past 10 years Ive deployed and supported a good 5000 systems and other than the capacitor issue, the failure rate has been good, the products cheap and the design and build better than the next cheapest machine.

Dell bashing is almost as dull and predictable as Apple bashing!!

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Silver badge

What should be noted

Is that the capacitors could easily be swapped on the field by just about any TV repair company. So they could have just sent out a few bugs plus a sheet of instructions and a small bag of capacitors to anyone complaining and the problem would have been solved.

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Facepalm

Do It Yourself?

You forgot the cash to pay the TV repairman. And given the number of duff capacitors on a motherboard it would be a fairly big pile of cash and a medium sized bag of bits.

I used to look after desktops for my employer, some 3000 systems, 99.9% were Dell. Our whole estate of 270s, in the hundreds of machines, had Motherboard replacements at Dells expense. (Or the capacitor manufacturers expense?)

We had a Dell contractor on site for weeks fixing boxes, despite them being end of life and due for replacement with more Dells. Should have just given is a few quid off each replacement. Would have been cheaper for us, Dell and the environment.

Corporate madness!

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FAIL

stupid dell...

i've just left a position at an IT field support company, where one client had around 15 of the optiplex sx280 machines (bought in around 2005) with this faulty capacity problem. up to now, they've been lucky and had only 6 of them fail.

in response to christian, i looked at attempting to replace the blown capacitors with better japanese caps. it's not possible due to the 4 layer motherboard. where that you could attempt to get clever and snip the old capacity away and solder a new one to the "stumps" that are left behind, removing the capacity is not feasible due to not knowing whether or not it's soldered into the middle layers, and not actually being able to get to it if it is.

either way, it's not really feasible to attempt to repair these machines. it was also doubtful as to whether if we were to replace the faulty capacitors if the machine would even still work, since the affected caps regulate the power to the cpu and surrounding circuits.

in the current day, the affected machines are so out of date, it's probably worth updating anyway!

what's more scary, is i've seen the SAME capacitors, and the SAME failure in SERVERS! i've seen server motherboards fail (poweredge 700/800 series), and dell pci-e SAS cards fail, with the same blowing/boiling capacitors as seen in the sx270/280 and gx270/280 series desktop computers.

so many levels of fail by dell. shortly after we discovered this problem, we stopped selling dell machines entirely, and shifted to hp/compaq.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: stupid dell

so many levels of fail by dell. shortly after we discovered this problem, we stopped selling dell machines entirely, and shifted to hp/compaq.

And how long, pray tell, did it take for you to notice that their kit suffered from the exact same problem ?

I will admit they were slightly more honest about admitting their guilt in public, but getting the replacements was just as difficult at the time.

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Anonymous Coward

GX260

Where I worked a few years back, we had labs filled with them, they started failing within 6 months of purchase, we started having a few replaced, ging through the usual crap dell get you to do. Then our account manager told us to just say to them its the capacitor problem to skip the usual and just had a new machine sent out, then after we had enough with it, we got them to replace all of them.

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Anonymous Coward

Who sells reliable desktop's anymore?

I'd gladly jump on the Dell bashing bandwagon if only I knew of a consistently reliable desktop manufacturer. My observation has been that quality and customer service across the entire industry has been steadily falling along with prices.

That said if the allegations are true and Dell knew that 97% of the affected models had defective capacitors, then they need to lose in court and they need to lose big. Otherwise they won't have any financial incentive to do the right thing in the future.

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Have to build your own...

Only way I've found to get truly reliable computers is to build them myself. Been using Gigabytes boards with all solid caps and a 3 year factory warranty. Also buy server hard drives like the RE3 models with the 5 year warranty. Far lower failure rates then anything shipped out of the big box names. Also you don't get all the crapware on the OS either.

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Paris Hilton

Not convinced

I've had more than enough faulty build your own kit.

You also have just as big a problem keeping the kit inside the same as ASUS/Gigabyte and the likes always have to be using the latest and greatest so have new boards out almost continuously.

When it does go wrong figuring out which component has actually failed is a pain in the bum unless you're lucky enough to have an identical component somewhere close.

Not to mention all the problems with finding decent cooling systems that don't sound like lawnmowers etc, issues of keeping licenses across an estate..., and finding out the distributor you bought through went under 2 months ago, so your 5 years warranties are nearly impossible to follow up...

For home sure I'd build my own every time.. but for corporate stuff. The likes of Dell seem the only reliable way forward to me and way cheaper when buying bulk....

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Weird

Am I the only person who has bought a reasonable amount of GX280s that all worked a charm?

I've just taken the last 4 out of service, mostly through age.

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Anonymous Coward

Replacing Capacitors

I've got a GX270 with knackered capacitors. I considered replacing them myself. However the ones that fail are right next to the processor and there's a metal plate under the motherboard where the processor sits that also covers the capacitor pins. It doesn't appear to be possible to remove the plate, so it probably isn't possible for anybody to replace the capacitors, TV repair man or not.

Ultimately I just replaced the machine, but as it had worked perfectly well for about four years before it failed, I wasn't going to waste too much effort on it.

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Happy

the plate comes off

You can take the plate off, you need a nice small set of tough pliers and the push the cpu bracket pins out from the top side of the motherboard and take both the bracket and metal plate off!

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FAIL

Not just GXs

We've got Optiplex 745s and when running Tomcat via Eclipse, the network connection drops randomly, at least twice a day. And they're the mini ones, so we can't put a decent card in either.

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Your Results May Vary

Three or four years ago, I purchased four Optiplex GX-280 machines from a site that sells "Off Lease" equipment: I paid something like $67 each, including shipping, for three year old machines, each with a P4, 2.6GHz CPU, 80gb or larger HD, 512mb or more RAM, and either a CD or DVD burner.

Every one is still running 24/7, doing Electronic Medical Records, Billing, word processing, web surfing and whatever else the girls can get away with. I use Windows 2K and can't believe how long and trouble free they've been.

Maybe I should try the PowerBall Lottery next?

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FAIL

Dell: price comes before quality

My company has had plenty of problems with bad capacitors in Dell OptiPlex machines. The GX270's are particularly afflicted; both motherboards and power supplies have cracked/leaking caps. The GX620's and 745's are occasionally afflicted, too. I've sent several motherboards to BadCaps.net (in the U.S.) for recapping; they do good work, and the repaired boards have been running without any problems.

Dell needs to get a clue. I would gladly pay an extra $10-15 per OptiPlex for motherboards with higher-grade caps (preferably solid caps).

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Gold badge

GX270s were defective. GX260s? Meh.

@Swedish Chef, Dell did and does make lines of machines that are considered "business class" where they make sure they are identical over the life of the machine. If you don't get those lines there's no guarantee of hardware being identical and you really can't complain if it's not. If you don't use Windows it's not a problem, Ubuntu installed identically on the GX110s (Pentium 3) through the newest Dual Core Dells I got to try it on. You're IT guys are making it hard on themselves by using such an obsolete OS.

I won't say the GX270s were "allegedly" defective -- they were defective. Not really Dell's fault but still. We saw well over a 70% failure rate (I'd guess closer to 90%), one or two caps would bulge or blow first, but most had piles of blown caps all over the board. GX260s? I don't know what to say, maybe ours were all older from before Dell sourced the bad caps, maybe the lower clock speed (2.4ghz) saved them (lower heat, lower power demand through the caps) but we only saw about a 5% failure rate on them, out of literally thousands of units.

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Mushroom

Yep, same here

Have had at least 100 GX260, 270, and 280 desktop PCs fail due to this over the last several years. We got a few fixed by Dell under warranty; the rest were nearing end of life and recycled. It got so common I'd just flip open the case and look for capacitors oozing brown goo.

It would be nice to be compensated for the hassle of this. As far as the most reliable PCs, I'd have to vote for older NCR units used in point-of-sale operations. The company I used to work for had dozens of these and as far as I know, only one motherboard failure in 12 years. Some of these are still putting along after 12+ years with practically zero maintenance, despite all the fans having dropped dead years ago, and the environment having an ambient of 100+ Fahrenheit.

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Silver badge

Not just dell

If its older than 10 or 11 years it still works. If its less than that but more than 3 or 4 it doesn’t.

Oozing capacitors may be a design fault but I cant help feeling the only fault is them going before their designed fail time - which is probably just after the statutory guarantee runs out.

There is an inherent fail built in to the design which, when explained to the accountants, must have had them jumping with glee. The failure mechanism is identical to the functional design of hand grenade fuses - a corrosive eating through something else at a known rate.

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Stop

Dell... who are they???

We were a Dell shop...

And yes we had all the pleasure of Dell GX270's and Dell GX 280's and their over-filled capacitors...

And yes we had all the fun of ringing up Dell support... we ended up just ringing, giving the ident Tag and then repeating over and over "the capacitors on the motherboard are domed" until they stopped asking us to muck about with the machine and booked the engineer to visit.

We are now not a Dell shop...

I'm fairly sure we haven't purchased anything "Dell" for over 3 years.

I've always been more annoyed about Dell hiding the problem...

IT personnel are fairly reasonable people, we know every once in a while a product will have faults through either manufacturing or components.

If Dell had come clean and worked with us to resolve the issues, we may still be a Dell shop...

But they didn't, so we have shown our displeasure with our wallets.

It would be interesting to see how many customers Dell lost over this issue.

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Bronze badge

ex-Dell

I do part-time work for the local community college. They have 50,000 students at the location I work. (No, I'm not exaggerating.) Every machine (except for the Macs in the graphics and video labs) _used_ to be Dells, and they had _thousands_ of the things... right until the machines started failing. Every single Dell desktop is now an HP, and the school is in the process of getting rid of all the servers, all of which were (note past tense) Dells. I have a nice Dell blade server and assorted Dell support hardware for it sitting in one corner of my home office until I can get a rack to put it in. The school literally gave it away. I'll be getting at least one more so that I can have spare parts for when it goes tits-up. I've also got several assorted Optiplexes parked next to the PowerEdge, again obtained for free because the school literally doesn't want 'em on the premises for any price. The local school board was also all-Dell except for a few Macs and is in the process of becoming all-HP except for a few Macs. The neighboring counties are doing much the same thing, except on a larger scale, as Miami-Dade College, the Dade County community college, has about 171,000 students (again, not an exaggeration) and they're taking their time killing Dells and replacing them with HPs. HP's marketing department should send Dell Support some flowers to thank 'em for the business. Even Dell should notice that they're down hundreds of thousands of desktops, just for the community colleges, and the better part of a million more for the high schools, and that's just in Deepest South Florida...

One of the classes I teach is computer maintenance and repair (A+, that is) and the machines that the students get to mangle are all dead Dells. By the time the students finish that course they are extremely anti-Dell, assuming that they weren't before, given some of the stories they can tell about Dell encounters. It's not just officialdom which is dumping Dell, home users are bailing in droves, too. So far as I can see new Dell sales are going to people who are attracted by the low price, with very little brand loyalty thanks to how the things behave once you open the box. HPs aren't any great prize either, but they're better Dells.

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FAIL

Dell.

Dell Laptops, The reason I bought my first Macbook Pro. Its nice to get three years out of a laptop without any issues.

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Sly

sx 280 as well as gx 620

had one machine desolder the chipset heatsink retaining clip. Looked around the motherboard and found quite a few cold solder joints. after soldering everything back together... it works like a champ. Also have numerous GX 620 machines that have popped caps on the motherboards. Probably about 10% just after the warranty period went out. Another 20% ate themselves after another year. the other 65% or so that have survived, seem to work ok, but then we had a shedload of these things in the old building and we did grab only the working ones to keep for backups when we moved shop.

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Bronze badge

Similar thing happened to me too. Once.

Once I'd disassembled the box to get the motherboard out (and Dell's online manuals are very good for this - does any other manufacturer do the equivalent of a Haynes' manual?) it was the work of moments to get the wire loop back into place and follow up with a touch of solder. Rest of board was fine.

And apart from a dodgy optical drive on one machine in the first few months of use, I can't recall any of our Optiplex Dells failing in the ten years I've been here. Perhaps I've been fortunate.

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Nichicon

Could it be that the supposed Nichicon caps were counterfeit? After all, Nichicon have a high reputation, and are Japanese, and the main cause of the epidemic was a stolen electrolyte formula that was incomplete, and that Chinese manufacturers passed amongst themselves. The new formula was needed to meet environmental requirements.

Apple's iMac G5 also suffered this problem, but there's been an extended warranty service in place.

I think commenters are a little harsh; electronic products from major manufacturers are incredibly reliable these days. Problems arise from change; in this change to a more environmentally friendly electrolyte, which Chinese manufacturers didn't know how to make. And Dell's special problem was how badly they cleared up the mess.

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Thumb Up

Top service from Dell

I had a good experience with Dell and their crapacitors. We had 10 of them in the office. Over time, some 8 of them failed. We called Dell each time and as soon as we said "blown capacitor", we had a tech in the office changing the motherboard. No question asked about date of purchase or warranty whatsoever.

It is bad that they sold us bad kit in the first place but every tech company shipped kit with crapacitors in them back then. It was an industry-wide cock-up and I found that Dell did a good job of crisis management.

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Gold badge
Boffin

Solid caps

The solid caps that you get (at this sort of capacitance and voltage) are Tantalums. They can fail too. The difference is that aluminium electrolytes tend to just get hot, leak a bit and have no capacitance. The Tantalums tend to go up like little fireworks. They'll even blow a hole into or through the PCB given a chance, leaving you no chance of easy replacement.

Oh and as for reparing 4 layer PCBs; the pin of the component is soldered into the tube that forms the hole; it is not separately soldered to each layer of the PCB. Desoldering is easy if you have the right soldering iron (even easier if you have a desoldering iron with a tube shaped bit and vacuum pump!)

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Not desktops, but...

My company had Dell desktops and laptops. I had a Dell laptop and never had a problem, but a year ago the firm switched to Lenovo and I now have a Lenovo laptop which is far superior.

It looks like Dell are losing contracts and the brand damage from this class action is going to cost them a fortune.

I remember back in the day when Dell was held in pretty high regard, it's a pity they decided to compromise quality and chase the corporate cash.

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FAIL

From an ex-Dell tech

I worked the Optiplex support desk when the 270's were still being sold. When you got a call in and the machine was either GX/SX270 or 280 you knew it would be bad caps, the most common symptom was a green power light, no video and no diagnostic lights on the back.

Dell knew it was a BIG problem but you weren;t allowed to say it. You had to get the cusotmer to open the machine and visually identify the swollen caps before you were allowed to book a replacement. Some big companies and organizations (eg the NHS) got a project booked to replace every single motherboard.

it was so bad that a big order for Microsoft got cancelled due to this and they ended up using the machines earmrked for Microsoft to fit out the Glasgow call centre instead.

To give Dell their due they did extend the standard 3 year warranty out by an extra two years if you could confirm the presence of faulty caps on the board but it certainly kept us phone monkeys busy.

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